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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Things NOT to do in Rome

Okay - the river looks good, especially this shot of
Hadrian's Castle (Castel Sant'Angelo, for you Dan Brown
We suppose it's a cheap shot - or shots.  But there are some things in Rome that even WE have found not to be worthwhile.

(But for 4 new itineraries we HAVE found worthwhile, see our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler; more information below.)

but you are separated from the city by
these 160-foot walls
And even the boat can look reasonable
Tops on our list is the boat on the Tiber.  It's amazing (to us) that people still think this is the thing to do.  But it's not.  The original plan may have been okay, but now the boat barely has any stops.  And the Tiber, the Tevere to Romans, is so far beneath its massive retaining walls, that there is virtually nothing to see from the river.  The Romans have let the river go to waste.  And even though we, at RST, have an itinerary along the river (which itself has been compromised by floods, disrepair, changes), we do not recommend floating on this poor excuse for a major urban, and historic waterway.  In fact, in our Itinerary 3, "The Strange Career of the Tevere," we ask "Who killed the Tevere?"

The Tram Museum is in a great location; the Pyramid is
a backdrop
There's just not much to look at, nor signage

Second, it's a small one, but still a disappointment - the tram museum attached to the Roma-Ostia-Lido station on via Ostiense, just past the Pyramid.  The station is on an RST itinerary, No. 4 - Hitler and the Germans Come to Rome.  We love the station - built in 1924 with art nouveau mosaics and d'Annunzio poetry.  But the "museum" just doesn't cut it.  You get in by asking at the ticket booth in the station and then the guard lets you in, because it's free.  There are old trams outside in the yard, but barely explained (even for those who can read Italian), and you can't go in any of them.  We explored it, because we thought it would be fun for kids.  But, we decided, no.  Just not enough "there" there.

It's the right side of the Vittoriano, here, that has sometimes
 flaky shows, proving free is not always worth it
Third, and this is somewhat difficult to explain, the shows that are often held on the right side (as you face it) of the Vittoriano - the large monument to Vittorio Emanuele II that houses an exhibit of Italy's fight for independence and unification as well as important (and often glitzy) art exhibits to attract tourists.  In theory, we love this.  The shows on the right side are free, and they usually have interesting themes.  We can even recall one or two we liked (one on earthquakes, one on Sophia Loren - or was that on the left side?).  But, generally, the shows are pap put on by the government on the cheap.

An inside gallery with school art.  Okay we have nothing
against kids' art, but...   

One was on Italian families - sounded good - large photos (reproductions of course, blown up) of Italian families in the past (Dianne could have put her own here), but fairly right-wing propaganda about the value of families, and certainly no alternative families.

Another show was on World War II and its impact on home and family.  There were some collections of memorabilia from a few families (see the postcard below).  But there was almost no coherence to the show.  Just a bunch of stuff thrown into cases.  And, while the "stuff" may be interesting here and there, there's not enough curating going on to make it a good show.  (BTW, we took a beating for criticizing this show on Facebook.)  And, of course, everything is only in Italian.  So, generally, we would say, stay away from the right side of the Vittoriano.
From  an exhibit last  year:
Again, some fascinating memorabilia from Italy's imperial days
 in Africa, but again, without context.  The postcard (that's what this is)
reads "Abyssinian [read - Ethiopian] visions... The women, The men"
 Look at it carefully.  It's a fairly devastating view of the  conquered and the mind-set
of the conquerors.

That's actually a pretty short list of things not to do in Rome.  We sat around trying to think of more.  But it's a credit to this amazing city, with all the hype and hucksters, that this is all we could come up with!


 Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler features the "garden city" suburb of Garbatella: the 20th-century suburb of EUR; 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.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Plastic bags in Rome - one woman's story

This is a remembrance of and for my Dad, who died about a year ago, just 10 days short of his 93rd birthday.  He was a loyal follower of the blog (no, he didn't get Facebook, but he did get the blog). Dad's occupation was "manufacturer of flexible films."  He made plastic bags.  Plastic bags put me through Stanford.

