Laurentino market just turned 25 years old, as it was built at the end of the Eighties when a group of sellers decided to apply to a call by Rome’s City Council, to assign several parking slots in the new buildings of some city’s suburbs, including Laurentino, the last building on Laurentina direction before the Southern high way (Raccordo Anulare Sud).
A walk through the stalls
Now the market looks like a little shopping mall, very similar to Casilino 23, where traditional market activities left some room to additional services. The two markets have the same plexiglass cover protecting the stands from the rain and they both keep their customers updated through a Facebook page and their own website. Approximately 60 sellers going from the farmers Marco and Beatrice, continuing the work of the old farmer Quinto (who worked at the market until the end of his days) to the bio stall (Habemus Bio), from Loretta and Annarita’s hair salon to the fishmongers (many of whom actually owning a boat in Anzio), from Rita’s herbalist shop to Cornelia’s laundry and tailor’s corner, from Alessandra nails’ shop to regional delis, such as L'isola dei sapori antichi receiving typical products from Sardinia every week, and then butchers, a bakery, home-made pasta, adults and children’s wear, frozen food, households and a haberdashery.
“Who comes here, young and older customers, can really do a one stop full shopping – explains Mimmo, also known as Zio Faraone (literally, Uncle Pharao) for his Egyptian origins – people come for food shopping, but then leave their shoes at the cobbler, make a reservation at the hairdresser’s and then end up at my multi-service agency, which offers a very wide range: from renewing the driving license to plumber’s or blacksmith’s services, travel booking or payment services or just mobile phones top-ups”.
According to Mimmo, vicepresident of the market association, the market is coming back to fashion for young people because “it can offer good services easily, soon they will build a huge shopping mall just aside, but I’m not worrying because if it represents the future, we represent the history”. Among the value added services offered by the market, there is also a transport service for people with disabilities, through a little shuttle which also delivers online orders to elders and disabled customers one a week. Among other benefits, Acea’s house, a high-tech fountain, distributing still and sparkling water for free, in addition to allowing to charge phones and tablets through USB ports.
“When I went to Laurentino market I met a really funny guy. His name is Zio Faraone. Or at least that’s what he told me. It sounded weird to me, but he introduced himself and even gave me a card with a sphinx’ head on it. I know what is a sphinx and I even know what is a pharaoh. I read it on a book about Egyptians, not the ones of today, but those living there in old times. And even if Zio Faraone is a funny guy and he organizes trips all over the word, from Amalfi coast to Thailand, I don’t think he can actually travel back in time… but I keep on calling him Zio Faraone, even if I know his real name is Mimmo. But he actually does come from Egypt, the one of today, not of old times.”
A walk through the stalls
The first thing to see outside of Laurentino market is the neighborhood itself. To be honest it’s not a place where tourists’ buses would stop in fact. LAURENTINO 38’s story is actually a wrong story, starting from the name. The number was given by some clerks for administrative purposes, but in the 70’s it used to recall scary crime news: 38 was just the number of the district on the map, but it would rather bring to everyone’s mind the P38, a notorious gun often used by terrorist groups. From an unfortunate baptism, Laurentino’s story develops around an utopia, very similar to the “cousin” Corviale. Both neighborhoods were born following the Northern Europe urbanistic theories, which aimed at building in the suburbs independent microcosms with several facilities, rather than giant dorms.
But we are in Southern Rome, where it was not easy to apply the Scandinavian model with the constraints of Italian bureaucracy. In fact, the neighborhood was always perceived as extraneous to the city, to the extent of being used by many cinema directors as landscape of many scenes apparently taking place in Milan. Which was a shame for the Romans! So why do we suggest to take a walk around the neighborhood? Because, despite all the issues, with its 5000 flats and over 30000 inhabitants, Laurentino is the historical proof of an attempt to solve the accommodation issue in an incredibly growing city. Additionally, there are the notorious “BRIDGES”, at the same time symbol of the project and of its own failure. The hanging structures, built to connect the different living areas and to host community services (shops, offices, meeting points), were abusively occupied and soon became a den for local criminality. Of the 11 original bridges, 3 were demolished with a public celebration, to certify the failure of the original plan and hopefully launch a new era. The market, as any place where people can meet, talk and feel they belong to a community, is an important lever of this new era.
If you are not really passionate of urbanistic, you will need to take a bus to match your historical and artistic expectations. The direction is always Laurentina road, towards North, the final destination is under the shade of some eucalypt trees: welcome to the ABBAZIA DELLE TRE FONTANE (literally, the three fountains abbey). According to the legend, the apostle Paolo spent here his last days of prison and was finally beheaded (among many charges, the emperor Nero didn’t forgive him for converting to Christianity both his servant and his concubine). The place get its name from the three fountains – cold, warm and hot water – that apparently gushed out at each bounce of the saint’s head. The fountains are still conserved in three niches in the church which takes the apostle name. Here is also the column to which Paolo was tied for execution. Even for those not believing, the place is an oasis of silence and contemplation. For those seeking for pleasure, the monks living in the abbey have some good surprises: the eucalypts planted by the Trappists to reclaim the area from malaria, are now the main ingredient of a liqueur sold at the abbey shop. And you could actually continue your shopping after the market: because the oil, the honey, the chocolate, the beer, the nuts cream and the grappa produced by the monks cannot be found in any other shop. The area actually had an “alcoholic” tradition: when it was still managed by the Cistercians, a benefactor had promised a relevant donation as long as, every January 22, the monks distributed “4 breads and 2 spoonfuls of wine” to all those in need coming to the three fountains. A tradition which lasted for almost two centuries, until the noise caused by the drunkards (up to 2000 would come to the meeting) persuaded the Vatican to transfer the donation to a more sober congregation of ladies.
Just across the street, under the same eucalypt trees, the curiosity could take you to the small “Roman Medjugorje”, the CHAPEL OF THE REVELATION VIRGIN. Why the comparison with Medjugorje? Because there were apparently several Virgin Mary’s apparitions, but they were never confirmed by Catholic church. The story begins in Italy after the second World War: on April 12, 1947 Bruno Cornacchiola – protestant tram driver, former soldier in the Spanish civil war, fervent anti-catholic – running after his younger sons gets into one of the caves on the hill and finds in front of himself a lady with a long white dress, a red belt and a green cloak.
The lady says she is the “Redemption Virgin”, throws back on his face the past persecutions but gives him the chance of a future of salvation. The man converts himself and tells everyone the story: shortly after, a Virgin Mary’s statue is put in the cave and the place becomes a pilgrimage site, where many witnesses tell about new apparitions and sudden healings. Since long time, there are no news about other miracles, but the chapel remains a precious proof of mass devotion and a little souvenir of an Italy which probably doesn’t exist anymore. To better understand the meaning and the resonance of the first apparition, we have to remember that it happened one year before the crucial elections of 1948. In that political and social atmosphere, it could happen that the colors of Mary’s clothes were interpreted as a blessing of the flag and of patriotism, intimidated by the threat of Communism. Another Italy, as mentioned.