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 28, 2013

Lotta Studentesca, Blocco Studentesco: the young right wing tackles education

As you walk the streets of Rome--and if you "read" its walls--you'll find evidence of two similarly-sounding organizations: the Lotta Studentesca (literally Student Struggle) and Blocco Studentesco (Student Block).  Both are student organizations, and both are actively--perhaps sometimes too actively--involved in changing Italian schools, including secondary schools and universities. 

Posted outside a school on via Taranto

Although its name dates to the 1970s, the current Lotta Studentesca began as the youth arm of Forza Nuova, a militant, anti-immigrant, homophobic far-right political party founded in 1997.  The LS wants more investment in the public schools, opposes costly textbooks (costly, they say, because of corruption), is anti-drugs, and advocates more emphasis on school sports. 

Reprediamoci Tutto: We'll Take it all Back

The Blocco Studentesco emerged in 2006 from CasaPound, a neo-fascist organization named after the American poet Ezra Pound, who in the 1940s, while living in Italy, was an ardent supporter of the Mussolini regime.  It currently has affiliates in some 40 Italian cities, including Rome, Verona, Parma, and Palermo. 

The Rome affiliate has carried out occupations of several schools in Rome and, on October 29, 2008, occupied the tourist mecca Piazza Navona, where its supporters participated in a bloody clash with opponents on the left.  The clash was precipitated by the Gelmini Decree, named after Mariastella Gelmini, the
A Rome school occupied by Blocco Studentesco
Minister of Education, and passed by the Italian parliament.  The Gelmini Decree was composed of a series of proposed actions, most of which were opposed by the Blocco Studentesco.  The group was especially angry about cuts to the education budget (response: "we won't pay for your crisis") and a new course offering in "civic education" that was likely understood as an exercise in thought control. 

Despite the militant protests, the BS program seems less than revolutionary:  improved services, reduced bureaucracy, more student representation in decision-making, opposition to public money being spent on private schools.  A Roman friend offers a different perspective.  He describes both movements as "violent and dangerous," "anti-Semitic and homophobic."  "The difference [between them]," he adds, "is minimal and linked to personal opposition and dislike between their leaders." 


For more on "reading" Rome's walls, see our December 2011 post.

Opposition to government spending on private schools. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Music to our ears in Trastevere: Ombre Rosse

Musicians in the main room; art exhibit on walls
As most RST followers know, we are fans of popular music in Rome, especially the Italian brand of singer-songwriter and jazz.  One easy place to take in music is Ombre Rosse, a bar/cafe'/music venue in Trastevere, right off the main piazza (Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere), in Piazza San Egidio (with the quarter's Rome museum across the way).

Ombre Rosse - which means Red Shadows, but perhaps more to the point is the Italian name of the iconic John Ford Western, Stagecoach - has music every Thursday evening. Check out the Web site (in Italian only, but look under "Concerti" and it will be obvious).  They also have regular art exhibits on the cafe' walls. 

We noticed the October concerts are all Italians.  Often the performers are foreign.  We heard an excellent Canadian singer-songwriter here one year.  And, the music can be non-Italian as well.  An homage to Robert Johnson by an all-Italian group was fascinating (and we sat next to some Swedish tourists who were enjoying it as much as we were).

The most we've eaten here is the buffet that goes with the drinks for aperitivo hour.  The most recent TripAdvisor reviews are negative, complaining about the service and the food.  These reviews vary greatly from past ones.  We've always had good service.  And, as noted, we don't go to a bar/café/music venue for the food.

Ombre Rosse's atmosphere is sweet, especially in contrast to most of heavy-drinking Trastevere.  You can sit outside/inside and catch the music and do people-watching at the same time.

