San Pietrini

February 29, 2008 / Local Interest
Workmen contracted for the ongoing maintenance of St.Peter’s have always been called sanpietrini (literally, “those of St.Peter”). Given that St.Peter’s square was one of the first to be paved in Rome (the pope’s carriage had almost tipped over!) and that pietra and the name Pietro mean rock, the stones were affectionately nicknamed sanpietrini as well.

The pros? First and foremost, rain water can seep through the sand filler between the cobblestones, allowing the surface to “breath” as Romans will point out. For this reason they radiate much less heat in the summer than tar-based asphalt. Also, whenever work needs to be done below, it is easy to pull them up and refit them without the street looking patched up. Finally, no expensive machinery is needed, only stones, sand, and water.

The cons . . A tad uneven. Also, depending on the type of auto traffic on the street, every 5-8 years they need to be re-laid. (Photo 1, an example of a street very much in need of being re-laid!) Also, very slippery when wet! And finally, they can be treacherous for high heels and the ankles of the feet in them! Being able to walk in Rome without getting stuck every step is a science and an art that Roman women have mastered well.

A good selciaro (literally “pathmaker”, or the person who lays sanpietrini) can lay between 12-15 stones per minute. I quickly calculate and ask Sig.Franco (photo 2, in front of Castel Sant’Angelo) his top square footage per hour and his answer is, “Si, ma poi mi fermo per un caff√©.” (Yes, but then I stop for an espresso.) In photo 3 his workmate Basilio (with the basilica in the background) fills in the space around a manhole. Two sanpietrini true and true.


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

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