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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ponte della Musica: Rome's new Bridge to Nowhere

There's a new bridge in town.  Dianne says it's called the Ponte della Musica (music bridge), and I have no reason to doubt her, or hardly any.  The name makes sense because it was installed to link the new left-bank museum and music area of Flaminio-- consisting primarily of Zaha Hadid's monumental MAXXI (museum) and Renzo Piano's Parco della Musica (music park),  which looks downright humble next to Hadid's enormous concrete construction--with the right bank of the Tevere. 

Ponte della Musica, from the right bank.
We had never seen the bridge, but knew it to be controversial.  Some--not just "experts" but residents of the area--wonder why it was built at all, since it doesn't seem to connect to much of a neighborhood across the Tevere. Yet we found it worked in the Flaminio/Foro Italico itinerary of our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  More on the book at the end of this post.

Looking toward Monte Mario.  The center
surface is asphalt, the sides wooden planks.
Yes, the northern portion of Prati is at the left when one crosses, but straight ahead is the uninhabited rise of Monte Mario, and to the right (north) Olympic Stadium (where the soccer teams play) and an enormous fascist sports complex, built in the 1930s.  On our visit, the bridge appeared to be populated mostly by joggers--who also use the right bank of the Tevere here--whose running range has no doubt been greatly expanded by the structure.  Although the bridge is capable of accepting automobile traffic--not clear how much--at the moment it is open only to pedestrians.

A private athletic club on the Flaminio side.
Looks like it lost a tennis court or two.
Others have criticized the bridge for having wooden walkways (sure to weather poorly, and difficult if not impossible to clean when the graffiti writers land).  It's likely, too, that the private atheletic clubs that populate the banks of the Tevere on this part of the river lost some land in the process or had their luxurious--and, until one could walk out on this bridge, hidden--lairs revealed for the ordinary public to see and envy.

Ship ahoy!  Note the handrails, inspired by the
Queen Mary.
Still, we like this bridge, with its sleek, rolling, boat-like, naval look.  It may be Italy's bridge to nowhere, but it's elegant and sea-worthy, and it's about time something was done for runners.  Perhaps they should call it Ponte delle Joggers.

p.s.  One of our readers was disappointed that we hadn't included information on the bridge's architect/designer.  So...the bridge had its origins in a partnership between Davood Liaghat, who was chief bridge engineer
at the Buro Happold firm, and London architect
Kit Powell-Williams, who was working in Rome with
the engineering firm C. Lottie e Associati.  Buro
Happold won a design competition for the structure in 2000.

You can cross the bridge, and see much more, in the Flaminio/Foro Italico itinerary 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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Genazzano: The Art and Science of Fried Dough

Not long ago we found ourselves among thousands (literally) of others, wandering the streets of Genazzano, a hilltown to Rome's east, just beyond Palestrina.  The sun had set, and the teens were off by themselves at the end of town, some (of the boys) engaging in mock combat, others sitting on the ground in groups in a dark piazza framed on one side by ancient aqueducts and on the other by a sensational view of the valley and the Lepini mountains beyond.  They knew what they were doing.

We spent most of our time on the town's main streets, people watching, at once entertained and bored by an improvisational dance troup of limited talent and a New Orleans-style jazz band doing their version of Dixieland.

Eating was the order of the evening--several of the piazzas had been strung with wire that was then draped with cut branches, creating arbor-like open-air restaurants. 

We had already dined at our 3-star Hotel Cremona, but Dianne's sweet tooth beckoned, and she lined up for that festival staple, fried dough with sugar, sensibly rejecting the alternatives: fried dough with salt or smeared with Nutella, a commercial product made of chocolate and hazel nuts.  The sign at the booth labeled these concoctions "Pizze Fritte [literally, fried pizzas] Da Sora Cesira [by Sister/Nun Cesira]."  Probably the best translation would be "Sister Cesira's Fried Dough."  1 Euro. 

It took about 10 minutes for Dianne to be served--for a reason that will soon become clear--enough time for Bill to study and photograph the "assembly line," consisting entirely of older women.  One woman mixed the dough.  Another shaped it into right-sized balls.  A third flattened it into a rounded form and, using her thumb, put a small hole in the center.  

The last on the line placed the dough into a tub of boiling oil--one after the other--turning each one to assure uniform cooking and browning, then removing them for sugaring (or salting or Nutella-ing), at the other end of the line.

