The heart of Trastevere is Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, enclosed in splendid Sixteenth Century style buildings. The octagonal water cistern in the centre of the Piazza, was transformed into a pleasant fountain by Carlo Fontana.
The church of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, the first to host a public mass, and to be dedicated to the Virgin. The church itself is surrounded in myths and tradition. It is said that thirty-eight years before the birth of Christ, a substance purported to be oil, spurted from the ground of an ancient Roman site, originally called Taberna Meritoria, stretching down to the Tevere. However, at the time it remained an unexplained portent.
Later, after the birth of Christ, it was interpreted to have been a sign foretelling Christ's coming. Pope Callisto I thus decided to have the church built on this ancient site, and to this day, a step leading to the Presbytery marks the spot where the "oil" was said to have appeared. This mysterious substance purported, perhaps was petrol. In this day and age, a new source of crude-oil would indeed be miraculous to a world in need of natural resources. Watch this space!
In the fourth century, Pope Julius I developed the church, giving it the form of a Basilica. At the time, of pope Gregory IV, the invasion from the Saracens seemed imminent and the church was enlarged to accommodate and protect bodies of the early christians salvaged from the Catacombs. Again, in the Twelfth Century, the church was rebuilt by Innocent II using materials from the Roman Baths of Caracalla.
From that time on, structural changes continued intermittently until the Seventeen Hundreds. Some of these changes, such as the portico and modifications to the façade, were effected by the architect Carlo Fontana. The few elements remained from the original church include a strip of paving dating back to the Third Century, and the Romanic bell tower, at the top of which is a mosaic of the Madonna and child dating from the Sixteen Hundreds.
Santa Maria in Trastevere substituted the role of St Paul's Outside the Walls for at least three "Holy Years". Outbreaks of epidemics in the Roman countryside, and a serious fire in 1825 rendered St Paul's inaccessible or unusable, so the faithful visited Santa Maria in Trastevere for rites and prayer.
The Basilica is flanked by two religious buildings framing part of the Piazza: to the left, adjacent to the church stands the Saint Callisto Palace, once a Benedictine monastery. To the right of the Basilica stands "La Casa dei Canonici" (Clerical Residence), the façade of which dates back to the Sixteenth Century and was restored in the Eighteen and Nineteen Hundreds. On the same side, stands Palazzo Cavalieri (or Leopardi) with ashlar-work wall designs and a classic baroque portal.
This lovely central square as the whole Trastevere district, are now focal points for meeting, eating out, and people watching by day. By night, theaters, cinemas and a variety of clubs and bars are popular with visitors and Romans alike. Trastevere's streets offer unique handcrafted wares and one off clothing boutiques with a wonderful variety of styles, often open at all hours. For a characteristic urban evening out among the smells, tastes and people of Rome, is the perfect place to go.