The Best in Rome
Rome Shopping: SAN LORENZO
Text and photography by Malvina Nissim
Squeezed between Termini train station, the Verano graveyard, via Tiburtina, and the Scalo Merci, San Lorenzo developed quickly during the last two decades of the 19th century. The building fever that hit Rome after the unification of Italy was characterized by great excitement and little planning. When funding ran out after just a few years, many buildings in the area were left unfinished or completed with no attention to safety and hygiene requirements. This turned San Lorenzo into an area for the city's poorest residents.
Just outside the Mura Labicane, ill-reputed and isolated, the neighborhood grew distant from the city and became a separate entity. In 1907, famous educator and physician Maria Montessori defined San Lorenzo as the place where "la gente per bene passa solo dopo morta" ("respectable people pass by only after death"), referring to the cemetery of Verano. During the Second World War, San Lorenzo was severely struck by the very first and most violent bombing of Rome by the Allies. On July 19, 1943 (the same day as Nero's fire), the impoverished and now damaged neighborhood saw the first exodus of its people towards more welcoming and flourishing areas of the city.
Post-war reconstruction and new immigration from the south brought some relief, but it was only at the end of the Sixties, with the student movements, that San Lorenzo started a new life. Close by to "La Sapienza," the largest university in Europe, San Lorenzo attracted a student population, and the quarter quickly became the home of free-thinkers, young political activists, and artists of all sorts. Young families fled, and the elderly were left with the younger generation to create the mixed population which today forms the heart of San Lorenzo's unique character. Packed with students, it is newly young-and-trendy, described as the Montmartre of Rome. Arty shops cheap and authentic trattorie, cool pubs and clubs line the narrow streets. If you can overlook the littered streets, cars parked on the sidewalks, and graffiti everywhere, San Lorenzo offers a world of surprises.
Shopping in San Lorenzo is a new experience. You won't find any of the mainstream labels that populate shopping venues such as Via del Corso or Cola di Rienzo. Everything has an arty flavor: small ateliers where items are crafted on the spot; original and creative pieces; and best of all, artists excited about their work and willing to spend time explaining how their creations come to life. Just walk around and explore. Here are just a few starting points.
Candles of all shapes, sizes and sorts, all hand-made in the open workshop at the back, are sold in this colorful shop run by a Brazilian family. In this tiny but beautifully decorated space you'll start to imagine corners of your home lit by these amazing creations, and you'll find it extremely hard to leave the shop without buying one. The bowl-shaped candles, which come in all sizes and color combinations, are actually everlasting. They are containers for smaller candles which, while burning, will make the bowl shine and project its gorgeous colors. Ask for your purchase to be gift-wrapped, and you'll be left wondering what kind of magic lies in the shopkeepers' hands.
Via dei Campani, 18. tel.0644703019
The Red Frame Shop
This small boutique is tricky to spot despite the brick red frame outside the door. It has no name, and is often locked. Just try to make yourself evident, and you'll be welcomed inside. Original wool and cotton sweaters, skirts, and coats fill shelves and hangers. Everything is hand-cut and hand-sewn, with a meticulous selection of the best wools and cottons on the market. The choice depends on what's just been made, but if you can't find your perfect fit, there's no need to despair! Have a look at what's in the shop for possible styles — necklines, waist shapes, length, material, and color — decide what combination you like best, and they will make it for you! The quality is of the highest standards.
Via degli Equi, 70.
This shop offers a small but intriguing selection of hand-made pieces, which form an exhibit for young artists, most of whom are graduates of Rome's fashion academy. You'll find t-shirts, skirts, and all sorts of exclusive accessories, such as zebra-striped bags, and necklaces of copper and felted wool.
Via dei Latini, 33/a. Closed on Monday mornings, and Sundays.
Ute Dewald: Wear the Art
When it's shut you might mistake it for a bakery, as the old marble sign above the door still says "pane e pasta". But when it's open you can't help but stop and admire the window of this tiny shop, whose motto is "this is a happily crazy workshop." Mostly filled with jewelry created by Ute herself, using silver, copper, and glass, the shop also sells accessories, such as bags, scarves, and hats. All are hand-crafted and can be made to order.
Via dei Campani, 17. tel 06 495 7119
Sardinian Sanò designs, cuts, and hand-sews his highly original handbags right in the shop. You'll find bags shaped like a pair of lips, bags that appear to have been bitten by a giant mouth, bags in the shape of a fish, an ear, or bags that resemble your moustached uncle! All made with the best Tuscan leather, and in adventurous colors. Sanò also accepts custom orders.
Largo degli Osci 67a. tel: 06 446 9284.
Necklaces that resemble coral but are cleverly made of pailletes, clothes that incorporate gemstones and copper wires, unique combinations of new, techno, and vintage materials.
Via dei Volsci, 75 (Atelier: Piazza dei Sannniti, 42)
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