Dianne's wait was predictable; there was only one tub of boiling oil, the tub held only 10-12 pieces of dough, and the cooking took about ten minutes (maybe 8).  Delicious, even if not so nutritious. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cinecittà - Don't Miss Rome's Hollywood

We have longed for years to get onto the world-famous Italian movie studio, Cinecittà.  But it’s always been completely closed to visitors (unless you are rich AND famous), as we note in Rome the Second Time. All of a 

Finally going through the gates
sudden, it’s open, thanks to a long-running exhibition of artifacts from the fabled studio’s history.  What’s more, unadvertised tours of several of the back lots leave every hour (a.m.) and every hour and a half (p.m.).   Supposedly all this ends November 30 when the exhibition closes, but, as in many things Italian, it may just keep going.  So if you’re in Rome, and love films as much as we do, check out the Cinecittà website to make sure the studios are open, and hie yourself there!  If you take Metro A to the Cinecittà exit, you’ll pop up right in front of the studio gates.  The show is 10 Euros with lots of discounted tickets (youth, students, olders, etc.).  Open 10:30-7:30; closed Tuesdays; special children's area open Saturday and Sunday only.

Dirk Bogarde's costume
 from The Night Porter

Back lot for Scorcese's
 Gangs of New York and other films
Back lot for US TV series, Rome,
with our guide, Francesca
As the tour will tell you (there is some info in English), the studio was founded under Mussolini, at the direction of a politico who studied studios in Europe and went on to propose the largest on what was then the outskirts of Rome.  It was quickly built and opened in 1937, then briefly used by the Germans during the 1943/44 occupation.  It still hosts the largest studio in Europe and was the favorite place for Fellini, Sergio Leone, and many others.  No, it’s not like those Universal Studio tours in LA or Disneyland, but it’s authentic.

Cinecitta' Due

If you want to do a two-fer, the fairly glitzy shopping mall, Cinecittà Due is just down the street.  It has a very nice gallery on the top floor with a current exhibition – closing 6 November-- on the theme of aqueducts (they know the way to our hearts).  Dianne

Photo in the Aqueduct exhibit
Watercolor in Aqueduct exhibit - by Calatrava

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Golf Bags and Blood Vats - Rome's Art Scene

Italy’s ability to put in contradistinction almost anything – art and labor, history and design, the repellant and the beautiful – never ceases to engage us.  And MACRO Testaccio – an evolving part of the city-sponsored contemporary art gallery - has always been one of our favorite Rome locales for these contexts. 

We recently marveled at the design winners in the show there that ends Sunday – the last 3 years GoldenCompass winners from the Association of Industrial Design in Italy.

Dental station
Everything from toilets to purses, bedroom lighting to sports equipment (the golf bag for my Dad), dental office equipment (right).  All is set in one of the largest buildings (La Pelanda) of this former slaughterhouse in the Testaccio neighborhood.  Even the blood-letting vats still stand – just a few steps from elegant dining room décor. 

And we like MACRO Testaccio’s hours – 4 p.m. to midnight (except Mondays), and the other art and performances there.  The evening we were at the “Made in Italy and National Identity” show we also saw a couple performance pieces by artists from the international group, “Black Market International”(as to what they meant, we’re have very few ideas, tho’ we tried – the accordion and the slowly moving bell that finally rings? The man wrapped up with little pieces of paper and string?). 
The bar at MACRO Testaccio is clearly becoming one of Rome’s hot spots.  And the woman in the see-through blouse just added to the atmosphere. 

MARCO Testaccio is open only when there’s a show, and the price can vary (the design show is Euro 4, but somehow we got in free).  Check out the current shows at their website (this is the English version).  Dianne

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fashion's Night Out: Photos from Rome

Nudo in Vetrina (nude in store window), as Eve at Gattinoni on Via Sistina.  Object of the Gaze.

Our new friend Giorgio, the London School of Economics grad and tv newsman who's behind the new website Buzz in Rome, certainly had the right idea when we asked him if he would be attending Fashion's Night Out (Notte della Moda):  "I don't like to shop."  We don't either, but we couldn't resist poking around in what promised to be a huge outdoor event on a warm, late summer evening--450 shops in and around the already glitzy Spanish Steps area--especially, Bill notes, when one of the attractions was "nudo in vetrina" (nude in a shop window).  We took some photos, and here they are, complete with captions.  Bill

The event was produced by Vogue, which
had done something similar in Milan recently--but never Rome.
The lady in red just happened to walk by.

Selling cars near the Spanish Steps.

Broadcasting near Piazza San Silvestro.

An advertising slogan for Lancia's Ypsilon auto moves across the building.

The woman in the store window was mixing chemicals.
Why, we don't know.  Woman in red, surrounded by her partner and 3 saleswomen
 who no doubt were telling her how great she looked, was close to
actually buying the coat (probably several thousand Euro).

The only food and drink we found.  The Asian
guy at top was pouring small glasses of wine from
pitchers, and there were small bowls of nuts, overly
policed by a tall woman. 