So when we saw this sculpture in the atrium of MACRO last  year, we photographed it for him.  It's comprised solely of plastic bags.  And there is stuff in the catalog about how the artist wants to bring attention to the detritus of plastic bags, and this is a good re-use etc.  What would Dad have thought of that?  Hm, probably not a lot.  He didn't like it that I usually asked for "paper" not "plastic".  But that's a generational thing, and I think he got that.

Dad's small company basically invented the roll bag you see in grocery stores everywhere now. His partner and life-long friend had to convince Safeway to buy a few of the roll bags just to try them out in their produce department.  "Customers will not put their own produce in their own bag," said the Safeway exec.  And then came the order for 5 million bags - more than the small company could possibly handle.  But somehow they did, at the right time for me.  So I thought Dad too would like seeing the version of the roll bag we see in "supermarkets" in Rome. The design (at right) could use some help from Dad.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy 4th Birthday RST - of Meier, Mosques and Kebabs

Richard Meier's suburban Tor Tre Teste church - Number 1 on the blog.  
That's Dianne at left. 
Having reached a couple milestones recently – 4 years of blogging as of today (Feb. 17) and more than 400 posts (the 400th went up November 20 – the rather esoteric Hamlet in the Weeds on sculptor Amleto Cataldi), it seems appropriate to look back and share some statistics with our loyal readers.

Amazingly enough (to us), several of the top 5 posts, and even the top 10, remain remarkably consistent from day to day, month to month, year to year.

And, you probably couldn’t guess the consistent posts in the top 5 – at least we couldn’t if Google Analytics didn’t tell us every day.

Coming in routinely in the top 5 are: Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church (Tor Tre Teste), the post on kebabs (Bill, you were right on that one),  Europe’s largest mosque.  Posts on Fascist architecture - which is the subject of dozens of posts - also regularly rank high  The post on Meier's church and the one on kebabs appeared 2-1/2 years ago, and the mosque 3-1/2.  But their popularity never seems to wane.  The church and the mosque are both on RST's Top 40 list, coming in at 17 and 24, respectively.

Inside Portoghesi's mosque
Architectural works by “starchitects” often appear in the top 10: E.g., besides Meier and Paolo Portoghesi (the mosque), Zaha Hadid and Massimiliano Fuksas.

The all-time top 10 includes three reasonably accessible tourist sites: Foro Mussolini/Foro Italico (#5 on the RST top 40), Piazza Augusto Imperatore (# 9), and Garbatella (#16).  And one suburb where tourists seldom venture: Centocelle

Readers have also been drawn to the rich and famous, like Elizabeth Taylor.

We learn from Google Analytics, not surprisingly, that the US is the top country, in terms of readers of the blog, with Italy second.  The third may be surprising, however, - it’s Russia (spammers, maybe?), followed by the English-speaking countries of the UK, Canada and Australia.  Of interest, perhaps only to computer wonks, our readers come in more through Safari than any other search engine, followed by Firefox, then Chrome, and only 4th, Explorer. But for operating systems, Windows is used twice as much as Mac.  Go figure.

Back to content: romethesecondtime is what is known as a “content blog” – we’d have to be that after 4 years of this!  We continue to be surprised at Meier’s staying power, along with the mosque and kebabs.

So next time you go to Rome, head for Portoghesi’s mosque, and be sure to pick up a kebab outside (if it’s market day).


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Graffiti Wisdom: Rome is for...

"Roma da Vedere/Milano da Bere"   There's no perfect translation for this bit of rhyming graffiti, spotted in Monti, but something like "Rome is for looking, Milan is for drinking" would be about right. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Calatrava's Guardrail: The Architectural Trail

It’s only a guardrail.  It runs up a seldom-used stairway from the first to the second floor of the new market in Testaccio.  Curving and white, it drew our attention, and not only because it seemed so different from the brown, box-like building.  We were looking at Santiago Calatrava, the great Spanish architect.  No, he hadn’t designed this railing, or had a hand in the marketplace, for that matter. 
Calatrava's unfinished natatorium. 
But his imprint was there, nonetheless—and elsewhere in Rome, more obviously--even though his only Rome building, a natatorium for the University of Rome at Tor Vergata, sits unfinished in the weeds to the east of the city center.    

