Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

EUR: the Church of Saints Peter and Paul

In our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler, one of the "great" walks is in EUR, the mid-century model city/suburb to the south of Rome's center.  But we had never been inside EUR's signature church, a structure sited prominently on the area's western hill and one visible from the trains that ply the airport route and from a variety of places in Rome proper.  Had we missed something?  Should we have included the Church of Saints Peter and Paul on our EUR excursion?

Evoking the aqueducts
No, and no.  Without a doubt, the church is beautifully sited.  A prominent, tree-lined street of shops and cafés leads directly into an enormous, broad flight of shallow travertine stairs, each decorated with geometric inlays: the circle, the square, the diamond.  At the top of the stairs, at the intersection with the piazza that fronts the church, enormous statues of Peter (on the left with keys), Paul (on the right with a sword), look out over EUR and, beyond it, onto the Alban Hills--a view unfortunately--and unnecessarily--disrupted by a multi-story post office building.  To the left and right of the church run concrete constructions that evoke the ancient aqueducts.  So far so good.

Spectacular view, but who authorized the post office, right?

Front door panels, from inside 
A second set of stairs (on the day we visited, a photographer was taking cheese-cake photos of a fashion model, much to the delight of 3 boys observing nearby) leads up to the church, whose entrance is dominated by colorful stained-glass panels--nice, if not elegant, from the inside. 

Suspended "crown" 

The interior of the church is interesting, but ultimately disappointing.  The design plan was based on Michelangelo's original idea for St. Peter's--a Greek cross.  Its essential roundness is emphasized by a suspended circle of lights--a sort of elevated crown--over the nave.  And the dome, referencing the Pantheon, is high, graceful, and impressive.  Even so, the height of the dome (at 72 meters, the 3rd highest in Rome) alone cannot yield the grandeur or power of the Pantheon, and the effort at roundness--so magical in Santo Stefano Rotondo--is checked on all sides by short, squared-off areas for the entrance, the chapels, and the apse.

Side chapel, with mosaics

Mosaics decorate the side chapels, but neither they, nor the bas relief stations of the cross, have
the refinement or quality to rescue the edifice from ordinariness.  At bottom, the building's failure to produce the sense of "awe" that all good churches have stems from its structure and size: a small structure, neither round nor square--a bit of both, in fatal compromise--with only height to evoke the infinite. 

Work on the Church of Saints Peter and Paul was begun in 1939 and completed in 1954.  It became a parish church in 1958.  It was designed by an architectural team; six architects are mentioned in some sources, and three prominently: Arnaldo Foschini, Tullio Russi, and Alfredo Energici.  Too many cooks, perhaps. 

Fashion shoot in progress on church steps

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Aqueduct Hunting 101

First step in the aqueduct hunt:  waiting for the bus to get around the corner of
the tagliata  [the "cut" in the tufo]  - a car driver finally got out and directed traffic.
Aqueducts are the imposing reminders of Rome's thousands of years of history, and we're as intrigued as anyone by them.  So when we saw a map that purported to show "The Roman aqueducts itinerary," we were ready to go.  We assumed we'd be tromping through weeds that grow up among the high aqueducts, as one does at the Parco degli acquedotti [Aqueduct Park], not far from the center of Rome.

Yes, we thought this map would get us there.
Oh, well.
What we thought we'd find - these are at Parco degli Acquedotti,
number 2 on our RST Top 40 list.
We were a bit perplexed when we did not see any of these high aqueducts, as one often does, as we scootered ten, then twenty and more kilometers out of Rome on the via Prenestina, the road that led ancient Romans to Palestrina, almost to the current town of Gallicano nel Lazio. We dutifully followed the guide that told us we would go through and out of the darkness of something called the "Tagliata [cut] di Santa Maria di Cavamonte."  And a "cut" through the high tufo rock it was, as we waited for a bus, stuck in trying to make a curve through the dark tagliata [a word that until then meant for us a nice cut of steak].

The first or second century AD bridge on the ancient Roman road
to Palestrina - Ponte Amata.  Not an aqueduct, but our starting point.
Beyond the Tagliata we found our starting point, Ponte Amata, a first or second century A.D. bridge over the fosso [deep gully] in pristine condition, restored after being damaged in World War II, but now beginning to be surrounded again by the high grasses and weeds.  The ponte's dating is not certain, but is based on the Ponte di Nona, not too far away also on the ancient via Prenestina [at its ninth Roman mile from Rome] - and about which we've also written on the blog.

Dianne on the ancient via Prenestina, just before Ponte Amata.
Ponte Amata is just off the road, having been on the original via Prenestina, and it wasn't far along the road that we found good signposts indicating our route - or something close to it.

We trudged down a road, that became increasingly sterrata - or unpaved, until we came to another signpost - indicating our aqueduct was - to our surprise - far below where we were walking.

