Crossing the Tiber

South of the center of Rome lies the neighborhood of Trastevere, literally “across the Tiber”. Our journey today took us there. We began on Isola Tiberna, a small island in the river. It was near here over two millennia ago that Rome was founded. Crossing to the other side, we felt the difference immediately – more real, more Roman. Parts of the neighborhood were not demolished and rebuilt in the 19th century as much of the city was. As a result the streets are narrow and picturesque.

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We visited the tranquil Church of Santa Cecilia. Immigrants – in other words non-citizens – to Ancient Rome couldn’t live inside the city walls. As a result this neighborhood has some of the oldest churches in the city, many built on the homes where early Christians worshiped in secret. Santa Cecilia was a martyred early convert who willed her house to the Christian community. Once Christianity was legalized in the 4th century a church was built there.

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We continued on to the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, thought to be the very first dedicated to Mary and built over another early Christian home. There is a wonderful 9th c. mosaic behind the altar.

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After a good lunch of traditional Roman cuisine – minestrone di verdure, pears with pecorino cheese and bacutini con cacio e pepe (thick pasta with pecorino and pepper) we crossed back from Trastevere. I love the sign.

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The Jews of Rome are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi, they arrived before the diaspora as merchants. They settled, like many immigrants, in Trastevere. Ceasar supported the community because they were well connected traders and didn’t proselytize. Over time things got worse. Once Rome was Christianized restriction on marriage and land ownership were instituted but still the community did fairly well. Then came the counterreformation and the swampy land just north of the Tiber was made into a ghetto. Some four thousand Jews were forced into seven acres behind walls and locked in at night. A few of the old streets that remain give an idea of the crowded conditions.

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The Ghetto was finally demolished when Italy united in the 19th c. Things were better until Mussolini then Hitler. Many Roman Jews were sent to the camps and the community never really recovered. Today the neighborhood has undergone a renaissance. Although most of Rome’s Jews don’t live here many visit often and consider it their spiritual home.

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The caf├ęs are separated into meat and milk.

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