And for a two-fer, first go to the museum, called simply The Museum of Rome in Trastevere. Operated by the city, it often has nice exhibits that go beyond the usual in Rome.  Check out the Web site.
We're also devotees of Ombre Rosse's outside patio, complete with people watching


Sunday, October 13, 2013

eBook Launch (and now in print too!): MODERN ROME: 4 GREAT WALKS FOR THE CURIOUS TRAVELER

Bill and Dianne are pleased to announce the publication of their eBook, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler (Curious Traveler Press).  It is available for download on Kindle (and for other devices using the Kindle app) at (click on the cover at right). $1.99
UPDATE: Now available in print from all major booksellers, including

We offer four new, alternative Rome walks, all outside the city’s tourist core, all easily accessible by Metro or tram, and all in neighborhoods where Romans live and work.  As the readers of our blog have put it, "Rome with the Romans." 

Entrance to Garbatella, early 1920s

“Garbatella—Garden City Suburb” is a guided tour through one of the world’s most engaging and mysterious planned communities, a 1920s creation featuring curving streets, enchanting stairways, interior courtyards, and some of the most unusual public housing ever built.

Fascist-era spectacle at the Square Coliseum
“EUR: Mid-Century Spectacle” features a dramatic locale, now a center of Rome’s business community, but planned and constructed in monumental style to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1922 Fascist March on Rome.

Zaha Hadid's MAXXI

On the opposite end of the city, a walk through Flaminio introduces Rome’s sensational 21st-century, Starchitect-designed cultural centers, and across the Tiber, the suggestive site of the 1960 Olympic Games, the Foro Italico, a virtual “Mussolini theme park” built by the Duce in the 1930s.

A medieval-style tower, in the heart of Villa Sciarra
A fourth, stairways walk begins in Trastevere’s back yard, winding up, down, and around Rome’s 8th hill, the Gianicolo, traversing a 17th-century villa, a compelling 1941 monument to the Italian unification movement, and one of the smallest, and most charming temples in all of Italy.

Modern Rome is available now for Kindle at the Kindle Store at Amazon.  It will soon be available in several other formats, including iBooks (through iTunes), Nook (through Barnes and Noble), and through Smashwords.  You can also download the book onto an iPad or iPhone through Amazon’s Kindle Store, using a Kindle app on your device.  Modern Rome features more than 100 hyperlinks, 63 photos, and 4 detailed maps.   $1.99 in all formats. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Here lived...": commemorating Italian Jews who died in the Holocaust

in Pigneto
If you look down once in a while in Rome, you may find a small brass plaque beginning "Qui abitava"or "Here lived," with a name, date and other information in Italian.  Like the one above:

Here lived
born 1903
arrested for his politics
January 4, 1944
Concentration Camp Mautausen
died April 23, 1944

Here lived Silvia Sermoneta, born 1897, arrested Oct. 10, 1943,
deported, Auschwitz, assassinated July 15, 1944, on via Salaria
Almost 100 of these "stolpersteine" (iin German) or "stumbling blocks" ("pietri d'inciampo" in Italian) are on the streets of Rome, and over 40,000 in 10 countries in Europe and Russia.  The project of German artist Gunter Demnig, they commemorate Jews, Roma, and others, like Nuccetelli, a political prisoner, who died in the Holocaust.

More than 1000 Jews were deported from Rome to the camps late in World War II, as Nuccetelli's plaque reveals. Of the 2000 Italian Jews deported, only 102 survived.

The 4-inch (10 cm) cube stolpersteine is laid flush with the sidewalk, usually in front of the last known residence of the victim.  In Rome, this often  means the stolpersteine replaces a sanpietrino, or cobblestone-like block of the sidewalk and is noticeable not so much for its shape, but the shiny brass. They were laid in Rome in 2010 and 2011, in many of the city's municipalities, including many in the city's old Jewish ghetto.

Relatives of one who escaped the round-up, on via Arenula
We stopped this year in front of two on via Arenula along largo di Torre Argentina, while walking on the street with friends visiting Rome for the first time from the United States. As we were trying to explain the stones, a relative of those who died came out of the building.  He had lost his aunts, uncles and all his cousins, he told us.

