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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mushroom Building

It's tucked away. Indeed, "tucked away" hardly seems sufficient. The building seems to have been squeezed or poured onto its site. You'll be able to tell what it is, in a recent incarnation, from one of the photos. And you may recognize Dianne doing her Amelia Earhart thing in another. So where is it (that we know, more or less), and what was it (that we don't know). Bill


Friday, November 27, 2009

RST Top 40. #35: The Gino Severini Mural at the Palazzo dei Congressi (EUR)

One day a few years ago we went out to EUR and to the Palazzo dei Congressi (the translation, Palace of the Congresses, sounds dumb), eager to see Massimiliano Fuksas's massive, avant-garde new hall (we thought), "Cloud." Once inside, we looked everywhere but the basement, even going up some stairways that were obviously not intended for the general public and poking around on the floors above. We were disappointed in not finding "Cloud" (we learned later that it did not yet exist), but more than pleased at what we did find: an enormous, didactic mural by Gino Severini, completed in 1953 (the same year the building itself opened) for the International Exhibition of the Federation of Agricultural Enterprises. We have included a view from the side (above left), sufficiently unrevealing that it shouldn't spoil your encounter with it. The mural employs a seasonal motif that Severini had first explored in the painting "L'Estate" (1951) [below right], part of the collection at the Museo Carlo Bilotti (a newer museum in the Villa Borghese - we recommend it).

Note Severini's murals, as well as the other EUR sites mentioned in this post, are on the EUR walk in our latest book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.   See the end of this post for more information on the book.

Severini was no spring chicken when he did this mural (at 70, more like a winter chicken). He was born in Cortona, Italy and moved to Rome in 1899, at 16. As a young artist he was influenced by Futurism (he was a signer of the important 1910 Futurist Manifesto) and by Cubism, and, living in Paris, a good friend of Modigliani. The photo at left captures him on the scaffold, paintbrush in hand, working on the mural with artist Stefania Lotti. It was painted on Masonite (disclosure: my father was for a time Manager of Industrial Sales for the Masonite Corporation), often incorrectly referred to on Italian websites as Maronite.

Enjoy the mural. But don't miss having a good look at the splendid building in which it is housed. The Palazzo dei Congressi was one of many buildings planned for E42 (Exposition 1942), planned for the 20th anniversary of the March on Rome--the establishing moment of Italian Fascism. It has strong classical lines, as did many buildings of the Fascist era, but it also speaks to a modernist sensibility that was part of 20th-century culture all over the world, and which was deeply influential for many of the architects working under Fascism. Construction began in 1938, but the war intervened and delayed completion.

The building's architect was Adalberto Libera. In the late 1920s, Libera was one of the founders of the Italian Movement for Rational Architecture, based in Rome. He was influenced by both Futurism and Rationalism and maintained close ties with the Mussolini government--close enough, anyway, to get commissions and keep working. He also designed the superb post office on via Marmorata and was one of five architects who worked on designs for the Olympic Village (1960; a 5-minute walk from Parco della Musica in north Rome).

The Palazzo dei Congressi has many features, but none so obvious or original as that big cube in the middle, which houses the Salone dei Ricevimenti (Hall of Receptions, or Welcoming Hall). The cube is 38 meters on each side, big enough, as it is often said, to hold the Pantheon (though getting it there and inside would be daunting). The rounded top may have been necessary to bring the cube to Pantheon dimensions, but whatever its purpose, it's the Palazzo's signature feature.

To get there, take the Metro B line to the Fermi exit. When you walk out of the subway you'll be about 5 blocks south/southwest of the Palazzo. So walk north/northeast through EUR until you find the building.


 Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler features tours of the "garden" suburb of Garbatella; the 20th-century suburb of EUR, designed by the Fascists; the 21st-century music and art center of Flaminio, along with Mussolini's Foro Italico, also the site of the 1960 summer Olympics; and a stairways walk in Trastevere.

This 4-walk book is available in all print and eBook formats The eBook is $1.99 through and all other eBook sellers.  See the various formats at

Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler
 now is also available in print, at, Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, and other retailers; retail price $5.99.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

RST Top 40. #36: Il Goccetto

#36 is really an authentic wine bar... and we've picked Il Goccetto as a stand in for the few wine bars we think rate as having some sense of authenticity. Because we've blogged about Il Goccetto before (early in October plus it's in Rome the Second Time), what follows is a repeat of the earlier blog (and a few suggestions for other wine bars at the end). And we'll give the address this time (in case you're chalking up your Top 40 list): via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14; open lunch time and after 7:30 p.m. - not on Sundays (or lunch Mondays) - not far from Campo de' Fiori.

