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, March 27, 2014

Charles Lambert: The View from the Tower

Charles Lambert is England born, but he's lived in Italy for decades--now in Fondi, between Rome and Naples--and he writes about Rome's "dark side."  The View from the Tower (2013) is his latest, a "psychological thriller" in the language of the Amazon description.  The words are apt, but only if one understands that the novel is a lot less thriller and a lot more psychological.  The story moves back and forth from Rome in the present to Turin in the "anni di piombo"--the late 1970s--when the protagonists, now essentially part of the political establishment, were committed radicals.
Thankfully there's more Rome than Turin, because it's in Rome that a murder occurs that stirs the pot and jump starts the plot.  Suspense (rather than action) is in ample supply.  It's of a low-key sort; the book is fundamentally about angst and depression and grief and guilt, mother and son, mother and daughter-in-law, husband and lover (a "Jules and Jim" sort of threesome is at the center of things, for a while). The prose is strong, and reasonably frequent references to Rome streets and locations will keep Romaphiles entertained.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Archeological finds hidden in plain sight: Ponte di Nona

In back, Rome's 9th mile bridge
If you drive out of the center of Rome 9 Roman miles on via Prenestina, one of the consular roads, you will encounter an amazingly intact piece of Roman architecture - the 9th mile bridge (Ponte di Nona).  The 7 arches of the bridge make it more of a viaduct, according to some historians of Roman history.  What amazed us, though, was simply that it's still there, doing its job.  The most we could find on it was that it was built in Rome's Republican period (the last 5 centuries BC).  It is, of course, one of many, many bridges the Romans built over waterways, including over the Danube.  It stands out as one of the few so well preserved.  Nine Roman miles is about 8 miles, or 13 kilometers.
a good view of the 7 arches

The space under the bridge now is used mainly by an outdoor store
Romans seem to associate "Ponte di Nona" almost exclusively with unrestrained suburban growth, since it now is the name of a quarter of Rome, and home to one of the largest ex-urban shopping centers, Roma Est.  Of course, being RST, we find all of this interesting, especially in its mash-up: Roman ruins, Roman bridge still in use, outdoor store, blighted new suburbs.
not so attractive suburban growth in Ponte di Nona


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Milestone: RST Celebrates its 500th Post

The photo is, by chance, ironic.  As most of our readers know, RST may go to the Coliseum (scootering by is delightful), but we don't take our readers there (hence the subtitle 15 Itineraries that Don't Go to the Coliseum) because it's too Rome-the-first-time.

But we were looking for an image with a celebratory feel, and that's what we found.  The occasion is this, our 500th post.   The first appeared in March, 2009, and since then we've put up something, whether profound, informative, petty, or deranged, every 3, 4, or 5 days.  They add up.  It is, we sometimes tell ourselves, our "work" in Rome, but also, of course, a source of great pleasure.  For some of the moments and places we've found most pleasurable, see our Rome the Second Time "Top 40," at right. [Update - RST is now at 600 posts. See our reflections on that milestone here.]

We suspect that even our most zealous readers have not read every post.  Perhaps they've been lazy, or they're not as committed as we thought, or they don't know about the "search" function on the blog, or (most likely), they've got better things to do--or they're not aware of the extent of our coverage.  And what an "extent" it is.  RST's staff (that is, Bill and Dianne) is tireless, aggressive and, on our Malaguti Madison 250, mobile.

Sidewalk watermelon, Trionfale
We have taken our readers to places that most tourists (and most Romans) never get to: Centocelle (a favorite post of our readers), Boccea, Trionfale (we love 1930s housing projects), the new university at Tor Vergata, with Calatrava's unfinished pool standing in the weeds and, one of our surreal favorites, Parco Leonardo.  We have covered wars of all kinds: real wars (Libya, the Italian colonial wars, the Great War), truffle wars, poster wars, museum building wars.  We are soldiers.

