L’artigianato del rione Monti



‚Il primo rione di Roma è Monti‘, the first quarter of Rome is Monti says Alberto Manodori when he starts his essay about the history of Rome. The most original roman quarter, besides Trastevere on the other side of the river, sticks out for its density of old, rooted Romans and their diverse handcrafts. Three of the seven hills of ancient Rome are part of it: Esqulino, Quirinale and Viminale, which gave the ‚Rione‘ its name and can still be seen in the emblem. Also parts of the ancient roman city belongs to it: the ‚Fori imperiali‘, the ‚Terme di Tito‘, the ‚Terme di Traiano‘ and the rests of the ‚domus aurea‘ on the small hill ‚Oppio‘ are based in the quarter. After a really dense population ‚Monti‘ has been almost abandoned in the middle ages and was mostly used by farmers for vineyards, barns and gardens. But the people resettled it again after 1870 and made it today to one of the most compact parts of Rome. After the rapid change of Montis rivalling quarter Trastevere it was the only rione in the city centre that kept its character.




„Infatti il rione è rimasto lo stesso

dall‘ antichità fino agli anni ’80. E sempre stato popolare, abitato dagli artigiani – fabbri, falegnami, restauratori , ma anche dalle prostitute.“ (…) says the restaurator Giuseppe Parisi who left his former profession as a bank employee to follow his passion for antique furniture and pieces of art. „È il rione più antico di Roma. Non sono i stessi edifici ma il spirito non ha mai veramente cambiato.“ Roman poet Catull is born here, Dictator Nero used to stroll incognito through its dark and narrow alleyways in order to hear what the plebs is saying about him, Messalina, Emperor Claudios wife is said to have had an appartment for secret meetings with her lovers. Goods were crafted and sold in the small shops, family life was taking place on the upper levels. This character even survived several drastic urbanistic interventions in the 1880‘s that were, on the one hand, part of a great Masterplan for the whole city, but should as well help to „clean“ the quarter, make it more accessible, secure and easier to supervise. The large Via Cavour, which is overgoing completely the riones small scale, has been cut right through it‘s heart in order to connect the central station Termini to the fori imperiali and the in that time already growing „Ara della patria“. By doing so Monti was seperated in two parts. The second large injury to the urban body is the extension of Via dei Serpenti to the Colosseo. A part of the „Oppio“ hill had to be removed in order to achieve the connection by Via degli Annibaldi from Santa Maria ai Monti that furthermore offended the Colosseos first intended urbanistic setting- in a broad valley, surroundded by hills. Even if the quarters visual appearance had completely changed the „tessuto sociale“ and for this it‘s particular flair stayed the same for other 100 years.



„Purtroppo da 20 anni, Monti sta cambiando.“

About 20 years ago the worldwide tendency of city centres becoming prestigious and for that reason also precious living areas started here as well. Rents began to rise incredibly, and as „quasi tutti appartamenti sono d‘affitto la maggior parte degli veri Monticiani ha dovuto abbandonare il rione.“ Giuseppe Parisi starts to laugh as we ask him if he lives in Monti- it‘s already quite difficult to keep his shop in Via Urbana situated next to a metalworker and a newly opened boutique for scandinavian fashion.
„Il problema non sono i touristi. A Monti c‘ è sempre stato turismo visto che è situato accanto ai monumenti romani piu’ importanti! È che la gente che viene ad abitare qua non vive veramente il quartiere. Sono  persone che tornano qua solo la sera dopo il lavoro, solo per dormire. Non hanno bambini, e dopo un paio di anni se ne vanno.“
Claudio Bartolacci, the instrument maker in Via della Madonna dei Monti lowers his voice as we ask him for the reasons for the change. „Ci sono poche persone di potere che abitano qua che vogliono tagliarsi il rione come una camicia su misura.“
and looks at me with a meaningful gaze. „Loro vogliono chiudere il rione per creare un piccolo borgo di campagna. Come sulle cartoline illustrate. Senza traffico, senza botteghe rumorose e sporche.“ According to him, the limitated traffic has had a remarkable influence on his business that he took over from his father who opened the shop over 70 years ago. „The biggest change and the biggest problem is the viability and the inhabitants (…)“ Giulio Murasco, native Napoletanian one of the last goldsmiths left in Via Baccina the former „via degli orafi“ agrees. „Certo, il quartiere e più pulito, più ,carino‘…ma i negozi sono tutti chiusi!“ What sounds strange, considering the impressive amount of newly opened fashion-, music- and accessory boutiques, fancy bars and restaurants can only be explained by the lack of shops supplying the needs of everyday life and the gradual disappearance of the diverse handcraft scene that gives space to a globalised mall-like structure- that has equivalents in every major city. It doesn‘t mean that all the shops are closed, but the ones which were deeply rooted in the history of the quarter.


Artist Francesco Acca

can unknowingly serve as example of the history of Monti. Living at Piazza della Madonna since 1965 and working as a car mechanic close by he has spent most of his life here in the „rione più bello di tutta Roma!“ In 1999 he switched his passion and profession and turned his garage in a gallery were he displays his own and other artists works. „Io rimarrò sempre a Monti. Ho avuto la fortuna di avere potuto comprare il mio appartamento negli anni ‘60. Sennò non sarei più qua.“ For him the changes are very obvious: „Vai a vedere fuori. Quando io sono arrivato, le strade erano piene di gente, di bambini,…c‘era il mercato nella strada ogni giorno. Non c‘è piu la famiglia al rione Monti.“ Theres no more wet laundry drying in the sun on Montis roof terraces, bankers, chiefdoctors or chief editors have taken over the upper appartments. Handcrafts have dramatically lost importance in the second half of the 20th century because of the perfection of industrial production. The development that is taking place in Monti at the moment is only arriving delayed in comparison to other European city centres. The main value of the quarter is no longer the professional knowledge and expertise of the settled artigiani but the position within the city and its beauty which attracts the creative branch. The amount of newly opening architecture, graphic or design practices is on the rise. There is no other place in Rome where there can be found such diverse and distinguished fashion boutiques. If one considers those professions as the contemporary continuation of oldfashioned handcrafts the authentic essence of the old quarter remains, but the area now moves to a more modern cosmopolitan beat.


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