There are wine bars and there are wine bars. As noted in Rome the Second Time, we've been entranced by Il Goccetto ("the little drop") since we first discovered it for ourselves,--no mean feat, since it had no sign (it now has a tiny one above the door), no outdoor space (unless you count the steps and sidewalk), and a small, dark interior not easily visible from the street. (And, we're sorry our friends who call it "smokey bar" haven't been back since the Rome smoking ban.)

But it turns out we aren't the only ones in thrall to this unassuming wine bar not far from the overrun Campo de' Fiori. Princeton professor Leonard Barkin spent a year in the late 1980s in Rome, virtually alone at first, then gradually adding groups of friends, almost all centered around the appreciation of fine wine. And, he turns out to be the most expert of them all (at least according to his retelling of that year in his book: Satyr Square: A Year, a Life in Rome [2006]). Yet he also ends his year at, of all places, the unassuming Il Goccetto.

We couldn't be more different from Barkin. The last thing we are is oenophiles (wine experts - I had to look it up to spell it), and, we're never alone looking for friends in the wine and food business. Nor do we live to cook and eat, the way Barkin seems to. Through most of his book, I couldn't imagine Barkin and us sharing anything in Rome (except maybe his fling with Charles Bukowski's books and his taking different walking routes from Piazza dei Satiri to the Vatican library--those I liked).

But at the very end of Satyr Square, he seems to set his high-falutin' oenophile friends aside and discovers Rome, and himself, at Il Goccetto. Here is his description:

  • None of my now vast circle of wine acquaintances in Rome has ever mentioned Il Goccetto. I came upon it by mere chance....These are not the posh surroundings of Jeffrey's tastings or the slightly faded grandeur that surrounds Sandro's, but something a little more raffish, in a neighborhood where captains of industry and leatherworkers are shoulder to shoulder. In place of Clara, in place of Jeffrey, in place of Sandro, there is Sergetto--gentle, frisky, direct, occasionally fantastical. No formal tastings here, no professorial master of the revels who has come from across the sea to instruct us, just an ongoing seminar about Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, pecorino and mozzarella, as well as the dreadful inhumanity of those who support the Lazio soccer team against Roma.

You had me, Leonard, at (or finally at) "Il Goccetto." Dianne
Other wine bars of note: Al vino al vino (via dei Serpenti, 19 - up from the Coliseum), Taberna Recina (via Elvia Recina, 26 - a few blocks from San Giovanni in Laterano), and Trimani Il Wine Bar (via Cernaia, 37b - not too far from Termini), and uve e forme (via Padova, 6/8 - in the Piazza Bologna area).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

RST Top 40. #37: Parco della Musica

This gorgeous new (2006) complex of music space has been highly successful. The performances are many and varied - suiting every taste and pocketbook: classical to folk to dance to new music, Euro 150 to free.

Many of the US's top artists perform here. See the English website for events. It's easier to navigate than PDM's (as it's called, or sometimes it's called just the Auditorium).

Whether or not you're going to a performance, the complex is worth a visit. It's in the Flaminio district, a short tram ride from Piazza del Popolo. Renzo Piano, one of Italy's best known international architects, hit his stride with these buildings. Piano also designed the New York Times building in New York City that opened earlier this year and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's large addition, that opened last year. But we think Parco della Musica is another degree better than his commissions in the US. (It's in Rome the Second Time as a music venue, Chapter 7; and also a highlight of the Flaminio walk in our latest book: Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler. More on the book at the end of this post.)

You can also get food and drink here (and in the adjacent Flaminio neighborhood - in Rome the Second Time, Chapter 8; and in the Flaminio walk of Modern Rome).

Take a look at the basketball stadium, Palazzetto dello Sport, as you walk from the tram to PDM. The Palazzetto was designed for the Rome 1960 Olympics by one of that era's most well-known Italian international architects, Pier Luigi Nervi, a master with concrete - we were taken to the Palazzetto as college students by our Stanford art prof who was trying to get us to appreciate modern architecture (wow, he got what he wanted from us!).  The Palazzetto also is featured in Modern Rome.


