Via Port’Alba - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Via Port’Alba

This 17th-century passageway is home to numerous bookshops, a witch legend, and the oldest pizzeria in the world. 

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The Port’Alba is a historic gate built in 1625 connecting the lively areas of Piazza Bellini and Piazza Dante, and the passageway running through it—simply named Via Port’Alba—is just as fascinating, perhaps even more.

Much of the alley is lined with old-fashioned secondhand bookshops, some housed in 18th-century buildings, and book-filled carts and boxes waiting to be browsed outside them. Everything you can expect from Italian booksellers is here, from Roman texts to translated literary classics to giallo thrillers to comic books such as Topolino (Mickey Mouse), Dylan Dog, and Diabolik.

It’s not only a bibliophile’s heaven, though, but also a street-food gourmet’s. The alley is home to the oldest pizzeria in the world: Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, which opened in 1738 and re-established itself as a pizzeria in 1830.

In addition to the books and the pizzas, Via Port’Alba is also home to a local legend concerning a witch. The story has it that once upon a time, a beautiful red-haired girl named Maria lived near the gateway. She married the love of her life, Michele, but was soon struck by a tragedy.

One night, as Maria and Michele were walking home, they were hit by a terrible thunderstorm. Suddenly, Michele became unable to move, as if some mysterious force had put a curse on him. Even with the help of her neighbors, Maria could not save her beloved husband and eventually had to give up hope.

Maddened with grief, Maria gradually turned into a lean, toothless hag who practiced dark magic. The townsfolk would cross themselves when they saw her, calling her a witch. As the Spanish Inquisition gained power, the witch was arrested and left to die of hunger in a cage hung from the Port’Alba.

In her dying breath, Maria shrieked a curse upon the town—”You will pay for this!”—and her corpse remained in the cage for days, slowly turning into stone. The authorities removed the cage, but the hook that had held it remained, reminding people of the witch’s curse. Even today, some locals believe that the passage is haunted by the spirit of the forlorn witch.

Know Before You Go

Though the pizzeria is open until midnight, it is best to visit the gateway in the afternoon, as you can buy cheaper pizzas for takeaway (€2.5 while the cheapest dine-in pizza costs €6) and browse the bookshops.

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March 26, 2024

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