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, March 31, 2012

Parking a Scooter? Try a Space for the Handicapped

Scooter parking for the handicapped?  Probably not.  The series of symbols on the sign--above: no parking, below: parking/handicapped--likely were designed to suggest that the small space to the left of the yellow line was to remain empty to allow sufficient space for the handicapped driver of an automobile.  The photo was taken at Tor Vergata, a new campus of the University of Rome, far from the centro, where parking appeared to be ample by Roman standards.  Apparently the driver of this scooter couldn't resist.  Bill

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Boccea: Just a Roman Neighborhood

Via di Boccea, looking east from a bus stop. 

1961 Church

We had arranged to have lunch with a friend, in her neighborhood, a second-tier "suburb" to Rome's northeast, beyond the Vatican.  Boccea, it's called, after its main street, Via di Boccea, which runs east of the Cornelia Metro stop on the "A" line.  

We had arrived by scooter with about 45 minutes to spare, just enough time to get a sense of the area.  What we found was "just" a Roman neighborhood: teeming with shoppers and workers, touched by the marks of recent history, graced by one of Rome's finest parks,  brightened by color and creativity.

Lady Bar
Boccea is one of Rome's newer neighborhoods.  We found a bar, Bar Molini, dating to 1952 and, nearby, a church--probably the first to be built in the quartiere--constructed in 1961 (above left).  So it seems Boccea had its origins in Rome's postwar "boom."  We don't know the age of Lady Bar (right), but we liked the name, and the concept.  Looks like the clientele is mostly pregnant. 

Pet supplies

Among the dozens of shops that line Via di Boccea and the side streets to the north, we noticed a pet supply store with its  carriers and beds arranged along a broad sidewalk

A line of new bicycles added color to the streetscape. 

Meat Handler

And a macelleria (meat market), receiving its supply of meat from a couple of guys in blood-colored garb. 

Hip Vespa

A bicycle with an old-fashioned basket (it could have belonged to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz) and--a real prize--an old but still functional Vespa, decorated in the pointillism style of Seurat.

Curious building
In the triangle formed by Via di Boccea and Via della Pineta Sacchetti, we discovered an open air market and, just across the latter street, an unusual building, perhaps the inspiration for the bulbous forms of Parco della Musica. 

Parco del Pineto
We were near Parco del Pineto (Park of the Pine Grove), the one landmark familiar to us from an earlier visit, and we couldn't resist admiring the tall pini (Rome's distinctive "umbrella" pine trees) that govern its southwestern approach.   To the north, along a path that skirts Forte Braschi (a functioning military installation), you'll find some high-grade graffiti.  And in the valley below the pines...well, more adventures to be had (we describe our own journey through this park in Rome the Second Time, Itinerary 11). 

Just a Roman neigborhood.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Failed Underpass in EUR: a Brief History of Over and Under

This underground passageway is shuttered now, and probably has been for years, useful only for collecting trash and attracting graffiti. 

The "sopraelevata," an elevated intersection
on Rome's east side, completed in 1975
It seemed like a good idea at the time.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Rome was one of many cities to experiment with high-level roadways (the "sopraelevata," connecting Viale Castrense and Via Prenestina on Rome's east side--photo at right) and pedestrian underpasses, like the one under Viale America, in the suburb of EUR (photo above). 

The purpose was the same.  As traffic density increased, the elevated highways would carry vehicles over pedestrians and dense urban intersections, and the underpasses would carry pedestrians under busy streets full of cars and scooters.  In EUR, the tunnel under Viale America was designed to allow thousands of EUR workers safe access to a Metro stop on the south side of the wide street. 

The Buffalo Skyway, opened in 1955
Over and under projects could be very successful.  For example, in our hometown of Buffalo, the Skyway, completed in 1955, successfully ferried workers and other commuters over canals, a river, and a clogged lift bridge. 

But by and large these efforts to deal with traffic's consequences proved unpopular.  Just about everyone but us wants to tear down the Skyway, despite the wonderful driving experience it provides.  Seattle, adds Dianne, after much controversy is tearing down its waterfront "viaduct," as we Westerners call these things.  We don't know precisely why the EUR underground was closed, but we can imagine.  Over time, the passage became intimidating: graffiti, the smell of urine, predictable (for Rome) accumulations of trash, the threat of crime.  For some, a dash across the street was preferable to descending and ascending long flights of stairs.  And in Rome, the descent from sunshine into the unnatural and relative darkness of a tunnel, must have seemed not only odd, but contrary. 