As noted above, these sites are feaured in the Flaminio walk of our new print AND eBook,  Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  Modern Rome features tours of the "garden" suburb of Garbatella; the 20th-century suburb of EUR, designed by the Fascists; the 21st-century music and art center of Flaminio, along with Mussolini's Foro Italico, also the site of the 1960 summer Olympics; and a stairways walk in Trastevere.

This 4-walk book is available in all print and eBook formats The eBook is $1.99 through and all other eBook sellers.  See the various formats at

Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler
 now is also available in print, at, Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, and other retailers; retail price $5.99.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Now and Then: The Romanian Academy

With its funky art shows accompanied by wine, the Romanian Academy is one of our favorite social venues. The building itself is an impressive neo-classical structure. Here we offer two views of the building, one contemporary, the other from 1968, when Piazza Thorvaldsen, on which the building fronts, was the scene of a historically significant, violent confrontation between police and students. Bill

Sunday, November 15, 2009

RST Top 40. #38: The Wall Museum

Rome's walls define it in myriad ways. They defined the city, and how it could protect itself - or not - from the 4th century BC to 1870 and even to the present. No second trip to Rome should miss an up-close-and-personal experience with the walls. The best way is the city's Wall Museum, located inside the enormous, twin-towered, San Sebastiano gate. You can poke around, go up into the towers, walk along inside the walls... a small, but nifty thrill. These walls, of course, are the newer ones - the Aurelian walls, built in 271-275 AD (Wikopedia has some good historical facts.) There are only a few pieces of the 4th century BC Servian walls left in Rome (see around Termini - the central train station).

The museum's location means you also get to walk in and around the old Roman road, now via di Porta San Sebastiano - the beginning of the famed Appian Way (via Appia Antica). You can also pair this Top 40 #38 with #39, graffiti - which is just outside the gate.

Photos here are of the gate (above - inside; below, outside the gate).

The museum entrance is on the inside, right (as you look out) of the gate. Hours 9-2 Tuesday - Sunday, ticket office closes at 1:30. Tickets generally Euro 3. There's a lot of history and some old photos (but who needs old photos, when you've got "old" right in front of you??) on the city's website for the museum and gate (in English).

There's also a well-groomed, newly refurbished family park just before the gate. Parco degli Scipioni.

An alternative to the Wall Museum for seeing Rome's walls is the museum of Porta San Paolo near the Pyramid (on Itinerary 4 in Rome the Second Time).


Thursday, November 12, 2009

RST Top 40. #39: Graffiti, via Appia Antica

You can't leave Rome (the 2nd time) without appreciating its graffiti. Most of the high quality drawing is either far from the center or safely viewable only from moving trains or with gang member friends as guides. We found a very good, very dependable, and reasonably accessible site. From the Baths of Caracalla, follow via di Porta San Sebastiano (this is an old Roman road, high walls, no sidewalks, fast moving one-way traffic - but people do walk it [we have]) south, about half mile through the wall and gate and just beyond, to the underpass created by via Cilicia. You can't miss the art work here on the beginning of via Appia Antica, but we especially recommend the display of talent as one moves left and under the nearby exit off via Cilicia. Poke around. Really quite something.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Rome the Second Time Top 40. #40: The Cloaxa Maxima

Beginning with today's post, and over the next few months, we'll be rolling out a list and offering a challenge: Rome-the-Second-Time's Top 40: the 40 sites you shouldn't miss (da non perdere) once you've seen the "big" tourist attractions, or if you want to experience the Eternal City in a different, more alternative, perhaps less Eternal, way. We'll call it the RST Top 40.

Many of our Top 40 are on one of the itineraries in Rome the Second Time or in the entertainment chapter, and we expect the ambitious (or crazed) to acquire the book, if only to make the quest easier. But the list will include new discoveries and new adventures, including a few that emerged from our 2009 sojourn in Monteverde Nuovo. For the new ones, we'll provide fuller descriptions and and directions. From time to time, we'll also present our "regular" posts.

Comments on the list, and suggestions for items you'd like included in the next go-around (or even this one, if you make a compelling case - just think of the arguments/discussions ["discussioni, argomenti"] we had getting to one list of 40 between us) are welcome.

