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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

RST Top 40. #6: Villa Gregoriana

If you were in Rome and looking for a fine example of Italian baroque architecture, you would be wise to head for Francesco Borromini's San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane (San Carlo at the Four Fountains), for a look at that lovely, complex facade.

For the quintessence of Fascist monumentalism, you couldn't do better than the EUR (Esposizione Universale di Roma/Universal Rome Exposition) complex, where Italy's overblown imperial ambition is represented in the configuration of space and in almost every building. 

To capture the colorful exuberance of Art Nouveau, there's no place in Rome better than Galleria Sordi, on via del Corso. 

Tivoli, a town in the Alban Hills outside of Rome, has two such quintessential phenomena.  One of them, the Villa d'Este, is famous and a mainstay of area tourism; the other, Villa Gregoriana, is not so well known.  Yet Villa Gregoriana is in the RST Top 40--indeed, the RST Top 10--coming in at #6.  Da non perdere (not to be missed).

Actually, we recommend seeing Villa d'Este and Villa Gregoriana in tandem, because they're so different, separated from each other by almost three centuries (the Villa d'Este was built in the mid-16th century, Villa Gregoriana dates to 1826) and representing distinct ways of looking at nature and the world.  Although both are spectacular attractions, we've favored Villa Gregoriana because the 19th-century romantic perspective that it so perfectly captures--the visual equivalent of the poetry of Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth--is rare in Rome, especially compared to the neo-classical perspective of the Villa d'Este.

The two villas are central to Itinerary 14 in Rome the Second Time, "Walking and Climbing Amid the Waters of Tivoli," where we provide guidance on how to get to Tivoli and what to take with you.  We also offer our own, non-guide-book interpretation of the contrasting meanings of the two villas:

"Villa d'Este is all about control, order, precision, repetition, and technology; one gets the sense here of human beings making water do tricks, of water engineers engaged in modern, scientific acts of manipulation, of nature bent to human will, to the logic of science. In contrast, Villa Gregoriana is about an apparent lack of control, about the power of water to erode and carve, about singularity rather than repetition, about a ferocious nature barely restrained.  Villa d'Este offers a lesson on the mind, a discourse on reason; Villa Gregoriana provides instructions on the body, on the spirit." 

And there's more. 


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Teens Gather

We figured these Roman teens were on a field trip to the Museo della Civilta' Romana, located in EUR in one of those massive, 1940-ish buildings beloved by Mussolini and the Fascists.  The huge entrance door (also characteristic of monumental Fascist architecture) is at right, and an enormous column, signifying the building's--and the regime's--link to the ancients, is at left.  We liked the gendered way in which the teens had arranged themselves.   Bill

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Trionfale: A Rome "Suburb"

A Courtyard in one of Trionfale's Fascist-Era Public Housing Projects

Rome the Second Time is partly a book about Rome's suburbs.  But that doesn't mean we're sending you to Rome's equivalent of Westchester.  Our Rome suburbs are outside the Center, to be sure, so they weren't built in the Renaissance.  But they are close to the Center, and they feel like Rome: today's Rome, and the Rome of the 20th century.

Some time ago we spent the afternoon in the Rome suburb of Trionfale (Triumphant/Triumphal, the name apparently derived from the city's historic attraction to triumphal arches).  Romans would refer to the area as Trionfale or Quartiere Trionfale. It's in Prati. 

We can't give you a precise geographical definition for Trionfale.  But the center of the quartiere is just to the east of Piazzale degli Eroi ("Large Piazza of the Heroes" - a pretty awful traffic circle, says Dianne), along and a few blocks north and south of via Andrea Doria, which runs into the piazza.

If you're staying near the Vatican, you're in luck, because Trionfale begins just a few blocks north of the north wall of the Vatican.  If you're taking the subway, get off at Cipro Musei Vaticani and walk north to Piazza degli Eroi.

Cinema Doria
Standing in Piazza degli Eroi and looking toward the northeast, in front of you is one of the quartiere's finest pieces of architecture: a massive public housing project that spans the pre-Fascist and Fascist (1922- ) eras.  Constructed for the ICP (Istituto Case Popolari/Institute for Public Housing), it was designed by architects Innocenzo Costantini and Innocenzo Sabbatini and built between 1919 and 1926.  The building combines modern elements with medieval ornamentation; the gargoyles are impressive.  You'll have to take our word for all this because, remarkably, we don't have a photo to show you.  On the via Andrea Dorea side you'll find a movie theater, the Cinema Doria, richly decorated though now in a degraded state. 

