Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Rome's Public Markets: a Cautionary Tale

Rome's neighborhoods remain vibrant communities in most respects, in part because the big box stores and malls that have damaged American cities are generally located far on the city's outskirts. Yet we have noticed that one element of the traditional Roman neighborhood appears to be in trouble: the neighborhood's central market. 

Our first recognition of the problem emerged in San Lorenzo, where it was clear that the central market, and the local, traditional system of food distribution, was in difficulty. Roughly half that market had been replaced by tables and chairs for drinkers (mostly) and diners of nearby restaurants and bars. And the half that remained was only partially populated. Only one butcher--a 72 year old man--continues to practice the craft in San Lorenzo. We talked to him, and he bemoaned the fate of his trade. He had very few offerings compared to butcher shops we've seen in other neighborhoods. He clearly saw himself as the "last butcher in San Lorenzo." And we counted only two fresh fruit and vegetables shops in the area. 

More than half of San Lorenzo's public market is now tables and chairs--or empty.

Friends tell us that the new indoor market in Testaccio is also troubled--more cafés and bars than traditional market offerings. The newish Trionfale market appears to be suffering too, Several years ago, the outdoor/shed market at Quarto Miglio was transformed into a children's playground and a center for street art.

The Quarto Miglio market, on a Saturday, at noon, in 2019. Only one stand was open.

An elaborate program of street art had failed to revive the Quarto Miglio market

Something similar is happening more slowly in the area around Piazza Bologna, where the large indoor public market on via Catania has been serving the community for decades. The market is located in a densely populated area--apartment buildings of up to 10 stories--that ought to be capable of supporting even a large public market. 

 At first glance the market looks healthy. 

But there are empty stalls.

We decided to do a survey. We walked the market, Dianne counting the total number of stores and stalls, Bill counting the number of empty stores and stalls. It was 10:30 in the morning, when one would expect the market to be in full swing.

Dianne's results: 148 stores and stalls

Bill's results: 49 stores and stalls closed (roughly 1/3)

Unfortunately, it's likely that the story of the via Catania market--a story of decline--is being repeated across the city. Chain grocery stores, with expanded hours, are proliferating.  Many of the daily (and mostly women) shoppers that once had their mornings free to shop at the market are now working. Young Romans are getting married at an average age of 32--and then having few children, or none at all. Fewer households having regular meals, fewer families and fewer family members to shop for. And, of course, the supermarkets have taken business away from the public markets. The future looks grim.


For other posts on public markets, of the many references on this blog, see the following:

On Testaccio's "new" market:

On our favorite public market:

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Reading the Walls of San Lorenzo: The Story of Ilaria


This wall of signs and posters is at the entrance to the tunnel under railroad tracks that lead to Stazione Termini, not far away. On the other side of the tunnel is the beginning of via Tiburtina and the leftist community of San Lorenzo. The Palestinian flag is prominently featured, and Romans will recognize the Rai poster of their Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, astride an arm in full Fascist salute. But who is Ilaria? And why does Ilaria need to be "free" (libera)?

Ilaria is Ilaria Salis, a 39-year-old Italian woman activist, arrested in Budapest, Hungary in February, 2023 for having attacked some militants of Hungary's extreme right who were participating in a demonstration. What actually happened is unclear, but Rome's daily newspaper Il Messaggero reports that those presumably attacked never filed charges and were judged to have been recovered from their injuries within 5 to 8 days.

The legal process against Salis was initiated in January, 2024. She appeared in court in handcuffs and ankle chains, setting off international concerns about the way she was being treated. At the time, right-wing Meloni intervened with her even more right-wing Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, as did other Italian officials. (Given Meloni's reputation as the "Orbán whisperer," it's surprising to us she wasn't more successful in freeing the leftist politico.) 

But Salis's request to be allowed to leave jail for house arrest was rejected--for the third time. In May, 2024, her request was approved, and she now resides in Budapest in the apartment of someone she doesn't know who volunteered to host her. Although her Italian and Hungarian attorneys hope for her release in the near future, she risks a sentence of up to 24 years, and her time in domicile counts for only 1/5 of the same time in prison.

Under house arrest, Salis will be able to communicate quite freely with contacts in Italy and will be able to participate in an electoral campaign, an important consideration because she is a candidate for the European parliament, as a member of the Avs party, a federation of the Italian left and Green Europe. If she is elected--voting is next weekend, June 8 and 9--it appears she would be granted immunity from prosecution and presumably be released.  Postscript: Ilaria Salis was elected to the European parliament. Her release is anticipated, though it is not guaranteed. 


Saturday, May 18, 2024

Rome's Election Billboards: Dinosaurs in the Age of Social Media?


This set of billboards, on via Tiburtina across from the Verano cemetery, is one of many in Rome intended for the the display of large political posters ("maxi-manifesti") that for decades have been a part of Rome's electoral campaigns, in this case European parliamentary elections that will take place in June. 

