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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

10 things to do within 200 meters of Stazione Termini

For most tourists, and most Romans, the area around Stazione Termini--that is, Termini, the city's main train station--means bad hotels, swarthy immigrants, pizza and trinkets, and phone centers for calling home. True enough, and we don't recommend the bad hotels. But there's more to Termini than the stereotype, and to prove it we offer our lists of 10 things to do within 200 meters of Stazione Termini.

Our 200-meter perimeter creates an race-track shaped oval that reaches out from the front edge of the station building toward the Baths of Diocletian (but does not include them) and around the sides of the building, two blocks on either side of the long station building, then curves around the back. Because the station is long, the oval is enormous, and we have tried our best to focus on attractions near the front of the station. So if you're changing trains in Rome and have a couple of hours....

1. The Station Itself . It's actually a complex structure, completed in two phases. The first phase dates to 1935-1940 (late Fascism), and consists of the area where the trains arrive and depart--up to but not including the enormous open hall--and the side areas. Facing the station 0n the left (west) side one can admire the enormous exterior arches; and on the right (east) side, inside, enormous interior arches that speak to the Fascist delight in architecture that at once intimidates and inspires (the light poles, while compelling, are of 1999 vintage).
In phase 2, The Saarinen-like front of the station, including the covered but open great hall, was designed by a team of architects and built between 1948 and 1951. Amerigo Tot decorated the modernist frieze cut in the metal across the station's front (1951). The lovely, enclosed space in the front of the station (see left, c. 1960) was unfortunately filled with shops, including a bookstore, as part of the preparations for the 2000 Jubilee.

2. The Servian Wall. The earliest wall we see around Rome is from the 4th century BC, and the biggest stretch of it is here, in front of the station, to the right, as one exits onto Piazza dei Cinquecento.
We (who don't go there) hear there's a small piece of it inside the station's McDonald's.

3. Piazza Independenza North of the train station (following the line of the Servian Wall, above), and one block to the right at the wide street out front, is Piazza di Independenza. One attraction here, precisely 200 meters from the station, is the charming bar/caffe in the center, amid the buses yet sheltered, called Casina delle Terme (little house of the baths, referring to the Baths of Diocletian). The main building with its curved corners dates from 1939, and a browntone photo on the napkin holder shows the enterprise as it was in 1950. So there's age and history to be savored. The food is fine and tourists are few; we recommend it for lunch.
At the far, northeastern edge of the piazza, and perhaps a tad out of our range, is a palazzo of Fascist-era origins, well known among Romans for the heads that grace its facade. It's widely claimed that the face is that of Mussolini--and whose else would it be?--but to us the likeness is questionable.

4. Casa Del Passaggero. Retrace your steps out of the piazza, walking southwest along the busy street that fronts the train station. After crossing several streets, at the corner of via Viminale and via Terme di Diocliziano you'll find a grey building with a descending double staircase, its gates now chained, all in an advanced state of disrepair.
These are baths, and they were built within the ancient baths of the emperor Diocletian, but their origin is relatively recent: 1920, when they were conceived as a "daytime hotel"--a sort of bath/spa known as the Casa del Passaggero (traveler's house). Despite the decay, there are reminders here of what once was, especially four lovely bas reliefs in metal, by Oriolo Frezzotti.

5. Museo Nazionale Romano. Just kitty-corner from the baths, at Largo di Villa Peretti, 1, in the direction of the station, is one of Rome's outstanding museums. The Museo Nazionale Romano is housed in the 19th-century Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. The museum houses a great many fine pieces from ancient Greece and Rome, including two great bronzes: Pugile (The Boxer) and the Principe Ellenistico (the Hellenistic Prince). The museum is open every day except Mondays and some holidays, 9-19:45 (Euro7).

Five more coming soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who was that Bald Woman in Monti?

On May 17 J. and I were exploring Monti while our women went to Madama Butterfly. We saw the forlorn market, discussed the Madonelle, and found the site on via degli Ibernesi, where the long-time residents of an apartment house, many of them elderly, were evicted to make way for elite tourism. Despite its age and charming, narrow, bricked streets, the neighborhood is in the the throes of gentrification, and we were soon to get a good dose of it, up close.

The real excitement in Monti on that evening was in a small piazza not far from the main square, just beneath the stairway that once led up to Angelo Mai. A private party, all roped off with yellow plastic strips like a crime scene, was goin' on. Mostly young people in black, sipping wine. At the center of things--the celebrity around whom the event was designed--was a young woman who was without hair--apparently (though not certainly) by choice. As we stood there, she was being interviewed, or so it seemed, though she was the one holding the microphone and managing the conversation. And down at one end were paintings of her lining a wall. Pop singer? Painter? Architect? Proprietor of hip new clothing store? Gallery owner? Cancer victim?