Scandalously, 3 of the stones were stolen in Rome in 2012.


Here lived Laudadio di Nepi, born 1882, arrested Oct. 16, 1943,
deported, Auschwitz, died during transport; also on via Salaria,
at the same address as Silvia Sermoneta

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Trullo in about 1940.  It was then called Villaggio Costanzo Ciano, after a notable Fascist.

'We live in Trullo, unfortunately.'
'Why unfortunately?' asked Blume.
'Well, Commissioner, it's not exactly the nicest part of the city, is it?'

That exchange is from Conor Fitzgerald's new detective novel, The Memory Key (2013).  Our Roman friend Massimo, who grew up off via Portuense about two miles from Trullo, confirms the impression, noting that in the 1960s and 1970s Trullo "was still considered a sort of Bronx," along withTor Marancia and the Donna Olimpia housing projects in Monteverde Nuovo.

Located a few miles to the south of Rome's center, between Magliana and Corviale--two other communities that are not "the nicest part of the city" either, Trullo retains more than a little of that "Bronx" feeling.  On the day we visited, we saw not one but two fires burning in the large public garbage cans that sit on the streets, probably set by the roaming groups of teenage boys with not much to do on a Sunday.  Massive towers carrying high-tension wires dominate what years ago was probably a nice park. But as we'll see, there's another side to Trullo.

There wasn't much of anything in the area until 1917, when an industrialist, Maccaferri Gaetano, acquired the land and opened a wire factory serving the war effort.  But the character of the place was not established until 1939, when the ICP (Istituto per le Case Popolari, or the Public Housing Association), an arm of the Fascist regime, acquired enough land to build 336 housing units, intended
for Italian colonists returning from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and other places in North Africa.  When Mussolini visited the following year, on the occasion of the 18th anniversary of the March on Rome, he was not impressed.  "These houses," he said, "resemble military barracks more than living quarters."  Or maybe that was high praise.  Appropriately, the village was then called Costanzo Ciano, after a former naval officer who had participated in the March on Rome and become the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (1934-1939).

The Duce's judgment was not without reason, especially, perhaps, in those early days, before bushes and flowers emerged to temper the stucco buildings, row upon row of them, all the same or nearly so.  On the other hand, the treatments of the exterior spaces between the buildings differed,
One of the better kept outdoor spaces.
and most units had shared, and shaded, balcony/walkways, visible in the photos above and below.  

With the fall of Fascism the village of Costanzo Ciano became Duca d'Aosta (also of Great War fame) and then Trullo, a name derived from an ancient Roman tomb located on the right bank of the Tevere, along the old via Campana. 

Move back a few paces and you can't see the church. 

Despite the garbage fires, the electrical towers, and a general lack of maintenance that lend the place a gritty feel, Trullo is not without amenities and pleasures.  The Fascist-era church remains, a modernist evocation of the countryside--even if its sight lines have been intercepted by overgrown trees.

Bocce Circolo, for the village's older men

There's a newer market and, near it, several stores on the main street.  A small park, also quite new, centers the town and is well used by young and old.  A few blocks away, there's a bocce club (above).

What was long ago the town's hotel is now a graffiti-covered leftist circolo, but it seems clear that this colorful building is well and frequently used.  Next door a bar/restaurant, probably at one time part of the hotel, offers a covered patio, table service, and a great vantage point to survey the scene. According to the website Roma a piedi (Rome on foot)--the source for some of the information in this post--Trullo is a multi-ethnic community, though to our eyes it looked mostly Italian.

On a hill a few hundred feet south of the bar, newer apartment buildings suggest the arrival in recent decades of a small middle class, and we found posted notice (right) of a gathering to announce a new book on the village's history, a sign of Trullo's pride in its past.   


Trullo's Main Street.  At right, just out of view, the park.  The church bell tower is visible.
 Straight ahead and a bit to the right, the market.  At left, stores.  Not much action on a Sunday.