They are installed every year about this time on the city's sidewalks, which are mostly asphalt, then removed after the elections. Some say they interfere with the movement of pedestrians (especially those with disabilities), others that the installation process can damage the sidewalks. It is clear that they are costly; the cost each year to Rome taxpayers is about 300,000 Euro, or about $325,000. There are more than 5,000 of them, distributed in 166 locations within the 15 local jurisdictions in the capital. 

But the most interesting criticism is that they are increasingly irrelevant in an age when political communication takes place not through posters but on the social media, not to mention radio and television. A recent article in the Rome daily newspaper, Il Messaggero, describes the billboards as "immortal," resisting the inevitable: AI. One city official calls the billboards "medieval," an epithet that wouldn't have much resonance for Americans, but means something to Europeans. 

In 2023 critics advanced a proposal to eliminate the billboards. It failed because to do so would require changing a 1956 national law that established and underpins the system. 


The set of billboards at center left have just been installed; they've been cleaned of old posters.

This set of billboards has also been recently installed, but already someone has put up posters for a trans/non-binary demonstration--probably an "illegal" poster.  

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Italian Artists Reflect on the Resistance in World War II

Villa Altieri, the subject of the last post, has been, in addition to its antiquities museum, its archaeological siting, and its role as Palazzo della Cultura e della Memoria della Città Metropolitana di Roma Capitale (Palace of culture and memory of the metropolitan capital city of Rome), home to many small and interesting exhibitions. "Pietà l'è morta: omaggio alla resistenza" ("Pity is dead: homage to the resistance") was the one that drew us to the villa in the first place.

The artworks were created mostly after the "Nazi-Fascist" period of World War II had ended, some immediately after (apparently some during that period as well) and others 2 decades later.

The main image in promotional materials for the exhibition is this somewhat strange caricature, at right, of Antonio Gramsci by Giuseppe Guerreschi, from 1967. Gramsci was a symbol of the opposition to Fascism, a founder of Italy's Communist Party (the mark on his forehead) and died in 1936 in a Fascist prison (note the chain and handcuffs), where he wrote his profoundly influential Prison Notebooks during his arduous 11 years of incarceration (evocation of Alexei Navalny). The iconography of Gramsci continues with wall paintings in Rome and his oft-visited burial site in Rome's Non-Catholic Cemetery (He was an atheist, hence his burial outside Catholic Church grounds). At the end of this post are photos of Gramsci, of his memorialized tombstone, and of one of the Roman wall paintings.

Many of the works, by some of the best artists of the period, are disturbingly graphic in their depictions of Fascist horrors. 

Left, a print from Renato Guttuso's "Gott mit uns," a portfolio of 24 first issued in 1945, the year World War II ended in Europe. "Gott mit uns" ("God with us") was a slogan on German World War I and World War II uniforms, often on belt buckles. (Frederika Randall's review of an exhibition of Guttuso's work from 2013 is here.) Some records date the prints to earlier than 1945.

The writing at the bottom right says,"Compagni! vendicate i martiri di via Tasso," translated: "Comrades! Avenge the martyrs of via Tasso," referencing both the Nazi imprisonment of political prisoners at that notorious Rome locale (see below on the sponsorship of the exhibit in part by the museum now housed there) and the murder of more than 300 men, many taken from the via Tasso prison, at the caves of Ardeatine. For a post on that atrocity and the memorial now there, see here (also on an itinerary in our book, Rome the Second Time).

Below, another print from the same series.

Three pieces by Guttuso in the exhibit appear to reference the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) and are titled "Massacro" ("Massacre"); two are below. The artist has other, similar works with the same title from 1940, reflecting the Nazi horrors.

Renato Guttuso, "Massacro" 1961

Renato Guttuso, "Algerine"
 ("Algerian woman") 1961

Below is Ugo Attardi's (another noted Italian artist, 1923-2006) "Questo Matto Mondo Assassino" ("This crazy, murderous world") from 1967:

A few of the prints depicted some hope from Resistance, among them Giacomo Manzù's "Partigiano con fazzoletto rosso" ("Partisan with bandana," no date), the red bandana to this day is a symbol of the Italian partisans, who still maintain an organization, ANPI (ANPI - Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia). Manzù is most remembered as a sculptor.

Another Attardi print shows a statue of Mussolini being dragged down and away:

Ugo Attardi, "Profile del duce e rivolta" ("Profile of the Duce and revolt"), 1951.

A small sculpture based on the iconic scene from Roberto Rossellini's 1945 "Roma, Città Aperta" was also on view.
Vincenzo Gaetaniello, "Roma, città aperta," no date

Also in the exhibit were photos by Margaret Bourke-White about 5 months after the liberation of Rome but before the end of the war in Europe. Some 80,000 leftists celebrated the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution and denounced the monarchy (which would be rejected in the June 2, 1946 plebiscite following the war). Both of the photos below are titled "Comizio sul colle Palatino 12 Novembre 1944" ("Rally on the Palatine Hill, Nov. 12, 1944").