Who was that Bald Woman in Monti?


Friday, July 23, 2010

Help in the right places: The little Marys of Italy

Italy is full of "madonnelle" - little madonnas that grace the sides of buildings and to whom various passersby pray for something personal. The photo at right is one I particularly like - and many of our blog readers know why. It's to the "little madonna of the lake" ("madonnina del lago") and asks her to "protect the motorcyclists." Particularly endearing is that the sign was put up (in 1997, says the plaque) by "Ass. Cult. Rockness" - or "Cultural [I kid you not] Association Rockness."

We've also seen them at the beginning of hiking trails, and have been glad they were providing us some protection from the elements while hiking.

One story is that the "madonelle" were the safety net of women of the night - who would go from one lit madonnella to another - praying in thanks when they got to the next light that they had made it that far. We featured an electrically lit madonella from Segni, a small town with pre-Roman origins, in an earlier blog (July 8, last year).


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fuksas' "Cloud": An Architect's Fantasy, Under Construction

A couple of years ago we headed out to EUR, the community south of Rome that was created in the late 1930s and early 1940s (before the war intervened) by Mussolini and his fellow Fascists to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the March on Rome (1922) and to affirm Rome's links to the sea and the Italian nation's role as an imperial power. We went there to find a work of art, this one designed by an architect: Massimiliano Fuksas' "Cloud,"
which we had heard was somewhere in the Palazzo dei Congressi, one of EUR's most famous buildings. Once in the Palazzo we poked around, went upstairs and downstairs, opened this door and that, but all to no avail: no Cloud to be found. Later we learned that it didn't exist. It still doesn't, but it might. They're building it now--the Cloud will house, or be contained within, a "congress" or meeting place-- obviously at considerable expense (photo of the construction site, below).
And we are astounded that they are. Yes, it will probably be pretty cool. But when was the last time that a government that couldn't afford to pay its pensions or teachers, not to mention fix potholes or collect the garbage, invested millions and millions in an architect's visionary concept? If you build it, they will come? We'll come, but I don't know about "they."

You will come too, if you take the EUR itinerary in our latest book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler. More on the book is at the end of this post.


Fuksas's Cloud is on the EUR itinerary, as we noted above, 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.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Secret Sketches of Pio Pullini

We're fresh from an artistic rush, this one provided by Pio Pullini's lovely and poignant watercolors, now on display (until 3 September) at the Museo di Roma at Palazzo Braschi, between Corso Emanuele II and Piazza Navona. Pullini was born in Ancona in 1887, moved to Rome when he was 19, and the mostra (show) covers the years from 1920-1945, when Pullini provided illustrations for the Tribuna Illustrata and L'Urbe. He also did some paintings, often involving those he was close to, and--a highlight of the show--many "secret" watercolors that record his reactions to Roman life under Fascism and the German occupation (including loading Rome's Jews into trucks for eventual transport to concentration camps). Others treat the liberation of Rome by the allied armies.

Pullini will remind some of Norman Rockwell, but his work is thankfully less technically precise (Rockwell was fanatical about verisimillitude), more perceptive about the human condition, and more willing to grapple with the political realities of life in an age of economic depression and totalitarianism.

I was eager to take some pics in the exhibition but was intimidated by the presence in every room of two video cameras covering every angle. Two of offerings in this post are all from the show's brochure. The third, above left, was sent on by BL, who was apparently less intimidated.

There isn't a word of English in the exhibition, and that's unfortunate; it wouldn't have taken much to translate picture titles from the Italian. But this show is worth seeing anyway, and cheap at twice the price. When we asked the young lady at the desk if there was a sconto (discount) for sopra sessantacinque (over age 65), she asked us where we were from, and we were sure that the answer we gave--New York--would, in revealing that we weren't from the European Union, disqualify us for the discount. Instead, she gave us our tickets and told it was free. You never know!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Planning Rome's Future: Modern Art? Or Domus Aurea?

Michael Kimmelman’s story, “As Rome Modernizes, Its Past Quietly Crumbles” (New York Times, July 7, 2010), is smart and full of ideas, from a critique of the new MAXXI gallery (“an air of already bygone taste”), the national modern art gallery, to the jurisdictional conflicts that have prevented concerted action on the restoration of Nero's Domus Aurea, where a gallery recently collapsed.

