The southern section of the Centro Storico, Campo de’ Fiori is another neighborhood of narrow streets, small piazzas, and ancient churches. Its main focus remains the piazza of Campo de’ Fiori itself, where a touristy but delightful open-air market runs Monday through Saturday from early in the morning until midday, selling a dizzyingly colorful array of fruits, vegetables, and spices as well as cheap T-shirts and handbags. (Keep an eye on your valuables here.) From the center of the piazza rises a statue of the severe-looking monk Giordano Bruno, a reminder that heretics were occasionally burned at the stake here: Bruno was executed by the Inquisition in 1600. Curiously this is the only piazza in Rome that doesn’t have a church in its perimeter.
Built from 1514 to 1589, the Palazzo Farnese, on Piazza Farnese just to the south of the Campo, was designed by Sangallo and Michelangelo, among others, and was an astronomically expensive project for the time. Its famous residents have included a 16th-century member of the Farnese family, plus Pope Paul III, Cardinal Richelieu, and the former Queen Christina of Sweden, who moved to Rome after abdicating. During the 1630s, when the heirs couldn’t afford to maintain the palazzo, it was inherited by the Bourbon kings of Naples and was purchased by the French government in 1874; the French Embassy is still located here, so the building is closed to the general public, though small group tours are offered on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and cost 9€ (www.inventerrome.com).
The Jewish Ghetto
Across Via Arenula, Campo de’ Fiori merges into the old Jewish Ghetto, established near the River Tiber by a Papal Bull in 1555, which required that all the Jews in Rome live in one area. Walled in, overcrowded, prone to floods and epidemics, and on some of the worst land in the city, it was an extremely grim place to live. After the Ghetto was abolished in 1882, its walls were finally torn down and the area largely reconstructed. In the waning years of World War II, Nazis sent more than 1,000 Roman Jews to concentration camps; only a handful returned. Today, the Via Portico d’Ottavia forms the heart of a flourishing Jewish Quarter, with Romans and tourists flocking here to sample the Roman-Jewish and Middle Eastern food for which the area is known.
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