Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Balls of Rome

We were introduced to the balls of Rome by architecture professor Pia Schneider, who had graciously agreed to show us Garbatella through her practiced eye.  Behind the old public baths off Piazza Brin, in the courtyard of a public housing complex constructed in the late 1920s, she pointed out a ramp decorated with balls.  "Very Fascist," she said. (Garbatella, and these balls, is one of the itneraries in our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler; see below for more information.)

She's right, of course, about the link between Fascist-era architecture and balls.  The next year--now we're scouting for balls--we found an ample supply in the Fascist-era village of Pomezia.  Indeed, in the city's charming public square, in front of the building that in the Mussolini era housed the police department.  Here, the balls alternate with square blocks of marble.  The rationalist architects of the era loved geometry. 

Closer by, in Pigneto/Prenestino, there's a 1930s school with ball decoration.   

Balls to sit on

You'll find another example in Ostiense, across from the pyramid, adorning the station for the Rome-Ostia-Lido train line.  Built in 1924, the station was designed by Marcello Piacentini.  Although clearly a work of Fascism--the station itself was intended to emphasize and promote Rome's reach to the sea and the larger imperial impulse that reach represented, and the poetry of Fascist poet Gabriele D'Annunzio is on its walls--the building as a whole has a 19th-century feel.  Still, the balls are there.

Even so, Rome has plenty of balls that have nothing to do with Fascism (at least not the Mussolini variety).  In the city center, lines of balls are designed to restrict vehicular traffic.  Local artists benefit, too.

And there's a delightful, "arty" ball in front of the headquarters of the Province of Rome, just off Piazza Venezia.

Regrettably, balls are also commonly used as an anti-loitering device, to prevent people--perhaps not only vagrants--from sitting down in front of stores or on public objects, such as planters.  Or perhaps, in the case of the planters below, they're just decoration.

If you spot some Rome balls, let us know!

And for more on 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 balls above), 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.

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