Our first aqueduct siting:  Ponte della Bullica. Dianne's red jacket
is visible where she's standing on the aqueduct bridge, about 50 feet above the
bottom of the fosso.
We followed the path down [down, down down] to another bridge over the fosso, and it was an aqueduct from the first or second century AD crossing the fosso.  This one bears the name of Ponte della Bullica and carries the Aqua Marcia water, second century AD.  Pretty exciting stuff for us.  Yes, we had found our aqueduct - not high above the campagna, or fields outside Rome, but deep in the gullies.

There are four aqueducts that cross through the valleys or gullies in this fairly compact area around the via Prenestina here, including Anio Vetus, Aqua Marcia, Anio Novus and Aqua Claudio, several on top of each other through the same structure.  That's a fine collection of aqueducts for any aqueduct hunter.
Amazing Roman engineering: Ponte Pischero, that carried the aqueduct
Anio Vetus.
We nixed the spelunking.

We found another aqueduct bridge, complete with caves that apparently one can explore - we chose not to: Ponte Pischero, billed as carrying the Anio Vetus water in 270 AD.

And then our guideposts mysteriously disappeared.  After more than an hour of traipsing around, through, and back and forth through farmers' fields, we were ready to give up.
Trail lost.

But views were great.

We found ourselves on a road that wasn't on our map.  [Most of the hiking maps are laid over World War II maps], with cars whizzing by.

Wait...this road isn't on the map.

Miraculously, it seemed, we saw a sign for via Francigena, one of the many St. Francis paths that cross central Italy.  We took a chance that it might follow the aqueduct route and scouted it out across the road.

The hazards of aqueduct hunting: a possible path through a dump.
We traced it through a dump, literally, and, lo and behold, we found yet another gorgeous aqueduct bridge.  We marked this one on our Google map, in the hopes that some of you can find it too.,12.796168&hl=en&gl=us We've also included below links to some Italian sites on the area - not that they are very helpful in actually getting you to the aqueducts.  And we've added a few more photos at the end.

Our last sighting:  the aqueduct bridge, Taulella, carried Anio Vetus water.
With that discovery we thought surely we were wise enough now to find a few other places marked on our original map, but another hour-plus of slogging through briers, weeds, cliffs, and paths yielded beautiful views but no aqueducts.

Perhaps we'll go back one day to see if we can locate the other sites on the map.  But maybe not.  We think we've earned our aqueduct hunter badge by now, and may let it rest.


Links that might be helpful:

What the top of an aqueduct bridge looks like today;
complete with rope so you don't fall over.

More examples of great Roman engineering; still with us.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Luca Maleonte: Rome Street Artist does Francesco Totti

By Alice, on via Casilina Vecchia
RST follows, recognizes, and appreciates the work of a small group of serious street artists, Roman and otherwise, whose work has appeared in the city.  Among them are C215, Hogre, Alice and, most recently--a discovery of only weeks ago--Luca Maleonte.

Maleonte's Vespe, in Quadraro

Maleonte recently made a big splash in Quadraro--a suburb on both sides of via Tuscolana--where he drew a series of wasps/"vespe" to commemorate the efforts of the area's people to harass, irritate, and disrupt the German occupation of the city in 1943/1944. Romans have long memories for that occupation, and many continue to dislike Germany, things German, and Germans for acts committed 70 years ago.

Our favorite Maleonte is just two blocks from our apartment in via Olbia, not far from San Giovanni in Laterano and within a few blocks of where Totti grew up.  It's a 3-story drawing of AS Roma soccer legend Francesco Totti, accomplished on a school building at the corner of via Aquila and via Farsalo.  Totti may have attended school there, or the location may have been chosen because it's across the street from an athletic field where the blossoming star learned his trade.  Despite its simplicity, it's instantly recognizable as Totti. The artist's name is at left, rendered here as Luca/Male/Onte and often written as one word: Lucamaleonte.  He was born in 1983.

Maleonte's "Vecchio a Chi?", in San Giovanni

The Totti is the first part of a Maleonte cycle, "Contemporary Mythology," carried out under the auspices of 999CONTEMPORARY--which provided all the funds--and the local government of the area, Rome's 7th muncipio.  The title of the work--"Vecchio a Chi?"--"Old to Whom?"--was Totti's response when, at age 37, critics called him "old."  Maleonte intends the work to engage the idea of aging in contemporary society.  The artist works in a stencil style that combines contemporary street art with touches of 15th-century medieval.

The Totti work, tagged.  

Unfortunately, the original work has been "tagged"--that is, written over, in this case in a limited way, the tagging occurring only at the bottom of the portrait.  Even so, the original work is a significant one and, from one we have learned of the ethical traditions of street art, should have been left alone.

