Garbatella - students, pensioners and architecture

An area of intriguing juxtaposition

South of Piramide metro station and surrounding Garbatella metro station is an area of intriguing juxtaposition. While it is instantly observable that this is the domain of Roma Tre University’s students, immediately to the right of Garbatella station as you exit is also a little park space where, at 4pm on the dot, tottering pensioners gather daily to play cards at tables under the leafy shade.

This juxtaposition is also starkly present in the area’s architecture. Ornate terracotta-coloured villas decked out in venetian shutters and stone planters line cobbled streets (see Via Luigi Orlando), while erupting out from these areas are huge, grey and graffitied concrete apartment blocks, bristling with satellite dishes and rippling with laundry drying on the hundreds of balconies. All about, the dignity of the older buildings is dynamically offset by the pragmatism and the rawness of the new.




In other cities, these huge tenements can feel dismal and depressed, but the ones here are saved from ugliness by the fact that they are so eminently lived in and enjoyed by their citizens. The streets are vibrantly alive and you only have to stand in Piazza Michele da Carbonara for a few minutes to the feel the buzz of the place. Head off this piazza up Viale Guglielmo Massaia to Antichi Sapori for quality, freshly made tortellini and ravioli.

Heading along the east-west Viale Giustiniano Imperatore high street there is Giacomania, a kids’ fairground replete with bouncy castle and dodgems, as well as a basketball court alongside. As you near the overground station of Basilica S. Paolo you reach an OVS clothes store, for passably wearable budget threads, and outside the station itself are super cheap market stalls selling books and clothes at a euro a pop, there all week long.

As the nearby station (Basilica S. Paolo) strongly suggests, here is where you would disembark for the staggeringly, dwarfingly, monolithic Basilica Papale San Paolo fuori le Mura. This church, the burial place of St. Paul who was renowned for his communication skills, quite simply - and with a good deal of glib irony - defies description. It. is. Huge. Tiger Woods couldn’t hit a driver its entire length. And for the price of not wearing hot pants and a boob-tube you can go view the superb mosaic domes without parting with a single sweaty cent.

To the front of the church is a large, open park space, complete with a children’s play area. Again, a happy and harmonious dynamic is at work here: golden oldies twirl to classic accordion music under a covered dancing area on the park’s western side while groups of youths sit on nearby benches among dubious plumes of aromatic smoke and mum’s toddle their kids and prams by. After watching this you can sidle into Roma Tre University’s courtyard cafe area, at the park’s north end, and sit among the beautiful aspirants and drink Rome’s cheapest - and not at all bad - cappuccino at 80 cents. From here it’s just a 40 minute walk up the Tiber to the heart of Trastevere.