When I moved to Testaccio two years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know much about the neighborhood, except that it allowed me to get to work after a mere 20-minute walk, which was more than enough for me. It took me some time to discover all of the unique charm that Testaccio has to offer – starting with the culture, moving to the history, and ending with the never-ending opportunities of tasting amazing food.
I soon learned that Testaccio is where Piramide is. And no, I’m not just talking about the name of a subway stop – I’m talking about an actual pyramid. Just like the ones built by Egyptian slaves after an infinite amount of days and nights of hard work, the Piramide Cestia was built around 18-12 b.C., when magistrate Gaius Cestius decided he wasn’t settling for a common tomb. Instead, Gaius thought the best place to rest in the eternal sleep would have been a real-life pyramid, made of just the most precious travertine and pure Carrara marble.
In accordance with his wishes, the majestic creation was completed in 330 days – a timespan enviable by the Egyptians themselves. Gaius had in fact set a deadline for the completion of the tomb, threatening his heirs with the loss of his patrimony if they hadn’t been able to stick to the plan.
At the time of construction, the Pyramid was located outside the walls of the city, in the countryside. It was in fact illegal to build tombs within Rome’s walls. Inside the burial monument, there is only one small room, which constitutes a little more than 1% of the entire volume of the building. Compared to its Egyptian ancestors, Gaius’ grave stands taller than any other, aided by the strength and firmness of the expensive materials that compose it.
The Pryamid recently underwent a massive 2 million euro restoration which was finished this year.
But the Piramide Cestia is not the only perk of the Testaccio neighborhood. On a group tour or a private tour of the city, you can experience the only pyramid in Europe and the gorgeous cemetery adjacent to it. Under the shade of Gaius’ mausoleum, in fact, Mediterranean cypress and pomegranate trees protect the final resting place of non-Catholic expats who, for one reason or another, fell in love with the Eternal City to the point of never wanting to depart from it.
John Keats and Percy Shelley are only two of the literary celebrities buried in the grassy meadow of this cemetery, which is home to many other poets and artists, as well as political figures such as the Italian Antonio Gramsci. The park is a beautiful combination of history and literature, and a great place to rest your feet, shielded by the silhouette of the pyramid.
Testaccio is also very well known for its incredible food market. Apart from being just around the corner from Porta Portese – where you can spend your Sunday mornings hunting for ancient treasures – the neighborhood hosts a unique “emporium” in what used to be a slaughterhouse and is now one of the greatest gastronomic activities in the Eternal City. In this exceptional location, everything has stayed the way it traditionally was – at the Testaccio market, all products are locally grown, always fresh and guaranteed, butchers yell to shift attention to the delicious meat cuts, and the many stands display a variety of vegetables and fruits that cannot be seen anywhere else.
Moral of the story is that Testaccio is indeed a great place to be. And if you can’t actually move in the neighborhood, at least give yourself the opportunity to explore it!