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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Station(s) at Tiburtina

The Tiburtina railroad station, the one near Piazza Bologna, was torn down about two years ago, and another took its place on November 28.  The old station was on Itinerary 7 in Rome the Second Time.  Not because it was of any architectural merit, but because it was the place where in October, 1943 over one thousand of Rome's Jews were put on sealed trains for shipment to Nazi concentration camps.  Seventeen returned.   Plaques on the station platform reminded travelers of that event of the massacre of more Jews, and other innocent people, by the Nazis at the Fosse Ardeatine.  The plaques are gone--at best consigned to some remote storage facility--and unlikely to reappear. 

The old station was small and crowded, and the new one should be a relief.  But the dominant impression is hardly one of comfort.  The new station is huge.  Almost comically so.  Like an aircraft carrier, or the hovering hunk of high-tech metal from outer space in the final scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Then, as one can see in the photo (right, center of photo), in July a fire consumed a portion of the new structure.  The authorities are still investigating (don't hold your breath). 

We'll have to wait to experience fully the new Tiburtina station.  But one part of the new building appealed to us: a colorful, angular box at the front of the station, positioned in playful contrast to the glowering mass behind it.  Almost as if the architect had had second thoughts and decided to include a day-care center. 

Back in our apartment, we were shocked to pick up one of our architecture books, Rationalism and Architecture in Italy during Fascism (a translation from the Italian) and see, on the cover, a design for a building--not identified elsewhere in the book---not unlike the fanciful cube at Tiburtina.  Had we not seen this drawing and seen it marked as an example of rationalism, we would have labeled it postmodern, if only for its complex window treatments, the use of the pink and blue (the colors of infancy), and the presentation of an unusual angularity that undermines a message of stark modernity.  While cut from the same cloth, the Tiburtina box goes a step further--and lifts our spirits.
[A reminder from Dianne - when itineraries need to change (e.g., because the station with its plaques is torn down), Updates are provided in an online document, and thru the ebook versions of Rome the Second Time.  Updates can be accessed with a click on the link on the blog at right, or right here.]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Refuse Truck as Art

Our via Tuscolana neighborhood is served by mobile refuse workers who operate from small trucks that carry their buckets and brooms.  These refuse trucks have also become the favorites of graffiti artists, who have applied their paints in a playful way, adding a nice touch to the streetscape.  The shot below was taken on via Tuscolana. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gio Ponti's Rome Building: the Scuola di Matematica

Ponti's La Pavoni espresso machine, 1948
Architect and designer Gio (pronounced "Joe," as in Giovanni) Ponti is little known in Rome.  He was a child of Milan, born (1891) and raised there, and at a certain point plugged into Milan's fashion and design community.  He designed stage sets and costumes for Milan's La Scala; the curvaceous La Pavoni espresso machine (1948), an icon of Italy's postwar boom and coffee-bar culture; and--perhaps his best known design effort--the Superleggera (superlight) chair [1957] for Cassina, so light that it is said that a child could lift it with one finger--though how many were given the opportunity, we don't know.

Pirelli Tower, 1956
Milan can also claim Ponti's first house (1926) and his best known building--the Pirelli Tower (1956), tall and sleek and, for a mid-century skyscraper, unusual in its diamond-referencing form. 

Ponti's relationship with Fascism and the Mussolini regime are less than clear, but worth brief treatment.  Postponing his architectural studies, he served in the Italian military on the Austrian front, emerging with the rank of Captain and as an admirer of Mussolini.  

A Richard-Ginori dessert plate, ca. 1925
Degree in hand (1921), he turned not to architecture but to design, working as art director of the ceramics firm Richard-Ginori to produce a variety of consumer products that eschewed the avant-garde's commitment to pure rationalism in favor of mixing modernist ideas with neo-classical motifs. 