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hunting for Fasci (Fasces) in Rome

Prominent, column-size fasci on a government building in Pomezia, a nearby "new" town,
built under Mussolini's regime.  Above the door, we learn that the building was constructed
in the year (A., anno) 17 (1939) of the Fascist (F.) Era (E.).
As readers of this blog and our book, Rome the Second Time, are well aware, we enjoy exploring the Rome cityscape for signs of Mussolini's Fascist regime (1922-1943), the most important political event in 20th-century Italy.  Some of those signs are obvious, including the monumental complex at EUR, south of the center, and Foro Italico (once Foro Mussolini), the complex of sports facilities north of the center, across the river from the Flaminio area.  Although neither of these areas is featured in Rome the Second Time (the book), the book's Itinerary 5, "Nazis and Fascists in Central Rome," offers a look at Fascist-era architecture on Via Leonida Bissolati and the lower reaches of Via Veneto.   For more on Fascist architecture, see our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler (more at the end of this post).

There are other, more subtle ways to engage the Fascist heritage.  As we explain in a sidebar in Rome the Second Time (p. 85), many buildings constructed in the Fascist era proclaim their origin under the regime by using the Fascist dating system, which begins with 1922 (Year I, using Roman numberals).  Many if not most of these buildings retain these Fascist markings. 

Another way--and the subject of this post--is to look for fasces (the Italian word is fasci), the foremost symbol of the Fascist regime.   The fasci--a bundle of sticks with an ax blade emerging--dates to ancient Rome and means something like "strength through unity." 

The symbol has been widely used through the ages.  It appears on the "tails" side of the U.S. mercury dime; on the emblem of the Knights of Columbus (right); on the insignia of the National Guard Bureau; and on the seal of the Adminsistrative Office of the United States Courts (above).  In the twentieth century, it was most prominently employed by Italy's Fascists, whose movement takes it name from the fasci. 

Hacking away at a symbol of the
Fascist regime, Milan, 1943.

Although some fasci were removed by angry anti-Fascists when Mussolini's regime fell in 1943 (left), and others since then, many still remain as reminders of the dictatorship.

Fasci on a school building in Centocelle, a
close-in suburb of Rome
A high schematic example, from Fascism's
year (A.) 9.  In Garbatella

Here the fasci decorate an ornate fountain
in the main piazza in Grottaferrata,
a town in the Alban Hills.  Probably 1920s. 

Below, we offer some of those we found in the last two years.  Good hunting! 

The base of a flagpole at Cinecittá, the
movie-making center, with wrap-around fish.
One seldom sees a light standard with fasci, perhaps because they're quite public.  This one, featuring a schematic design, was in an ironworks exhibit in the Casino delle Civette, in Villa Torlonia.

Because manhole covers are seldom changed and seldom stolen, they are a good source of fasci.  This one is obviously from Pomezia. 

Here, a contemporary artist has juxtaposed fasci with
other images from or of the 1930s. 

For more on fasci and Fascist 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.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rome Solution to Scooter Thefts

Scooter thefts in Rome are frequent.  Little ones (50cc), big ones (650 cc), it makes no difference.  One option is a garage, but that's expensive--about $130 a month--and sometimes inconvenient (garages often close on Sundays at noon, so you've got to get the beast out early, and most are closed by midnight, even on weekends). 

In Monteverde Nuovo, an upscale neighboorhood in Trastevere, scooter owners are trying something different: parking on the sidewalk in front of a bank.  With all those security cameras, it must be safe(r).

Monday, March 12, 2012

An Evening at MAXXI

A few months ago we spent a pleasant evening at MAXXI, the new modern art gallery designed by Zaha Hadid.  The tickets were free that night, and that helps, but we've also come to appreciate certain aspects of Hadid's design.  Some of the interior sightlines are pretty cool, especially from up high on the catwalks that cross the large lobby.  MAXXI is on the Flaminio tour in our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  See details on the book at the end of this post.

Hadid may have had nothing to do with the casual, modernist pod-like seating that lines a portion of the lobby, but people find it irresistible.   It's still hard to find a particular exhibit or exhibit space; even the guards/assistants don't know where things are, and the directions they (sometimes) provide are usually wrong. 

