The competition by the neighboring supermarkets is unfair, according to Savoia market vendors. “They are many, almost ten, they even opened where not supposed to. The last one just before Christmas…”. But they don’t just complain, the seventy greengrocers, butchers, bakers, grocers, drapers, florists actually try to steal customers from the various supermarkets with their smile, the friendly chattering, the quality of products, some special offers and even some carts with a coin slot (exactly as those of the supermarkets).
A walk through the stalls
Recently the market has gone through a major restructuring: the two floors building that used to host fruit and vegetable vendors on the ground floor and all the others, including a coffee shop, on the first floor’s balcony has been redesigned by placing all stalls and shopping corners on the ground floor, while some municipal offices should move on the top floor, together with some warehouses for the vendors in the remaining space.
“A market on two floors is quite uncomfortable – says Mrs. Ada, a triple-stall-shop of clothing, underwear and household linen – I have been here since the beginning, yet there was still someone coming on the upper floor for the first time and asking: When did you open?”.
It’s Mrs. Ada herself, living memory of Savoia market, to tell us its story. The covered market in Gimma square was born from the merger of two others, one in Tripolitiania street and the other in Eritrea avenue. “I had inherited the license from an aunt of mines in the early sixties – she says – Then in 1970 I got married and I closed for a few months. In June 1971 the new market opened, I came in in July and I took one of the worst shops, wedge-shaped, because all the others had already been allocated. Then over the years I have purchased additional licenses and took other shops and I have expanded to offer customers “from the sock to the coat” as I like to say”.
Mrs. Ada’s stall is not the only one to look more like a shop than a stall, there is one dedicated to “curtains, jewelry, bags and slippers”, one dedicated to sweets and decorations for beautiful cakes, and of course fishmongers, butcheries, bakeries and delis. Such as Mauro and Stefania’s one, who have inherited the stall from his father, showing off in a beautiful picture behind the counter.
Among the fruit and vegetables stalls, you are spoiled for choice. Giolitti family’s one stands out because, in addition to vegetables and fruits of all kinds, it offers ready-to make products that just need seasoning or to be stir-fried (clean artichokes already sliced, clean and washed mixed salads) as well as dried fruit, olives, sun-dried tomatoes.
Among the farmers from Sabina and the province of Latina, there is Silvi’s family (father, mother and daughter-in-law) who brings their own fruits, vegetables and oil from Palombara Sabina twice a week, on Fridays and Saturdays. “We used to come every day, but now we sell less – says Mrs. Antonietta – so we decided to hire less workers in our farm, work ourselves up to Thursday and then come to the market just two days, the most crowded ones”. This is actually a choice made by many Coldiretti farmers.
For a bunch of flowers, a vase or a small plant you stop by at Mimma’s, stall 31, who will send you home with many advices on how to make your purchase thrive. And those who need more help can rely on her husband Franco, who actually works on the maintenance of terraces and gardens.
“The day I went to Savoia market was a special day. All stalls, including those of fish, meat and vegetables were decorated with some curious yellow flowers that I had never seen before. With a sweet and intense smell that I had never smelled either. I knew it was a special day.
Maybe they are celebrating the arrival of spring I said to myself, because on some stalls, the farmers’ ones, there were also some beautiful branches of peach blossoms.
And then I noticed that both among customers and among vendors there were some saying “Best wishes! Happy Day!”. Someone even said it to Mummy and me! Only at the end Mummy explained to me “Today is Women’s Day, so somehow it’s also your day!”.
Just around the corner
Gimma square market is in the heart of the so-called “african district”, the bundle of roads between Via Salaria and Via Nomentana, which have names referring to the tormented Italian colonial experience (Gimma is actually one of the major cities of Ethiopia). But the symbolic monument of the district is located in the only place that makes an exception to the ‘names rule’ and recalls the Roman empire.
We're talking about THE DEVIL'S CHAIR, which dominates Elio Callistio square. The square’s name derives from a slave who, after being freed up by the Emperor Adrianus, made enough fortune to afford a tomb with two floors, decorated with statues and mosaic floors. But how did the monument get the Devil’s name, handed down up to date?
