Every street has a story and residents willing to tell it. All you need is a little luck and a question and you could meet someone like Count Gargallo and discover there’s more to Via Margutta than cobblestones and pretty ivy covered buildings. He’ll explain the street was and partially remains the artistic heart of Rome. It’s mostly thanks to an Italian aristocrat who transformed his imposing 19th century villa into a residence and workplace for painters and sculptors. The entrance (number 53) is usually open and you can walk into the gravel courtyard to get a better feel of the tranquility that still reigns. Picasso worked in the nearby dependence throughout 1917 and there’s a plaque commemorating the stay.
If you want your own plaque the Count recommends Silvio who carves out sayings on small marble tablets inside his chaotic studio next door. He’ll carve whatever words you like while you explore the rest of the street and patiently stirs whatever’s simmering in the fireplace pot that often includes tripe. Although the number of workshops and galleries has dwindled some dealers are eternal and make up the cultural bedrock of the street. You may have never heard of Turchi (91) but the curator of antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre certainly have. This is where they come to add something exceptional to their Greek or Roman collections. Valerio won’t allow large groups inside and is noncommittal about security measures but you’ll be welcome if you’re with the Count or show genuine interest.
There’s no better way to meet people than through introductions and the Count seems to know everyone along with what has gone on behind the street’s windows and facades over the centuries. Between waves and warm greetings he might lead you into the courtyard where Gregory Peck’s Roman Holiday character lived. The current residents have added a gate to deter cinematic tourists from trespassing but the porter is friendly and doesn’t mind people looking around. There’s a little gallery on the other side of the shaded yard that’s open to the public and where artists exhibit their creations.
Via Margutta is also about newcomers and whiskey entrepreneurs like Pino who recently opened a shrine to single malts (29) where politicians and royalty order their spirits. There are only two restaurants on the street, both of which the Count recommends, which helps make the street a pleasant reprieve from the bustling neighborhood beyond. The eatery below the apartment where Federico Fellini once lived is the city’s first vegetarian restaurant. RistoArte (118) was founded long before eating raw zucchini was trendy and attracts well to do vegans. After lunch you can watch the last framer at work in his dusty studio opposite restoring gold leafed frames and stretching canvases.
The Count lives on Piazza di Spagna and has been walking his two dogs down Via Margutta for decades. He recalls when the actor Marcello Mastroianni was a regular on the cobblestones and might introduce you to the King of Paparazzi if he’s stationed near the cafes overlooking Piazza del Popolo. Rino Barillari is over 80 now and has trouble holding a camera but he invented celebrity stalking and the inspiration behind La Dolce Vita. Everywhere along the way are traces of history and like most Romans the Count is happy to share it. Moments like these start accidentally and can evolve into an improvised tours inspired by a single question.
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