Piazzetta Mattei

If you have time to see a bit more of Rome and to discover little places a bit off the beaten path you will find less crowded areas that show the most genuine side of this city that is turning every day more into a huge metropolis.

Personally I have a few favourite spots and one of these is Piazzetta Mattei in the Rione Sant’Angelo. This tiny and quiet square is located not far from the Marcello theatre at what was one of the five entrances of the ancient Jewish ghetto.

The square’s name derives from the family that used to own the palaces in the neighborhood: the Matteis. One of these palaces, the oldest one, still dominates the square with its elegant facade.

But the most remarkable point of the square is of course the beautiful marble Fontana delle Tartarughe, designed by Giacomo della Porta and realised by Taddeo Landini in the 16th century. The fountain was refur­bished in the 17th century by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who replaced the original dolphins with the turtles that now give the fountain its name.

Fontane delle Tartarughe - Sergey Gabdurakhmanov - Flickr

A legend says that the fountain was requested by one of the Mattei dukes in order to show his power and richness to the father of his betrothed, who was objecting to their marriage owing to the duke’s gambling habits – and his losses. The duke invited his future father-in-law for a party and had the fountain built overnight so that he could show it to him on the morning after. He took him to the window and said, “See what a penniless Mattei duke can do in a few hours.” Then he had the window walled up!

I love both the fountain and the legend and it is a place that retains a charming atmosphere, probably because is not that visited by tourists and it has its own very local character.

There are a couple of wine bars on the square and it’s a great starting point for a walk around the ghetto or just to relax away from the crowds of tourists.

Article text contributed by Alessandra Andreani. The picture of the Fontane delle Tartarughe is adapted from an original photograph by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse of the image is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.