When in Rome: a classicist’s guide to combining historical and culinary culture

Classicists visiting Rome are faced with a barrage of different guides, maps and plans of the city and its classical sites (Amanda Claridge’s Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide comes particularly recommended). Whilst wandering the city I have, however, come to realise that what many of these guides lack is advice on how to combine your visits with Rome’s other great attraction: its food. Here, then, is a guide to my top 5 restaurants, bars and gelaterias that enable you to combine Classical monuments with classically-good Roman food.

  1. ‘Gusto

Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 9, 00186 Roma

For the quality of both its pizza and its location in one of the most historically interesting piazzas in Rome, this restaurant is definitely worth visiting. From one of the tables outside, you have a view onto the (not uncontroversial) glass Ara Pacis museum, Augustus’ mausoleum and the 1930s architecture that now surrounds the square. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern is obvious everywhere in Rome, but this square provides one of the most striking and thought-provoking examples. It demonstrates the ways that the city’s classical past, and the legacy of Augustus in particular, was reappropriated and reshaped by Mussolini in the mid twentieth century: he had the Ara Pacis moved from its original location on the Campus Martius and reconstructed here, in a square that still bears a Latin inscription with the phrase ‘Mussolini Dux’.

  1. Sora Margherita

Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30, 00186 Roma

This charming restaurant in the Ghetto does absolutely delicious, and hearty, food (the pasta is a particular highlight), and is just around the corner from both the impressive Theatre of Marcellus and the Porticus of Octavia. The former, named after Augustus’ nephew who died in 23 BC, was begun by Julius Caesar and completed by Augustus, whilst the latter was named in honour of Augustus’ sister Octavia. For an excellent view of the porticus, start off with a drink at Bar Toto, which has tables out on the street. There is even some interesting spolia in the wall above the bar’s signage!

  1. Gelateria dei Gracchi

Via di Ripetta, 261, 00186 Roma

I admit that the classical theme of this gelateria is restricted to its name, although it does also enjoy an excellent position just off Piazza del Popolo, home to one of Rome’s thirteen obelisks (this one was brought to Rome in 10 BC, although dates originally from the thirteenth century BC). The ice-cream is as crowd-pleasing as its namesakes, and the flavours change regularly with the seasons.

  1. La Taverna dei Quarante

Via Claudia, 24, 00184 Roma

For a restaurant within sight of the Colosseum, this tavern is remarkably authentic and tourist-free. It is situated right beside the slopes of the Caelian hill, home to Nero’s Nymphaeum and Aqueduct.

  1. Il Gelato di San Crispino

Piazza della Maddalena, 3, 00186 Roma

The area around the Pantheon is famously home to a number of excellent ice cream and coffee shops, but amongst my favourite is this gelateria. The surprisingly-not-too-sweet signature honey flavour is delicious! Whilst enjoying your gelato, you can wander over the Piazza Navona, which preserves the shape of Domitian’s stadium. Make sure to walk up to Via di Torsanguigna on the piazza’s north side, where an original fragment of the stadium is still visible from the street.

As you can imagine, the research required for this blogpost was some of the most arduous I have ever had to do. I would like to thank all of those, from the British School at Rome and beyond, who ‘assisted’ me, and above all Dr. Hannah Cornwell for recommending several of these places to me in the first place. Following conversation over dinner at the BSR, Part 2, featuring dining in the Theatre of Pompey and the amphora mountain of Testaccio, is in the pipeline!


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