The exhibit featured writings from Italians such as Cesare Pavese and Giuseppe Ungaretti.

Ungaretti's poem at right above is titled "To the dead of the resistance" and has been translated as follows:

They live on forever
Those eyes that have been closed to the light
So that everyone
Would have them open
For eternity
To that light

The exhibition was comprised mainly of works from "art books," portfolios of prints, all of them in private collections. Many were from the collection o the art critic Dario Micacchi. In some ways, exhibitions based on one or two private collections, which can lead to an increase in prices for the art, seem a capitulation to capitalism, rather than a curated presentation of art and philosophy. The instances of these are many these days, whether it's Ettore Sottsass at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or in Rome Olivetti at the GNAM (Galleria Nazionale del'Arte Moderna) or the Barbie exhibit at the Vittoriano. And yet, we are fortunate that these private works get any showing.

The subtitle of the exhibition - "Omaggio alla resistenza" - "Homage to the Resistance" - is from a 1964 artists' book edited by Salvatore Quasimodo:

The main title of the exhibition - "Pietà l'è morta" - "Pity is dead" - is from a Resistance anthem by Nuto Revelli, less famous than "Bella Ciao" but well-known to Italians. The theme of the song is that it's time to forget pity for the enemy and to go after them. Two lines read:

Combatte il partigiano la sua battaglia:
Tedeschi e fascisti, fuori d'Italia!

and a translation online is:

The partisan fights his battle:
Heinies and fascists, out of Italy!

"Tedeschi" means "Germans," and in our experience is not an epithet. A modern translation might read somewhat differently.

Here, you can listen to the song, as a dirge -
A modern version (performed on Liberation Day, April 25, 2013) by Ginevra Di Marco, with substantial changes in the lyrics, is here:


Also contributing to the exhibition were the Togliatti archives and materials from the Museo storico della Liberazione (Museum of the Liberation) on via Tasso.(#3 on RST's Top 40). The museum and the Fosse Ardeatine are on the same itinerary in our book, Rome the Second Time: 15 Itineraries that Don't Go to the Coliseum.

Below, a photo of Gramsci from the early 1920s, when he was about 30, then a wall painting by OZMO under the train overpasse in Ostiense, and finally, Gramsci's much-visited (including by us) tombstone in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Villa Altieri - "one of the most prestigious" 17th-century villas in Rome - hiding in plain sight

 Villa Altieri is one of those "Rome the Second Time" places in the middle of Rome rarely visited by the individual, and only occasionally by groups. Last year we encountered it only because we were interested in an exhibit featuring artists' responses to the Resistance in World War II (more about that in a later post). We had no idea of the place to which we were heading. What we found was a magnificently restored building, the kind of restoration for which few can match the Italians, and the layers of Rome that consistently surprise and delight us. At viale Manzoni 47, it's just steps from the Manzoni Metro A stop , on the edge of the Esquilino quartiere.

Above, the monumental entrance to Villa Altieri. Today one enters on the ground floor, beneath these grand staircases.

The palazzo is a 17th-century building. Pope Clement X (1670-76) was an Altieri, giving the family money to build this villa on top of an earlier structure.

The main hall of the ground floor of Villa Altieri has exposed "scavi" - excavations - from the earlier villa and from Roman times.

A collection of antique statues and other works is well-displayed in the various rooms. It's described as a small museum for the "prestigious" collection of the families that owned the property. Through the glass floor (a little disorienting when one first walks on it) one can see the "ancient" cobbled floors of the prior villa and the "archaeological stratifications" discovered in the restoration work.

That's me, focused  on the art exhibit. You can see the glass floor beneath my feet and some of the statuary in the hall.

A little of everything - the glass floors with
ruins below, a statue from the museum's
collection, a view out to the gardens, such
as they remain, and, center right, a painting
of Antonio Gramsci from the
 Resistance exhibition.

The city of Rome acquired the villa in 1975 and began restoring it in 2010. It's now the city's headquarters for "Culture and Historical Memory," with an archive open to the public that includes the Library of the Metropolitan City with the Historical Archive, the Study Center for literary research, linguistic and philological Pio Rajna , with the Dante Historical Library. (I'm using the site's English translation - links provided). 

The "museum" supposedly has visiting hours, but the website is woefully out of date. I suggest going when there is an event or exhibit and one can be more sure of it being open and accessible.

Facebook may provide the most up-to-date information on opening days and times. Specifically "Amici di Villa Altieri" here. It shows current events and exhibits. (Don't be misled by the Palazzo Altieri elsewhere in Rome or the Villa Altieri hotel in Albano.) 

On the other hand, the villa is so accessible, you can try simply stopping by. It's a lovely site, quintessentially Roman, with surprises from many eras.

A print - with description - from the Stanford collection here:
Description of a bas relief with Mithras, here:

(Part Two of Villa Altieri - the exhibition of Resistance art- will be the subject of a subsequent post.)