We were able to locate the restrooms--restroom design is a recent interest of ours--and found them worthy in an unexpected way.  The interiors were fashionably modern and high tech in appearance: white marble and stainless steel in abundance. 

But what impressed us the most was the subtle signage.  The general sign, designed to lead one to the toilets (assuming you can't read the word "Toilet"), used a symbol we've never seen before; we're still not sure why the icon is leaning over backwards. 

The signs delineating the men's and women's restrooms were discrete to a fault.  We wondered if the legs/skirt motif would be decipherable to, say, a 9-year-old. 

Self-portrait.  See photo at end for "context." 
Later, we found ourselves inside the massive piece of the museum that juts out from the core (see last photo).  The reflecting glass offered the opportunity for a self-portrait. 

Outside, the mass of the all-concrete-all-the-time courtyard was leavened somewhat by the encroaching darkness, the broad line of people waiting to get their free tickets (photo at top), our peeks through the glass at the fashionistas (left). 

At the north end, by the grassy berms with giant artificial flowers, couples with young children were enjoying an unusual and magical play space.  We wish this part of the gallery were permanent, but we understand it was a temporary "exhibit," soon to be taken down.  

As noted above, MAXXI is on the Flaminio tour 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.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lazio: the Symbol

Lazio HQ
Many of our readers know that Rome is in the region of Lazio, and those who live in Rome know, courtesy of a photo that appears about once a week in the daily newspapers, that the regional government is housed in an oddly-shaped, 1970-ish building on Via Cristoforo Colombo.  Fewer still will know that Lazio has its own symbol, let alone have any notion of its content.  

That's our lesson for today.  Sit up straight.

The Lazio Symbol
We first saw--or were first aware of--the symbol when we saw it posted outside an art exhibit at the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II.  Without the sign "Regione Lazio," we wouldn't have had any idea what it was. 

Lazio's Provinces

It's an octagon with 5 squares inside, each representing a Lazio province (an administrative entity): la provincia di Frosinone (down highway 6, to the southeast), di Latina (along the coast), Rieti (to the northeast), Viterbo (northwest), and--in the center of the symbol, and grounding the region, Roma.  The 5 provinces are represented by "stemme," which might be translated as "coats of arms" or "heraldic symbols."

The symbol; more legible version.
Citizens of a relatively new nation (1861), one assembled from a cacophony of peoples and language groups with deep ties and loyalties to towns, areas and city-states, Italians are understandably anxious about what it is that unites them and eager--at least officially--to offer evidence of that national glue.  Hence the Lazio symbol not only unites its 5 provinces, but binds Lazio--and its provinces--to Italy with a tricolore (red, green, white) banner representing the country's flag.

Symbol of the Province of Frosinone
Of the provincial symbols, Frosinone's has a certain flair: an aggresive lion with sword, tongue stuck out and ready for battle, a double cornucopia, and the bannered proclamation "Ferocior ad Bellandum."  Never having studied Latin, we would guess that means something like "ferocious in war," or maybe "beautiful land of the terrifying lion with sword."  Actually, the first translation is the correct one.  You need to know that for the test.

Symbol of the Province of Rieti
Riete's "stemma" isn't quite so dramatic, but it presents an interesting puzzle: the letters S.P.Q.S.   Something close to that--S.P.Q.R.--is a commonplace in Rome; it stands for Senatus Populusqus Romanus (in Latin) or the Senate and the Roman People.  Rieti's version, ending not in R but S, stands for Senatus Populusqus Sabinus, or the Senate and the Sabine People, referring to the Sabine people/tribe that inhabitated the Riete area in antiquity.  (See our earlier - not to be missed - post on the rape of the Sabine women, even updated for "Seven Brides and Seven Brothers".  We like the Sabine area and have two other posts on it as well - for trekking and art.) 

