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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.


Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

A.F. writes: "BUT....the first of those revolving restaurants in the air was the one atop the Atomium-Brussels Worlds Fair of 1958 and the first of that genre since the New York 1939 one.

Manuel G. Bogado said...

For the sake of accuracy. There is another significant (at least for the history of science fiction) classic film in which il Fungo appears too. The first adaption to cinema of the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It was called Last man on earth (1964), with Vincent Price in the leading role.

Unknown said...

One can see it in the background of one scene in La Dolce Vita. It is an image rather than a true shot if it.

Unknown said...

And italian film 'Live like a cop, die like a man', has it.