Around seven years ago I found myself in Pigneto for the first time.I had been living in Rome for about a year and had been invited to a friend’s birthday in the neighbourhood at a Centro Sociale (A far-left political/community centre which often can also double as a cheap bar) and proceeded to drink as much as 20 euro could get me (more than enough I remember with an equally cheap alcohol-induced hangover the next day).
My first impressions of the neighbourhood were positive. I immediately liked the fact that it wasn’t anything like the historic centre. It had a sort of alternative gritty feel to it and seemed more real to me, more representative somehow of how the city actually was. One of my friends told me how the neighbourhood was historically a working class area, a home for those working in the factories and industries in the surrounding areas.
At that time, I just liked that it showed me a different side to the eternal city and besides that; didn’t give it much more thought. Little did I know that years later the neighbourhood would become such an important part of my life: that I would start my own tour business focussing on bringing people to lesser known areas of the city and Pigneto would be my starting point.
Years later, I still walk around the streets of the neighbourhood, making new discoveries. It’s amazing to think that as little as 10 years ago, this place was radically different, more a sleepy residential area than the hip bohemian hub it has become, attracting people from all over the city looking to have a good time. Its most famous strip is definitely the “isola pedonale” (the pedestrian road) teeming with bars and various eateries, both Italian and international. On a summer’s night, it can literally seem like there are hundreds maybe even thousands (though that’s probably an exaggeration) of people all around you.
And with an area such as Pigneto being really only in existence for around 140 years, you wouldn’t think that it would have much in the way of history; but that isn’t the case at all
The neighbourhood came into being around 1870, named after the pine trees planted by the Caballini family along the large walls of Villa Serventi. Around the start of the 1890’s, it became the depot for the SRTO Societa’ Romana Tramways Omnibus and during that period started to see construction of factories and other ind ustrial buildings in the area. In the early 1900’s the area as well as the rest of the south and south east of the capital saw a flux of workers start to inhabit these areas but it wasn’t until the 20’s and 30’s that Pigneto really started to develop as an actual residential neighbourhood.
It also became a hub for the anti-fascist movement during the second world war, with anti-fascist cells littered around the neighbourhood as well as in surrounding areas. Unfortunately, some of the area’s most famous fighters were killed trying to bring down Fascism. And today, you can read the stories of some of these men on plaques erected on various streets throughout the area.
Pigneto also featured in many important films of the Italy’s cinematic heyday. “Neo-realismo”; the perfect place, in fact to highlight the plight of those struggling to deal with the conflicts of the second world war as seen in Roma:Citta Aperta and life post-war as seen later on in Pasolini’s most famous work “Accatone”. It has always attracted artists, actors, directors etc and even now attracts many street artists, whose works can be seen throughout the neighbourhood with some of the best examples on Via Gentile da Mogliano.
Adding to this, an ancient acqueduct, “Acqua Felice” and Torrione Prenestino” a mausoluem from the 1st centry a.d and you have an area that encompasses both the old and the new.
And in this sense, Pigneto itself carries on the theme of the city as a whole: It’s two worlds, past and present sitting side by side forging ahead into the future.