Culture / Travel

The Underbelly of Rome: An Off-the-Radar Guide to the Eternal City — Hidden Haunts, Graves and Unusual Restaurants

BY Mary Margaret Hansen // 06.28.16
photography Mary Margaret Hansen.

This is the second installment of photographer and activist Mary Margaret Hansen‘s travel diary as she and fellow artist Earl Staley bask in an Italian sojourn. Read the first story here

Sunday Perambulations:
Today was a sunny, blue-sky Sunday in Rome. Earl and I headed toward the Tiber, crossing the Ponte Sisto into Trastevere to find lunch. Serendipitously, we discovered Trattoria de Gli Amici (the Trattoria of the Friends), a most unusual restaurant. The place is a cooperative promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio for people with disabilities. They work together with professionals and friends who give their time as volunteers. The restaurant’s profits provide training for disabled people for an array of employment opportunities in the food business.

We ate well and loved the cause.

Earl and I ordered a plate of deep-fried mixed veggies. The stuffed green olives and the squash blossoms were especially good. We also ate a plate of fried anchovies. I cannot wait until we arrive in Naples mid-week, where we’ll consume fried anchovies every day.

On our way back through Trastevere’s narrow streets to the river, we came upon a vintage Ford Mustang. Wow! Someone is a very proud owner.

The streets close to Campo de’ Fiori were jammed with street vendors. I liked the vendor who stood beside a box covered with a blue tablecloth, because he displayed a dozen miniature sewing machines and offered demonstrations. I succumbed, purchasing several for Christmas stocking stuffers for the seamstresses in my family.

Such was our Sunday. We are now readying ourselves for tomorrow’s sightseeing.

Monday-Morning Meanderings
Here in the middle of Rome there is a cemetery that does not feel especially Roman. It’s a simple place, fragrant with flowering jasmine vines and lantana. Signage names it The Non-Catholic Cemetery, but guidebooks list it as the Protestant Cemetery. It is home to the tall (some 118 feet) and incongruous white marble Pyramid of Caius Cestius, a wealthy Roman who died in 12 BC. The rest of the graves date from the mid 18-century onward.

The poet John Keats tomb is here, engraved with the epitaph “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.” A lone young woman sat on the bench near his grave site, never stirring as we moved through what seemed in that moment to be her private space.

Percy Shelley is buried in this cemetery. So is Goethe’s son. So are almost 4,000 others, forever resting in this quiet place just inside the old Roman city walls. I thought that there were a surprising number of tombstones for whom I can only assume were expat women. More than a few are named in marble as Artist or Writer. Surely, they deserved Google searches that could give us clues to the reasons for their journeys to Rome. Curiosity raised, I did some research and have included links about some very talented women who wished to be buried in this unique cemetery.

Christina G. Huemer

1947- 2010

Who so loved this place.

Huemer was the beloved Drue Heinz Librarian Emerita for the American Academy in Rome from 1993 to 2008.

Vanessa Somers Vreeland

London 22 X 1935

Rome 12 III 2016


Cynthia Ide Rockwell

Hollywood 1.8.1930

Rome 28.4.2013

A small winged bronze dancer cavorts on this marble grave.

Mary Chamberlin Harding


Lebanon Illinois – U.S.A.

June 20th 1914

Rome July 12th 1998

Harding penned the captivating 1959 volume Dear Friends and Darling Romans.

Belinda Lee

1935 – 1961

Lee was a beautiful English movie actress who was killed in a car crash, way too young.

We discovered the grave site of Texans Harry Hall Burns and Nella Zammitti Burns and uncovered online a wonderful story about the Burns. Harry met Nella when he served in the Army in WW II. After the war, they settled in Houston and were joined by Nella’s sisters and parents. They raised a family, and today their grandchildren operate Zammitti’s Italian Ristorante, a pizza and pasta eatery in Kingwood.

From the cemetery, Earl and I wandered into Testaccio and passed what appears to be a green grassy hill surrounded by a cobblestone street lined with nighttime bars. The hill, called Monte Testaccio, is an ancient dump, a mountain of millions of fragments of ceramic jugs that once held olive oil, wine, wheat and other products, imported by ship and stored in great warehouses. You’d never know by looking at this green hill what lies beneath, and for centuries no one suspected it was all a mountain of broken pots.

We lunched in Testaccio, a white pizza covered with smoked salmon, arugula and a hunk of goat cheese doused with olive oil. Fine way to close out our Monday morning.

Discover Weber Pellet Grill at Bering's

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