Symbol of the Province of Rome
All of the provincial symbols are more alluring and dramatic in their original state than they are in the simplified form in which they appear on the Lazio symbol.  This is especially true of the Roma symbol.  What appears as a simple crown in the Lazio display is a complex one in the original, consisting of a circle of medieval towers; the awkward, almost comically splayed bird of the Lazio version derives from the fierce, multi-taloned predator eagle of the original.  The Lazio one suits a Rome catering to government and tourism; the older version is worthy of an empire. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Il Fungo: Rome's Mid-Century Modern Architecture

Il Fungo, in the distance, center, from Via Cavalcanti
It's always a pleasure to find something new and unexpected in a city we've visited so many times.  It happened in the fall, when our Roman friend M., helping us move into an apartment on Via Cavalcanti in Trastevere, and scanning the view from our 4th floor balcony, pointed out an odd-shaped building in the distance, halfway between (from our perspective), EUR's Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana--the square coliseum--and the Church of Saints "something and something" (thanks, Dianne).  That's the "Fungo," he said.  Fungo means mushroom. 

So we took the Metro to EUR, got off at the Marconi stop and walked south on the west (right) fork of Via Cristoforo Colombo, crossing the Laghetto (little lake) and on about 1/4 mile, up a small hill to the right, to Piazza Pakistan, the site of Il Fungo. Note the Fungo is on the EUR itinerary in our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  More information on the book is at the end of this post

The Fungo, c. 1960
At 164.04 feet high, the Fungo is a striking structure, especially for low-rise Rome and, as we later discovered, it has an interesting history.  It was a late-comer to the EUR project, which was begun by the Fascist regime in the late 1930s to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the March on Rome (1922), then mostly completed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, about the time that the people in charge of EUR came up with the idea behind Il Fungo.  They envisioned large green spaces for this model suburb, and that meant irrigation.  And they were concerned that the proliferation of new buildings was outpacing the ability to fight fires. 

Il Fungo, as it looks today
Solution: the Fungo, a water tower (serbatoio idrico).  A team of engineers and architects (R. Colosimo, S. Varisco, A. Capozza, A. Martinelli) produced a tower of reinforced concrete, with 8, 5-sided pilasters, and room enough on top for a restaurant that, in the original plans (but not as constructed), was to rotate (like the one atop Seattle's Space Needle, 605 feet high and built for the 1962 World Expo) [see photo below].  Il Fungo was completed in 1960. 

Seattle's Space Needle (1962)

The original restaurant, owned for a time by the tenor Mario di Monaco, closed in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and the building went into disrepair.  The decline was arrested about a decade later, when a new restaurant opened and repairs and changes were made, including the repositioning of the windows, which in the original version had tilted outward from top to bottom and in the 1990 incarnation tilt inward to more easily shed rain water. 

Top of the Fungo
Though the restaurant never did rotate, this defect has not prevented diners from enjoying the spectacular view; one website recently included Ristorante Il Fungo on its list of "The 15 Most Stunning Dining Experiences in the World."  We'll bet the check is stunning too, though we must confess to not having seen the menu.  Here's the relevant info: 1/A Piazza Pakistan, 00144.  Phone 39 06 592 1980.  Lunch and dinner M-F, Sunday dinner only. 

At least two films of significance utilize the Fungo.  Michelango Antonioni's black and white drama L'Eclisse (The Eclipse) [1962], presents the Fungo as a symbol of alienation (a big theme in Italian films of that era).  The film begins with Vittoria (Monica Vitti), having concluded her relationship with Riccardo, looking from an apartment to find succor in the landscape, but seeing, instead, the Fungo, a product a mechanistic modernism, even, perhaps, in its shape, symbolic of the threat of nuclear disaster. 

Il Fungo appears again in Adulterio all'Italiana (Adultery Italian Style), a 1966 film starring Nino Manfredi and Catherine Spaak.  This clip from YouTube includes a scene filmed at the restaurant (scroll through to about the 6-minute mark) and another, on ground level (at about 8 minutes). 

Banca di Roma uses Fungo for

Although the original Fungo was not, we think, designed to support advertising (though we're not sure about that), it was inevitable that some company would want its name up there. 

It's sad, but perhaps not as sad as what happened to the E. Clem Wilson building at Wilshire and La Brea in Los Angeles.  Completed in 1930, the Wilson building was used as the Daily Planet on the first television production of Superman
(1951-).  That building, too, fell victim to advertisers, and now sports a particularly ugly version of the Samsung name. 

On a lighter note, we enjoyed our expedition to one of Rome's more unusual buildings.  Although we haven't yet tried the restaurant on top, we did have beers and sandwiches at an outdoor table on the ground floor, served by a lunch place inside.
Great views looking up at Il Fungo.  Thanks, M.

For more of EUR, 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.