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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rome Posters, 2012

 Like the rest of Italy, and unlike the U.S., Rome is a poster city.  There are thousands of them on building walls or in huge metal poster holders (we wonder if there's an Italian word for these frames) that line the streets, and turnover keeps them current and entertaining.  Many are narrowly political--for this candidate or that--but others are broader in subject matter and appeal.  A majority have right or right-center content.  Here are some our favorites from 2012.

It was appropriate that we found this poster to Alessandro Alibrandi in the Trieste quarter of Rome, for it was there, in 1975, that he and some other young, right-wing ideologues formed a group called Nuclei Armati Revoluzionari (Armed Revolutionary Nuclei).  The NAR, as it is commonly known, was a direct-action organization that killed people on the left.  Alibrandi did his share of the shooting and killing.  In the late 1970s, he turned to more ordinary forms of organized crime, working with la Banda della Magliana, headquartered near Ponte Marconi.  He died in December, 1981, following a gunfight with police at the Libaro station, a few kilometers from Rome.  As the poster reveals, some people still consider him a hero.  (For another post on the right-wing in the Trieste quarter, see this one on Piazza Vescovio and also the one on Zippo, who some might call a thug, but the right-wing wants to see as a political hero.  Also see Paul Baxa on neofascism in the Tuscolana section of Rome.)

Italians are not alone in thinking that their economy would benefit if its citizens bought Italian products.  This poster, sponsored by the right-wing group Noi Oltre, proclaims "Against the Global Crisis/Support the National Economy," and in slashing letters, "Buy Italian Products."  The main figure appears to represent a worker, gesturing in a sort of "Uncle Sam Wants You" way, with an industrial facility beneath.  Noi Oltre is headquartered in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Monteverde Vecchio; it has 893 Facebook "friends."

Water is in increasingly short supply around the world (one can purchase an ETF [Exchange-Traded Fund] that specializes in water), and areas that have it in abundance, like the U.S. Great Lakes or Rome (from the mountains nearby) guard it jealously.  Here, the center-left Democratic Party accuses the right-wing Rome mayor, Gianno Alemanno, of "swindles and 'assaults' to sell off the Romans' water." 

Lazio, the region in which Rome is located, has a garbage-disposal problem; the regular dump is full, and 2012 was highlighted by a search for a new location.  This poster accuses Renata Polverini (referred to as La Polverini), then the president of the Lazio regional government, of not only cancelling a festival at Hadrian's Villa--a major historical site located just beneath the hill town of Tivoli--but of working to turn the Villa Adriana into a dumpsite.  "Vergogna," it reads: "Shame on You."  Polverini later resigned, but not because of garbage issues.

This poster strains our knowledge of the language.  It's in favor of a nationalist, socialist, and secular (laica) Syria.  It calls for a June, 2012 demonstration in Piazza del Popolo, "in support of the people and the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic."  At the top/center is the claim that the USA considers Syrian elections a sham.  But the ad's ironic take on NATO air power suggests that the poster is opposed to any sort of foreign intervention.  One pilot asks, "Where are we going?" and the other replies, "To teach the Syrians how to vote."  Support for the existing Bashar al-Assad government--we think.  (Readers comments and interpretations welcome).

Here's proof that the right has more entertaining posters than the left.  That lean and nasty critter is a version of Rome's founding myth: the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus.  This she-wolf is angry at what's happened to Europe, and especially angry at the bankers and financiers who (the poster says) dominate the EU and damage Italy with currency speculation.  The folks from Noi Oltre that printed it promise to defend "the nation" and its "people."  Former (and most hope he stays that way) Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has tried to rile up the masses by claiming Italy should return to the Lira.

In this photo, it's hard to see what it is that the wolf is stomping on.  So we've blown it up for you--below. 


It's a 1-Euro coin, the symbol of the hated (by some) European Union and its financial oligarchy. 

Noi Oltre is probably Rome's most active non-party postering organization.  This poster attacks immigration on the grounds that it violates the occupational rights and the identity of native Italians:  "Defend Your Work/Defend Your Rights/Defend Your Ground."

"Sign the Law/Stop Equitalia."  That's the message of this poster by CasaPound, a right-wing group named after Ezra Pound, the American poet who lived in Italy and supported the Fascists during World War II.  Equitalia, subtly presented here as a blood-sucking vampire bat in a business suit, is a decade-old public company, created to collect taxes and to help prevent tax evasion.  It is sometimes referred to as the "legalized mafia" for what some have seen as draconian policies and methods: small tax debts that accrue large interest payments, mortgage foreclosures of properties only minimally in arrears, and so on. Of course, Italians sometimes are viewed as the most expert - worldwide - at tax avoidance.  In 2011, the director of the Rome office was injured by a bomb sent to the Equitalia address.

