Rome is full of dozens of neighborhoods to explore, most in areas where visitors to the Eternal City never set foot, like the Cavalleggeri neighborhood. Today I chatted with Teresa Bergamini Forcina about her neighborhood, why she loves it so much and why she’s writing a book about the area.
How to reach the Cavalleggeri neighborhood
The underground passageway
It used to be a challenge to cross the main thoroughfare to access this neighborhood but for the 2000 Jubilee Year an underground passageway was built for tourists and locals to safely cross the road. The underpass connects the Gianicolo hill to the large bus terminal built to hold tour buses for the 2000 Jubilee. Once you leave the Vatican area using the underground passageway you can look back and see the remains of what was a door (porta) in the Vatican walls in medieval times. You can also see some of the welcoming arms of Bernini’s colonnade in the center.
Interesting fact: Teresa’s in-laws (and many other Italians) took refuge in the tunnel under the Gianicolo during the air raids in World War II. One bomb fell near the Vatican and there’s a memorial here with an image of a Madonna recovered in the wreckage with angels holding the frame.
Reaching the Cavalleggeri neighborhood by car
More often than not I drive into the city center but parking can be a challenge, especially around the Vatican. Instead, if you drive up to the the top of the Gianicolo hill and take the Via Fornaci in just about two minutes you reach the Cavalleggeri neighborhood, and the Vatican area. Park about 300 meters before you reach the Carrefour supermarket; street parking in this area is abundant and free.
Reaching the neighborhood with public transportation
Alternatively you can reach the area with the number 64 bus, or take a train to the Saint Peter's Station. When I’m getting around with public transportation I always use the Moovit app for directions.
After a visit to Saint Peter's Square and the Basilica almost everyone heads to the Prati area in the direction of the Vatican museums to grab a bite to eat or a gelato. The area has become quite expensive so instead of heading in the Prati direction when you leave the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Square head in the opposite direction to the Cavalleggeri neighborhood for a bite to eat. With your back to Saint Peter's Basilica head right. Eateries are simple and no-frills but you’ll pay half the price and have the chance to experience this historic working class Rome neighborhood.
A few simple places to grab a bite to eat or have a gelato
Teresa has two favorite iconic neighborhood spots we visited with her.
We had a potato gnocchi lunch freshly made by Antonio from the Pizza House, Via delle Fornaci 85, a name that belies what is on offer here because it’s much more than pizza. Teresa has two favorite foods here: the gnocchi and the Roman classic, baked tomatoes stuffed with rice. Neither were ready-prepared the day we visited because it was so hot and most people eat light on summer days. When Antonio realized we wanted to try his gnocchi he immediately started to boil potatoes and whip some up for us in no time. Antonio has been offering tavola calda food in the neighborhood in the exact same spot for well over two decades.
I love potato gnocchi and make them all the time. If you’d like to give it a try yourself here’s my delicious and simple recipe.
You also might want to try making the Roman classic, baked tomatoes stuffed with rice and herbs. Here's a recipe from Cucchiaio d'Argento.
Another icon in the area is the Zagarella pastry & coffee shop, Via delle Fornaci 95, which has been operating on the same corner for half a century and all that time it’s been Sgr Zagarella making delicious pastries like Neapolitan sfogliatelle, great morning coffee and cornetto, and gelato including rose petal gelato made with rose petals from his garden.
We bought some pastries to take home and my favorite by far were Zagarella‘s sfogliatelle: just as delicious as some of the best I’ve had in Naples.
And by the way it’s easy to make a day trip to Naples by train to taste some fabulous Neapolitan pastries and explore the wonders of the city.
The Cavalleggeri neighborhood is located in the Borgo Rione
The Cavalleggeri neighborhood falls almost entirely within the XIV Borgo Rione, one of the 14 official Rome rioni or neighborhoods. The bordering rioni are XIII Trastevere, and V Ponte across the Tiber river. Some Rome rioni have their own stemma (insignia) and Borgo is one of these. As you stroll through the neighborhood you might see this insignia on the walls.
A few local sites to check out in the Cavalleggeri neighborhood
There’s a local baroque style 15th century church, Santa Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci (Church of St. Mary of the Graces at the Kilns) which has a miraculous icon that used to be paraded around the neighborhood. The name Fornaci refers to the kilns that were used to make bricks, in the past a major industry in the neighborhood. This church continues to be a central reference point in the neighborhood and offers free classes, medical care counseling and art and music festivals.
The Teatro del Ghione is the neighborhood theater that is doing its best to thrive. It features comedy, music and drama, and classics like Pirandello and Shakespeare. The theater attracts a dedicated audience. Find all about the theater and what’s showing on Facebook.
Where to stay in the area
Since the 2000 Jubilee the Cavalleggeri neighborhood has become a bed and breakfast hotspot and there’s a wealth of them to choose from. Alternatively the 3 star Hotel Emmaus offers old-fashioned 24 hour service.
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