Calatrava's Bilbao bridge, 1997
Born in 1951, Calatrava was trained as both an architect and engineer, and it was as an engineering student that he was attracted to the work of the Swiss bridge engineer, Robert Maillart (1872-1940) and came to study under a disciple of Maillart’s, the famed bridge builder Christian Menn.  Through Menn and Maillart, Calatrava came to appreciate and explore the structural properties of materials, including steel, aluminum, concrete, glass and—later—carbon fiber.  In 1981, he completed a Ph.D. thesis whose title, “Concerning the Foldability of Spaceframes,” announced his growing interest in the possibilities of creating unique forms in space.

Calatrava's Bac de Roda bridge, Barcelona, 1987
Calatrava is self-consciously intellectual, and over the years, in speeches and interviews, he has articulated a broad range of cultural interests and influences: emotion (as opposed to reason—the paintings of Rothko are an example); rhythm and music; the human body and its movements and gestures (“the idea of breathing,” he said in a 2000 interview, “is astonishing….the idea that our fingers can move, the branches of trees or the waves of the water can move when the wind comes, are all astonishing ideas”); sculpture (he considers himself an architectural sculptor, and he admires the work of Rodan and Brancusi; painting (Cezanne, and especially Picasso); writers (the Russian Joseph Brodsky), and other architects (Frank Lloyd Wright [intuition producing the sublime, the poetic], Gaudi, Eero Saarinen). 

Calatrava's Valencia bridge, 1995
Calatrava is best known as designer of bridges, mostly skeletal and white structures with a curving plasticity.  Among his major works are the Bac de Roda bridge in Barcelona (1987), the Alamillo bridge in Seville (1992), the Valencia bridge for his home town (1995), and the Campo Volantin bridge in Bilbao (1997). 

These are ground-breaking structures, and it would seem absurd—even impossible—to connect them with the Testaccio market balustrade.  Impossible, that is, if there weren’t some way to demonstrate that Calatrava’s design aesthetics were penetrating and shaping the Rome architectural scene. 
Ponte della Musica (not Calatrava)
But there is.  In just a few years, two major bridges have been completed in Rome, and both demonstrate forcefully the influence of the Catalan architect.  One is Ponte Della Musica, which spans the Tevere north of Piazza del Popolo, in the quartiere of Flaminio.  

Ponte Ostiense (not Calatrava)
The other is Ponte Ostiense, which carries traffic over a rail and metro corridor just south of the Pyramid, on the city’s south side. 

Neither was designed by Santiago Calatrava, but both bear his mark. 

And so, too, does that guardrail. 


 We recommend the haiart interview with Calatrava at

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Trailer Living, Rome

We took this photo at quite a distance because we would have been embarrassed to be noticed.  The subject was the trailer with the blue tarp cover, and the people near it, in the middle of the photo.  The trailer was parked at the side of the viaduct (via P. Colonna) that connects the Marconi quartiere with Monteverde Vecchio to the northwest.

  To compensate for the distance, we've blown it up some here.  The billboard at left advertises Malta as a  vacation destination.  The wall graffiti reads "Noi Oltre," a reference to a right-wing group.

    And here we've blown it up some more.  We see a woman (left) and a man (seated), and a vehicle that doesn't look like it's ready to go anywhere.  The trailer appears to be their home, at least temporarily.  There are thousands of people in Rome who live in inadequate quarters.  But they're usually in discrete camps on the outskirts.  The   trailer--and especially its location, in a busy urban area not far from the Centro--is an unusual accomodation.     Bill