Classic older male walking pose, hands behind,
Piazza San Giovanni di Dio
We have written about the ways Romans do things: how they trim trees (it's a wonder they
survive), how women carry groceries home from the market, the way older men walk, all that died red hair.  We are at best acute observers, at worst spies.

Wine and snacks just around the corner

Over the years, we have offered tips and advice.  Useful things, like how to find a watchband, how to junk a broken-down scooter, how to get free food and drink at Rome's art openings, and--this one really is useful--how to avoid getting killed if you've rented a scooter in Rome. We have presented our favorite restaurant in Rome, offered our guess on the cheapest restaurant in Rome and, in one of our most popular posts, mentioned a couple of places to find a good Kebab.  But we're not foodies.

Space-age balconies, Monteverde Vecchio
In our effort to bring our readers a rich, authentic, "real" experience, we have taken on some topics that, perhaps for good reason, are not covered in Rick Steves' Rome: manhole covers (fascinating, really), white vans (mysterious, troubling), painted refuse trucks (traveling art works), curbs (it was
a brief post), balconies (gravity-defying, gorgeous, funky), T-shirts with crazy writing on them, the city's lousy asphalt sidewalks, cool toilets anywhere, a city project to paint grass green, love poems chalked on the streets, and the art of frying dough, in Genazzano.  We are thorough, to a fault.  Dianne would like to see more churches, and we're working on making her happy.

Pasolini, thinking

We've written about dozens of people.  People you know (Audrey Hepburn, Ralph Ellison, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Amanda Knox), people you think you know (Alberto Sordi--actually, the Italians will know him), people you probably don't know (Gabbo, whose name appears with regularity on Rome's walls, Olympic star Abebe Bikila, Galeazzo Ciano).  We cover movie stars and movie locations, and we visit the homes of writers and artists, including De Chirico, Moravia, Goethe, and Pirandello.

Artists' group Piano Creativo, 

We find art in museums, on city walls, in a hundred piazzas on Rome's periphery (a 1990s municipal program), on train underpasses, in avant-garde artist colonies on the fringe of the city, on electrical boxes and on street signs (in London, but not yet in Rome, they paint the gum spots on the sidewalks).  Some of what we (mostly Bill) call art is accidental--"found" art.  As a dear traveling companion once complained, "too much art."

Magliana church, by Piero Sartogo and Nathalie Grenon
Perhaps too much architecture, too. We're not shy about praising our favorite buildings (Nervi's Palazetto dello Sport, Sartogo's new Magliana church, La Fuentes's Esso building in the south of Rome, Morandi's Metronio market, Ponti's math building, Del Debbio's "Officine Farneto," Santa Bibiana, MACRO), and we're just overconfident enough to be cautiously critical of structures that have otherwise been widely praised (Hadid's MAXXI).  In all this, we are devoted amateurs.  (For those interested in further exploration of Rome's more modern side, we recommend our latest effort, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler, now available in paperback and all eBook formats (63 color photos, walks in Garbatella, Flaminio, EUR, and on the stairs of Trastevere).)

Cats and Caesar, attractions in Largo di Torre

We also have many guest bloggers to thank:  Bo Lundin (the cats in Largo di Torre Argentina), Allen Beroza (language encounters), Paul Baxa (for several posts on Fascism), Frederika Randall (for several posts on art and poets and song), John Preissing (bicycling), Joan Schmelzle (dry
fountains), Riley Graebner (ancient Roman law), Raymond Belliotti (on the morality of killing Caesar).

There's more, but if you've gotten this far you've been more than indulgent.  Thanks so much for being around through the first 500.  We plan to keep it up until we have nothing more interesting to say, and then a while longer.  We hope you'll stay with us.

