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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pasquino Lite - Rome's "talking statue" gets a dressing down

in happier times
Rome, a city fairly expert on the protest scale, is experiencing a tightening of the noose by right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno.  Alemanno has cracked down on Rome’s most famous “talking statue,” little Pasquino, who sits in an homonymous piazza right off the larger and more famous Piazza Navona.

Poor Pasquino - as last seen with a lucite stand
(right) and only a few comments
Okay, when you get your first look at Pasquino, he might not seem like much; he’s missing quite a bit of his body.  But, remember, he dates to the 3rd century BC,and he’s battered, but  still standing. 

Pasquino’s fame dates to the 16th Century, when he became the locus for comments critical of the reigning Pope.  And, his body as a place to slap on one’s protests, continues to this day.  Well, almost.  Alemanno now is insisting that instead of putting the protests right on Pasquino, they be properly put on a side board.  Where’s the fun in that?  Of course, most of the posts (the last time we went by) were satirical jabs at Alemanno for this (ahem) stupid policy.  It’s not as though Pasquino’s 3rd century BC body should start being protected now.  The real purpose of Alemanno’s edict appears to be to clean up and stifle criticisms against the mayor himself.

Comments in 2011 criticize the government
But don’t let that stop you from visiting what we now refer to as “Pasquino Lite,” and the piazza is a nice respite (with plenty of cafes and a substantial wine bar) from the busier Piazza Navona.

For more on Pasquino, “pasquinades,” and other talking statues in Rome, see the following sites:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Where Francesco Totti learned his Trade

Legend has it that Francesco Totti, for almost two decades the star of A.S. Roma, one of two premier-level soccer teams in the city (and the one preferred by a more working-class fan base), learned to play on a field in the quartiere of San Giovanni, where he grew up in a large public housing project.  We learned about the field a couple of years ago, when there was concern that the hallowed pitch, sandwiched somewhere between via Sannio and via Amba Aradam, and behind the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, would be sacrificed to a new Metro line.  Oh, no!

Market carts, all with the same rubber-trimmed iron
wheels.  Behind, the wall Bill considered scaling.
Our search for the field began just outside the city wall, in the large and active market that runs down via Sannio (and one characterized, we think, by especially aggressive merchants - tho' the prices are right, if you bargain, adds Dianne).

We thought we had found the field around the back of the market, in the alley called via Locri, where the old market carts are stored.  Bill imagined scaling the wall in back for a peak at the historic site, but he would have been not only foolhardy but wrong.  At the next turn in, we asked a gatekeeper for permission to have look at Totti's "stadium," which we assumed was right there, within his purview to show us.  Wrong again, but he sent us on our way with directions, while noting that what we were looking for hardly qualified as a "stadium."  "Campo", or "field," he corrected us.

Clubhouse bar
A few meters further on, as via Sannio became via Farsalo, there it was, and guarded--if, indeed, he was a guard--only by one man reading a book in front of a closed clubhouse bar. 

The field.  In the distance, the statues on the facade
of San Giovanni in Laterano

The playing surface is now artificial turf--not what Totti would have learned on, 25 years ago, but evidence, we think, that the field will be spared, saved from the Metro. 

The "stadium," such as it is.

And from the other side
And yes, there is no "stadium," but the small building that shelters the field and houses seats for spectators is a special one, designed and built in the Fascist era. Signs point to a $500,000 upgrade in process. (The paint squares on the side of the stands apparently are samples from which the final color will be selected.)

Nearby, a sidewalk traffic barrier, painted in Roma's colors, marks Totti's presence in the neighborhood. 


(For more neighborhood decoration for A.S. Roma and Totti, see this earlier post.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Original Fake: Store-window takes on Originality

It's getting harder and harder to be "original."  Andy Warhol made that clear in the early 1960s, when he capitulated to capitalism and advertising in the most obvious way, making art that looked very much like a can of Campbell's Soup.  And, to add to the confusion over originality, much of his work was produced by his assistants, not by Warhol himself.  

