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Monti, Rome's Quiet Treasure

People sometimes wander along Via Panisperna in Rome realizing they are lost, but not fretting about it. The view is divine from there, a slice of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore sandwiched between 19th-century apartment buildings, dilapidated palazzos, the elevated Church of San Lorenzo in Panisperna and stores like Macelleria Stecchiotti, a butcher shop selling some of the best meat in Rome. The owner, Pietro Stecchiotti, a neighborhood notable nicknamed “Pol Pot” for his occupation and ardent Communist politics, claims to have planted the vines that drape across Via Panisperna in front of his shop, framing a quintessentially Roman streetscape.

This is Monti, Rome’s first ward — or Rione I, as marble street markers installed in the 18th century say — tucked between busy Via Cavour and Via Nazionale, east of the Forum. If not as well known to tourists as districts like Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, it is arguably more Roman: a working-class neighborhood in the heart of the historic center, gentrifying around the edges. It is a place where a knife sharpener still makes monthly rounds even as young entrepreneurs are opening artsy bookstore-cafes, vintage clothing shops, organic markets and galleries.

To spend time here is enough to make a tourist dream about chucking it all and moving to Rome. It happened to me. I once stopped along Via Panisperna and never forgot it. When I decided to move to Rome in 2007, I found an apartment down the hill on Via Baccina, which runs for a few brief, beguiling blocks between the Roman Forum and the endearing little Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, the neighborhood’s gently sloping, cobblestone-paved living room, where children play soccer after school, 20-somethings smoke while talking on cellphones and grandmas sit together, comparing notes about the remarkable occupants of their baby carriages.
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New York Times Travel Section, July 1, 2011