Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Dopolavoro Ferroviario di Roma, and other Railroad Adventures

Piazza Salerno.  It looks peaceful and isn't.  At left,
1929 housing for railroad employees. 
Our "railroad" day began near Piazza Bologna.  Rome the Second Time includes two itineraries that begin at that piazza, but neither includes a complex of interesting buildings off via Catania west of Piazzale delle Province.  We parked at Piazza Salerno, a smallish roundabout, where in the late 1920s Mussolini's Ministry of Transport constructed a large building to house ministry employees.  It has 8 staircases and 3 entrances. 

A remnant of Fascism
High above the entrance on via Salerno one can see the remains of the Fascist imprint: part of the numbering system (probably VII, Fascism's 7th year - 1929) and the fasci, long ago chiseled off the façade by critics of the regime.  The leaded glass windows, on a side street, are also of interest. 

You could be in Vienna
More elegant and ostentatious is the Dopolavoro Ferroviario (railroad after-work center), built between 1925 and 1930 in what one scholar refers to a the "Viennese" style.  At one time the complex contained a theater, a hotel, a restaurant, a gym, a library, and offices--all to serve those lucky railroad workers, the beneficiaries of a powerful trade union.

Unlikely the sign is as old as the building, but
it's cool anyway.

The statues above the impressive curved façade represent the arts. Today, two theaters and what appears to be a defunct bar, Binario Uno (Track One) occupy the space.

Just around the corner to the west, on via Como, a set of lovely elevated statues depict the four social virtues and bridge the art nouveau and art deco styles.  Beneath them, an entrance decorated
One of the four social virtues: a good body
in fanciful theater motifs.

At the corner of via Catania and via Como, a sign makes clear that a section of the larger structure is being converted to condominiums: Residenza Como.  Buyers will have a pool, a gym, a beauty center, and the "possibility" of a parking place. 

Beyond the architectural pleasures of the area, there are social and political lessons to be gleaned: that railroad workers had considerable power, as they did elsewhere at this time (e.g., in the United States, where in 1934 they were rewarded with the Railroad Retirement Act); that the Mussolini regime sought to provide reasonable housing for the industrial working class; that Fascism, for all its faults, valued good architecture and, more remarkably, supported the arts.  Oh, yes: privatization is everywhere. 

The railroads, if not railroad workers, remain important to Italians, as we discovered on our next stop, Piazza del Popolo, where a chunk of one of the most Europe's most elegant squares had been
Another good use for Piazza del Popolo
given over to Trenitalia, the state-owned train company, which was promoting its Frecciarossa 1000, a super-high-speed train not yet in operation.  The sleek snout of the 1000 protruded from a large white box, which we assumed led to a mock-up of the interior. 

Not so.  After a few minutes waiting in line, we were handed 3-D glasses and ushered into a small (and stuffy) theater, where we watched a short film of a very fast train ripping silently through the Italian
countryside.  In a delightful bit of unexpected realism, the film included weeds growing out of concrete retaining walls.  As we learned just days later, you can make the trains run fast, but not necessarily on time.  Where are those Fascists when we need them!

On the way out, Dianne was the recipient of a Frecciarossa 1000 bracelet, seen here on her wrist at our local wine bar.  A keepsake. 

Our third railroad event of the day was a bit of serendipity.  Having been turned away from a neighborhood restaurant on via Taranto ("all sold out"), and famished from another hard day of tourism, this wandering couple happened upon La Veranda, a pizzeria at via Appia and, most
Entrance to the pizzeria - not exactly the club car.
appropriately, Rome's busiest railroad line, running just beneath.  The pizza was fine, the steak a bit tough, but the atmosphere--every few minutes, the sound of a train below--was perfect. 


RST acknowledges Eva Masini, Piazza Bologna: Alle Origini di un Quartiere 'Borghese' (Milano: FrancoAngeli, 2009). 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for your blog, it's both enlightening and refreshing. As a resident of Rome I get tired of reading about eating and drinking, etc. Learning some real history, especially the leftovers of fascism hidden all over the city is of real interest. Keep the great posts coming!