Rioni: The Districts of Rome

Allan Ceen and Jim Tice
Department of Architecture, Pennsylvania State University
Department of Architecture, University of Oregon

Posted: September 25, 2006

Rione = one of Rome’s 14 eighteenth century regions first defined by the Nolli map (cf. Bernardini in Bibliography)

Nolli clearly shows the administrative boundaries of the city, using a distinctive dotted line to represent them. He not only was the first to clearly demarcate in graphic terms the precise limits of the newly defined official districts, he also facilitated their codification within the city’s administrative structure. Today, one can still see the marble Rioni markers along the edges of the districts (in a recent outing this author noted over 50). Each marker is approximately 75cmx45cm. The plaques are located typically in facing pairs at an intersection, at the boundary between two or more Rioni. Usually positioned about 3 to 4 meters above the street level, they were intended to be visible markers for purposes of identity and orientation.

All of the 18th century Rioni are subdivisions of the area bounded by the Aurelian walls (3rd-4th century A.D.), the Renaissance walls around Borgo and the Baroque walls around Trastevere. The river serves as a boundary for the Rioni which border it. The island is part of Rione Ripa.

In 1921, some of the larger Rioni were subdivided so as to create six new ones, while an additional Rione, Prati, was added outside the walls (see table below).

18th Century Rioni 20th Century Subdivisions
I. Monti XV. Esquilino, XVIII. Castro Pretorio
II. Trevi XVII. Sallustiano
III. Colonna XVI. Ludovisi
IV. Campomarzio  
V. Ponte  
VI. Regola  
VII. Pariaone  
VIII. S. Eustachio  
IX. Pigna  
X. Campitelli XIX. Celio
XI. S. Angelo  
XII. Ripa XX. Testaccio, XXI. S. Saba
XIII. Trastevere  
XIV. Borgo  
  XXII. Prati (outside the walls)


Modern street signs in Rome are carved on marble tablets and bear the Rione number in which they are found. It is written as a Roman numeral located in the upper right hand corner of the tablet (eg: R.V).

In the ancient Roman republic, the city was divided into four regions and although the precise divisions are not known, ancient literary accounts provide a picture of their general layout by referring to monuments and places as being in one "quarter" or another. (Collina in the northwest, Esquilina in the northeast, Palatina in the southwest and Suburrana in the southeast.) During the Empire Augustus increased the regions (Regio) to 14 and these were reconfigured according to changing demographics and the evolving form of the city.

The Augustan regions were forgotten after the fall of the Empire, but in the 12th century, at the time of the Comune, they were revived as Rioni (Rione is a corruption of the Latin Regio: regione > rione). The Rioni numbered 12 at the time, all of them on the left bank of the Tiber. Trastevere was added in the early 14th century. Borgo remained a subsection of Rione Ponte until the Renaissance, when it became a Rione in its own right under Pope Sixtus V Peretti (1585-90). The borders of these Rioni bore no relationship to those of the Augustan regions, but were determined arbitrarily so as to provide areas of comparable population. Thus the dense part of the city was divided into small Rioni, while the emptier, eastern part of Rome within the walls was assigned to four large Rioni (Monti, Trevi, Campitelli and Ripa).

The name of each Rione was usually derived from a notable topographical feature:

