Rome’s Termini Railway Station is not exactly on the list of top sites for visitors to Italy’s capital. However, not far from the main railway station is a gem of a suburb full of cheap and cheerful eateries, wine bars, pubs, dance clubs and funky shops. San Lorenzo is a quartiere as they are called in Italian, or suburb, to the east of Rome’s historical center. It’s bordered on one side by the Termini Railway Station and remnants of the Aurelian Wall, and the La Sapienza University on another.
Strolling the cobblestoned streets of San Lorenzo during the daytime is like being in a small country town, a world away from the hustle and bustle of traffic clogged Rome. Elderly men gather on street corners to discuss politics or set up a table on the footpath to play cards. Housewives flutter from the bread shop to the cheese shop hurrying to get home to prepare lunch. In the main square on Via dei Volsci a daily market is set up selling fruit and veggies, underwear and kitchen utensils. Later in the morning and afternoon students gather in cafés drinking espresso and smoking, piles of books next to them. If you care to join them you’ll discover it’s a good place to take in everyday Italian life
As you wander around this area you’ll notice that some buildings are missing their upper floors. This is because San Lorenzo was heavily bombed during the Second World War due to its proximity to the Termini Railway Station, a steel factory and numerous warehouses.
The first building appeared in this area between 1884-1888 next to the Tiburtina Gate, which was known as Saint Lorenzo Gate after which the suburb was named. At the beginning of the 20th century many now famous factories started up here, such as the Cecere pastry shop on Via degli Ausoni and the Wuhrer brewery in Via degli Apuli. In 1907 Dr Maria Montessori started the first Montessori School here at Via dei Marsi, 28.
While the area doesn’t have any specific touristic sites, The Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls is worth a visit. This basilica is one of the seven pilgrimage churches in Rome and as the name suggests it’s built over the site of Saint Lawrence’s grave. The Church also features Byzantine Mosaics and in the cloisters you’ll find an interesting display of ancient inscriptions as well as part of a bomb that hit the Basilica in 1943. The nearby Verano Cemetary was also said to have been hit by 20 bombs in the same year. At the edge of San Lorenzo you’ll find Porta Maggiore or the ‘larger gate’ that was once part of the city’s outer walls, as well as ruins of the ancient Aurelian Walls that run along Via di Porta Labicana.
You’ll probably notice a lot of graffiti in the area which if you read Italian will tell you a lot about the suburb’s political past. In the 1960s San Lorenzo was the headquarters of student activism and today it is still considered a meeting point for left wing activists, as well as artists and in particular film makers. The suburb’s left wing past dates back as early as 1909 when it gained the reputation as being a ‘red quarter’ because it was the only area of the City that tried to stop Mussolini’s March on Rome.
A stroll through San Lorenzo …
Traditionally San Lorenzo has been a working class suburb but today it is slowly becoming trendier. Rents have become quite high in San Lorenzo and this has seen many families move out and students in share houses move in. Several eateries have also been renovated into ‘high class expensive’ restaurants, but on the whole San Lorenzo has maintained its reputation as an area for a cheap night out.
In the evenings San Lorenzo becomes pedestrian-only and so you can wander the streets without fear of being run over and on weekends join in the party atmosphere that forms on street corners. After the sun goes down what appeared to be garage doors in the day time come up are to reveal hole in the wall pubs and live music venues.
You’ll be sure to find something interesting happening in this lively area every night of the week. You can look at the gig guide in the weekly Roma C’e’ magazine that comes out on Wednesdays and is available at news stands or just head to San Lorenzo and stick your head into venues to see what’s going on. In some places you might be asked to become a member. Membership is free – you just give your name and email, sometimes and address and will be given a membership card. This is because the clubs owners can save on licensing fees by setting up a member’s club rather than your usual public bar. Inside though most places are the same as any other pub but they usually have free live music on too.
Another curiosity in San Lorenzo is the area’s centri sociali, roughly translated as social centers. These are big and small clubs occupied illegally in buildings or warehouses. Once the places have been taken over activists renovate them and turn them into spaces for exhibitions, theatre, political or social club meetings/forums and concerts. Many also serve cheap drinks and home cooked meals
L’Arancia Blu Vegetarian Wine Bar
Via dei Latini, 65
The Blue Orange serves wholesome vegetarian fare. It’s all healthy, homemade dishes, and they serve some really yummy desserts, including vegan friendly ones. Sadly blue oranges aren’t on the menu but they do have an excellent wine selection.
