Greetings to all following along on our stay in Europe! My name is Garrett Burnham, and I am a 3rd year Bachelor of Science in Architecture student enrolled in this years epic journey. During my first week in Rome I have seen many ancient and magnificent sights wonderous to behold, but what captured my imagination most so far has been the market culture in the city, and in particular, the area along Clivio Portuense.
The Clivio Portuense may not look like much from the satellite view above, but from the ground, it is a vibrant and rich tapestry that is home to some of my favorite Romans. Along its quarter mile tract, the narrow alley is host to bicycle repair shops, motorcycle repair and equipment shops, random parts stores, radio equipment, and various other odds and ends. The shops are set up in a half hazard, shanty town fashion with little to now breathing space between them. Walking along the Clivio is like stepping into a science fiction novel’s futuristic black market or an Arthurian medieval market (for the most part, its vastly safer than either of these however). What really brings the space to life however, is its people. The shop owners are as varied in appearance as the shops are in content, but without fail, each of them nods there head, smiles, and offers a friendly ‘giorno’ as I pass by.
Perhaps my favorite shop along the route is the Radio equipment store. Its owner, a short, middle aged man named Franco, now knows me by sight and is incredibly friendly. The other day, he even let me draw his 1966 car that he keeps undercover in his shop. This level of connection has bound me to this seemingly forgotten neighborhood, and has made it dear to me.
The other side of Rome that has intrigued me is that surrounding its market culture. Perhaps the most profound display of this is the flee market which sets up shop along the viali di trastevere and southern end of the neighborhood every Sunday. Heralded as the largest of its kind in all of Europe, it is truly a sight to awaken to as we all experienced this past Sunday morning. From 6:00AM the sounds of tents and folding tables being erected fills the air as the hundreds of shop owners arrive. Stepping out the door to our apartment building, one is cast straight into the throng. The market contains everything from cheap sundries (grill lighters and cellphone chargers) to intriguing curiosities (1920’s advertisements and birds eye maple cigar boxes). For miles, the pop up tents stretch down the street and over the horizon on both sides. In some ways it puts the Minnesota State Fair to shame, though I have yet to find fried candy bars or buckets of cookies.
Like the tent operators calling across the market to one another, the city seems to call out to its visitors, ever beckoning them to venture further into its depths to explore, discover, and learn. If I hadn’t answered this call, I may have never discovered Franco’s beautiful car, or the rich immensity compiled by hundreds of merchants. I will continue to follow this sirens song in hopes of discovering more markets and more of the friendly Roman character which I have come to love.