Note that MAXXI, Fuksas' Cloud (below) and other modern architecture are featured in our latest book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler. More information on the book is at the end of this post.

The larger point for Kimmelman seems to be that Rome, lacking a thoughtful city plan, has thrown itself into questionable, arty modernizing projects (of which MAXXI--see photo above--is the best example and the addition to MACRO, the city’s modern art museum, another), while depriving its center of the money needed to maintain properly its historic heritage. The solutions that would seem to follow are for the city to cease playing around on its outskirts with designer projects, and for Rome to stop trying to be a center of modern art and architecture and focus on its past; get back to basics: shore up the Domus Aurea, fix the Coliseum, reveal the Tomb of Augustus.

But that isn’t where Kimmelman takes us. On the one hand, he is, to be sure, critical of an approach to Rome’s problems that features “a few big stars designing buildings,” and he calls architect Massimiliano Fuksas’ enormous and fanciful congress center, now going up in EUR (a suburban neighborhood and business center south of Rome’s historic district), a “giant bauble in what’s still the middle of nowhere.” (Under construction, right)

On the other hand, he seems much taken with Fuksas’ notion that Rome’s future lies in developing its periphery. “So the true city,” he quotes Fuksas, “is no longer the historic one but the one on the so-called periphery, and to become successful we need to accept a new concept of greater Rome.”

Beyond that, Kimmelman seems to believe that the congress center, along with new housing designed by Renzo Piano (two “big stars designing buildings”), may be keys to development in EUR and critical to Rome’s progress. That’s a long way from shoring up the city’s crumbling past. And at the end of his article, we’re a long way from understanding what it is that Rome needs.

The preceding by Bill; the following by Dianne -

I agree with Bill that Kimmelman's piece is on the whole "smart," but I also "smart" from his dissing of areas that are not in the historic center ("centro storico"). He calls EUR (which he never mentions by name) - "the middle of nowhere." Our guests we dragged there last month hopefully won't agree. This immense paean to monumental modernism, named for the World's Fair Mussolini hoped to have there in 1942 (Esposizione Universale di Roma; also called E42) is a fascinating suburb and in the middle of a whole lot, if one doesn't simply focus on ancient and Renaissance Rome.

To call Renzo Piano's Parco della Musica "inoffensive" also is "offensive" to me. It's a beautiful music complex, one that should be visited, and, unlike a lot of other artsy buildings, it works. To us, it's a definite visit when one is visiting MAXXI in the same neighborhood, and if you can fit in a concert at the same time, so much the better. And, they both are in the neighborhood of Flaminio, also unnamed in the NYT piece and disdained as an "obscure residential neighborhood," "outside the city center." Obscure? To Kimmelman maybe. Flaminio is full of apartments (and bars and restaurants) where Romans would die to live, along a road used even in pre-Roman times, and is very well located, beginning right outside Piazza del Popolo (where, among others, Fellini hung out and near to where he lived) and stretching to the famed Ponte Milvio. Okay so it's not in the historic city center; it's still very central.

My rant gives you some feel why we like Rome - the Second Time... because so many people treat anything that was built after 1700 as not worth looking at - unless it's a glitzy new art museum. Their loss.


As we noted above, for more on modern architecture, see 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.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Really Roman Holiday

Rome on a long summer holiday weekend (of which there are plenty) is lovely for residents who remain in town. The tourists are locked in their itineraries that take them to the Coliseum, and most of the Romans head for the beach, a few to the mountains (hiking is too much work for most of them). We almost had the Lungotevere – the streets that run along the Tiber River – to ourselves, breezily scootering along the empty streets, feeling like Nanni Moretti in Caro Diario as he scootered through an August-empty Rome.

The holiday weekend we’re covering here was in celebration of the city’s Saints Peter and Paul. Since it fell on a Tuesday, the Romans took a “ponte” or bridge, and made a 4-6 day holiday out of it. The homage to the city’s Saints was big enough that the Pope dropped into the nearby (to us) basilica of St. Paul, complete with helicopter entourage.

We stopped by the fair that annually graces the park and streets outside of the basilica, and in the afternoon, it too seemed sleepy and empty (photos).