Just to the east and north is a complex of public housing buildings with a variety of architectural features, including ornate iron work, glass-enclosed stairways, and--especially--public spaces designed to shelter the residents of the buildings from the chaos and dangers of the street and to provide a common exterior space where residents of the undoubtedly small (and balcony-less) apartments could sit in the open area and meet their neighbors.  We recommend a leisurely stroll through these areas.  See photo at top. 

Casa Impiegati del Governatorato
Across via A. Doria and about three blocks east at via A. Doria 1-27 is a thoughtfully designed, late-1920s building by one of Rome's best-known architects, Mario De Renzi.  Its formal name is the Casa Impiegati del Governatorato--literally House of Governership Employees.  It's three wings allow for lots of natural light.  Perhaps the most interesting feature are the rounded windows, especially on the side on the second floor but also running up the front, referencing similar forms that had recently (at the time) been excavated at ancient Roman port of Ostia Antica.  Nearby, on the same side of the street, is another building with medieval touches.

The new Trionfale Market--or the Hyatt?
Our last stop is the Trionfale Market, not far to the east on via A. Doria.  Rome planners have been busy in recent years replacing the city's older markets with new ones that are better lit, more sanitary, and perhaps better organized (see Bill's earlier post on this push by the city government).   But in this case we're not fans of progress.  The new market is too big and too impersonal and designed in a derivative, post-modern style that lacks character and fails to find peace with the surrounding community.  We don't know what the neighborhood's residents think, but only 91 people have signed up for the market's Facebook page. 


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

RST Top 40. # 7: Pigneto

Nightlife on Pigneto's pedestrian concourse,
via del Pigneto

When the Metro comes to Pigneto in 2013 (or whenever), this near-in but somewhat difficult-to-reach neighborhood will be the fashionable place for a glass of wine, dinner, a touch of Rome's ethnic side, a walk along its dark, shaded, and somewhat mysterious side streets, or a stroll on Pigneto's almost trendy, almost treeless, all-pedestrian main drag, via del Pigneto.  But for now the Metro isn't in Pigneto, and so the neighborhood is likely to have that funky, hardscrabble, on-the-cusp of gentrification, slightly threatening allure for a couple more years.  That's why it's at #7 on Rome-the-Second Time's Top 40. 

A small, ethnic-run grocery store,
trashed by locals, May 2008
We thought enough of this gritty, compact, working-class quartiere to give it its own itinerary in Rome the Second Time: "An Evening in Pigneto."  We won't reprise that here, except to say that despite the tensions between its older, Italian population and newer immigrants from Morocco, Senegal, East Asia, and other places, it's a good place to eat, drink, and stroll.

The horrific final scene of the film Roma Citta' Aperta
 Filmmaker and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini did just that in Pigneto many years ago, holding forth at Necci dal 1924 (on the itinerary) and using the neighborhood as the setting for many scenes in his 1961 film, Accatone.  Although technically not in Pigneto, via Montecuccoli, across via Prenestina to the north, was the setting for Roma Citta' Aperta (Open City), Roberto Rosselini's 1945 neo-realist classic.

A somewhat intimidating entrance to
Pigneto, off via Prenestina
Pigneto is located southeast of Termini, and on a line with it, through Porta Maggiore.  It's a 10-minute walk from Porta Maggiore: to avoid via Prenestina and its intimidating overhead highways, take via Casilina to via Gallarate and turn left, over the train tracks, and bear right onto the side streets.  You're in Pigneto.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Look Down Series: Grates and Butts

Many of the metal grates outside Rome shops are of just the right size to
capture and hold the cigarette butts dropped by smokers. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Home of the playwright: Pirandello's studio and home in Rome - home in Rome series 3

Pirandello's bedroom
The third and last of our homes of the famous-in-Italy you can visit is Luigi Pirandello’s home near Villa Torlonia, northwest of the city center.

Pirandello, most noted for his masterpiece play, Seven Characters in Search of an Author, won the Nobel prize in 1934, while still a fascist, hough his ties to Fascism are somewhat tenuous. There have been multiple interpretations of his statement “I am a fascist because I am an Italian.”

Pirandello lived only 3 years in this home - the last 3 years of his life. . His apartment, which includes his studio and other artifacts, feels untouched since the day he died here on December 10, 1936.  Although Pirandello's home has an authenticity that Goethe's--as a functioning museum--lacks, one has to use imagination here to reconstruct Pirandello’s uninterrupted view from his terrace to Villa Torlonia.

across the terrace - but Villa Torlonia is not visible
The atmospherics of this home and studio (and our fascination with both Seven Characters and Pirandello’s Henry IV) make it a fantastic visit, especially for anyone who loves literature.

