If you’ve traveled in Italy you’ve probably walked on thousands of stone pavements and roadways covered in cobblestones with little regard for their importance. Yet like everything in Italy they do have a history especially the bevelled stones of black basalt, the sampietrini that line the streets of Rome.
After recurring carriage accidents due to the faulty roadways and ancient potholes near St. Peters, various Popes employed Vatican artisans and tradesmen to repair and repave Piazza San Pietro with a special type of stone cut and sized by hand and pounded into a compressed bed of sand and dirt. The stones laid were called “sampietrini”, the dialectical version of sanpietrini, after the “little St. Peters”, workmen who took care of the maintenance in and around the Vatican.
Throughout the years various geometric patterns, fans, herringbones and sampietrini rainbows lined the streets of Rome, a quaint reminder of the historical charm of the city. However because of its peculiarities, the sampietrini are no longer suitable for the streets of Rome. High traffic volumes and high speed vehicles find the irregular pavement hazardous and if you’ve walked the sampietrini in the rain you know they can be slippery.
In Janurary 2015 Rome’s Mayor Walter Vetroni, declared the stones of St. Peter “dangerous” for pedestrians and cars. A hazard that needs to be replaced with regular pavement. He ordered the removal of the sampietrini wherever possible, citing the “damage to monuments, noise pollution, hazards to small two wheeled vehicles and complaints of pedestrians”. There are plans to replace them with larger, flatter stones embedded into a concrete foundation, similar in appearance to the old sampietrini but much easier on tires and pedestrians. Although the sampietrini will remain in certain parts of the city the streets of a Roman Holiday will seem a little less grounded in history.