But by dusk, we could barely walk through the thousands of people buying everything in sight – from the newest versions of vegiamatics to roasted corn on the cob to knock-off purses sold by itinerants. For those of you familiar with the Sunday Porta Portese market, this was at least its equal. The evening view looking towards the St. Paul capanile was considerably different from day (photo). In addition to music at the bandstand (video below), including classic Roman sing-along tunes, of course the night was capped off by fireworks, which we watched as we walked through our neighborhood, now dominated by cars and trucks parked in every conceivable (and some inconceivable) place (photos). Ah, Rome. Dianne

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fire Escapes to Heaven: The Stairs of EUR

You'll have to cut us some slack here, dear reader. We know that all except the most far-out architectural buffs will wonder if we've gone insane when we tell them what today's subject is: outside stairways on modern buildings. Sounds like the worst lecture in a bad course. But we (Bill, actually. Dianne didn't have much to do with this) couldn't resist offering you a tour of some of the loveliest staircases in all of modern architecture. Our fancy was piqued as we toured EUR (Esposizione Universale di Rome; Rome Universal Exposition),

a community south of Rome (on the Metro) begun in the 1930s to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Fascists' March on Rome (1922) and now a thriving center of business and government, especially the Italian postal service. The stairways we found come with buildings built after World War II--most of them, we guess, after 1970--likely as fire escapes. Despite what we imagine to be their prosaic origins, we--and that does include Dianne--find them unusual and, need we say, lovely.

And we were so entranced by the stairways that they found their way into the EUR itinerary of our latest book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  See below for more information on the book.


 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.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Albergo Mediterraneo and Radisson BLU: Two Rooftop Bars and a Walk on the Wild Side

For our penultimate evening in Rome, we imagined ascending to the roofs of two of Rome’s fanciest hotels, to enjoy a glass of wine and the views, provided the rooftop bars were there and open. Hoping to impress desk clerks, bellhops, and others we thought might keep us out, we dressed up: no jeans (Dianne removed hers [they were under her skirt], rather awkwardly, between scooters, and with a bunch of guys standing around talking on cell phones paying no attention), Bill in black sport coat (but with scuffed brown shoes that for Italians marked him as a pretender to elite status).

The first stop: Albergo Mediterraneo, on via Cavour (#15) near Termini. We’d seen the striking lobby a few days before, with its sign for a rooftop bar. We took the elevator to the 10th floor, asked if the bar was available to the public for a glass of wine (it was) and were seated at one of 12 cloth-covered tables. We ordered a glass of Frascati for E5 (it was small) and a bottle of water for E2 and enjoyed the peanuts and pretzel mix that came with the drinks. Of the four occupied tables, one had 8 Asians (probably Chinese), another 5 Brits including a guy in shorts--so much for the dress code--and a third a lone black man having two beers. Later, a very tall white guy with freshly-washed, shoulder-length hair showed up.

It’s a pleasant and intimate space. One side, toward Termini station, is dense with potted plants, there to obstruct a view of the air conditioning equipment on the tall building next door. The view opens up on the south and west (where the sun was going down as we sipped), and it is expansive if not particularly compelling or romantic, though the Coliseum, the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, and St. Peter’s are all visible, albeit not close enough to inspire. At the west end there’s a gate leading to a metal deck that could be a fire escape. You can open the gate and use the deck, as we did.

Our second stop was the Radisson BLU, only about 7 blocks away, on the same side of the station, at via Filippo Turati, 171--a straight shot, we thought. After 10 minutes on the scooter amid the area’s one-way streets and construction projects, we decided that the Radisson was unreachable by motor vehicle, and we parked several blocks away, in a dimly lit area that made me glad I had brought my fake billfold, and walked along the forbidding, impenetrable sides of the hotel, searching for what turned out to be its only convivial entrance: on via Turati. To the left as we entered were the remains of a Roman road, and ahead the main desk (see photo),
assembled from canvas and wire, and lit from behind; a set for the next Bond film.

We used the mirrored elevator to mitigate the frazzled “helmet hair” look and found ourselves on an enormous deck—inside, outside, a pool and all, wooden slats, high modernist fixtures—that we shared for an hour with a gathering of Merck Italia employees and their spouses and few of their children, nuzzling up to mommy after a long day on the tour bus. We thought about joining Merck's food line and thought better of the idea, for fear of getting caught. But thanks to Merck, we were entertained by a single sax player doing the American songbook. Again thanks to Merck, the service was lousy, but we passed the time walking the long perimeter, which on one side looked down on the train platforms and over at the delicious modernist towers that mark the end of the station and the entrance to San Lorenzo.
We would call the views intriguing rather than exceptional, but we loved the space and the feel of the place, and the restrooms were nice, too (don't miss our Best Restrooms post, coming up). All the wines by the glass are E8, with chips and those dry, slightly salty donut-shaped cracker/cookies that only Italians can appreciate. Despite the cookies, we recommend the rooftop bar at the Radisson BLU. But take a taxi.