The web site for the studio and foundation has one section in English – if you scroll down the left bullet points you’ll see “Abstract of this site in English.” The link should take you directly there.  And, if you really can’t get to the home in person, there are lots of photos on the site under “Immagini” and a video under “Lo Studio.”

For a biography of Pirandello, see the one on the Nobel Prize website.

We also note his son, Fausto, was a very good painter of the 20th century whose works are in many collections in Rome, including at the state modern art gallery, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in back of the Villa Borghese.

The playwright at work
Pirandello’s home is on Itinerary 8, taking off from Piazza Bologna (Metro B stop) in Rome the Second Time. The website lists longer days and hours than in our book. Whenever you go, you’re taking a chance as to whether it’s open or not. And, it’s still free. Listed hours: Monday and Thursday 9-2 and other weekdays (only) 9-6. Via Antonio Bosio, 13 B – 15.

You can try emailing or calling for more up-to-date information. Telephone: 39.06.4429.1853, email:


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Junking a Scooter

Older model Hexagon (not ours)

In previous recent posts, we've covered the basics of scootering in Rome: renting, riding, and parking.  But what about getting rid of a scooter that's seen its better days?  How do you junk a scooter in Rome?

The Italians have a word for it: rottamazione, a word related to other words that have something to do with breaking: rotto (broken), rottame (scrap, fragment), and rottura (breaking).  Behind the word rottamazione is a legal and bureaucratic process, and one that we experienced first-hand several years ago when our beloved Piaggio Hexagon bit the dust (or so we thought) on via Cristoforo Colombo.  We ended up in a parking lot just off Piazza dei Navigatori, took a bus the wrong direction, and...well, it was a bad day. 

Saying goodbye to the Hexagon
In the next few days we learned the word for junking and contacted one of the small agencies that facilitate things.  For E50, these guys showed up with a van and took the scooter away, presumably to a junkyard or demolition site.  Then we waited for the head guy to show up at his little office, where we gave him the info while he filled out the paperwork, all this complicated by the fact that we didn't even really, legally, own the scooter we were junking (that's another story).  Finally we were told that the scooter might find a new life in the Marche, where polluting 2-cycle vehicles were still valued, and that if we agreed to consign the vehicle to him, he would find it a new owner and return our E50.  Five years later we got a ticket, which originated in the Marche, for having failed to have the vehicle inspected--four years ago, after it left our hands.

Unidentifiable techno-carcass

Anyway, from the looks of Rome's streets and the country roads outside the city, the official process described above is seldom used.  When scooters get old, owners dump them in the countryside, where one sees the remains on seldom-used hiking trails (most hiking trails in Italy are seldom used) and in ravines. 

Unofficial disposal method

Urban disposal, which must take place where ravines and hiking trails are few, is accomplished differently.  Inside the city, the standard technique is to leave the offending scooter wherever it happens to be--usually chained to a signpost on the sidewalk--and walk away, confident that months and years of simple neglect, and those eager for free spare parts, will reduce it to a pile of junk.  E50 saved.  A scooter in the same place, day after day, with a thick layer of dirt and dust, has been junked. 

Almost a work of art

Junking a bicycle is easier, and always follows the "chain-it-and-walk-away" method. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

RST Top 40. #8: Monte Testaccio and l'ex Mattatoio - play among Roman ruins

Looking down into Testaccio from the Monte

We’ve always been intrigued by Monte Testaccio – the “mountain” made of ancient Roman castoff earthen vessels that sits in the eponymous neighborhood. The Monte, combined with the ex-slaughterhouse now art museum l’ex Mattatoio, is easily in the top 10 of Rome the Second Time’s Top 40, coming in at #8. 

Footpath made of "cocci" or
broken shards

The archeologists finally got wise and fenced off Monte Testaccio. You now can only go with groups – and we recommend a tour, tho’ they are infrequent in English. Some photos from the top and a video clip of Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti from an Ettore Scola film are featured in an earlier post. The caves built into the mountain from around the outside now feature hip bars and cafes. Ah, progress.

Graffiti on grounds
The ex-Mattatoio has had an amazing conversion to art space. New halls opened even this past year. Modern art exhibits show well in these halls. We never miss a chance to see a show here. The gallery, run by the city and now called MACRO Testaccio (nee MACRO Future) used to be free, but even at Euro 5, the shows and space are worth it (note – the gallery is open 4 p.m. – midnight, Tuesday – Sunday). See the link here for information in English on a current exhibit.

