Sant’Angelo District Rome

Sant’Angelo is Rome‘s 11th rione. It is the smallest one of all the riones and more or less comprises the area just north of the river that is known as the Jewish ghetto. The quarter still has a distinctive Roman feel to it and especially the part that used to be the ghetto is full of trattorie (still run by Jews).

Sant’Angelo district Rome

The name Sant’Angelo comes from the main church in the area, Sant’Angelo in Pescheria, or Sant’Angelo in Foro Piscium (“Sant’Angelo in the Fish Market”).

During the days of the Roman Empire Sant’Angelo was part of the district Circo Flaminio and many monumental buildings stood in the area. One of these was the Circo Flaminio, which was torn down however, to create space for the construction of new monuments. These monuments in turn came to be used as fortresses after the fall of the empire.

Though important thanks to its strategic position near the Tiber (and more important after the first century AD when construction of the Ponte Cestio and the Ponte Fabricio connected the area to the Isola Tiberina and the rione Trastevere) the area outside the Servian walls. Especially after the goths had destroyed the aqueducts the quarter became essential since the vicinity of the Tiber ensured the availability of drinking water.

Just like the adjacent quarters Ripa and Regola, Sant’Angelo used to be a workers’ quarter, but in the 16th century important and wealthy families started moving there. Families like the Savelli‘s and the Mattei‘s ordered the construction of many palazzi, in case of the Mattei‘s even a whole block, which came to be nicknamed Isola dei Mattei.

In the century before that the Jews, who originally had settled mostly in Trastevere, started leaving there to go and live in other parts of Rome. In 1555, however, Pope Paul IV took all their civil rights away and ordered that they were only allowed to live in the ghetto from then on. Christians who owned property in the Ghetto kept their houses, but were not allowed to kick the Jews out or raise the rent. The churches in the ghetto were deconsecrated and the wall around the area was closed at night.

In 1798 the gates were opened, only to be closed again after Napoleon‘s fall. In 1848 Pope Pius IX ordered that the walls should be torn down and from 1870 onwards the Jews were not considered to be second rate citizens anymore.

Sant’Angelo was often flooded during high tide, so a new wall was built along the banks of  the Tiber, in order to keep the tide out. Unfortunately in order to do this many old and beautiful houses had to be torn down. The unhealthy environment necessitated another reorganization and in 1885 a big part of the area was destroyed and rebuilt around the new synagogue.

In the fascist period other parts of the area were destroyed, but some monuments were also restored. The Teatro di Marcello was repaired and excavations brought other old Roman ruins to light.

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