At about the same time, architects abandoned the quest for the uniquely original aesthetic, retreating to the postmodern preference for mixing and matching historical forms: a bit of the neoclassical here, the pyramids there, and hey, why not a mansard roof?  It was original, but only if the definition includes reassembling the past in a somewhat different way. 

Popular music has always been evolutionary, the province of covers and copies, but especially so after 1970, with the widespread acceptance of "sampling."

That's all background for a couple of photos we took of Italian store windows, each of a shirt with a phrase on it.  One advised, "Don't Copy/Be Original,"  a curious injunction, given that the shirt was obviously mass produced--that is, copied.  The other questioned the idea of originality even more directly: "Original Fake."  


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Gates of Rome: The Postwar Era

Some of these gates are best seen--and photographed--at night. 

A window barred--but elegantly, c. 1910
From the point of view of crimes against the body, Rome is a safe city, with very low numbers of assaults, rapes and murders.  Property crime--things like thefts on the bus, breaking and entering with intent to steal the television set--is more frequent.  Romans--and Italians generally--are understandably anxious about property crimes and eager to protect their homes from invasion.  Hence Romans prefer the upper floors of apartment buildings, where they feel--and are--less vulnerable, and those who must live on the ground or first floor commonly install bars on windows. 

Fenced in, completely
Some have been known to fence in an entire terrace or balcony (right).  Portieri--the guys who sit in little rooms ready to jump out and prevent you from snooping around in that lovely interior courtyard--are less common than they once were, but they're still at work here and there, and they still serve as a deterrent to crime in many buildings.   If a thief does manage to get to your front door, he must deal with multiple sets of multiple-bolt locks on an order that even a hardened New Yorker would have trouble imagining.  Opening one of these doors with the keys requires not only a good memory--for which key fits which lock,  which of the locks, if any, is a fake, which lock to unlock first, how many turns to make--but also a non-arthritic wrist and some time to waste. 

A fanciful gate, in Coppede'
This concern for home safety has one benefit (well, maybe more than one): the iron gates that guard many buildings--the first line of defense, especially in the absence of a portiere--are works of art.  Some are centuries old, veritable masterpieces of the Italian renaissance.  Others, as in the Coppede' neighborhood in the quartiere of Trieste, evoke the medieval sensibilities of Gino Coppede', the architect who built the area, or offer a touch of the "liberty"/art nouveau style that was in vogue in the decades before and after 1900. (The Coppede' neighborhood came in at #20 on RST's Top 40.)

Then there are the modern gates of the between-the-wars Fascist period, with their strong vertical and/or horizontal lines.  No nonsense. 

Here's another, from the 1920s, with touches of the medieval: that spear to the right, the grate-like general appearance.  Nestled in the center, the modernist letters CP (Case Popolari/Public Housing).  This gate is in the planned community of Garbatella (RST's #16 on its Top 40), south of the center. 

And after the war?  Nothing worth looking at, right?  Wrong.  We (and that really means Bill, that master of the perverse perspective) have been enjoying the gates and doors of the 1950s and 1960s.  Yikes!  At least that's when we think they were made; they don't come with dates. 

Angles, colored glass, lovely shadows.  Note the floor.  This
gate is "busier" than most.  You can see it in Piazza Vescovio.

They're easy to recognize: they're "modern" in the sense that they (usually) aren't busy with detail, and they don't resemble Victorian wallpaper.  But the designers of these postwar examples have moved on just a bit from the stark lines favored in the Fascist era.  Lines are bending (photo at top).  New angles.  Playfulness.  One senses a search--not always successful, we admit--for something beyond the stark order of modernism.

Playful, yet bold and powerful.  Straight out of the 1950s, and strong and masculine.  In postwar, modern Garbatella, not far from the Metro. 

Sensational.  Gorgeous.  You could be in Miami Beach.  But it's Monteverde. 

We found this gem in the quartiere of Trieste, while walking to our
apartment from Piazza Bologna.  Wasted on a parking lot, but dazzling.
We're thinking Buckminster Fuller's Geodesic Dome. 

