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Mercato di Testaccio: modern day agora

By September 20, 20165 Comments

Buzzing with activity, chatter and delicious aromas, the market square has historically been at the center of city life. The Greek concept of agora – a term whose literal meaning is “gathering place” or “assembly” as the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city – later evolved to a place that also served as a marketplace where merchants sold their goods on stalls and small clustered shops. The agora marketplace brought people together to supply and provide sustenance for family and to foster communication, enhancing social interaction.

Mercato Testaccio ·

One of Rome’s best examples of this cultural evolution is the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio: a modern-day agora sitting on nearly two millenia of history.

In the 1st century much of the Tiber River trade took place in Testaccio, and the remains of the broken testae amphorae (clay vessels) stacked to create the artificial Monte dei Cocci hill in the heart of Testaccio, is the archeological evidence of the area’s ancient everyday Roman life. In the 1900s thanks to the building of the mattatoio (the city’s slaughterhouse from 1920s until it closed in 1975) – which employed many workers lodging in the developing housing “lotti” – Testaccio became a center of activity for butchers and one of Rome’s most traditional working class neighborhoods. Two decades ago, a process of gentrification changed Testaccio’s hard-at-work face to a more hipster one, shifting it from a raucus blue collar neighborhood to a swinging food and culture mecca.

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio ·

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio ·

It comes to no surprise then that the Testaccio neighborhood market – which for several decades resided in the small square at the intersection of Via Bodoni, Via Manuzio, Via della Robbia and Via Mastro Giorgio, and relocated to its present address in 2012 – should become one of the neighborhood’s most striking and beloved attractions. Despite initial scepticism regarding the modern 5000-square meter structure designed by architect Marco Rietti, past and present come together in and among the sky-lit, pristine stalls, which Romans now greatly appreciate.

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio ·

Fismongers, butchers, produce sellers and other vendors occupy the 100 or so stalls that circle the central “piazza” complete with refurbished pellet seating and a cafe overlooking ancient Roman ruins of the original 1st century market found in the lower levels during contruction. Favorite occupants that moved from the old location and the newly businesses are thriving and include the likes of butcher dynasty Sartor (box #61 and #70), while stall #94 is fishmonger Mastroianni (yes, related to the late actor), baker Da Artenio who also sells a few natural wines and the best bite-sized pizzas in the universe occupies box #90.

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio ·

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio ·

Great mixed juices and vegetarian smoothies can be enjoyed at Zoé at box #59, while retired butcher Sergio Esposito stuffs classic cucina romana recipes in sandwiches at box #15 Mordi e Vai. Fresh seasonal vegetables are sold with a smile at #82 Fiori di Zucca, and Silvia‘s fruit and produce stall #68 is one of our favorites. Michelin star-studded Chef Cristina Bowerman recently opened another Romeo space in the market at #30, and with it Cups at #44 which is a fun takeaway kitchen that sells tasty signature dishes served in portable gelato-like cups. There’s also a gluten free bakery In Cibo Veritas at number #57, a delightful old school deli run by the sweet cuple Lina and Enzo at #89, and fresh pasta makers Le Mani in Pasta, which besides selling all kinds of fresh pasta also conveniently serves plates of freshly strecthed and cooked pasta for a handful of Euros at box #58.

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio ·

In the Testaccio neighborhood where the market is located there are also contemporary art museums, shops that sell sublime cured meats, balsamic vinegars, cold pressed olive oils and cheeses, plus baked goods, coffee bars, and pastry shops. Not to mention the fabulous restaurants that serve everything from quinto quarto to freshly caught fish!

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio ·

Walking the tree-lined avenues of Testaccio and taking in the feel of everyday life is an authentic Rome experience.

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio ·

Interested in visiting the Testaccio market and neighborhood with our trusted food and wine experts? Visit our website!

All images © Eleonora Baldwin


  • Roseann says:

    And the Mercato hangs on even if Eatly is near Roma? Is it worth a visit like DisneyWorld and not again for most Romans?

    • Eataly offers a completely different range of products and is surely driven by an eager entrepreneurial ideology.
      Mercato Centrale is on the other hand a very fancy “food court” that gathers under the same, central location the best in local/sustainable gastronomy.

      Definitely worth a visit and hopefull most Romans will understand how important places like these can be to local, small businesses.

  • Giuseppe Stramandinoli says:

    Sorry Eleonora, can’t agree with your take on the new market at Testaccio. Compared with the grit and colour of the old market, the modern version is sterile beyond belief: it lacks that boisterous personality for which Rome and Romans are so famous. Not sure what the architect was thinking, but it looks like it could have been built by Ikea. It’s as if you’ve left the hustle and bustle of Rome and suddenly arrived in Scandinavia. An absolute travesty!

    • Hi Giuseppe, thanks for leaving your heartfelt comment. When in 2012 the new market first opened opposite the Mattatoio, I felt exactly the same way. I missed the grit, the character and even the scary cobwebs hanging from the ceiling. Have you been to the market recently? The vibe is amazing. The central area overlooking the archeological dig, housing the cafe, is anything but sterile and colorless. It’s in fact very much alive, noisy and boisterous. The light from the glass ceiling is natural and creates an open-air market sensation. Both vendors and daily customers (including older signoras who swore by the old location) have had to think again and revise their negative judgement. Each stall has electricity, running water, refrigeration: luxuries which the old venue alas did not provide. More and more stalls are opening with high degree of quality and entrepreneurial drive. The move from the old square has proved successful. The products sold have maintained their quality, expanding selection, and make way for a variety of new vendors and new products. The market boasts much more than food, and has become a veritable meeting place – not just to source zucchini and meat. The other goods available are also on point: books, pottery, art, clothing, shoes, furniture, home décor.
      I hope you have a chance to visit the new Testaccio market. Stop by for a glass of wine and a bite to eat while you browse the handsome produce. Let it win you over, just like it did for me.

  • Giuseppe Stramandinoli says:

    Hi Eleonora

    thanks for posting my less than complimentary comments on the new Testaccio market. I’ve been to the new market a couple of times, including last May. I’ll be there again in a few months (I live in Melbourne, Australia) and will give it another chance to win me over! On a more positive note, I really enjoy reading your great articles on Italy — thank you.

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