A recent protest against tax-collector Equitalia. 


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Moving Day Theatrics

We're either naive or troglodytic, or both, but we had never seen the moving-day technology that we observed one morning from our ground-floor apartment in quartiere Coppede' (a corner of the Trieste area).  It seemed perfectly suited to buildings of 3 or 4 stories, which are very common in Rome, especially those with narrow stairways (not so common, in our experience).  In any event, we enjoyed watching the performance, a working-man's ballet.   Bill

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Del Debbio's hidden masterpiece - out-buildings at Foro Mussolini

A few years after restoration, still in
need of TLC
           Officine Farneto (“Farneto Offices”) is a recently restored out-building from the construction of what was Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico) in the 1930s. It's a shining example of Fascist era architecture that continues to be rediscovered and rehabbed in 21st century Rome.  Note RST gave Foro Italico its #5 position in RST’s Top 40.  At the time, we didn't know about this complex of out-buildings.

[A new expanded itinerary of Foro Italico (including Officine Farneto) and the area across the Tevere from it, Flaminio, is now one of 4 walks in the new guide: Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  See more information below.]

            We found Officine Farneto a couple years ago (while meandering off the more beaten paths, as we are wont to do).  More recently the developers, who saw us poking around their complex, invited us in, gave us a tour and showed us their library of information about the architect, Enrico Del Debbio.  We found Del Debbio's work has been given new life here as an exposition and office complex – perhaps more a labor of love by the developers/architects than a profit-making proposition at this point.

Multi-use visible here
           Del Debbio, who designed this construction site warehouse and office, was one of the premier Fascist era modernist architects and the chief architect for Foro Mussolini.  It’s amazing that a simple out-building had such architectural attention paid to it, and that the current owners have restored it so faithfully. 

One of the developer/architects showing off
the roll-in ceramics kiln that they kept - part of
industrial chic
            Post World War II, the building housed an artisan ceramics factory up until the 1970s, and the owners have left the enormous kiln in place. 

Former Fascist sports complex construction warehouse,
then artisan ceramics factory, now "open space" for
exhibitions - or wedding receptions (we saw one in process)
            Officine Farneto was called by one web site “the chicest open space in Rome.”  The owners are pitching the space for weddings, exhibitions, any type of show or conference.  In addition to their architectural offices, there’s also a wellness center with gym and roof terrace.  When we asked the architect/restorers/owners how they were doing from a business perspective, they shrugged their shoulders.  They have hopes for the future.  Modern Romans still shy away from Fascist buildings, they said.

            Bill made an interesting comparison of a Michael Graves building to Officine Farneto in his 2011 post on Rome’s influence on Graves

            The complex now sports a bistro and restaurant; so during most reasonable (for Rome) hours, you can stop for refreshments.

            Officine Farneto is definitely worth a visit.  The address is Via dei Monti della Farnesina 77, the street that shoots up directly north in back of the Olympic Stadium.  Or you can use our hyperlinked map of Itinerary 9 (Monte Mario) from the eBook version of Rome the Second Time.  

For more information, Officine Farneto has its own, rather too elaborate, Web site, which includes historical photos and a zip version of the current brochure.  Some of that brochure is in English.

Another Foro Mussolini out-building along the road (via dei Monti della Farnesina)
to Officine Farneto; this one is now a riding club
Along with the tour of Foro Italico and the 21st century art and music quarter, Flaminio, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler features three other walks: the 20th-century "garden" suburb of Garbatella, the Fascist-designed suburb of EUR; 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.]

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sidesaddle Cycling

India--one hand around the driver, maybe.
We read with curiosity a recent story in the New York Times describing the efforts of Shariah law advocates in Lhokseumawe, on the island of Sumatra, to prohibit as "improper" women riding on motorcycles and scooters with their legs spread.  Under the new regulation, women can ride (presumably only as passengers) but only sidesaddle--that is, with both legs on one side of the vehicle.  In addition, women are not supposed to hold on to the guy who's driving.  We suspect that Lhokseumawe's directive derives in part from a Shariah-based society in which women are discouraged, or prohibited, from wearing pants (an odd perspective, in that pants, while a mark of liberation, are also, arguably, the less sexy option.  See Hillary Clinton). 

Something similar happened in America in the late-19th century, when men took issue with women riding bicycles.  Just too sexy.  In that case, the prohibition had to be absolute, or men had to get used to it, for sidesaddle was not an option, at least for the woman doing the pedaling.  There was a time, too, when proper western women who rode horses were expected to use special saddles that allowed both legs to go comfortably to one side.

