Last week the Morgster and I set off to see a Carnevale parade on Via dei Fori Imperiali. There were supposed to be acrobats and jugglers and all sorts. We were temporarily distracted by the offer of a fine lunch but more on that later. Via die Fori Imperiali was built by Mussolini (he originally called it Via dei Imperi– the Road of Empires — because of course he did). Completed in 1932, the road runs straight from the Colosseum to Piazza Venezia where Il Duce had his office. It was supposed to celebrate the glories of the Roman Empire, which Mussolini intended to rebuild across the Mediterranean. He liked to go out on his balcony and, when not fulminating at the crowds, he would gaze at the Colosseum and pretend he was Caesar.
The terrible irony was that to build his monument to Ancient Rome, Mussolini destroyed many important ancient, medieval and renaissance buildings and uprooted thousands of people in one of the most densely populated (and poorest) sections of Rome. The Forum area was sliced in two and while some of the statues and art objects associated with the torn-up structures were excavated and warehoused, nobody bothered to record any information about them, like where they’d been found and in what context. Idiots. I studied archeology in Rome many years ago and my teachers always used to freak out whenever the subject of the Via dei Fori Imperiali came up. Archeologists are not big fans of Il Duce.
Until recently, the Via dei Fori Imperiali was very heavily trafficked and honking speeding smoke-spewing cars threatened the ruins with their exhaust fumes and vibrations. Rome’s new mayor Ignazio Marino closed the road to private traffic in August in order to create a pedestrian area. But it’s still open to buses and taxis, which will mow you down as soon as look at you, not to mention all the traffic nightmares it’s created as private vehicles try to figure out alternatives to the once straightforward route.
So, lunch. Porto Fluviale is a relatively new addition to the newly hip neighborhood of Ostiense It’s a 900 square metre former warehouse, which was once part of Rome’s Magazzini Generali, the city’s principal wholesale market. The restaurant is just a short walk from the Stazione Ostiense, a massive fascist-looking train station that was built to welcome Hitler’s visit to Rome in 1938 and which Mussolini said was inspired by the Roman Empire because, again, of course he did. Like the little suck-up he was he also named the big road adjacent to the station Via A. Hitler (renamed Viale dell Cave Ardeatina after the war). The station (which actually was not completed until 1940) features huge travertine columns, crazy gigantic pine cone-shaped hanging lamps and mosaics depicting the history of Rome. It’s really something to see.
Porto Fluviale features a bar, a pizzeria, a tapas bar, lounge and tearoom. On weekends there is a brunch, which appears to be exactly the same as the daily lunch buffet except that it ends a half hour later. I had a burger, which was very good although they lose points for serving it with roast potatoes rather than fries (the potatoes were delicious but it just ain’t right). The two young people visiting the Upstairs Vegetarian for the weekend had pizza. Eating pizza at lunchtime is practically unheard of in Italy because it takes a super long time for a wood-burning pizza to reach the perfect pizza cooking temperature (nearly 500 C) and it’s not really thought to be worth it for the relatively modest lunchtime crowd. These pizzas looked very nice: a thin-crusted pizza alla diavola with spicy sausage and a pizza alla capricciosa featuring a little bit of everything (including a hard boiled egg). The U.V. ate something boring and healthy. Dessert for me was a lovely and light lemon pudding. The kids had apple strudel with cinnamon ice cream. All in all, a very nice meal. And there’s loads more to explore, what with all the tapas and tea and lounging available at Porto Fluviale.
The restaurant is open all day from 10:30 am to 2 am (3 on the weekends).
We did eventually get to the parade on Via die Fori Imperiali but it was raining pretty hard at that point and the jugglers and acrobats were nowhere to be found. There were just a couple of soggy-looking kids whose costumes peeped out from beneath their down coats. Sad.
By the way, a propos of absolutely nothing, I have become obsessed with an app that lets you turn your photos into beautiful watercolor paintings. Of course I am usually to be found creating paintings of dogs but I’ll spare you that (for now). Instead, here is a very nice view of Rome. That’s Saint Peter’s in the background. Cool, eh?
Porto Fluviale, Via del Porto Fluviale, 22, Roma, Italy
+39 06 574 3199