Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Streets of Rome - Vicolo dell'Atleta

One of the many things that delights me about this city is its street names. Every street, road and alleyway in this town was christened for a very specific reason.

The one on my mind today is Vicolo dell'Atleta. Athlete's Alley.

Tucked away amongst the narrow backstreets on the quiet side of Trastevere, this picturesque vine-covered alley slightly inclines, adding to its charm. But why the name?

At the beginning of the tiny street, just around the corner from Via Genovese, the façade of an extraordinary building can be found. This was the site of a tenth century synagogue in what was once the heart of Rome’s Jewish Quarter, (before it moved across the river to its current location).

Sadly, only a shell of the synagogue survives today, but the thousand-year-old facade, with its columned archways, that probably once sheltered a loggia, along with its pointed arch detailing gives us a glimmer of the medieval soul of this city. An even more significant detail is the faint but unmistakable sight of Hebrew letters etched onto the columns.

But where does the Athlete come in? The doorway on the lower left is the backdoor of Spirito diVino, a fantastic restaurant whose main entrance is on Via Genovese. We've eaten here a few times, and the food and wine are superb, but the true wonder is underground. Although the restaurant itself lives on the second floor of what remains of the medieval Synagogue--you would never guess with the stark modern interior--downstairs, if you ask, you will be led into their wine cellar, an ancient room which, the owners boast, "predates the Colosseum!" The wine cellar in fact dates back to the 1st century AD, and what is even more astounding is what was found there. Why yes, an athlete.

Apoxyomenos, to be precise. But more on him another day.

Photo sources: 1, 2
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