Entering Narragansett Bay in 1524, the explorer Giovanni de Verrazano was probably the first Italian visitor to Rhode Island, long before tomatoes made it to these parts. Rhode Island named the Jamestown Verrazano Bridge (in the southeastern part of the state) after him. It took more than three centuries before many other Italians settled in Rhode Island.
Like many urban areas throughout the Eastern United States, Providence experienced several waves of immigration from Italy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Providence’s India Point was a main port on the Fabre Line, which offered the only transatlantic route to southern New England. Almost eighty-four thousand immigrants came into the United States through Providence, and around eleven thousand of them stayed. These Italian immigrants settled in the area now known as Federal Hill, on the west side of Providence, where their descendants and many other Italian Americans still live today.
Visitors to this unique enclave of Italian-American heritage pass under a large sculpture of a pine cone, called La Pigna, which hangs above Atwells Avenue. The symbol of welcome and abundance tells people that they have arrived at one of the best-known culinary and cultural districts in the state.
DePasquale Square marks the cultural, if not geographic, center of this vibrant neighborhood. A large central fountain is surrounded by outdoor seating, colorfully-painted buildings, and seagulls galore, all of which help create the feeling of a Mediterranean piazza. Numerous restaurants, serving Italian-inspired cuisine from all regions of Italy, fill the streets surrounding the square.
Diners have options ranging from upscale dining in candlelit establishments to busy late-night pizza parlors. Numerous specialty food stores like Antonelli Poultry, where savvy cooks can purchase chickens wholesale, stand alongside bakeries and cafes where diners enjoy both espressos and an Ocean State classic, pizza strips -- consisting only of pizza dough topped with spicy tomato sauce.