The Districts of Rome
Allan Ceen and
Department of Architecture,
Pennsylvania State University
Department of Architecture, University of Oregon
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
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
||XV. Esquilino, XVIII. Castro Pretorio
|VIII. S. Eustachio
|XI. S. Angelo
||XX. Testaccio, XXI. S. Saba
||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:
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.
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.
name refers to the column of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza
of the same name. Its symbol is the ancient column itself.
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.
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)
of unknown origin. Its symbol is a standing griffin.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
= 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.
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.
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
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
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.