Built on the commercial side of Cola di Rienzo road, the covered market of Unità square in Prati neighborhood was built in 1928 in neo-classical style with a monumental portal opening on Via Cola di Rienzo and turrets at the corners of the building. Until the Second World War, the market was on two floors: in the basement (where now is the parking) used to be the fish stalls and delicatessens, while on the ground floor there were fruits and vegetables vendors.
A walk through the stalls
But the real gem of Unità market in the thirties was the skating rink built on the roof, first in Europe, which was an enjoyable attraction until the outbreak of the war.
“The market actually existed before '28, on the street. My grandfather already had his stall in the twenties – says Vittorio Mariani, president of the association created in 1989 to gather all market vendors – he used to arrive every morning with his cart, pay a daily fee and the guard used to give him a ticket of a different color every day. Then with the construction of the covered market, the vendors became sedentary”.
The market, counting over 130 stalls in the sixties, reduced to no more than forty today, went back on the street for five years, from 1972 to 1977 while the building was renovated. “There were four large fountains inside – says Vittorio – four wolf’s heads throwing out water, but they were dismantled during renovation”. As of today, the market is facing the fierce competition of supermarkets, even if it’s still on the way to St. Peter, and therefore a good destination for tourists and pilgrims, as well as residents. “We, vendors, can survive thanks to our historical customers and a number of restaurants we serve” says Vittorio. Echoed by Gianni, who inherited his fruits and vegetables stalls from his mother: “The real problem is the generational change. The children, like mines, are now studying, they go to college. No one wants to carry on the parents’ business”. And it’s a real shame.
Let’s spend a few words about Magazzino 23.9, a news for the market. About a year ago AnnaAliprandi Marzotto, originally from Veneto, lawyer, married with three children, strongly believing in recycling&reusing, opened a small furniture “warehouse” selling recycle-design items, inspired by the markets of Barcelona, Paris, Berlin. A little later she was joined by Lusiana Zanella, Uruguayan from Montevideo, go-back immigrant (her grandparents left in 1920 towards Brasil and then Uruguay) actress as a vocation. So, in a short time, Magazzino 23.9 has turned into a real creative lab, a place where you can find items from over the world, but also Anna’s and Lusiana’s creations: vegetables boxes covered with precious fabrics to be used as drawers or book-holders, table mats made of vintage wall papers, pallets transformed into tables. On Saturday the warehouse opens for workshops both for adults and children (usually in the morning for the first ones, in the afternoon for the latters): there is no fixed opening hour and no fee. It starts when there is a relevant number of people and it ends when they have all done. Then there are the theme workshops, for Christmas, Easter, Carnival.
A few months after started a new business, which took his name from the number of the stall, Banco Trentaquattro (literally stall 34). It's also managed by two friends, Renée and Ida, who sell wool shirts, dresses, kimonos, bags and accessories. They left their job for a company and wanted to start all over with this activity, also willing to relaunch the concept of corner market with their creative skills. So, at their stall, you can find art exhibitions, concerts or drinks, just aside their merchandising. And on their Facebook page they often tell stories about the market and thei neighbors, such as the veggie seller Anna who gives artichokes based recipes, or the famous Cesarina, whose family is at the market since 50 years, proposing pumpkin rice.Since that time new stalls have been popping up one after another: the bookshop Racconti di Gusto (literally, taste stories) dedicated to food books which are not only recipes collections, travel books, story books, cinema and art, and the accessories corner Toc Toc, with its clothes, jewelery and bags. But also breakfast, visit Tina at stall 37 on Saturdays morning and you will find a nice surprise.
“After being at the market of Piazza Unità, I had this strange dream. I was walking along a sunny street, it was a beautiful summer morning. Around me, many people: adults, children ... all dressed up in a very strange way. There was a little girl in a white dress with a funny collar and a hat, that I had never seen before, and then a boy in shorts, but not the ones in fashion now, some tight shorts.After a while I realized I was walking in Via Cola di Rienzo, but nobody could see me… nor hear me. I went to this ice cream truck and I asked for a chocolate cone, but the man didn’t even look at me. I have to say that he, too, was dressed in a strange way, with a funny hat on, but the ice cream looked yummy. Damn!