Bill and Dianne

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rome's she-wolf takes many forms

The Capitoline Lupa on the column in Michelangelo's piazza.  Bill took this photo, with the three Italian officials in the background. It's a classic.
Anyone who's been in Rome for more than a few minutes will have seen the iconic image of the she-wolf suckling the infant twins.  This "lupa" (she-wolf) is the overarching symbol of Rome - succinctly reminding everyone of the story of Rome's founding.  The twins, Romulus and Remus, were the sons of the God Mars (or perhaps the demi-god, Hercules, but you know how those divinity stories go) and a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity  (just to make the story more interesting).  They were abandoned at a river by one of their male forefathers, who tried to prevent them from obtaining their rightful inheritance as leaders of a pre-Roman state, Alba Longa.  A she-wolf found them and suckled them and, eventually (after killing his brother, ETC.!), Romulus founded the new city-state of Rome.

The most famous statue of the lupa suckling the twins is on the Capitoline Hill.  The original is in the museum there, but a darn good replica sits on a post in Michelangelo's piazza (photo above).  We've always been attracted to the statue and the image, and it turns out we're not the only ones.

The lupa sometimes can look menacing, as in this poster; she
no doubt looks more menacing here because of the rips in the poster;
 the poster is simply advertising a concert.

The lupa is the primary symbol of Rome's soccer team, A.S. Roma, founded in 1927.  Some even go so far as to have it tattooed on their arms.
stylized lupa as the soccer team's symbol

Classic lupa as part of A.S. Roma's logo.
Perhaps my favorite.  This was on a publicity poster for the 2012 summer music festival in Villa Ada, a festival that year promoting music from around the world:  the title, Roma incontro il mondo ("Rome meets the world"). Note the ethnicities of the 3 - yes 3 - infants.  And, we have a happy lupa here.

Right-wing use of the lupa, looking threatening,
showing her smashing the Euro.
close-up of the Euro being smashed; the imagery
 argues against Italy being part of the EU.

Mainstream advertising using the lupa:
the furniture store here "offers you more."
The udder is appropriately large.

Artists like the lupa too.  We especially appreciated this image of Italy's most famous film star, Anna Magnani, "walking" the lupa - by street artist Biodpi.

And the image below, well, we couldn't quite figure out what this blogger was about.  The image speaks for itself, we think.


Mussolini was big on the lupa.  So her image appears in many bas reliefs and statues of the Fascist era.  The one at left is from the bas relief on the once-Fiat building at the far end (coming from the train station) of Largo Susanna in central Rome.  The others appear on two public buildings of the era around Rome; for example, below left on a school.

The lupa on a contemporary, official sticker.

More images are available on an Italian Web site:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

MODERN ROME: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler, now in paper edition

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner are pleased to announce that Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler (Curious Traveler Press, 2014), is now available in paperback ($5.99, 92 pages, 63 color photos, maps) as well as in eBook format ($1.99, same color photos and maps, over 100 hyperlinks, in all e-formats).  Both versions are available at and other retail outlets, including independent bookstores.  Both books are in Kindle's "Matchbook" program, qualifying for heavily discounted Kindle versions; see details below.

Following Rome the Second Time's successful format, Modern Rome offers four new 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.  Together, Rome the Second Time and Modern
Rome constitute, we believe, the most important alternative guide to the modern city ever published.

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, some of the most unusual public housing ever built--and a café where Pier Paolo Pasolini enjoyed the local scene.

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.  Highlights include the striking Square Coliseum, Massimiliano Fuksas' Cloud (incredible even under construction), a mosaic by Fortunato Depero and a mural by Gino Severini, and Adalberto Libera's remarkable Palazzo dei Congressi.  Near the end of this walk, you can have lunch in Caffè Palombini, a 1940-vintage gem with artwork from the period.

From Mussolini to MAXXI: The Changing World of Flaminio. On the opposite end of the city, a walk through Flaminio introduces Rome's sensational 21st-century, starchitect designed (Renzo Piano and Zaha Hadid) cultural centers, and across the Tevere, the suggestive site of the 1960 Olympic Games, the Foro Italico, a virtual Mussolini theme park built by the Duce in the 1930s. And you can enjoy the splendor of the Foro while relaxing in one of our favorite outdoor bars.