Rome, 2007.  Waiting for the dress to
get caught in the wheel.

It's understandable that Muslim men of a Shariah bent--who paradoxically seem to be titillated by just about everything--would find their hearts beating fast at the sight of the spread legs and prominent rear ends of cycle-straddling young women.  Indeed, we (that is, I) have not been immune to the occasional palpitation while surfing the streets of Rome on a warm spring day. 

And we have witnessed, with shock and concern, the occasional effort at going sidesaddle (right).  It's a dangerous practice: bikes must negotiate bumps and the occasional object, and they lean as they turn.  A passenger with both legs on one side, and only an awkward grip on the handles (that only sometimes exist) on either side of the back seat, could easily fall off.  Modesty has its price. 


China.  Two riders, one helmet. 


Monday, January 14, 2013

Un Americano a Roma

In one of the most famous scenes in postwar Italian cinema, Nando Moriconi (Albert Sordi), a Roman infatuated with everything American, sits down to what he understands to be an appropriately American feast: white bread, jam, and mustard, with milk poured over it, mumbling in some combination of dialect and American syllables as he assembles--and tries to eat--this concoction. 

Then, shoving the dish aside, he turns to real Italian food--a flask of Chianti and a huge bowl of spaghetti that he refers to in the film as "maccheroni." (According to my local authority on things Italian, Buffalo pizzeria owner Gino Pinzone, the word
"maccheroni" has two meanings: macaroni as
Americans know it, as in "macaroni and cheese,"
and an older, Italian meaning: any "pasta," including spaghetti). 

The 1954 film, directed by Steno (Stefano Vanzina) is Un Americano a Roma (an American in Rome).  It was filmed in Rome.  In the film, Moriconi lives in via Santa Maria in Monticelli.  It's the door on the right in the accompanying photo. 

There are other scenes in the film that have captured the Italian imagination, including one in which Moriconi threatens to throw himself off the Coliseum if a way isn't found to send him to America.  Because of the many references to Kansas City in the film, that city granted Sordi honorary citizenship.  But it's the food scene, and especially that bowl of macaroni, that have come to represent the film to later generations. 

While we've never been fans of Sordi's work--we prefer the anguish of neo-realism to wacky comedies--we're well aware of his reputation, especially in Rome, and especially in Garbatella, where he grew up, and where one day we found a tribute to the prolific actor, painted on a wall. 

We couldn't resist purchasing the poster of the maccheroni scene, which is available at any of the dozens of stands that cater to tourists.  And we began to notice the image, or similar ones, in restaurants and bars.

On the one hand, they're just come-ons, designed to put tourists at ease with an iconic image that spans two cultures and whose presence suggests that the place doesn't take itself too seriously. 

On the other hand, the film represented by that image has a larger meaning, or meanings: it stands for an era of postwar American world hegemony, before Vietnam forever changed the anti-colonial image of the United States, before world competition and de-industrialization, when most everything American was admired and desired, when the United States could do no wrong (or at least not as much).  And it stands for an era of mutual affection between the two countries, when America beckoned to Italians and Italy to Americans.

RST is a product of that era.  In 1962, your correspondents found themselves in Rome, brought there by a college foreign-campus program that was one consequence of the golden age of Italian-American relations.  It's 50 years later, and we're still at it.  Pass the maccheroni.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Born Again in Piazza Fiume: La Rinascente

Piazza Fiume.  As Rome piazzas go, it's not much.  Today, its main purpose is to move vehicles from one place to another: the North/South, one-way thoroughfare via Salaria drains the Trieste quartiere, dumping tens of thousands of cars and scooters daily into the piazza and onto Corso Italia, where they hurtle down the Muro Torto to Piazza del Popolo, or take a mysterious left turn, cutting back through a section of the Aurelian city wall, to access the Corso going east.  Except for a small section of the piazza on the northwest, where the intersection with via Bergamo creates a bit of civil space, Piazza Fiume is a mess. 

That doesn't mean there aren't some things to see.  Gather your pedestrian skills and cross Corso Italia with the traffic coming down via Salaria.  There, on the southwest corner, you'll find a bland 1950s building, now occupied by Barclay's Bank.  Bland, yes, but over the entrance to the left, now looking north, are a curious set of painted protusions affixed to the wall.  Like a fifties album cover.  Cool, man!

Across via Piave (the extension of via Salaria) is one of Rome's few neo-Gothic structures, with those pointed windows that seem so out of place in this mostly neo-classical city. 

And on that building--appropriately on via Piave--note the large plaque honoring the Italian soldiers who fought and died in a dramatic and successful effort to hold off an advancing Austro-Hungarian force at the Piave River in northeast Italy during World War I. 