Then I kept on walking until I reached the entrance of the market. Inside: a deafening noise, a riot of fruit, vegetables, flowers and so many people going back and forward, as I had never seen at Unità market before. I saw a group of happy children running through the market and climbing up the stairs. I followed them on the roof and there, a vision: I saw dozens and dozens of children, teenagers, young women and men twirling happily holding their hands, chasing each other, making some great tumbles. All with strange hats, strange clothes, strange hairstyles, but they were so beautiful... they couldn’t see me nor hear me, but I was twirling with them, so happy.
I stayed there on the roof until the evening, then I went back down the stairs. I saw the wrought iron lamps go off and I started to walk towards home. Everyone in the streets was talking a lot, some seemed worried, some excited, others almost scared... I could tell something important was going on, so I listened carefully. I couldn’t understand everything, but they were saying some names that I had never heard before: Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill... they were talking about a war declaration, occupation and air-raids. Then I heard a man say “We’ll remember this day: June 10, 1940”. And right then, I woke up”.
Just around the corner
As Trionfale market, also Unità square market is just a few steps away from the Vatican. So let’s start from there to reach the symbol of Prati district: Castel Sant'Angelo. To get there, we’ll follow the same path that Popes have used for centuries to run away from barbarian invasions (Clement VII) or to visit their lovers in secret (Alexander VI): PASSETTO DI BORGO. It’s the overhead walkway connecting the Vatican Palace with the fortress constructed on Hadrian's mausoleum. The promenade, which runs along lion’s walls, is not usually open to the public, and it’s possible only in case of “exceptional” openings. Unless you want to imitate Robert Langdon, the hero of Dan Brown’s novels, who sneaks in furtively in one of the most important scenes of “Angels and Demons”.
However, don’t expect to get out directly in the Pope’s private library: that's just one of the many licenses taken by the American novelist to make his story more spectacular! It’s also a popular invention which believes the walkway has the power of giving back to men their lost virility: after all, the superstition that invites to walk back and forward for 77 times in order to make the miracle come true seems a cruel joke for desperate and gullible males.
After walking through the Passetto, you reach CASTEL SANT'ANGELO, one of the sites most loved by Romans. One of the reasons is certainly the sense of serenity and security given by archangel Michael’s statue, on top of the fort in memory of Pope Leo’s vision announcing the end of the plague in Rome in 590. Over the centuries, the castle cells hosted illustrious prisoners, from Pope Paul III to Count Cagliostro, from the ingenious goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini to Giordano Bruno, the noblewoman Beatrice Cenci, executed in the square in front of the castle as she was accused of the murder of her violent and incestuous father, later immortalized as a popular heroin thanks to the works of Shelley, Stendhal and Dumas. The rest of the castle is actually a perfect background for romantic dramas: from these walls Tosca threw herself down, after the painter Cavaradossi, her lover, was shot in Puccini’s opera.
Going from the castle along the river, you will come across another impressive building, definitely less loved by the capital’s inhabitants: the Palace of Justice, also known as Palazzaccio, a white travertine giant not really in harmony with the view along the river. But the real punch in the eye, a building even less in harmony with Rome’s architecture, stands a few steps further: an unusual Gothic church nestled between the umbertine style buildings and Prati. Due to its look, it gained the nickname of “little cathedral of Milan”, but the real interesting feature about it is the mystery kept inside: the MUSEUM OF THE SOULS IN PURGATORY, one of Rome's most incredible, unique in its kind. At the end of nineteenth century, in place of the church, there was a chapel dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary, which was destroyed in a fire. But when the flames were extinguished, on one of the altar pillars there remained the shape of a man's head. A French priest saw in that picture the sign of a soul in Purgatory who was trying to get in touch with the living, so they could intercede for him/her, and he decided to try to collect more proofs like these. The result is this collection of fabrics, books and objects that bear the imprints of many “tormented” souls.rettante anime in pena.
|DOVE||Piazza Unità 53 / via Cola di Rienzo|
|GIORNI DI APERTURA||Lunedì - Sabato|
|ORARIO||6:30 - 19:30|
|PARCHEGGIO||coperto sotterraneo sotto il mercato|
|AUTOBUS||linee 70, 81, 186, 280, 193|
|metro||linea A (fermata Ottaviano circa 200 mt, fermata Lepanto circa 350 mt)|
|where||Piazza Unità 53 / via Cola di Rienzo|
|open||Mon – Sat, h 6:30 – 19:30|
underground parking below the market
|BUS||70, 81, 186, 280, 193|
|metro||Line A (Ottaviano stop approximately 200 meters away, Lepanto stop approximately 350 meters away)|