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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another Bad Idea: a Tunnel at the Ara Pacis

The photo above is of a section of the Lungotevere, the multi-lane street along the Tiber (here, the east bank, going upstream).  The street looks nearly empty here, but that's only because we waited until the traffic had cleared to dash into the street to take the photo.  Just behind us, to the right, a hundred cars and scootes are waiting for the light to change.   The building on the right is Richard Meier's "box" for the Ara Pacis, an ancient treasure.  The box is not popular with many Romans, for understandable, if not universally shared, reasons.  (See Dianne's caveat at the end of this post.)  It cost $25 million, a lot of money for a storage container.  It diminishes the nearby churches.  It clashes with the Mussolini-era buildings that line two sides of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore (see an earlier post where we listed that much-maligned piazza as #9 on our RST Top 40 list - see list at right).  And it sits too close to the Lungotevere.

That last complaint is about to be addressed--by another controversial project.  As we understand it, the authorities are proposing to create a piazza on the Tiber side of the building, right where the traffic now flows--just beyond the people standing in the left of the photo.  This will allow tourists and other visitors to the box to step out into the piazza and enjoy a view of the river below.  Not a bad idea.  But what's to be done with the cars, trucks, and scooters? 

Yes, you guessed it.  They'll be put in a new tunnel.  Tunnels are common on the other side of the Tevere, but not on this side, where there is just one - about where this one would end.  As we conceive it, the tunnel will begin just beyond the intersection from which the photo was taken, descend under the newly contructed piazza, and emerge down the road a piece (actually just off, to the east, of the Lungotevere).  At left, a map of the area, to help keep things straight.  The Ara Pacis is in lavender, near the bottom.

The Passeggiata di Ripetta, view
from the north end of the Ara Pacis

Even now, most of the traffic exits the Lungotevere right after the Ara Pacis, passing down a busy, two-lane brick road that eventually bypasses Piazza del Popolo.  As the traffic descends on this brick road, it streams cheek-by-jowl along the Passeggiata di Ripetta, which carries traffic the other direction (south) and emerges at the Ara Pacis.  On the photo at right, you can see the Passeggiata di Ripetta, as it skirts the Ara Pacis, which is behind the photographer in this view. 

Looking north on the Passeggiata di Ripetta
And left, a long shot down the Passeggiata.  Despite its proximity to a major arterial carrying traffic from the Lungotevere, it remains an attractive street, lined with sycamores.

Protests from apartment dwellers on the Passeggiata
di Ripetta
OK, that's a bit complex.  The key point is that the people who now live on the Passeggiata di Ripetta are upset at the prospect of the new tunnel, and all the construction that will go with it.  They imagine--and they can't be wrong here--all the noise, and all the concrete ugliness that's virtually guaranteed to come with the new structure.  In protest, they put up signs:  NO SOTTO PASSO (No Underpass).  The signs are at the top of the building in the photo at right. 

We're with the neighborhood on this one.  The new piazza would be nice.  But the Tevere's not much to look at, and the project promises to be more than a little disruptive.  The traffic flows fine as it is.  Our advice: save some money, and forget it.  No Sotto Passo. 


PS from Dianne - I think more positively of Meier's "box" than does Bill.  I was there for its grand opening.  Bill and I have climbed up and around and in it (with the managing architect).  It's a very popular building site in Rome, and houses a museum.  It's among the top 3 visited sites now in Rome, as I recall.

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