There's Fuller with his dome. 



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Church Lady's latest two finds

Santa Prassede's apse - that's Paschal I with the square halo on the left
Main entrance, crunched in
by  pizza place

Main entrance, from inside... one can get the feel of
how one is supposed to enter the sacred place (but the
gate is locked)
Not far from the imposing Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquilino in Rome, known in part for its mosaics, a somewhat unusual phenomenon for Rome churches, are two often overlooked gems of churches, with stunning mosaics themselves. Combine these two, or if you're a glutton, add Santa Maria Maggiore, for a nice outing.

The ceiling of Santa Prassede's jewel-like St. Zeno's chapel
Santa Prassede is the more hidden and, in our opinion, more jewel-like of the two.  You enter from a narrow side street, the via di Santa Prassede (the main entrance on San Martino ai Monti  is covered with a [usually] locked gate with tables from the adjacent pizza place abutting it) and at first are captivated by the classic and lovely mosaics in the apse and arch (top photo).  We almost walked out without stopping in (more like stooping in) the tiny side chapel to St. Zeno that is the mausoleum for the mother of Pope Paschal I, who built the church in the 9th century.  Once in the apse, check out the mosaic of the pope himself, carrying the church.  He has the rare rectangular halo.  Then to St. Zeno's chapel, which is completely covered in mosaics – the only one like it in Rome
Entrance to Santa Pudenziana

There are many other objects of interest in the church to those who like exploring religious art, but don’t miss a funeral statue by the 17 year-old Bernini (along the right aisle near the front of the nave).

Just a few blocks from Santa Prassede, at via Urbana, 160, is the church dedicated to her sister, Santa Pudenziana, built originally as a conversion of a 2nd century bath-house.  The church has some fascinating features, including its low standing compared to the street, which is now far above the entrance (the street was raised as part of Pope Sixtus V’s plan to provide greater access to Santa Maria Maggiore), its plain attractive facade, and its role as a minor basilica and national church of the Philippines. You can see more of the bath features on the church's walls on the street in back, via Balbo, which runs parallel to via Urbana.

Santa Pudenziana apse - count 'em, 10 apostles
In this church, like in Santa Prassede, one is captivated by the apse mosaics, the oldest in Rome, dating to the late 4th century.  There has been controversy over restorations and who is who in the mosaics (besides Christ - the only one with a halo).  Two of the apostles were destroyed in one of the restorations – if you're counting.  To purists, these mosaics are of high importance because they are an older, classical style.  We simply like to look at them and compare; they're gorgeous.

Hours for these two churches generally are 8 a.m. -12 noon and 4-6 p.m., but nothing is for certain with Rome churches.  So you can have a nice morning or afternoon hour or 2 here, and begin or end with lunch.  Reputedly the city's best kebabs are at Shawarma Station on nearby via Merulana, 271.  See Katie Parla's review.

Dianne, the Church Lady (and sometime kebab eater)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sites of Anti-Fascism: Trionfale, Garbatella, and San Lorenzo

Post Office on Via Marmorata, 1940 photo
Regular readers of these pages are familiar with the remaining reminders of the Fascist era in Rome, of which the Foro Mussolini/Foro Italico, the grand complex of EUR, Luigi Moretti’s House of the Italian Fascist Youth (l'ex GIL in Trastevere), the Ostiense Post Office on Via Marmorata, the University of Rome, the Via dell’Impero, and what was once the Ministry of Corporations (improbably on Via Veneto) are only the most prominent (see links at end). 

Public Housing in Trionfale

Less well known are the sites of resistance to Fascism.  They were all, at the time, areas of the city populated by and identified with the city’s working class, students, and youth.  Two—the near-in “suburbs” of Trionfale and Garbatella—were the sites of major public housing developments built or completed under Fascist auspices.  

Garbatella is one of the itineraries in our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler; see below for more information.

