The delightful cobbled lanes around these two Roman landmarks are great places to browse for antiques, design, books, jewellery, and offbeat fashion items in Rome
Here in the heart of the centro storico, shops are hidden down cobbled lanes or stand in the shadow of Ancient Roman monuments and Baroque churches. This is not the place for an intensive retail blitz. But if your idea of shopping heaven is to browse among quirky fashion and accessory boutiques, vintage stores, design shops, antique dealers and bookstores, making discoveries along the way, there is no better hunting ground.
A good place to start is Piazza del Collegio Romano. Though it’s just off busy Via del Corso and around the corner from the seemingly permanent traffic logjam of Piazza Venezia, this long square, sandwiched between the aristocratic Doria Pamphili palace and one of Rome’s top high schools, immediately feels part of a calmer and more intimate city. If you press on in to winding Via del Piè di Marmo – so-called because of the huge marble foot that stands on a plinth a third of the way down, part of a long-lost colossal statue of an emperor – the village-in-the-city atmosphere is stronger still.
You’re going to need some energy for this retail expedition – so look into Moriondo & Gariglio (Via del Pie’ di Marmo 21, 00186 Roma; +39 06 699 0856). a sin-red cocoa boutique where handmade chocolates are displayed like diamond rings. Elaborate party pieces and presentation boxes of chocolates testify to this choc-artisan’s illustrious history – they were once official confectioner to the House of Savoy. They also do delicious things with nuts. In the run-up to Christmas, the shop is full of fur-coated dowagers stocking up on marrons glacés.
A little further on is the first of three boutiques of homegrown Roman designer Susanna Liso’s Le Tartarughe label (Via del Piè di Marmo 17, 00187 Roma; +39 06 679 2240; www.susannalisoperletartarughe.it) . A cult favourite among well-dressed romane, Liso makes clothes that look relaxed and elegant at the same time. There’s an Asian slant to some of her garments, which come both tailored and knitted. Across the road at number 33 is Liso’s accessories store, while there are more off-the-peg clothes from the collection on offer around the corner in Via del Gesù 71A.
Even if you’re not an artist, it’s worth looking into Ditta G. Poggi (Via del Gesù 74, 00187 Roma; +39 06 678 4477; www.poggi1825.it), a historic artists’ supply shop that was founded in 1875. Inside this cave of wonders you’ll find burins and easels, ley figures (those little wooden men used for figure drawing), sable brushes, and rows of jars containing powdered colours like burnt umber, Pompeii red and even lapis lazuli. If you ask garrulous owner Memmo how you actually use these colours to paint the walls of your house, as I once did, he’ll hand you ‘la ricetta della Sovrintendenza’: a recipe involving quicklime and, believe it or not, a dash of milk, that is used by Rome’s heritage department (la Sovrintendenza dei Beni Culturali) when they restore frescoes. It’s exactly the same formula that Late Medieval artist Cennino Cennini recommended in his Libro dell’Arte at the beginning of the 15th century.
Directly opposite, tiny Materie (Via del Gesù 73, 00187 Roma; +39 06 679 3199; www.materieshop.com) is one of those shops that’s all about good taste. The owners source contemporary jewellery from Italian and European designers, with the emphasis on innovative or recycled materials – like a leafy necklace made from old bike tyres. They also carry a few scarves, handbags, and exquisite ceramic vases. Such is the quality of the selection that it’s difficult to come away empty-handed.
At the end of Via del Piè di Marmo you come out into a piazza with a charming centerpiece: Bernini’s sculpture of a winsome baby elephant, bearing on its back an Egyptian obelisk that was unearthed nearby. Turn left here to find two streets that have been colonised by Rome’s clerical outfitters since at least the 18th century. One of the most famous is Gammarelli (Via di Santa Chiara 34, tel +39 06 6880 1314), which traditionally makes all the Pope’s outfits. Whenever there’s a conclave to elect a new Pope, they deliver a small, medium and large set to the Vatican – so the new man, whoever he is, is ready to appear on the balcony and address the waiting crowds in robes that are more or less the right size. This venerable family firm has also developed a cult following around the world for their men’s socks. In fine cotton or Merino wool, these are available in just three colours: priestly black, bishop’s purple and cardinal’s red. I have a friend in New York who orders two pairs of the red ones each year.
Cross the lower end of Piazza Navona to find Piazza Pasquino, location of Rome’s most famous ‘talking statues’ (classical statues used by the populace as bulletin boards for satirical messages and verses directed at the powers-that-be). Just off the compact piazza is SBU (Via di San Pantaleo 68-69; +39 06 6880 2547; www.sbu.it), Rome’s trendiest jeanseria (jeans shop). The worn wooden counters and cast iron columns of this former draper’s provide an ideal, understated setting for the Perfetti brothers’ range of jeans, which are low cut, in light Japanese denim. They also do some very desirable vintage jeans and a range of printed t-shirts, crisp cotton shirts and stylish jackets.
Finally, if you’re feeling flush, head for Massimo Maria Melis (Via dell’Orso 57; +39 06 686 9188; www.massimomariamelis.com), who specialises in gold jewellery in the ‘archaeological’ style: pendants, brooches, rings, necklaces and earrings either imitating or inspired by Etruscan, Greek and Roman originals. It’s a great place to pick up some bling to wear to that Ancient Roman orgy.
More expert advice on Rome
For more shopping advice, read my Shopping in Rome page.
For suggestions on where to stay in Rome, see my Rome Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Rome page.