As with any "Top 40" we're starting with #40 and will work our way up to #1.

RST Top 40. #40: The Cloaxa Maxima

OK, so it's just a big drain opening on the Tevere (Tiber River), and a messy one at that. But it's ancient (as in ancient Rome), and there's a good story behind it, which you'll find in Rome the Second Time. We've heard that it's possible to get a tour of the drain, but we haven't done that, not being fans of slime, rats, slugs, leeches and other things that thrive in slow-moving water in the dark. The 19th-century Jeanne Gauchard print, above, shows the Cloaxa Maxima in the context of its immediate environment, and before the Tevere's huge walls went up. It hangs, framed in gold, in our living room in the States, a gift from Dianne to Bill.

Bill and Dianne

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Battle of Valle Giulia

We have been known to drag visitors to a site familiar to many Romans but entirely unknown to tourists: the School (the Italians say Facolta', or Faculty) of Architecture, which fronts on via Gramsci, with the slope of Parioli above, Villa Borghese below, and the quartiere (quarter) of Flaminio just a ten-minute walk toward the Tiber. Valle Giulia refers not only to the general area, which also includes the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art) and several national academies and cultural centers, including those of Great Britain, Japan, and Romania, but also to the Faculty of Architecture itself, housed in an unassuming, late-modernist building. Inside (and you can walk in and poke around), you may find (assuming it's still there) a photo exhibit on the history of the place and, especially in warm weather on the large patio in back, you can feel and glimpse the energy and creativity of the current generation of architecture students.

Still, the reason we're suggesting you find your way to Valle Giulia has more to do with the front of the building, and events that took place there and on the hillside, more than forty years ago, on a sunny Friday in the early spring of 1968. In February of that year, students had occupied the building. (See photo below.) Their demands and concerns were similar to those of college and graduate students everywhere in the 1960s, whether at Berkeley in 1964 (the site of the Free Speech Movement) or Columbia in 1968. They were opposed to the authoritarian and hierarchical methods and structures then common in higher education, and to a university that was accessible largely to the privileged; they wanted a share in decision-making and more egalitarian access to the university. They also believed that the architectural school--and other parts of the University of Rome--were in the business of draining the students of their capacities for oppositional and critical thought, while producing pacified citizens who would accept subordinate roles. Some students--especially those on the political right--looked at all police as "Fascists," and wanted them out of the University. School officials felt differently, and on February 29, police ended the student occupation and established a police presence in and around the building. The stage was set for the "Battle of Valle Guilia." (If all you want is a short video showing some of the conflict, and a famous Italian song that goes with it, scroll down to the YouTube url. For background, read on.)

On Friday, March 1, some 4,000 students rallied in Piazza di Spagna (at the bottom of the Spanish Steps), perhaps a mile from Valle Giulia. About half went from there to Citta' Universitaria (the main campus of the University of Rome) and half down via Babuino, through Piazza del Popolo, up via Flaminia, and right, up the hill on viale Belle Arti to the Piazza Thorvaldsen, a stone's throw from the Faculty of Architecture, determined to liberate the building from the police--although they had never before done anything like that. Many were dressed in coats and ties; most of the men had short hair; and the overwhelming majority were unarmed, though some took apart wooden benches for clubs as the march proceeded.

What they expected and what they found when they arrived--besides large numbers of police and carabinieri--is hard to say. One student remembered a friend saying, "Nothing can happen today: the Socialists are in the government." Another recalled that the police were "ready for war," and "organized," while another said "they were few, and not very warlike. Indeed, what really struck me was that they were old....Old, and few, and relaxed, too, like us. " The photo at right was taken on the hill just below the school, with the art gallery in the distance. The sign "Fuori D'Avack" names the rector, whom the students wanted to resign.

"We stepped on to the gate," that last student continued, "as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and suddenly they attacked us." Others say the students launched the assault, throwing eggs and then rocks. The police responded with tear gas--the canisters could be deadly if fired straight rather than up in the air--and, at first, with isolated beatings. When a young man went down and another went to help him, gesturing as if he deserved immunity for his "Red Cross" action, "he was beat up mercilessly," according to one account, "because rules don't hold anymore, this is not a sport." As the fighting intensified, police in Fiat jeeps in the piazza drove in circles while hitting students with clubs. The photograph below left was claimed by both left and right; it appeared on posters sold in left-oriented Feltrinelli bookstores, but the right claimed that the first line of students pictured in the photo were from its camp. According to one account--not necessarily trustworthy--only about 200 students, most of them rightists, engaged in real fighting, while many of those on the left sought the security of nearby gardens or supported the confrontation from a distance.