One of Mario Mafai's "demolition" paintings, late 1930s
Significantly, these “projects” (to use the American term) housed many families that had been driven from the central city when their living quarters were razed to make way for the broad avenues favored by Mussolini and other Fascists.  Artist Mario Mafai, whose own family was forced from the Monti quarter by the demolitions (in Italian, sventramento/tearing down), did a series of paintings on the subject. 

The Red Hotel, Garbatella
In Garbatella, four of the largest buildings, including the famous and still-standing Albergo bianco (white hotel) and Albergo rosso (Red hotel) now and then served as detention centers for communists and others deemed dangerous to the state.  When Hitler made his one and only visit to Rome in 1938, potential dissidents were rounded up and brought to the “hotels,” where they were placed under police guard.  The hotels also housed ex-prisoners returning to Rome after incarceration elsewhere.  In addition, living conditions in the hotels contributed to anti-fascism.   Residents not only resented being forced out of their former neighborhoods, but also disliked having to leave their own furniture behind for the iron tables and chairs provided by the complexes. 
Anti-fascist graffiti on Garbatella's old marketplace,
2009 (now being renovated)
Moreover, the great majority of the men living in the new housing in Garbatella were proletarians--ordinary, poorly paid workers struggling to keep their jobs and feed their families under the difficult conditions of the worldwide Great Depression.  These workers were especially vocal, and most likely to incur the wrath and intervention of the police, as May 1—Europe’s labor day—approached.   In 1943, with Fascism disintegrating  and the city occupied by the Nazis,  some 270 of the most disaffected—from the working-class neighborhoods of Ostiense, Testaccio and San Saba, as well as Garbatella--formed a resistance organization with like-minded anti-fascists.  Even today Garbatella is known as Rome's most socially progressive neighborhood

San Lorenzo
But it was another working-class quartiere, this one to the north of the Centro, and close in, that caused the Fascists the most trouble.  San Lorenzo was a dense neighborhood of narrow streets, just the sort of place that the Fascists imagined was full of left-wing troublemakers.  In this case they were right.   In 1921, the year before the March on Rome, the Fascist Party congress came to the city, and some 30,000 blackshirts roamed the working-class sections of the city, bashing heads—especially in San Lorenzo—in what proved a deadly effort to keep dissidents in line. 

The following year, according to historian Paul Baxa, the arrival in the city of the remains of Enrico Toti, a hero of the Great War, killed on the Carso and a Fascist icon, brought another confrontation in San Lorenzo.  As the procession with Toti’s body moved along Via Tiburtina, through the heart of the district to the nearby Verano cemetery, anti-Fascists fired from windows and alleys.  Five months later, in the epic March on Rome, a unit of Fascisti, heading west and south on Via Tiburtina and warned to stay out of San Lorenzo, entered the area anyway and again faced fire from San Lorenzo’s socialists, communists, and anarchists.   

The center of the University of Rome, built,
so the story goes, on the ruins of San Lorenzo. The
sign in the foreground advertises the Rome version
of the "Occupy" movement (October 2011)
After the second of these events, an angry Mussolini announced in the newspaper Il Popolo that “all obstacles [to Fascism] will eventually come down.”  Not even Mussolini could tear down all of San Lorenzo, but he came close, or so the story goes.  In the 1930s the regime tore down most of San Lorenzo that lay to the northwest of Via Tiburtina for its new University.   Although Mussolini was capable of such venality, we’re just a bit skeptical, if only because our early-20th century map of the area destined to house the university shows it to be nearly empty of buildings. 

Another site, not visual but oral, is the resistance anthem, Bella Ciao.

Links to other posts include Foro Mussolini/Foro Italico, Case Popolare (on Fascism's housing projects), L'ex GIL (the Moretti youth center), the via Marmorata post office, and the University of Rome (Gio' Ponti's mathematics building). Via Veneto's Fascist corporate buildings are on Itinerary 5 in RST:  The Nazis and Fascists in Central Rome.

And for more on Garbatella and Fascist architecture in Rome, see our new print AND eBook,  Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  Along with the tour of Garbatella that includes the Red Hotel and the old marketplae, Modern Rome features three other walks: 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 classic 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.