As it often happens, neglect was enough to feed popular imagination: so, when the former slave’s temple became just ruins, and part of the facade collapsed leaving up only a shape similar to a giant’s throne, rumors said that the devil himself sat on it and word of mouth soon spread out. To better understand this legend, you have to imagine this corner of Rome as it appeared until a little over than a century ago: that is, as a large field watered by Aniene river and slightly enlivened by small hills. The chair was standing right on top of one of those. This is the way many romantic painters have portrayed it while wandering around the city outskirts to capture the decadence of its ruins, which in the meantime had become a shelter for shepherds and vagabonds of every kind. It was probably the fires lit at night by these stragglers – visible even from the villas in the city center – to influence the Romans, making them imagine satanic rituals and other witchcraft.
The “devil’s chair” is even mentioned by one of the main poets and experts of Roman traditions, Giggi Zanazzo: in one of his books on the city’s folklore, he describes in detail the route to reach the ruins (or the tavern that stood just in front ...), suggesting to walk along Nomentana road until passing Sant 'Agnese church, before turning left and walking along the basilica side. So, let us follow the instructions but in the opposite direction, leaving the devil to go and visit the monumental complex of SANT’AGNESE FUORI LE MURA. The basilica – dedicated to the young virgin and Christian martyr killed by sword in obedience to Emperor Diocletianus’ will – is linked to the story of another chair, anything but evil. Indeed, ‘miraculous’. Or at least this is the way it was defined by the Jesuits magazine in an article commenting the accident happened to Pope Pius IX on April 12, 1855. That day the Pope was visiting some archaeological excavations on the Nomentana and had stopped for lunch at Sant’Agnese, where in the afternoon he was supposed to meet some students of the College "de Propaganda Fide". In the presbytery, in the presence of six cardinals and a hundred and ten youngsters standing in line to kiss His Holiness’ feet, something unexpected happened: the floor collapsed under the weight of the crowd and the main girder fell down leaving a huge chasm, five meters deep. But the Pope remained unharmed. How could that be? The press at the time said “it seems that the Pope was falling on the floor together with the girder and with his chair, which actually knocked over on the Holy Father, without hurting him but actually protecting his head and body from the pieces of ceiling that were falling down. While falling His Holiness did not break anything not was injured, which seems unbelievable to those who are familiar with the height. We can attribute this miraculous safety to a special providence from the sky…”
Unfortunately the ‘miraculous’ chair is not exposed between relics and memorabilia, but the visitors of the Basilica will console themselves: the monumental complex is home to the catacombs of the Saint, the ruins of a fourth century basilica and the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza (who was not a Saint and not even called Costanza, but actually Costantina, daughter of the first emperor converted to Christianity).
After this visit, you should have completely exorcised the influence of the devil and be ready to move towards the Via Salaria, to enjoy one of the most moving testimonies of Christianity: the oldest image of the Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus. It dates back to the early third century AD and is located in the CATACOMBS OF PRISCILLA. The ancient sources do not help to clarify the exact identity of this woman, according to some she was the wife of a man called Aquila, who hosted Saint Paul during his stay in Corinth, while, according to other traditions, she was the Priscilla married to Manlio Acilio Glabrione, who hosted in his villa on Salaria road the other patron of Rome, St. Peter.
For sure, the catacombs are now home to the remains of seven successors of Peter, such a concentration of popes that the complex of chapels and cubicles earned the nickname “Queen of the catacombs”. In one of these chapels can be actually seen the portrait of a Madonna holding her baby in her arms, while a prophet beside her points to a star. This scene had never been painted before, or at least not in the foreground. Or at least, it has not been found an ‘ancestor’ of this representation yet. And if you are looking for an even more ancient image of Mary with Jesus, you don’t have to go too far: in the so-called “Greek Chapel” in the same catacombs you will find an “Adoration of the Magi” which according to the experts dates back at the end of second century. On the right of the scene, a woman with an uncovered head shows a baby in swaddling clothes to the three shapes walking in a row, and it shows to the visitor the very first image of Mary we know about.
|open||Monday – Saturday, h 6:00-14:00|
|PARking||underground parking to be paid (50% discount for the first hour by showing market receipts)|
|metro||Line B1, Libia|