The historical Appio I market (Alberone neighborhood) has been waiting for a final destination for almost 30 years. Now it seems that it's just a matter of months until the stalls can move inside the shopping mall, born on the area of the previous tram warehouse. We went to visit it, to hear the comments of the sellers and the stories of some historical ones (who seem quite skeptical about the move) and then write a “before” and “after” review, as we did for Testaccio market.
A walk through the stalls
The mall will be half dedicated to market stalls and half to shops, with the unique constraint of being “nonfood”, which makes the sellers worry about the future.
Among the ones most uncertain about the move, there is Achille, 82 years old farmer who owns his stall, together with the 76 years old wife Silvana, since more than 50 years. “The beauty of a corner market is being outdoors, looking the seller in the eyes, negotiating on the price, asking for a discount, sharing stories, if the market moves into a shopping center, it will be a disaster”, Achille says. He brings the products of his farm Montelibretti, on Salaria road, every other day in summer (“you harvest, you sell”), while in winter only on Saturdays. “I will have several issues: the room will not be much, the expenses high and it will be hard to unload the truck in the morning. I'm really sorry to give back this license, which belonged to my father in law, but I have no choice”.
I got married in 1960, I was working as a plasterer, but my wife's father had this land and the license for this market, so in 3 years I turned into farmer and seller. My sons took other paths, one of my grand-daughters moved to Milan, I only have my son's son left but he is only 13, I cannot wait for him”.
So, as of today, we don't know how many among the 70 fruits and vegetables sellers, butchers, fishmongers, delis, household, adult and children wear, shoes and linen stalls will move into the shopping center which is being built just a few steps away.
Among the other historical sellers, there is Antonietta, whose license dates back in 1935. “It belonged to my mother and it's one of the most ancient. I never moved from this stall: I got engaged, married, gave birth to 3 daughters (one of them working with me, the other has a children accessories stall) – says Antonietta – I still serve some of my mother's customers, they are over 90 years old and they still come to buy something. The daughters or daughters in law come too, and often even the caregivers”.
Mrs. Antonietta is not very optimist about the future of the market in the covered center. “I've never liked a covered market, and I don't like shops, because I like the coming and going, the contact with the people who pass by and stop to ask about something. In a shop you have to go thinking already about what you want to buy – tells us Antonietta, who remembers that 63 years ago when she started, there were 23 haberdashery or similar stalls, out of a total of almost 100 – Today the market has changed, it has become more vulgar perhaps, but I can't stay away from it, even now that I have entitled the license to my daughter. If one day you pass by and don't see me around, it's because my grand-daughter, who is about to graduate, asks me to look after her baby girl, because I'm already a great-grandmother”.
“Do you know what is a coffee grinder? Me, I didn't until I went to Appio's market. When I went there, I met this lady, with white hair and talking a lot, she's the one who told me what a coffee grinder is... a little wood machine, with a handle, a gear and a little drawer.
You put coffee beans inside and after turning and turning and turning the handle around , you get coffee powder!
But the white-haired lady told me that she actually puts pepper instead of coffee and every time she does it, she thinks of her wedding. Because that coffee grinder, or pepper grinder for her, was a wedding present by another lady owning a stall just aside her, who used to ask her some help to move a box or set up the stall as she was so old. “When you get married I will buy you a nice present” she used to say. And then she gave her a coffee grinder. She was kind of disappointed at first, but then her wedding lasted 52 years, so now she thinks that maybe that coffee grinder brought her good luck”.
Just around the corner
For the City Council the area where via Capponi market stands is called Appio Latino, but for Romans (not only the ones living in the neighborhood) it’s ALBERONE (literally, big tree). Together with Gianicolo’s oak, it’s probably the most popular tree in the capital. No doubt, the only one which was so famous to give its name not only to a square, but to an entire neighborhood. It doesn’t really matter if the 8 meters tall holm oak now standing in the center of the square is not the original Alberone, but a 150 years “young” one, brought from the Pontine countryside to replace the ancient holm oak which fell down during an incredible storm last November. After all, not even the predecessor was the original one, as it was planted in 1986, to replace the very first one, incurably damaged by a plant disease. What matters, is the story, or actually the stories sprouted up and grown around it, watered by the constant care of the inhabitants of the neighborhood.
Because it’s actually around it that the neighborhood has put down roots. Funny enough, initially that giant was almost an obstacle, as it was growing right in the middle of Appia Nuova as a sort of traffic island. Under its branches the blue trams used to take to Cinecittà the aspiring movie stars and to Castelli the Romans who wished to spend a Sunday open air, drinking wine and eating porchetta (roasted pork, typical dish in the area). Even today, when Rome is not a little Hollywood along Tevere river anymore and when to reach Castelli you have to queue in the traffic for hours, the Alberone is still there as a symbol and obelisk of this corner of the city.
When in 1986 the “new” Alberone was planted, a lot of people threw coins in the hole left by the dying oak, which became for one day a sort of Fontana di Trevi where everyone's wishes could be guarded. If someone wanted to make the effort of digging up those coins, it wouldn't be worth the effort: it's money out of course. The old lira has been replaced by euros. Why should we remind such an obvious thing? Because – few Romans know – in via Capponi are coined all the Italian euros! Just before the issuing of the common currency, the building now hosting the POLIGRAPH INSTITUTE AND PUBLIC MINT at number 47-49 of the street was completely renovated. In its premises, German presses print, at a pace of 320 pieces per minute, those coins which should be Italian design pride: we were the first country in the world to print “bi-metal” coins, thanks to a mint patent for the 500 lira in 1982, made of one metal inside, and another metal on the circle outside. The activity of the institute is not limited to money mint. You can find one of the most outstanding examples in the center of Campidoglio square: in the mint foundry have been completed the works of the Marcus Aurelius monument, with a very delicate melting procedure, applied since the V century before Christ.
History and geography are ironically cruel sometimes. Usually, after being at the market, we try to suggest you a green area when you could have a picnic and taste some of the goodies you just bought at the stalls. This time, the closest park is VILLA LAZZARONI. Why has history been ironically cruel? Well, it's curious that a few steps away from the State mint there is the estate built by the Roman Bank director, who was arrested in 1893, for the scandal related to the 68 millions lira printed without authorization to fund corruption and any kind of business, which blew up Giolitti's government.
Michele Lazzaroni's parable lasts a very short time: from 1879 when King Umberto I honors the bankers' family with the baron title, to prison 14 years later. In these 14 years Villa Lazzaroni was built, renovating a farm estate with its cottage, which turned into a patrician palace, to reprent the aristocracy just acquired. Now the 50 thousands square meters of the park are available to the public, after hosting an orphanage, a nuns institute and even a church. But the villa still keeps a nice inheritage from the baron / banker: putting together his botanical knowledge and the anxiety of surprising the old Roman aristocracy, Michele Lazzaroni left us a garden with an eclectic landscape, where pines, mediterranean olive and almond trees live together with acacias, araucarias and gingko biloba.