I thought I was lucky to catch this couple in their
embrace.  But the embrace lasted for several minutes.

Camper, which sells high ends shoes, had a DJ.

Free event T-shirts?  Sorry.  E25 (about $40)
Dressed for the occasion.

View from the Spanish Steps, looking down Via Condotti. 
What would Keats - who died overlooking these steps - have thought?

The wrong place to be driving a car, or even a scooter. 
Lots of frustrated motorists. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Peel me a Fig: Dinner with Friends

A lovely meal with friends.  We are embarrassed to say that this was our introduction to "coppiette," a rope-like strand of dried, spicy meat (akin to our beef jerky, though more tender and not packaged in plastic).  Here, chopped into small, bite-size pieces, the perfect complement to a glass of wine. 

The main course was a delicious "ruote" (wheels) pasta, the ingredients, including dried pachino tomatoes and capers, brought from Sicily. 

Figs--fresh and dried, for comparison and contrast--for dessert, along with a lesson in how to select a perfect, ripe fig: make sure the green "shirt" is "torn" (slightly open) and there's a small hole at the bottom.  Peel and eat.  As Jack Kerouac wrote of the apple pie he consumed at stops across the country, "it was delicious, and nutritious of course." 

For figs he might have added, "sensual."  On the sensuous fig, we have the testimony of D.H. Lawrence in his poem, "Figs."  "The vulgar way [to eat a fig]," he wrote, "is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite." 

"The fig is a very secretive fruit" [continued Lawrence].
"As you see it standing, growing, you feel at once it is symbolic.
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the
Romans, it is female. 

The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part, the fig-fruit:
The fissure, the moist conductivity, towards the centre."

It's a hot, steamy, late-summer evening.  Time for a fig.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rome's Mill Stream

Water is one of the great unifying themes of Rome – the ancient Romans, Popes, and modern Romans just couldn’t and can’t stop working with it.  We found yet another example at our current address:  via della Marrana in the Tuscolana district (behind the Tuscolana train station, about 2 miles south of San Giovanni in Laterano at the city's ancient walls).  The street takes an odd course, we noticed – and one can see this from a map overlay.  So what does “Marrana” mean, we wanted to know, and what’s with the zig-zag street? 
Nearby remains of 2 aqueducts on
via del Mandrione
One gets a sense of via della Marrana's watery
curves from this photo - complete with scootering
Turns out the answer is something like “the old [as in 1000 years] mill stream,” and “marrana” or “marana” means swamp or standing water.  How to reconcile this?   What seems clear is that via della Marrana follows a stream (perhaps now underneath the street, or once next to it) down from the aqueducts that sit atop the rise at the end of the street, and that several mills were sited here.  One plausible explanation is that a short-term Pope, Callistus II (1119-1124) diverted a river Marana (that starts in the Colli Albani near Grottaferrata, some dozen miles from Rome) at several points until it flowed along the aqueducts (or used some of the aqueduct channels underground),  and then he poured it down the hill above us to get water to San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John the Lateran – at that time the central administrative church of the papacy). 
In more modern times, there were still mills along this street, at least one partially functioning within the past 10 years.  The street is now in its post-industrial age, and that particular enterprise, which specialized in milling maize before World War II, now is comprised of condos.  More on this post-industrial district and its conversion to residential use in a future post (we know you’re fascinated!).
Molina Natalini, the Natalani Mill, now condos
on via della Marrano

PS – lots of controversy on the topic, but the word “marano” meaning standing water or swamp may come from the ponds that were located at certain points along the stream.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Via Tuscolana

We're happily ensconced in new digs off via Tuscolana, one of 7 Roman Consular roads leading out of the city (this one goes east and south to the ancient city of Tuscolo [hence the name] in the Alban Hills).  Via Tuscolana begins about a mile from here, near the roundabout Re di Roma, goes under the train tracks and by the Tuscolana station--close enough to our apartment so that we could (and did) walk from there, with all our bags.  Dianne was exhilarated by the effort, and I write that without irony. 

Once settled in, we headed for one of the many (rather ordinary) bars on via Tuscolana, ordered a large ("grande") bottle of beer, two glasses ("due bicchieri") and something to nibble ("stuzzuchini"--in this case, potato chips), took it all outside to a table in the shade and watched the Roman world go by--or, should I say, the rather scruffy, middle-class Roman world of busy via Tuscolana (at via Amelia), still on holiday. 

We hadn't been there five minutes when a dumpster-diver came along, looking for whatever (see pic at right--you'll have to lean forward; the guy kinda blends in).

More photogenic was the young woman who picked our corner to perform her ice cream cone.  Ah, Roma.