Pizzeria Formula Uno
Via degli Equi 13
What might look like a scruffy eatery is actually one of the tastiest and cheapest in Rome. Formula Uno is something of an institution in San Lorenzo and is as such always crowded, so be prepared to wait a while for a table. As well as pizza they serve typical Roman entrée snacks like fried zucchini flowers. It’s closed on Sundays.
Via dei Sabelli, 99
If you prefer Neapolitan-style pizza with a thick and soft dough rather than the crispy Roman variety then try this cheerful pizzeria. As the name suggests (vacca means cow) they also serve various cuts of steaks – make sure you order the home made fries and artichokes as side dishes!
Via Tiburtina, 135
If lounging around on designer armchairs surrounded by a vintage chocolate factory and candles, indulging in chocolate sounds like a good day long treat then SAID is the place for you. During the day you can taste nine types of hot chocolate here along with pralines and cakes. Why not stick around until 7pm when the aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks) start accompanied by a buffet where chocolate is the main ingredient, even in the savoury dishes! Prices here are slightly higher than most of the student friendly eateries in the area.
Via dei Volsci, 59
Ferrazza used to be a wine cellar but has now been renovated into a rustic restaurant and wine bar. The soft lighting and mellow jazz music make it a nice spot for an intimate drink. Located on the main square in the area it is also a good place to people watch or soak up San Lorenzo’s atmosphere. You can sample a wide variety of regional wine and local food here. During the week it is usually very quiet but get there early on weekends – though it’s closed on Sundays.
Via dei Sabelli 43
This Irish style wood paneled pub is an institution in San Lorenzo. It’s wide, open space is a luxury for pubs in the suburb and makes it a great place for larger gatherings. As well as serving great wines they also brew their own beer. Open daily from 7 pm – 2am, they have an aperitivo until 9pm where for a set price you can enjoy a drink and help yourself to a rich all you can eat buffet. They also have free Wi-Fi internet.
Via del Volsci 126
Located on one of the liveliest streets for nightlife in the suburb, Dimmi is the place for an intense night of music and dancing. It’s usually packed most nights of the week and the parties go until late. The music changes each night but usually falls in the genre of electro-house-rap. Make sure you check the website to see what’s on as guest djs and alternative bands from around the world play here. Entrance can sometimes be expensive for San Lorenzo at 10 euro, though is often just 5 euro.
Via dei Sabelli, 2
You’ll hear everything from rock to big beat to Latin playing in this underground disco bar. DDT is one of the very late night venues in San Lorenzo opening from 10:30pm – 3am Tuesday-Saturday. Cheap and alternative, you’ll need to sign up for 3 months membership (free) to get in.
ESC Atelier Occupato
Via dei Volsci 159
This warehouse occupied by student activists hosts different and varied events almost every night of the week. They have a wine bar with free wireless internet open Tuesday-Thursday from 6pm-midnight and Fridays 6pm-2am. Over the weekend they usually hold major events, concerts or festivals. Entry tends to be less than 5 euro, usually 2 euro at the door. Some of ESC’s members speak English.
Once in Rome follow the signs to the Termini Railway Station. Once at the Station follow Via Marsala until you arrive at an archway. Turn left onto Via dei Ramni and immediately turn left again onto Via di Porta Tiburtina. Take the second left onto Via Tiburtina and you’re in San Lorenzo. You can also follow the directions to the Verano Cemetery (Cimitero del Verano) which will also lead you to Via Tiburtina.
Any bus that goes to Termini Railway Station, which is where you should get off. If you are coming from the historical center then Express Bus 40 is the quickest. From the Station it’s a 10 minute walk following the above directions from Via Marsala. The 492 bus goes down Via Tiburtina and you can catch it from either Largo di Torre Argentina, Piazza Venezia or Via Nazionale in the historical center of Rome. However this bus does not pass frequently.
Take tram number 19 from San Pietro o Villa Borghese or the number 3 tram from the Colosseum. You can get off at Verano Cemetery (Cimitero del Verano).
Enjoy a walk through the suburbs from either the Colosseum or the historical center. It takes about 30 minutes from the Colosseum and one hour from Piazza Venezia to reach San Lorenzo on foot passing Termini Railway Station. From there follow the directions given above from Via Marsala.