Rome Travel Guide

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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.


oviya said...

Very nice and interesting blog. I like it and so much thanks for sharing this nice post with us and keep posting.
Modern Art

Super Hero said...

EUR is not a suburb, though. It's a neighborhood in all senses of the word.