I recently took a Migrantour of Rome. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a tour so much, and I’m convinced it’s one of the best tours in the city.
Read on to find out why!
Table of Contents
Why you should take a migrantour
What’s A Migrantour?
Established in Turin in 2010, Migrantour offers a series of “intercultural urban routes” in Bologna, Brussels, Cagliari, Catania, Florence, Genoa, Lisbon, Ljubljana, Marseille, Milan, Naples, Paris, Pavia, Rome, Turin, and Valencia.
The aim of the tours is to demonstrate how migrant communities have enriched the neighborhoods and cities where they’ve made their homes.
There are two Migrantour routes in Rome. I took the one of the Esquilino neighborhood.
Why take a Migrantour?
Experience the city with an awesome local guide
Our guide did a stellar job of explaining the historical and socio-cultural phenomena that have created the Esquilino neighborhood that you can visit today. Her knowledge spanned from the ancient Roman monuments we encountered to the modern renovation of the Mercato Esquilino, and included everything in between.
She also shared her migration story with us, and what it meant to her to be a guide for Migrantour. Her sincerity was touching, and her interest in the neighborhood and desire to share it with us was palpable. She reminded me of my favorite teachers – human, open, knowledgable, and passionate. She was, in a word, excellent.
Get off the beaten path
I lived in Rome for five years in my early twenties. I’ve been back to visit several times since then, and I’ve lived here again for a few months now. I know Rome, and I love her. I studied here for a year and took several art history classes, so I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable about the city and her sights. And yet, I had seen ZERO of the things we saw on our Migrantour of Rome. Zero!
If you want a truly off the beaten path tour of Rome, this is it.
I’m not going to give it all away, but among many other things, we saw a magic door, Egyptian statues with unknown provenance, an ancient Roman gate, an eyebrow threading demonstration, and a Chinese Buddhist temple.
Get a snapshot of the modern city
Rome is a city of layers, and our guide peeled back each one that we encountered on our tour of the Esquilino area, both in terms of historical events and the movement of people.
Being a city of layers, it also means that Rome is a city of contrasts and juxtapositions where these layers meet and overlap. You can shop at Zara and then go to the Trevi Fountain a few streets over. You can eat at Ristorante la Campana, which has been around since 1518, or order McDonald’s from your phone.
These layers make Rome what she is: sometimes, a giant, frustrating mess, and other times, a breathtakingly perfect one.
Taking into account this quintessentially Roman mish-mash of history and modernity, the tour paints a picture of Rome as she lives and breathes, day in and day out.
Why the Esquilino neighborhood?
The heart of the Esquilino neighborhood is Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, or just Piazza Vittorio, as the locals call it. It is the biggest piazza in the city.
In 1870, after Italy’s unification, Rome was declared the capital of Italy, and the Esquilino area saw a huge urban development campaign. Known for its distinctive stile Umbertino (a Renaissance revival style of the 19th century), Piazza Vittorio has a unique look and a unique history, which includes several waves of migration.
The first was an internal wave from southern Italy. In the 1970s, migrants from the horn of Africa began to arrive, followed by Chinese migrants in the 1990s.
Each wave created a hybrid community and resulting culture: a mix of local and foreign, old and new, Italian tradition and non.
This mingling means you can find an Islamic center next to a Roman trattoria, a massive basilica around the corner from the Chinese Buddhist temple, and a bakery and ancient Roman bathhouse in the same piazza.
The best thing about Migrantour
For all its cool sights and hidden corners, the best thing about our Migrantour in Rome was that it gives people the opportunity to experience the beauty that is born when people share, whether it be stories, foods, traditions, whatever.
When people come together, they build connections, then friendships, then communities. They build families, homes, lives, and entire neighborhoods, where different businesses, houses of worship and people live side by side.
When that happens, places like the Esquilino district are created, and thank goodness for that.
Who doesn’t love a neighborhood where you can have Indian food for lunch and gelato for dessert, buy fabric from West Africa and tea from China, have your eyebrows threaded at the Turkish barber, and get a tiny taste of the wonderful world outside of your neighborhood, without even leaving town?
The Migrantours in Rome are offered in English and Italian. Interested in taking your own? Click here for details and bookings.
Want to know more about the Esquilino neighborhood and its multicultural community? Check out the Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio.
Want to see some of Rome’s best-known sights (for free)?! Check out my walking tour of Rome, with a map included.
Want to see some other, lesser-known sights? Check out my suggestions for seeing Rome off the beaten path.
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