I. Monti Monti means hills. This, the largest of the Rioni, comprised the major part of the higher section of the city including the Esquiline, Viminal and Quirinal hills. It had precedence over the other Rione because it contained the Lateran, Rome’s cathedral (i.e.: the seat of the Bishop of Rome). Its symbol is 3 hills.
II. Trevi The name derives from trivium, which meant a major street intersection in the Medieval period. At this intersection the first fountain of Trevi was built by Pope Nicholas V Parentucelli (1447-1455). Its symbol is 3 swords.
III. Colonna The name refers to the column of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza of the same name. Its symbol is the ancient column itself.
IV. Campo A reference to the ancient Campus Martius or Field of Mars, Marzo the parade ground for the Roman armies in Republican times. It is the only Rione whose name bears a trace of the Augustan regions. Its symbol is a crescent moon.
V. Ponte Ponte means bridge. Dante refers to pilgrims on “lo ponte” leading to the Borgo. One of medieval Rome’s 3 bridges, Ponte S. Angelo, named after Castel S. Angelo gave this Rione its name. Its symbol is a bridge with two statues (St. Peter and St. Paul)
VI. Parione Name of unknown origin. Its symbol is a standing griffin.
VII. Regola The name is a corruption of the medieval name for this Rione: Arenula, a variation on arena, or sand. The reference is to a sandy bank along the river, which bounds one long side of the Rione. Its symbol is standing stag.
VIII. S. Eustachio Named after the church of the same name which is said to house the ashes of St. Eustace. Eustace was a Roman soldier fond of hunting who, while chasing a large stag, came face to face with it and saw the vision of a cross between its antlers. He then converted to Christianity and was martyred.
IX. Pigna Pigna means pine cone. It refers to a huge bronze pine cone, probably part of an ancient fountain, once located in this Rione. In early Christian times the cone was relocated in the court in front of old St. Peter’s. It now stands in the Vatican’s Cortile della Pigna, the upper part of Bramante’s Belvedere courtyard. Its symbol is a pine cone.
X. Campitelli The name is a Medieval variation of Capitolium, the Capitoline hill, from which the English word capitol also derives. The Renaissance variation of Capitolium was Campidoglio, the name still in use. Its symbol is a dragon’s head.
XI. S. Angelo Named after the church of S. Angelo in Pescheria (fish market) dedicated to the archangel Michael. It is the smallest of the 14 Rioni and contains the area of the old Jewish Ghetto. Its symbol is an angel holding a balance and standing over a prone figure of a man.
XII. Ripa Ripa means river bank. Nearly one half of the stretch of the Tiber within the walls bounds this Rione, hence the name. Its symbol is a spoked wheel, possibly a reference to a ship’s helm. The ancient river port occupied the river bank which defines one edge of this Rione.
XIII. Trastevere Tevere = Tiber river. Trastevere (i.e.: Transtiber) refers to the part of the city on the other side of the Tiber from the main part of town. Its symbol is a lion’s head.
XIV. Borgo In the Medieval period a walled extension of an existing town was called a borgo. Following the spoliation of St. Peter’s during a Saracen attack in 846, a wall anchored on Castel S. Angelo and passing around St. Peter’s established the area as an extension of the city. Its symbol is a seated lion, 3 hills and a star, all heraldic symbols taken from Sixtus V Peretti’s coat of arms.

Rione Borders

The borders shown by Nolli do not correspond completely to those of the original Rioni. The 1697 plan of the city by Barbey outlines the Rione borders before 1744. The latter is the year that Count Bernardino Bernardini, Priore dei Caporioni (head of the Rione leaders), was given the task of regularizing the Rione boundaries by Pope Benedict XIV Lambertini. In a book he dedicated to the Rioni, Bernardini recalls the need for the process of redefining the borders because these were recorded “very differently by the Senato [Conservatori, or city council], by the Tribunal of the Streets and by the Confraternities.” As an example of the need, he mentions a squabble at the time of Pope Innocent XIII (1721-24) between Rione Trevi and Rione Colonna over which one had jurisdiction over Palazzo Conti (NN.241) near the Trevi fountain.

To overcome any doubts, Bernardini ordered the placing of 220 Rione plaques (see Fig.xxx above) along the new Rione borders. Their locations are recorded on a map of the city drawn by Nolli’s son Carlo,included in the book. While this is a very schematic plan, it is clearly based on topographic information drawn from Nolli’s Pianta Grande.

The Barbey Rione borders must refer at least as far back as the mid 16th century. This is evident from the fact that the Ghetto area, which is entirely located in Rione S. Angelo in the Nolli plan, is shown divided between the Rioni S.Angelo, Regola and Ripa in the Barbey plan. The Ghetto was formed and enclosed by walls in 1555 by order of Paul IV Carafa.

The Barbey borders show many irregularities which were straightened out by Bernardini in 1744. One example of this is the old border between Colonna and Pigna, which Barbey shows as passing right through the middle of the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva. As recorded by Nolli, all of the Bernardini borders occur along streets, and none pass through a building. The Bernardini borders tend to simplify and straighten the earlier boundaries. From an irregular shape with many concavities and convexities in the Barbey plan, the outline of Rione Pigna becomes almost a square in Nolli. The Piazza Navona unit (based on the Stadium of Domitian) which was shared by three Rione in Barbey, now appears as being entirely within Parione’s borders.

Unlike the contrade of Siena which are still a major part of that town’s life, the modern Rioni in Rome have lost most of their importance in the modern city. A vestigial reference to the Rione appears in a few local Communist party headquarters which are located in, and named by various Rioni.

 
Copyright © 2005 University of Oregon. All rights reserved.
This website is supported by a 2004 Northwest Academic Computing Consortium (
NWACC) grant.
jtice@uoregon.edu | steiner@uoregon.edu | Send Feedback!