The photo at the top of this post captures the intensity of the hand-to-hand fighting, but also--in the background--the curiously removed attitude of some of the police.

The students won the Battle of Valle Giulia.... "At last we entered the School of Architecture," one student recalled. "There were a few policemen in the hall, and Oreste [Scalzone, one of the leaders] made a very amusing speech--amusing to think about now. That is, he granted them immunity if they went out with their hands up. Literally. 'Don't be afraid,' he said: 'You shall not be hurt, just raise your hands and go.' The cops were kind of surprised, too. It was fun. And it wasn't militaristic; it was the power of politics against the power of weapons; because we were completely unarmed but--the feeling was, we had scored, we had made fools of them, we were home free." At a considerable cost. Some 150 policemen and 480 students were injured. (The photo above is of a wounded student on the grounds of the Japanese Cultural Institute, across via Gramsci from the Faculty of Architecture). More than 200 were arrested or detained. Eight police vehicles were burned. Because most police did not have firearms, and those that did did not use them, no one was killed.

The sense of having achieved an historic victory came through, about a year later, in the words of the song "Valle Giulia," written by singer/songwriter Paolo Pietrangeli and recorded with folksinger Giovanna Marini in 1969. It can be heard (in Italian, of course), as the accompaniment to the following VIDEO, which offers a sense of the chaos and fury of events that day. There are many verses (and an Italian friend of ours calls it "positively ugly"), but two elements of the song stand out to this day. One is the chorus, probably a reworking of slogans chanted by the marchers as they approached Valle Giulia: "No alla scuola dei padroni! Via il governo, dimissioni!/Down with the bosses' schools! Out with the government, resign now!" The second testifies to the courage the confrontation required, and to the sense that something extraordinary had happened: "They drew their batons/and hammered us like they always do/and suddenly it happened/a new thing, a new thing/"Non siam[o] scappati piu', non siam[o]scappati piu'/we didn't run away anymore/we didn't run away anymore."

....But they may have lost the war. The joy of the students must have been tempered in June, 1968, when Pier Paolo Pasolini, the celebrity leftist poet and filmmaker, then living in Rome, raised doubts about the Battle of Valle Giulia in "Il PCI ai giovani" (The Communist Party to the young people), published by the magazine L'Espresso. Pasolini, who had not been present at the Battle, argued that the mostly middle-class demonstrators had chosen the wrong enemy and abandoned the cause that mattered most. "At Valle Giulia yesterday," he wrote, "there was a fragment of the class struggle; you my friends (although in the right) were the rich; and the policemen (although in the wrong) were the poor." And in a set of chilling lines, he took sides: "When yesterday at Valle Giulia you and the policemen were throwing blows, I sympathized with the policemen! Because policemen are sons of the poor, they come from urban or rural outskirts." It would be too much to say that Pasolini was right or wrong, but the remarks hit home. Some students turned away from the University and toward the workers at Apollon, a Tiburtina factory that was threatened with closing. A high school student recalled, "I was instinctively aligned with the students, but a healthy doubt arrived in my mind, thanks to Pasolini."

Many of the recollections quoted above are from Alessandro Portelli's The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), which has a brief but important chapter on the events at Valle Giulia. The book is available from and at many libraries.


Monday, November 2, 2009

More meat!

Somehow paintings of meat figured in our recent gallery hopping around Rome. What is it with the raw meat fascination?

Although the paintings we saw were from earlier in the 20th-century, apparently the artists' attraction to meat has a long history and a contemporary bent.

Francis Bacon's 1954 Figure with Meat (a take off on a painting of Pope Innocent X - so more Rome connections) may be the most famous "meat pic", but other artists have gotten into it, so to speak, including contemporary artist Zhang Huan's "meat suit."

In any event, we offer some paintings we saw this year, at a gallery on via Piacenza, along with the real thing coming off trucks at our local market.

Thoughts, anyone??