One of the gallery halls in MACRO Testaccio
The ex-Mattatoio grounds also feature extensive graffiti, an ecologically driven café, market, meeting hall, etc., and rather permanent squatters from Eastern Europe, enjoying their beer.

Bill, getting "into" the art
The neighborhood –working class and gritty, historically-- keeps getting gentrified, including a new market about to open. See Bill’s post on the gentrification of Rome's markets.

Inside MACRO Testaccio are plenty of bar and cafe' places, amid what used to be slaughterhouse pens.

A trendy restaurant built into the caves of Monte Testaccio

Lots of places to eat and drink here, but the locals’ favorite for a glass of wine is just across the street from the entrance (if you could get in) to Monte Testaccio, at the corner of via Zabaglia and via Galvani. 


Friday, April 1, 2011

Fashion and Fascism: The Sordid Story of Dior's John Galliano

John Galliano
We were intrigued by Rhonda Garelick's op-ed piece in the March 7 New York Times on the unsavory conduct of John Galliano, Dior's weird and notorious creative director, who had been fired from his $5 million post a few days earlier for saying awful things in a Paris bar, La Perle.  On one occasion--unfortunately for Galliano, caught on a cellphone--he told a nearby woman "I love Hitler" and added, "People like you would be dead.  Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be f....... gassed."  In another bar rant, it was "Dirty Jewish face, you should be dead," followed by a critique of the woman's body and attire: "Your boots are of the lowest quality, your thighs are of the lowest quality.  You are so ugly I don't want to see you.  I am John Galliano!"

 A poster of Mussolini with the "right" sort of Italian
 woman: plain, with child, humbly dressed
Garelick takes the next step, connecting Galliano's vitriol to fascism's use of the fashion industry during the Vichy years of the 1940s, when French fashion fell under the sway of the Nazis and became a servant of Nazi and Vichy propaganda.  "Our role," said one Vichy designer, "is to give France the face of serenity.  The more elegant Frenchwomen are, the more our country will show the world that we are not afraid."  Many French designers for women bought into Aryan ideals of youth, beauty, physical fitness and physical perfection--defined as blue eyes, blond hair, and "sharp-angled features"--that today, Garelick notes, can still be found in the work of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.  For Garelick, Galliano is a version of the "fascist demagogue of yore," using the simplest of measures--what one wears, how one looks, whether one is defined as attractive or not--to exclude and, in his fantasy, kill. 

At left, the Fascist ideal of womahood.  At right, the threatening
 woman: thin, dissolute, fashionable.  1931
The Italian experience is similar and different.  Italian fascism was deeply concerned about women's bodies and dress, but more fearful than their French counterparts about the sexualized women's body, women's physical fitness, and high fashion.  Concerned about "scandalous" dress, Mussolini's Fascists created a National Committee for Cleaning Up Fashion (1927-), which for two years worried about things like the skirt lengths of small-town girls.  Unlike the French, fascism in Italy by-and-large rejected women who were too thin or pale, while valuing the "authentic woman," dedicated above all else to maternity, with her rounded figure and peasant costume ("in a narrow womb/the chick is doomed").  The Duce's Fascists were gung-ho about muscles and manliness and men's physical fitness, but exercise for women was another matter: no skimpy uniforms, no athleticism (the Olympics an exception), no male sports like soccer, nothing that might encourage lesbian relationships.

Properly uniformed, but dangerously
emancipated.  Siena, 1943 

Fashion posed a particular problem for Italian fascism.  During the early years of the Mussolini regime--through about 1933--high fashion was encouraged, but only for the country's social elite.  In these years, there were fashion shows at the Excelsior and Grand Hotels in Rome, and in the Rose Casino of the Borghese Gardens, and even--in 1933--the first Permanent National Fashion Exposition in Turin--all of this applauded as an expression of the nation's elite--that is, the Fascists.  By 1935 the tide had turned, and in 1938, as war approached, Mussolini launched an anti-bourgeois "reform of custom" that reviled luxury and top-down fashion and trumpeted the virtues of having as many women as possible in rough-wool uniforms (photo right) or, at least, wide skirts and shawls. 

So, for Mussolini's Fascists, as for Dior's Galliano, fashion was a way to define who had value and who did not.  In the 1930s, that decision could have unthinkable consequences.  Today, probably not--just John Galliano, a little drunk and struggling with his own Jewish heritage, raving in a bar. 

Special thanks to Victoria De Grazia, for material drawn from her outstanding book (cover photo above right), How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922-1945 (University of California Press, 1992).