Trastevere, a lively rione lying close to the Janiculum Hill and the Tiber at the same time, is a modern town with medieval bones. The streets—many of which are still paved in uneven, if charming, cobblestone—wind up and around, taking circuitous routes through the oddly shaped segments of the city. Not only are these streets serpentine in form, but they’re also prone to name-changing, often at puzzling points.
When I stepped off the plane into Fiumicino Airport, I was prepared. I knew that the terminals were notoriously difficult to navigate, and I also knew that as long as I could keep my head on my shoulders, I had to find an exit eventually. Of course, beyond all those, I knew that the very nice family who’d sat next to me on the flight had been to Italy before, and probably knew which way to go.
However, in my attempts to make my first international flight go as smoothly as possible, I had failed to account for one very important detail.
Arriving in Trastevere.
An official cab took me from Fiumicino to my temporary dwelling in the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, where I soon settled in. Still jetlagged and, yet, eager to wander, I soon packed up my bag, slung it over my shoulder, and set out. I knew there were any number of marvelous little bars (Italian bars, rather than featuring beer as their primary attraction, serve any number of edible treats, coffee, and wine) and gorgeous medieval churches in Trastevere alone—and besides, how hard could it possibly be to navigate this not-too-large neighborhood?
The answer is very. It can be very hard.
A week later, though, as I look back over the past days and slowly grow familiar with the winding cobbled streets of Trastevere, I realize a peculiar truth about Trastevere. Like Rome, paradoxically tied both to the ancient past and to the all-too-vivid, colorful present, Trastevere itself is a perfectly clear maze. There is an art to getting lost in Trastevere, and the act of doing so plunges you into a world of tiny side-streets unmentioned by any maps or guidebooks and charming little shops tucked away into the city-corners. Trastevere is, indeed, difficult to navigate, and often the winding roads seem like an intentional jibe from the road-planners to eager tourists—but, on the contrary, those winding roads expose a person to the true flavor of Trastevere.
So, the next time you chance upon a city that seems like all its streets and pathways have gone topsy-turvy on you, go ahead and pack your map, GPS, and whatnot—but let yourself enjoy getting lost. You never know what kind of magic you might find hidden away.
Rachel Thomas is a senior in the Honors Tutorial College studying Classics. She is currently staying in Rome while she studies at the American Academy in Rome’s Classical Summer School.