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… is not the Roma your mother knew
Home to nearly 3 million residents and a gazillion tourists, Rome is virtually busting at the seams. For decades, the heart and soul of the city was concentrated in its centro storico, where a chunk of Rome's legendary museums, monuments, and ancient relics have stood for centuries. Replete with postcard landmarks, baroque palaces, and hyper-luxury hotels, the "Disneyfication" of the historic center is well under way.
As there was no room to grow upward, Rome has had to stretch outward. To relieve pressure in the City center, city officials have focused on building a "new" Rome beyond the historic quarter. In the process, old, economically weaker, satellite districts have been revitalized with the creation of cutting-edge palazzos and museums. Former working-class neighborhoods—San Lorenzo and Pigneto to the north, Ostiense and Testaccio to the south—are also on the fast track of unprecedented change and becoming trendy. This "other" Rome is shabby-chic, alternative, and full of flair.
... is creating new 'It' neighborhoods
The leader among Rome's "It" nabes is San Lorenzo, with Pigneto trailing just behind.
San Lorenzo is just a stone's throw away from the Termini train station. Rome's new "Left Bank" district is filled with students and a young bohemian crowd thanks to its close proximity to La Sapienza University.
In fact, if you don't know what you're looking for, you could easily get lost in this maze of dark narrow streets, many now lined with underground caffè, bars, hip restaurants, and locales with live-music venues.
The leading scene-arenas include Formula 1 (Via degli Equi 13), for top pizzas; Da Franco ar Vicoletto (Via dei Falisci 1/b), just around the corner, for fish lovers; and Arancia Blu (Via dei Latini 55), which draws the green crowds thanks to its vegetarian menus.
The likes of bands such as the Cure, U2, and Pearl Jam have been known to play at I Giardini di Adone (Via dei Reti 38/A). Or throw down your best moves at Qube Disco (Viadi Portonaccio 212), where the vibe ranges from rock to house music and changes its scene and crowd from night to night.
Immortalized as the backdrop for Roberto Rossellini's magnificent Academy Award-nominated Rome Open City (Roma Città Aperta), Pigneto—set in the northwestern part of the city on the other side of the Porta Maggiore walls—has come a long way since the black-and-white days of the 1950s.
Sixty years ago, you couldn't find much more than old folks playing cards down the Via Fanfulla da Lodi and Via del Pigneto.
Fast forward to 2010 and this hot new quartiere has undergone a major transformation into a colorful hub for hipsters who tuck into the many wine bars, caffè, and bookshops
…is going multi-culti
Spend a day in Rome's Esquilino neighborhood and you'll see just how multicultural the Eternal City is becoming. Once famous for its spice market at Piazza Vittorio, the area neighborhood has fast become a multiethnic stomping ground.
In fact, finding a true Roman restaurant or a local shopkeeper is hard to come by in this area, now that Chinese, Indian African, and Middle Eastern restaurants have moved in (a typical example: The Syrian restaurant, Zenobia, perched on Piazza Dante, even includes a weekend belly-dancing show).
Homegrown and locally produced, the Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio is a perfect picture of the neighborhood's growing ethnic population. Made up of 16 musicians from Brazil, Senegal, Tunisia, Cuba, Argentina, Hungary, Ecuador, and Italy, the troupe was founded in 2002 and got its start in the ramshackle district just steps away from Rome's Termini train station.
… is breaking new ground
Eternal Rome is in the middle of a building boom, one kick-started by the Vatican's 2000 Jubilee celebrations and backed by Rome's former mayor, Walter Veltroni.
Voguish new landmarks, like the Parco della Musica, a set of three armadillolike music halls designed by modernist Renzo Piano, garnered magazine covers; the slaughterhouse-turned-contemporary art museum of MACRO al Mattatoio earned headlines; and minimalist masterpieces like Richard Meier's Jubilee Church may yet prove to be as enduring and image-defining as were Michelangelo's Palazzo Senatorio or Bernini's St. Peter's Square.