Rotunda, Italia Pavilion, 1932
In the late 1920s, and especially through his magazine, Domus, Ponti became identified with the Novecento, an artistic movement increasingly favored by Facism for its advocacy of a "hybrid modernity" (see Marla Stone, The Patron State) that used traditional Italian folks motifs and subject matter, including women and landscapes.  Ponti's design for the interior rotunda of the Italia pavilion at the 1932 Venice Biennale shows the architect linking modernism with classicism (here, referencing the Pantheon ceiling). 
Mathematics Department Building, University of Rome, 1934
Ponti's only Rome building emerged at this juncture, just as the Mussolini regime was disengaging from Novecento aesthetics, embracing rationalism more fully, and before the regime's colonial ventures and burgeoning confidence fostered an architecture of monumentalism. 

Completed in 1934, the Scuola di Matematica (Mathematics Department) building on the campus of the University of Rome is more in the rationalist mode than any of his previous structures.  Today, the approach to the building is lined with dense banks of trees, square-trimmed in harmony with Ponti's modernist facade, which features thin marble facing and the standard high Fascist-like entryway, though the actual doors are modest and plain.  A side view (above right) reveals the building's dynamic interior structure. 

The immediate interior hall is also humble rather than extravagant, a sign, perhaps, that function is important; this is a working building, not a spectacle.  Off to the left, a small, arched doorway, lined with aluminum (left), again plays down the grand. 

Courtyard, Mathematics Building
Just ahead, we can see that the building has a round interior courtyard, and that the business of the Mathematics Department will take place in the curved spaces around it: offices on the inside of two long, curved hallways, classrooms on the outside.  Natural light from the courtyard spills into the offices and, through glass partitions, on through onto the curving walkways. 

A sign warns that the courtyard is not to be entered; another that loud talking in that space will disturb the learning process.  Hundreds of cigarette butts between its stones reveal one of the courtyard's current functions.  Two curving stairways in the courtyard seem to be there should a fire break out; we wonder if they're original. 

The building's core rationalist aesthetic is everywhere tempered, by huge round windows in the stairwells, by the imperfect stones of the courtyard, by those playful arches in the entryway, and by small details of fittings and materials: brass handles here and there, wood trim around what would otherwise be an ordinary door (left). 

Writing in Amate L'Architettura (1957), Ponti wrote:  "Love architecture, be it ancient or modern.   Love it for its fantastic, adventurous and solemn creations, for its inventions; for the abstract, allusive and figureative forms that enchant our spirit and enrapture our thoughts.  Love architecture, the stage and support of our lives."  Ponti's Mathematics Building--a graceful, functional stage.


Friday, November 18, 2011

New York City meets Rome palazzo - contemporary art in Rome

It's over, but we couldn't resist showing it.  And perhaps if you've read this far, our "warning, explicit material" is too late.

The pix we show are from one part of a 3-artist show earlier this Fall in Rome - Three Amigos, New York artists whose work occupied (oops, there goes that word again) very different venues.  Dan Colen, here, was in Palazzo Rospigliosi, on the Quirinale hill.  Colen's work, Trash, also was in the very tony - but accessible - Rome Gagosian gallery

The explanation for the installation in Palazzo Rospigliosi is that Colen wanted to put his word works next to the "rape scenes," as he describes them, on the ceilings of the elaborately painted palazzo.  Hm, not sure that's how we'd describe the palazzo paintings.  See this description of the palazzo and its art work

In any event, we think Dan's artistry worked.  Let the images speak for themselves, for they surely do speak.


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Piazza's Filthy: Why?

Piazza Bologna is filthy--on Sunday, that is.  According to La Repubblica, it's filthy (sporca) on Sunday because of funding cuts for overtime workers--gli straordinari--that have prevented L'Ama (the governmental entity in charge of cleaning Rome's streets and squares, the folks with the dark red trucks--photo, right) from hiring people to clean up on that day.

What makes it especially troubling is that the Piazza, located in an upper-middle-class area in Rome's northeast, is often an active square on Saturday nights, a place where one finds the "movida" (the getting together of large numbers of young people). 

The newspapers present this as a social tragedy.  The article opens with the story of a young mother pushing a stroller, only to have it hung up on a bunch of plastic cups.   Worse still, a group of old people (anziani/ancients) reading newspapers on nearby benches find themselves surrounded by beer bottles, wastepaper and plastic bags.  The president of the Municipio (the local jurisdiction) reported that he had received "dozens" of phone calls from area residents "infuriated" by the degraded condition of the piazza. 