The Stairs of Trastevere. A fourth walk begins just beyond the Trastevere so well known to tourists, winding up, down, and around Rome's 8th hill, the Gianicolo, traversing a multi-layered 17th-century villa, a compelling and seldom visited Fascist-era monument to the Italian unification movement (don't miss the incredible underground portion), and one of the smallest and most charming temples in all of Italy.  Lots to see, calories to burn!

Pack your bags.  Or enjoy the walks in a comfortable armchair.  In any case, bring your curiosity!

Kindle Matchbook program: Under Kindle's Matchbook program, the Kindle version of Rome the Second Time  is available for $1.99 if you buy the paperback from  The Kindle version of Modern Rome  is only 99 cents if you buy the paperback from amazon.

Dianne Bennett is a tax attorney and former managing partner of Buffalo's largest law firm. William Graebner is a widely published author of books on American history, including Patty's Got a Gun: Patricia Hearst in 1970s America (University of Chicago Press).  They live in Buffalo, Los Angeles, and Rome, where they get around on a Bologna-made Malaguti 250, a large scooter.

Dianne and Bill

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Piazza Cavour

This looks like a postcard, but it's not

Finding respite from Rome's noise and traffic and frenetic pace can be a challenge.  The city has its huge parks, of course, but they're complex, often ragged, and intimidating in their grand scope.  Of Rome's smaller green spaces, one of the most inviting is Piazza Cavour.  It's just steps from the Tevere and the Castel Sant' Angelo, and just behind the enormous Palace of Justice.  Recently refurbished, it has lost the shaggy look it had not long ago (see photo at end of this post).  There's real suburban-style grass available for sitting or strolling or reclining in the mid-day sun. 

The gaudy Palace of Justice, showing off the authority of the state

You might want to begin your exploration of Piazza Cavour with a quick look at the Palace of Justice, which shields most of the piazza from some of the heaviest traffic in Rome.  It is sometimes referred to as the Palazzaccio, a term that dates from an investigation into the building's excessively long period of construction (1889-1910), and one that we would translate as "big ugly palace."
One of those jurists, looking back at the palace

Tourists are not welcome inside (we tried, but there's too much justice-oriented stuff going on inside), but you may be able to muster appreciation for 6 exterior statues (there are 4 more inside) of great Italian jurists, including Cicero and Vico.  The palace itself was designed by Guglielmo Calderini, who was apparently as disappointed with the result as the general public.  Although the palace remains an object of derision for its obvious gradiosity, the discriminating tourist might value the building as an example of the cult of excess that characterized public buildings that were intended to demonstrate the authority of the young Italian state.  Of course, the best example of that excess is the monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II in Piazza Venezia.

Monument to Cavour

Unlike Rome's large public parks, Piazza Cavour is a highly symmetrical, uniform, and contained space, qualities that produce a sense of shelter and calm.  From the piazza side, the palace seems less aggressive and more a welcome barrier to traffic noise and the movement of automobiles and scooters.  The gardens, dating to 1895/1911, are appropriately centered by a statue to Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour (popularly known as "Cavour"), a statesman deeply involved in the movement for Italian unification--though he died (1861) before Rome was brought into the union.  The Cavour statue is surrounded by allegories of Rome and Italy.  The work dates to 1895 and was accomplished by Stefano Galletti.

Chiesa Evangelica Valdese

There are other elements of interest in the piazza.  On one corner (to the right with one's back to the palace) is a 1911 church in the neo-Romantic style, the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese (the Valdese Community is a Protestant Christian sect).

Teatro Adriano

In the center back of the Piazza is the Teatro Adriano, a prominent space for film and theater.  Then there's all that nice grass, waiting to be enjoyed.  And, when you've had your fill of these pleasures, we suggest the bar just across the street at the left corner of the piazza, on via Crescenzio.

Piazza Cavour, before it was spruced up