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tall gold line

On the Campo dei Fiori

By Verda Ingle

click on thumbnails for larger pictures

On the Piazza, click here for larger picture
On the Piazza, click here for larger picture
On the Piazza, click here for larger picture
On the Piazza, click here for larger picture
Campo dei Fiori means “field of flowers,” but it is actually a cobblestone piazza where a wonderful daily farmers market takes place.
real citizens of the Campo, click here for larger picture
real citizens of the Campo
Tourists were present, even in March, but the neighborhood doesn't have a touristy atmosphere. It feels more like a low-key, center-city spot for locals to hang out, shop, and have a meal with friends. Vendors are not aggressive, pickpockets not in evidence. If you're a visitor trying to maintain a low profile, it's a comfortable place to be.

The morning produce market is spectacular. My travel partner, Judy Geary, can tell you I expended much film for shots of lush salad greens, fruits and vegetables, and ravishing cut flowers. Even though I was on vacation—and fleeing from the drudgery of family life back home—this market made me long for access to a kitchen so I could whip up a killer banquet. The flower vendors set out buckets of long-stemmed fat snapdragons, fragrant stocks, Dutch iris and a rainbow of flawless roses. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths. Cut branches of cherry blossoms, forsythia, and flowering quince. Potted hydrangeas in bloom. And on and on. Oh my god.

We hit the market often, early in the morning, to buy a fat slice of pungent Provolone from the gracious cheese lady. She didn't speak English, but knew how to communicate with foreigners by gesture—which was our favorite form of communication, too, since we didn't speak Italian. We knew how to ask "quante?" and she knew how to inquire, with thumb and forefinger, how big a slice we wanted, so we were able to conduct transactions with ease.

the herb vendor, click here for larger picture
the herb vendor
We needed this cheese purchase because Judy is something of a human steamroller who does not care to interrupt her investigation of a foreign city by wasting precious time at cafes. The best apples I ever ate in my life were crisp and candy-sweet Golden Delicious, big as two fists, purchased at the Campo dei Fiori and munched with Provolone while resting my poor, dying feet at lunchtime—for a few minutes, anyway.

There was also a young guy who sold herbs and spices in bulk, explaining in sparse English how to use them. We bought a blend he recommended as a topping for salads and pasta dishes. I still don't know exactly what's in it, but it's full of hot pepper seeds and makes everything I put it on taste more interesting. I'll be sorry when it's gone. Maybe it will necessitate a return trip to Rome, to get more?

An elderly couple presided over a stall filled with clothing items and table linens. They, too, spoke no English, but were courteous and seemed proud of their unusual wares. Judy bought some luscious cream silk pajamas for her sister-in-law and I bought a shimmering, translucent silk shawl, iridescent midnight blue with a slinky fringe.

In the center of the Campo dei Fiori stands the brooding figure of the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burned in the piazza by order of the Pope in 1600, for the heresy of suggesting the earth moved around the sun. He was later exonerated and honored with this statue which glowers in the direction of the Vatican. Judy got a nifty picture of him with a bird on his head.

In late afternoon the market vendors clear out of the piazza, and by evening it is transformed into a lively eating place as the cafes surrounding the piazza set out tables and chairs for al fresco dining. My feet were always shot by evening, so we didn't venture out of our neighborhood in search of dining experiences. We just went to the Campo.

One place we tried was a new business, with the unlikely Inglese name "Heartbreak Café" , owned by a friendly multilingual Swede who welcomed us heartily. Service there on opening night was a little disorganized. As we were looking over the menu and debating the merits of red wine versus white, our waiter appeared with a bottle of white, which he silently opened and poured, waited for us to sample, then left. Since he seemed to speak no English whatsoever, and we had not said a word to him yet, we could not figure out how he knew we'd decided on the white. However, it was delicious, so we drank. A while later we learned that we had been served someone else's expensive bottle in error. The Swede was chagrined but apologetic and charged us only the price of the house wine we'd been planning to order.

After ordering, huge salads on 12-inch plates were brought—absolutely delicious, full of peppery greens and fresh vegetables from the farmers market, artistically arranged and accompanied by vinegar and olive oil, and fresh bread. I had foolishly ordered first and second courses as well, but I devoured my entire salad anyway. That's how good it was. The place became a favorite because of those salads, and we dined there repeatedly. By the end of the week the service was much improved and they knew us as regulars.

Another restaurant we enjoyed, on the Ides of March, was Pancrazio's, which is located in an alley at one corner of Campo dei Fiori. Pancrazio's claim to fame is its building site atop the ancient Theater of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was murdered. The restaurant's owner has spent years carefully excavating below his building and uncovering some of these ruins, which can be viewed by visitors. He also has a tasteful display of interesting archaeological objects and maps. The food is good, too.

On our last night in Rome, we dined at the Grotte di Teatro di Pompeo, another restaurant capitalizing on its location and association with the ancient ruins. Our waiter was charming and gracious, but took an assertive sales approach to his job—a fact we did not fully comprehend until we got our bill at the end, and realized how many things he had talked us into. The food, however, was sublime. Spinach crepes and seafood risotto to die for, among other things. We will definitely go back, but will be more careful next time. Our hotel, the Smeraldo, was just a short stroll from Campo dei Fiori. Old but elegantly decorated, situated in a cobblestone alley full of little shops, and with a nice latteria conveniently located just across the way, it was the perfect lodging for us. On future trips to Rome, there is no place I would rather stay; and most of the reason is the Smeraldo's central-Rome location and its proximity to the Campo.

© Verda Ingle 2001

the cheese lady, click here for larger picture
the cheese lady
the gentleman silk vendor, click here for larger picture
the gentleman silk vendor
the deli cart, click here for larger picture
the deli cart
musicians at a Campo Café, click here for larger picture
Musicians at a Campo Café
Giordano Bruno statue
Giordano Bruno statue
the Heartbreak Café, click here for larger picture
the Heartbreak Café
Grotte di Teatro di Pompeo, click here for larger picture
Grotte di Teatro di Pompeo
Ristorante di Pancrazio, click here for larger picture
above & below:
Ristorante di Pancrazio
Latteria Haiti Sud, click here for larger picture
Latteria Haiti Sud

Ristorante di Pancrazio, click here for larger picture

the latteria from our hotel window, click here for larger picture
the latteria from our hotel window
the Campo at night, click here for larger picture
the Campo at night
Claudio at Hotel Smeraldo, click here for larger picture
Claudio at Hotel Smeraldo

Verda & friend Verda Ingle lives in Boone, N.C., with her husband and two teenagers. She describes herself as a slacker with any passions, including gardening.

More from Judy's and Verda's trip: Other articles by Judith Geary:
Big Changes in Ancient Rome
The Palatine: The Emperor's Views and Lunch in the Gardens
In the Steps of Julius Caesar
the little house in Pompeii held a grand illusion
Republican Roman Names
Republican Roman Construction
Buildings of Artificial Stone

Photos © Verda Ingle 2001
Gladiator photo © Irene Hahn

Ancient Rome as seen in the year 2001

for articles click here
by Judith Geary & Verda Ingle

Irene's Travelogue: Roman Germania 1999

gladiator image, click here for travelogue

© Verda Ingle 2001

On the Campo dei Fiori

Daily Life on the Campo
Food on the Campo
Dining around the Campo
Hotels and such...

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