OK, so the piazza is a mess on Sundays, and the budget won't support overtime.  As everyone knows, Italy is a financial mess, and the city's no exception.  As the papers often say, things are "in tilt." 

In a situation such as this, would it be too much to ask the local folks who enjoy Piazza Bologna on Sundays to lend a hand and pick up the trash?  With 2 or 3 people--even old people--it might take 20 minutes to make the whole piazza look respectable, 3 minutes to pick up the junk around the benches and on the paths. 

Yes, it is too much to ask--in Rome, anyway.  Romans have little sense of working voluntarily for the public good.  If the "state" doesn't do it, it won't get done.  They pay their taxes, so the thinking goes, and that's enough.  

Well, it isn't enough.   What stinks in Piazza Bologna isn't the trash, it's the attitude that most Romans have toward their public spaces, and toward lending a hand--voluntarily--to solve a public problem.
Bill   [from Dianne- okay, Italians are not Canadians, but neither are we.  You're being a bit hard on them, aren't you, Bill?]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Russian Social Realism - in Rome

The mix of Russian Social Realism posters with “occupiers” on the steps of Palazzo delle Esposizioni – the State’s large art gallery on via Nazionale – caught our eye (along with the protestors) recently in Rome. The posters are ads for a blockbuster show of Russian art of the school of Social Realism (not much else was permitted) from the 1920s to 1970s.
We almost camped out ourselves to see this show, because the museum was closed for almost a week of the protest (to the protestations of the protestors, btw), and the wait was worth it.

"Excuse us for the disruption;
Global revolution in process"
"We want it open"

Going in with our preconceptions about “bad” Russian Social Realism, we were amazed at the variety and quality of the painting. The panels – in both Italian and English (yay!) – provide good explanations of the evolution of the art form.

If you’re going to be in Rome before January 8, put this one on your list. And leave plenty of time. It’s a large and exhausting foray into Russian art of the last century.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Food and Wine Happenings in Rome

Cousins Massimo and Emiliano at the bar

RST loves a good party, as most of you know - and, as they say, you can too!  Last month we hightailed ourselves to an event sponsored by Katie Parla (of - and a frequent contributor to the NY Times Travel Section).  We were inspired in part because the event was at one of our favorite winebars, Il Bacocco, in an off-the-tourist-track part of Trastevere. We sang Il Bacocco’s praises and showed off their creative “finger food” in an earlier blog.
Yes, we said "Finger Food"

Katie arranged a Lazio (the province of Rome) wine tasting, complete with several Lazio cheeses and meats as well as explanations by sommelier Hande Leimer of vinoroma. E15 a person, with part of the proceeds going to a new food charity. Katie gives the details on her blog.

A crowd of more than 30 happily bumped shoulders with each other (Il Bacocco is small), most of us primary English speakers, almost everyone full-time residents of Rome.

Katie, presiding
A good time being had by all
Even if you’re temporarily in Rome, if you have a chance, hook up with one of Katie’s events (she held one in NYC recently also). Or if you’re just a foodie (we’re not, but she almost makes us want to be), her blog is for you. She alternatively waxes eloquent and is brutal in critiquing Rome's restaurants.  Click on the Events tab to see what’s coming up.

And Hande does personal wine tastings and food tours in Rome (e.g. her "My Italians" session is Euro 50 per person and sells out regularly).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Delivering the Meat

Meat gets delivered everywhere, but perhaps not so obviously in US cities as in Rome.  Indeed, we can't remember ever seeing a meat truck transporting carcasses in the United States.  They surely exist, but they must do their thing in the back of supermarkets, far from the eyes of squeamish shoppers, who would rather not know they're eating animals. 

We had these and other thoughts when we came upon a meat delivery, this one in front of a butcher shop on Via Gregoriana XIII, in a vibrant neighborhood known as Boccea (after Via di Boccea), to the northeast of Rome's center--behind Monte Mario and beyond, even, Parco del Pineto.

The delivery guys wore long burgundy coats (all the better to hide the bloodstains) with hoods, the latter to shield them from the cold and clammy meats that inevitably press against their heads.