Even the five-story Città del Gusto (2005, in the Marconi district) made a splash onto the scene offering a culinary haven for the palates of afficionados and amateurs alike.
Part of the Gambero Rosso food and wine media group, this cooking complex not only has a wine bar and restaurant but even has its own culinary school and TV studios where Gambero Rosso's cooking channel is showcased.
When it comes to transforming an old working-class district into a scene-arena, "starchitects" and their new iconic buildings often lead the way.
Case in point: Rem Koolhaas won the competition to revamp Ostiense's Mercati Generali food market. Before long this moldering landmark will be transformed into Rome's "Covent Garden."
Magliana is now the site of a new model residential complex rising up near Rome's airport and designed by Richard Rogers, architect of Paris's Beaubourg Centre and New York City's Hearst Tower.
Among the latest projects is the Casa della Ballo (House of Dance). After the successful openings of the Casa del Cinema (2004, Villa Borghese) and the Casa del Jazz (2005, EUR), city officials decided to back this EUR 1,000,000 project, which will have a dance hall, library, and exhibition space spread out over 4,000 square meters in the Prenestina-Palmiro Togliatti area (Southeast Rome)-construction has begun recently and has a projected completion date of 2012.
… is becoming pricey
It is a good thing that Romans know how to pinch their euro-pennies. A recent report put out by the UBS Swiss Bank shows that Rome is the 17th-most-expensive city in the world. Not only is the Eternal City now more expensive than Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world, but it has even surpassed London. It was a surprise to learn that the Milanesi get more bang for their buck at the grocery store than their fellow Romani. However, housing in Rome is still relatively cheaper than most European cities.
… is more commuter-friendly
Plans are underway to build Rome's third subway line, or "Line C." Slated for final completion in 2015, parts of the line will start running as early as 2011. The new line will cover key parts of the historic city center, including Piazza Venezia and Largo Argentina. City officials also approved construction of an extension of the B-line from the Metro's Piazza Bologna station, adding four more stops, with completion for 2011. And Romans probably wouldn't believe it if you told them, but talks are in progress for a "Line D," which will cover parts of northern Rome like Salario and Montesacro connecting them with neighborhoods to the south that are otherwise harder to reach, such as Trastevere, Marconi, and EUR. City officials say only after the Line B and Line C are successfully completed will it project a timeline for the ambitious Line D. Relief is also in store for commuters traveling aboveground: ATAC, Rome's public bus transportation company, has added GPS monitors to help track distances and waiting times.
scattered in and around main drags like Fanfulla da Lodi and Via del Pigneto.
Definitely on the radar as one of Rome's up-and-coming districts, Pigneto is bohemian in all the good old ways.
Today, the area is now home to many artists, journalists, and designers.
And it has even become the backdrop for a slew of popular Italian TV shows.
Back in the day, Italian film legends Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti spent time here capturing the lives of Pigneto's working class families.
To channel those vibes, enjoy an aperitivo at the historic Bar Necci (Via Fanfulla da Lodi 68).
It was here at this neighborhood landmark that Pasolini filmed scenes for his award-winning 1961 Accatone (an unflinching look at how a pimp living in the slums of Rome attempts to go straight).
To catch Pigneto's other celluloid moments of fame, check out Ciak si Mangia (Via Giovanni Brancaleone 72), a popular pizzeria with reasonable prices, where walls showcase photos from various movies shot in the neighborhood.
Want a later nightcap? Head to Fanfulla 101 (Via Fanfulla da Lodi 101) for some live music with bands ranging from rock to country.
Or, for those looking for something a little more laid back, VI(ci)NO (Via del Pigneto 25) is an enoteca that serves up a little art and jazz with a glass of wine.
A bit bohemian like its next-door neighbor San Lorenzo, Pigneto is definitely getting brighter these days on the traveler's radar screen.
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