Lazio, Potpourri

Sampietrini in Rome: as iconic as the Cupolone

Sampietrini in Rome

Sampietrini in Romethose peculiar dark cube-shaped stones that the roads of our capital are paved with… have you noticed them?

Sampietrini are known to be  treacherous: the space between one another makes them a high-heeled lady’s worst nightmare. As for the drivers: hit the brakes on a wet sampietrini pavement, and you’ll wish you had ice-skates instead of wheels.

Most of Rome’s historical center and main streets are paved with Sampietrini, since having space between one another allows the soil to breath.

Sampietrini are common in  Rome also because they  adapt perfectly to the ground’s shape and, being of solid volcanic rock, can withstand heavy loads of traffic.

Sampietrini in Rome: how are they used?

These small cubes are cut into a half-cone like shapes, about the equivalent size of a quadruccio (small Roman brick), but people prefer to call them with their popular name: Sampietrini. These volcanic basalt cubes are as much a part of Rome’s scenery as the Coliseum, and Romans are very attached to them. Unfortunately, Sampietrini in Rome have been slowly phased out by the City Council, as they are considered unsafe for local traffic.

sampietrini rome pavement
Sampietrini are typical of Rome’s pavement

A bit of history

The name Sampietrini, (also known as sanpietrini) comes from the name of the maintenance workers — sampietrini — who used to take care of Saint Peter’s basilica’s furnishing and decorations.

The term was created in 1725 by Monsignor Ludovico Sergardi, the Vatican’s supervisor to the St. Peter’s workshop. After a carriage carrying Pope Sixtus V almost tipped over due to the bad pavement condition of St. Peter’s square, he decided to pave the square with these characteristic basalt cubes.

Later, these stones were used to pave the rest of Rome: that’s why Sampietrini in Rome are so ubiquitous.

The name selciarolo – from the Roman dialect selcio, which is the name of the stone that forms the pavement – indicated, and still does today, the worker who actually cuts and sets the Sampietrini pavement into place.

They  can be problematic

The major problems associated with Sampietrini in Rome is that they get very slippery when wet and, being irregularly shaped, are uncomfortable and noisy to drive on.

Last but not least: Sampietrini needs a lot of maintenance since the cubes are not fixed into the ground with cement or any other bonding agent, but are, simply, hammered into a sand-bed.

roman cobblestones sampietrini
Sampietrini in Rome

Nowadays, Sampietrini in Rome are being largely replaced, but are still used in slow traffic areas, such as the historical centre, in areas such as Trastevere, and will surely remain part of the local Roman culture.

An interesting note: these basalt cubes were also used to pave the streets of Bologna in Emilia-Romagna, and are therefore, locally called Bolognini.

roman cobblestones sampietrini
Sampietrini in Rome… and more: they are used also in other areas of Italy, notably in Bologna, Emilia Romagna

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