Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

RST Top 40. #18: Case Popolari/Mussolini's Public Housing

Officially and emotionally, the Fascist regime (1922-1943) emphasized the virtues of rural life and made an effort to keep Italians in the small villages and on the farm. Practically, it proved impossible to prevent country people from coming to the city to live, and especially to Rome, whose population grew from about 700,000 to more than 1,4oo,000 during Fascism. At the same time, Mussolini's government was tearing down large areas of the inner city, mostly to showcase the city's ancient Roman heritage and bring glory to the regime. Migration and "sventramento" (tearing down) put enormous pressure on the Fascists to provide housing, somewhere, for the new arrivals, the displaced, and thousands of new government employees. As a result, Fascist-built housing is everywhere in Rome--everywhere, that is, outside the Centro: in Flaminio, around Piazza Bologna, in Appio Latino, in Garbatella, and in Monteverde Nuovo--and, of course, in a dozen or more "borgate," the more far-flung suburbs where thousands of Rome's workers and their families were housed.

Public housing in Garbatella is featured in the first walk in our latest book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  More on the book is at the end of this post.

Our focus here is on one particular kind of public housing: Case Popolari (literally popular houses), built for the working class. One of our favorites, an intimate project on Piazza Pontida (see photo top), is on the first Piazza Bologna itinerary in Rome the Second Time. Another worth visiting, and more accessible because it is not gated, is in Flaminia, off viale del Vignola, just off Piazza Melozzo da Forli in Piazza Perin del Vaga.
Buiilt between 1924 and 1926, this complex was designed by Mario De Renzi, one of the architects of the more famous via Marmorata post office and a regular contributor to the rationalist element of the Fascist aesthetic. The sculpture in the photo is located in Piazza Perin del Vaga.

But if you're RST Top 40 "bagging" (like hikers bag high peaks), you'll have to head for Monteverde Nuovo, specifically Piazza di Donna Olimpia, at the intersection of via Ozanam and via di Donna Olimpia. The #8 tram on viale Transtevere will get you most of the way: get off at Piazza San Giovanni di Dio, walk left to via Ozanam and down the hill. (RST Top 40 daily double: the market in Piazza San Giovanni di Dio, followed by the Case Popolari in Piazza di Donna Olimpia).

This public housing complex was completed in 1938 (Mussolini and other dignitaries were present at the opening), and it's in a different spirit and aesthetic from the projects noted above. Beginning in the 1930s, and accelerating when Italy pursued its colonial fantasies in North Africa and then alliance with Germany, Fascist architecture pursued a "monumental" aesthetic--tall, massive, imposing.
This is a good example. The project included several buildings of 8 stories (referred to then as "grattaciele": skyscrapers), intended to house some three hundred families--or about 1200 people. Today the project is perhaps best known as one of the 1950s haunts of poet, novelist and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was fascinated by (and wrote about) the culture of the working-class boys who lived in the complex and who for a time lived with his mother just up the street,
in an apartment at #86 on via Fonteiana 86, the extension of via Ozanam (there's a plaque in the lobby, but no, you can't claim it as another notch on your RST Top 40 belt). We've written about Pasolini's links to Monteverde in posts of October 10 and October 16, 2009. The photo of Pasolini at right appears to have been taken behind the Piazza di Donna Olimpia projects.

No one will mind if you go in the entrance to the main building (which is obvious) and have a look. The stairway is cool, and so is the interior courtyard and its view of the curved back of the building.


As noted, "case popolari" are featured in 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.

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