The small market of San Saba is made of five stands: three fruits and vegetables, a delicatessen and butchery and an haberdashery owned by a tailor, who also does small repairs.
A walk through the stalls
It’s an ancient market that historically used to take place on Bernini square and then almost disappeared a few years ago, when the garden in the center of the square was being remodeled. “There was a petition –tells us Fabio who, with his father Bruno, runs the delicatessen and butchery stand – and the neighborhood fought to keep the stalls open” .
The new stands, closed and equipped with running water, were officially opened five years ago and since a few months they have also become an example of integration between art and business, as the blinds and backs have been decorated with graffiti. So, a cat with hat goes off to buy a ball of yarn or a few buttons, a teddy bear is looking for sausages, while a turtle is eating some fresh carrots.
The stand owned by Bruno, Fabio and Mauro (the butcher) is almost a small grocery store, which provides also home delivery service, especially for older people who come to do their shopping, but then struggle to take it home. On top of bread, pulses, fruit juices, wine, water, pasta, sugar, the real plus are the charcuterie and cheeses, sometimes homemade by Bruno who owns a couple of goats producing very good milk as well as some prodigious chickens. “Dad has been running this stand for twenty years, after getting it almost by chance when he had to close his deli shop in the Appia area – explains Fabio – then we added the butcher later on”.
Development over the years also for Isabel’ s stand, coming from Madrid but naturalized Italian. “I took over the haberdashery almost twenty years ago from an old French lady who used to sell linen, underwear and some clothing – she tells us – then over time I've tried to sell different products, including even household products at some point, but sales crisis had just began, so it was really tough. Then when they gave us these new stands, I thought I would leverage on my tailor’s skills and I added to haberdashery and linen also repairs”. Her stand is the very first one in front of the school entrance, so Isabel also keeps a small “emergency” supply for the pupils. “Just pencils, notebooks, glue... those things that children forget or end up without realizing it”.
Then there are the greengrocers Raffaele and Aldo, who come every day from Fondi bringing fruits and vegetables from the local farmers’ market or their own land’s products, the stand of Alessandro, Paola and Sergio and, last but not least, Filomena’s, who is sometimes helped by her daughters. Behind their colorful stands, they never forget to greet their customers with a smile, patiently take notes for telephone orders or settle their merchandise. Every day from dawn to early afternoon, and their customers, often historical ones, are never disappointed.
“This is my market. The one where my home is, so… what can I say, I am not really objective. This is my favorite one. I have been here in every season, with any weather, with all transport means (inside the belly, in the bum bag, in the push chair, walking and now even with my kick scooter).
I got pieces of pizza and cheese from Bruno as soon as I had teeth to chew them, strawberries and grapes from Filomena with which I would spout off my T-shirt, I became friends with all the sellers and everyone gave me a smile. Then, since they drew comics on the stands, they really conquered me.
When I saw them I said to myself: when I grow up, in addition to the doctor, the singer and the teacher, I also want to be a market seller!”
Just around the corner
As it often happens, the market takes its name from the neighborhood, and the neighborhood takes its name from the main church, the Basilica of San Saba. The inhabitants of the area are used to get in from the square, but the real entrance of San Saba is actually on the opposite side, in a corner of the street with the same name. And from the porch itself, the Basilica offers to visitors its surprises, such as the low relief depicting a knight with a falcon, rare example of Lombard art in the city. But the visitors’ curiosity will be actually caught inside the church, in particular by the frescoes of the so-called “navatella” (literally, little aisle).
There is one that does not go unnoticed, as it might also out of place in a religious building: it’s the portray of three young girls topless, lying next to each other in the same bed. There is a gentleman of a certain age spying them from a balcony, ready to give them the contents of a small bag he’s holding in his hands. But the halo on his head chases away any possible ambiguity: the apparently strange scene is none other than the episode of ST NICHOLAS AND THE THREE OLD MAIDS. The three girls were the daughters of a poor but honest man who, not being able to provide them with a dowry, had resolved to initiate them into prostitution to save them from a future of poverty. Moved to pity by the prayers of the improvised pimp, the Holy intervened by sending to the girls, well wrapped in a cloth, as much gold as deemed convenient enough for a young man to marry each one of them. Thus taking them away from the road, and giving them a place of honor in one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Rome.
Going back to Bernini square means getting back into the heart of the district: in addition to the parish, there are the primary school, the newsagent, the baker, the grocery store, the florist and the typical two-floors cottages built in the '20s by the Independent Institute of Social Housing, the same who built Garbatella and the “garden City” of Montesacro.
But we suggest you to walk to another square, just a few steps away. And to dive – with a bit of imagination – in a much more distant past. It's called REMURIA SQUARE. More than a square, one might call it a roundabout, but its triangular shape does not match with this definition. The triangle defines a small playground, two swings, a slide and little else. If the kids allow you, try to step up on the top of the slide. It’s actually the scene of a recent Italian movie (“Scialla!”, literally take it easy) but we encourage you to reach the highest height. And why, you will ask, as trees and buildings prevent from enjoying any beautiful view. Because this is a crucial place in the history of Rome. Because NOTHING actually began here.
We are in fact on the hill where Remus was observing the flight of the birds in the day of the challenge which changed the fate of Rome. He saw six birds, twirling on the Aventine. We know how it ended: from the top of Palatine Hill, his brother Romulus succeeded in counting twelve vultures, winning therefore the right to baptize Rome and guide its first steps. If Remus had won, what today is just the name of a small and anonymous square, would be the name of the capital of Italy, the restaurants in the Ghetto would serve delicious artichokes “remuriana”, Totti would be the idol of all remurianists and Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn would be remembered forever for their “Remurians Holidays”
Now it’s time to get off the slide and get lost among San Saba streets, to take a look at its red bricks houses and to their gardens full of lemon trees in blossom.
You will be surprised to see a landing decorated by Picasso. Yes, even this is possible, it’s not an hallucination. You have to keep your eyes wide open and look up. Walking up Giotto avenue, to be precise. Actually, to be precise, we have to admit that the Picasso it’s not original: it would be difficult for a housing project to afford a “GUERNICA” to show off to those walking towards Caracalla thermal baths. But the copy of Picasso’s famous masterpiece is really accurate and it was painted by a true artist: his name is Lello Cenciarelli, painter and partisan. He used to live in that building and he decorated it paying a tribute to this incomparable master.
|where||piazza Gian Lorenzo Bernini|
|open||Monday – Saturday, h 7:00-14:00|
|parking||white and blue slots|
|bus||Line 30 from Largo Argentina|
|metro||Line B (Circo Massimo)|