Walk up the street, toward the piazza (beware motorists turning left!) and enjoy the interesting section of the wall and a bunch of columns in front of it (we have no explanation for this craziness, except it's eclectic Rome at its best).

Across the street, an underground bookstore boasts a section of Roman wall, jutting out into the room, and black and white photos of the city here and there. 

So there's more to Piazza Fiume than meets the eye, especially for Rome-the-Second-Time bottom feeders.  But we've saved the best for last. On the northwest corner of the piazza is a department store, La Rinascente (roughly translated "rebirth").  Against all odds and, it would seem at first glance, common sense, it's a registered and protected architectural landmark.  It was designed by the Milanese team of Franco Albini and Franca Helg--their only building in Rome--and constructed between 1959 and 1961, when it opened.  Albini was an architect of considerable reputation, his career going back to the 1930s, when he designed public housing.  

It was the second La Rinascente store in Rome (the first, opened in 1887, was until recently at the corner of via del Corso and via del Tritone--the building still exists), and Albini and Helg used the basic massing of that first store in their design for this one.  Beyond that, the modern store, for all its apparent ordinariness, was new, fresh and innovative, inside and out.  The structure is of reinforced concrete and steel frame.  The exterior infill panels--an outstanding feature--are of masonry, not flat but folded--Baroque "movement" in the facade design, some say--and tinted to recall the color of porcelain in ancient Rome.  One observer has described it as a "Renaissance facade redone with contemporary technology." 

Another important feature is the substantial, open, steel cornice, referencing Michelangelo's cornice--surely the most famous in the city--for the Palazzo Farnese. 

The Sorgente Group, which has owned the building since 2006, claims that La Rinascente "is considered the best example of the setting of a modern building within the historical context of the city."  Architectural critic Reyner Banham, likely to be less biased, nonetheless shares the Sorgente Group's admiration, while noting the limitations imposed by the era.  Albini, he notes, faced severe "cultural restraints."  "He was designing a building for a conspicuous site in the history-laden ambiente of Rome, at a time when the historical nerve of most Italian architects had failed almost completely (these were the years of Neoliberty nostalgia)."

Inside, you'll find a modern department store, recently refurbished.  Shop 'til you drop. And as you do, consider three elements of the interior.  On the top floor there's a modern bar/cafe.  Avoid it or embrace it as you choose, but don't miss a chance to look out the windows, where you'll have an extreme close-up view of the steel cornice. 

Descending on the escalators, you should know that these were installed in 2011 by the firm of Tim Power Architects, perhaps replacing an elevator.  The Tim Power firm makes much of this makeover, emphasizing the importance of redoing the building's circulation so that customers could reach the upper floors rapidly and without waiting.  (The Power folks even cite starchitect Rem Koolhaas, for whom escalators are a "key metaphor for the expanding city.")  

The Albini/Helg staircase
We hope we haven't lost you here, because there's one more gem in this building.  The chiocciola--the word means both "snail" and "spiral staircase"--which once provided much or all of the building's circulation, is a masterpiece, an "expressive shell" that draws architectural historians to the building.  You'll have to poke around to find this wonder in Veronese red marble.  Each rung of the metal railing has a small curve at the end, marking the era. 

It may well be the most sensational staircase in Rome, though modernists will claim that honor for Luigi Moretti's chiocciola in the ex-GIL (a Fascist-era youth center) at the intersection of viale di Trastevere and via G. Induno. 

The Borromini/Maderno staircase
The Albini/Helg staircase is most often compared to the 1627 marvel by Francesco Borromini and Carlo Maderno, in Palazzo Barberini.  A photographer who admires both claims that the "api" (bees) that were a required element in anything created for the Barberini family, also appear in the staircase at La Rinascente.  Check that out. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Elegant but Not Ostentatious: A Favorite Fountain

Rome has hundreds of fountains, and every visitor has a favorite, or a few favorites.   One of mine is this gem of a drinking fountain (the water running continuously, ala romana).  It's part of the University of Rome--the main campus, La Sapienza, the one built by the Mussolini regime in the late 1930s.  The entrance to the campus, a combination of rationalist and monumental modernism, is located on via d. Scienze, just a few blocks from the Termini train station.  You can see the entrance (from inside the campus) in the photograph, behind the fountain. 

The bowl of the fountain is set into a three-footed base, subtly and elegantly decorated on each side with those graceful, gently waving parallel lines that at once reinforce the vertical and blend it with a different sort of energy, one, perhaps, with its roots in nature rather than man, as if the water were flowing not from a pipe, but from a spring.  Whatever it is, it works.   Bill