Visitors to a city with attractions as popular and frequently photographed as Rome’s can be forgiven for thinking there are no hidden gems left to mine. Happily, two of the city’s lesser-known districts, Ostiense and Testaccio, have yet to become part of the well-trodden tourist trail – and now is the ideal time to visit.
Located in the south of Rome, Ostiense was recently the subject of a New York Times piece following reinvestment in the area and the arrival of the world’s largest branch of Italian gourmet department store Eataly. Strolling through this former industrial centre, it’s impossible to miss the old factories that have been given a new lease of life with bright street art. Alongside are landmarks from the area’s past, such as the Gasometro, or gasometer, often described locally as the ‘modern Colosseum’, while in Testaccio, a short walk north, the Ex Mattatoio, or ex-slaughterhouse, now houses Macro, the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma. Exploring the areas on foot makes an unusual urban safari; a perfect way to wander off the beaten track.
The Art of the matter
For those with a penchant for more classical works of art, a visit to Ostiense’s Musei Capitolini Centrale Montemartini is a must. The Giovanni Montemartini Thermoelectric Centre was Rome’s first electricity-producing public power plant. In 1997, its restructured rooms were transformed into a unique exhibition space and used to house sculptures from the Palazzo dei Conservatori museum, the Museo Nouvo and the Braccio Nuovo. The Machines and the Gods exhibition of 1997 juxtaposed classical stone figures with antique machinery to stunning effect and, thanks to a staggeringly positive response, the former plant became part of the municipal museum system. The Musei Capitolini Centrale Montemartini is another landmark that’s helping to redefine the district as a new cultural centre in Rome.
The Road to redevelopment
As well as acclaimed art galleries, Ostiense also offers a wide variety of dining options, including Hopside, an award-winning wood-panelled gastropub famed for its Italian and craft beers. Patrizia de Titta, Hopside’s general manager, explains that the company wanted to contribute to Ostiense’s regeneration following its decline after the closure of Rome’s wholesale market in the 1990s. ‘The decision to open in Ostiense came from the desire to be surrounded by a challenging environment as well as to play a leading role in the new development of this area of Rome,’ she says. Alongside its menu of beers, Hopside offers a delectable array of Italian meats and cheese as well as burgers and more American-inspired fare.
The taste of Testaccio
Just north and east of Ostiense, the Testaccio neighbourhood is the original epicurean area of Rome and the place where cucina romana has its roots. Eating Europe food tours offers a four-hour Taste of Testaccio walking tour of the area. ‘The tour features nine authentic food stops with 12 delicious tastings, and guests get to escape the crowds and taste the best of what Rome has to offer,’ explains Maria Pasquale, the company’s PR and social media manager. ‘Along the way our experienced guides entertain and educate visitors with stories and insights into Rome’s culture and history, exploring the city’s most fascinating offbeat landmarks.’
As well as offering tastings of pizza, gelato and three local pasta dishes (cacio e pepe, amatriciana and carbonara), the tour takes in the local market where guests can sample fresh bruschetta and ricotta cannoli. With a maximum of 12 guests on each tour, visitors are assured a personal service. ‘Our tour lets you experience Rome like a local, in a working-class Roman neighbourhood where people live, eat and shop,’ says Pasquale.
Say yes to Volpetti
Another authentic slice of Roman life can be found at Volpetti. This delicatessen and specialist food store opened in 1973, previously catering to the discerning employees of the local market and slaughterhouses. ‘They were real food experts, always looking for the right ingredient for their homemade meals,’ says Alessandro Volpetti. Today, the store remains an essential resource for locals and it vacuum-packs its speciality meats and cheese for visitors. ‘Testaccio is still like a small village in a big city,’ Volpetti explains. ‘Beyond the many traces of Roman history you find here, Testaccio is also considered one of the gastronomic hearts of Rome.’
After stocking up on gastronomic delights, be sure to explore Testaccio’s array of independent stores. Andrea 925 is a highlight, offering a standout selection of silver jewellery. Choose from rings shaped like cassettes and lucky horseshoes, and pendants in the form of headphones and record players.
Whether you are an art lover, a gourmet, enjoy discovering new boutiques or would simply like to see an authentic slice of Roman life, the unexpected delights of Ostiense and Testaccio are well worth seeking out.