Angelo Arrigoni vividly remembers the first time he had the chance to meet personally with a pope. He was just a child and he was asked by his father, a baker, to bring some bread to Pope John XXIII. “It was an incredible experience,” Arrigoni told Rome Today. “I remember coming back home and telling my dad that I had spoken with the Pope himself!”
For nearly a century, the Arrigoni family has been running a small bakery, known locally as “the Popes’ Bakery,” in Rome’s Borgo Pio neighborhood. During 90 years of operation, Panetteria Arrigoni has baked bread for Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
The combined impact of soaring energy prices and the gradual replacement of long-term local residents by short-term tourists is leading the historic bakery to shut down.
As explained by Italian daily La Repubblica, Arrigoni Bakery was started in 1930 by Arrigoni’s father, a baker from Milan who moved to Rome to follow a woman he had fallen in love with. Arrigoni married the Roman woman and obtained a loan from his in-laws’ family to open a bakery in the city. The only condition for the loan was for the shop to be opened near St. Peter’s Basilica, and being so close to St. Peters helped put Arrigoni’s bread on the Vatican’s map. In 1930 Arrigoni’s bread was offered to Pope Pius XI, and since then the bakery became the de facto bakery of the Holy See.
In an article published by 247 News Agency, the Arrigonis reavelead details about each pope’s favorite type of bread. Pius XI liked Viennese bread, a less crumbly variation of Rome’s typical round-shaped rosetta bread. Pius XII liked olive oil rolls, while both John XXIII and Paul VI preferred small versions of rosette known as rosettine. John Paul II asked to eat the same bread as the rest of the Vatican and was provided with a mix of rosettas and five ciriolas, a typical Roman bread that has a thick crust and a crumbly interior. Pope Benedict used to visit Arrigoni before being elected as Pope to buy loaves of dark bread, while Pope Francis asked the bakery for “regular bread,” despite the offer of making special Argentinian bread.
Locals and tourists used to flock to the Arrigonis’ bakery too. In a video interview, Arrigoni explains that one of the things he loved the most about his job was providing bread to anyone no matter their background. “Bread is part of our life, is part of Christian values,” Arrigoni said in an YouTube interview for Rome Today. “A piece of bread is sometimes all you need to feel better.”
But in recent years, locals started to move out of the Borgo Pio neighborhood as rent prices were pushed up by increasing demand for short-term tourist rentals. As explained in the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, no more than 20 local families currently live in the area, which runs from Via di Porta Castello to Via di Porta Angelica.
In an interview with 247 News Agency, Arrigoni explained that “hardly anyone lives in the neighborhood anymore,” with locally owned homes replaced by hotels and bed and breakfasts. This demographic change has led to plummeting demand for his baked goods. The bakery also struggled to stay on top of soaring electricity bills as it operates a decades-old traditional oven that consumes a lot of energy.
In recent months Arrigoni asked the municipal government to help keep his historic bakery in business; however the government could not help. A call for buyers was made, but no entity came forward with an offer to take on the panetteria.
Just a few days ago, Angelo Arrigoni, now 78, decided to close the historic bakery. “The decision is made,” he told 247 News Agency. Arrigoni’s Bakery is yet another historic artisanal shop to shut down in Borgo Pio neighborhood, an area once known for artisans and family-run businesses now suffering the impact of unregulated mass tourism.
If you are interested in keeping local businesses alive while in Rome, check this website with recommendations for locally-owned shops and eateries.