A market place by day, a playground for revelers by night: Campo de’ Fiori is a piazza with two faces, neither of which particularly resonate with its given name, “Field of Flowers.” The buzzing square today has little in common with its pastoral name, pertinent only up to the Middle Ages, when Campo de’ Fiori was but an empty meadow, overlooked and unused. It eventually sprang to life in the 15th century, and apart from its function as a commercial and social center, its birth as a square signified untimely death for many; the piazza was used as a stage for public executions, the most famous being that of Giordano Bruno, an Italian philosopher and astrologer declared heretic by the Catholic Church. Burned at the stake in 1600, his somber figure stands tall in the center of Campo de’ Fiori today, his statue commemorating his martyrdom in the name of science.
Today, Campo de’ Fiori’s lively nature is in part due to its extraordinarily central location. The square lies just 400 meters east of the archaeological site and major bus hub, Largo di Torre Argentina, and less than 100 meters from the Renaissance palace, Palazzo Farnese. For daytime tourists and nighttime bar hoppers alike, Campo de’ Fiori’s location proves to be strategic, lying just south of Piazza Navona and north of Ponte Sisto, the bridge leading to the popular neighborhood of Trastevere.
During the day, stalls and canvas umbrellas fill the piazza as the market takes over, its sellers calling out to prospective patrons. Mercato Campo de’ Fiori is small but has an impressive spread of fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, dry pastas, jams, honey, and cured meats. Perhaps most impressive are the flower stands, boasting a colorful array of flowers that, set against the varying shades and levels of the buildings lining the square, invoke its name.
When the sun goes down, life shifts from the disappearing stalls to the awakening bars and restaurants along the perimeter of the square. The outdoor tables are full all year long, under the blaze of heat lamps during the winter months and the cool breeze of fans during the summer. The ambience in the evenings is indescribably cool – the lighting, the people, the backdrop of the incongruent buildings – but you may not want to stick around for too many drinks. Campo de’ Fiori is a favorite among rowdy study abroad students and raucous Italian teens. If the names of the two most infamous bars in the square – Sloppy Sam’s and Drunken Ship – didn’t tip you off, well, it’s safe to say this much: if you’re looking for an authentic Italian experience, pick up and head elsewhere. Otherwise, feel free to stay and close down the bars at 2am.
Rome for the Holidays has an apartment, the Cunningham, on the quiet Via dei Cappellari, which leads straight into Campo de’ Fiori. Nearby are three additional apartments: the Stillman, the Lancaster, and the Gallagher. If you choose this area, you are by no means confined to Campo de’ Fiori. Via del Pellegrino, a parallel of Via dei Cappellari, hosts a variety of restaurants, cafés and bars with a less touristy and more grown-up vibe. Barnum Café is a favorite among both Italians and expats, drawing an eclectic crowd with its cozy, vintage décor and Italian-international menu. For strictly Roman cuisine, Hosteria Grappolo d’Oro is located just around the corner from Campo de’ Fiori in Piazza della Cancelleria. Its honest, carefully prepared dishes are a rare find in such a touristy part of town, and it doesn’t disappoint. Their selection of antipasti are particularly delicious. Try the “polpette di ricotta e melanzane,” breaded and fried croquettes filled with ricotta cheese and eggplant, or the “panzanella,” a light, summery salad with soaked bread, tomatoes, and basil.
Whether you’re drawn to where the action happens or prefer a quiet haven on a cobblestoned side street, Campo de’ Fiori offers both.
Photos courtesy of italia.it and touritalynow.com)
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