For photos of Maleonte accomplishing the Totti work, see

Luca Maleonte's contribution to a Macro Testaccio exhibit on street art.  It has an Adam-and-Eve look,and is
titled "Allegory: The Future Flees the Present and Takes Refuge in the Past".  The
exhibit is in La Pelanda and is free.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Caffarella Picnic

The woman at right was picking wild brocoletti
Not without interest.  The double negative seemed appropriate to Parco della Caffarella, the scruffy enormous open space adjacent to inhabited Appio Latino, on one side, and the Via Appia Antica, on the other.  Though we hadn't been in the park in years, we invited a friend to share a walk--and a picnic lunch, a delightful one that she graciously prepared--in one of Rome's great green spaces, once owned by the Caffarellas, the last in a long line of wealthy families whose lands have been expropriated for the public--and our--good.

In-park garden
We began our trek on via Britannia just south of Piazza Tuscolo, took the angled street through Piazza Zama and over the railroad tracks, sempre diritto al fondo (straight ahead to the end) to the end, that is, of via Macedonia, which runs straight into one of the park entrances.  On the left as we descended into the park, a very large garden, likely--but not surely--on public land.

Casale della Vaccareccia
The park is narrow here, running toward the southeast, mostly roads through open fields of weeds. On the left just ten minutes out, a very old homestead--the Casale della Vaccareccia--where they're still doing something--what it is is not clear--while participating in the honored local custom of accumulating junk and stuff.  Could be West Virginia.

Moving on, and bearing toward the right side of the park, we found a real, genuine, authentic ancient nymphaeum, the Nymphaeum of Egeria, fed since the second century AD by a spring, and perhaps (though probably not) once the source for the bottled water by that name, available in every market. The nymphaeum, now nearly 2000 years old, was constructed by Herodes Atticus. Except for a bridge to carry people across the wet grounds in front of the structure, nothing much has been done to maintain the structure or the grounds.  Water pools in front, covered with algae, much to the delight of several turtles that inhabit the area.

Picnic on a bench in the Sacred Wood
Ahead, to the right and up a hill, there's the back of the locked Urbana church, and views of Appio Latino and beyond.  And further along on the road, up another hill with small, recently planted trees, a nearly ideal place to picnic: a bench turned outward, toward Monte Cavo, Rocca di Cave, and the Alban Hills. And a breeze to clear away the bugs.  The hill is known as the Sacred Wood, and it is said to be the place where Herodes Atticus ordered a sacred wood to be planted.

After lunch we headed back down the hill, turned right for a brief period, then across the park, passing over a swiftly flowing stream--obviously the victim of a previous flooding--now strewn with plastic bags and other detritus.  Nice!  A large poplar distributes its "cotton" so that the ground appears snow-covered.

We were on our way back now, through a fence, past some friendly donkeys and a herd of
sheep being taken to the Casale by dogs that at first seem interested in protecting their flock from the intruders--meaning us--but then retreated, apparently exhausted by their day's effort.

And home.  Not without interest.

Never did figure out what this was

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

American Academy Open Studios - Art and Architecture in a Sublime Setting

The dwindling crowd at dusk at the McKim Mead and White building,
The American Academy in Rome
The American Academy in Rome's Open Studios are, for us anyway, a not-to-be-missed event. This year, the "Centennial Festival" on June 5 was no exception.  One cannot see these studios and have unlimited access to the Academy's Fellows except one evening per year, and that evening has just passed, but we think some flavor of the experience and the work is worth writing about, even after the event and perhaps in anticipation of next year.

LaBombard explaining her work on the greening of Rome's land.
The Fellows are strongly concentrated in architecture, including landscape architecture. So that influences what one sees in the studios.  We started at the top of this 3-story building to avoid the crowds - and the event does draw crowds, which seemed to be more Italian this year than in the past.   We were intrigued from the outset by Elizabeth Fain LaBombard's graphs and aerial photos showing the urbanization of Rome, and her efforts to bring more green space to the city and its suburban areas. Since we've walked and hiked in many of these areas, we were drawn to her photos and her work.

Newell's dark space photos
Down the hall, Catie Newell, also an Architecture Fellow, was focused on dark space.  Her photos were fascinating ["Those are the ones you want me to throw away, said Bill."  "Not quite," I replied.], as were her dark, tar-coated - perhaps - objects.

Noordkamp's film on Gibellina, a Sicilian city reconstructed in the 1980s
and perhaps killed by the good intentions of architects and planners of that era.
And on the same floor, Petra Noordkamp [Dutch Affiliated Fellow] drew us in with her film about Gibellina, a city in Sicily destroyed by the 1968 earthquake, reconstructed with buildings by well-know archiects - away from the original city - in the 1980s, and now mostly abandoned.  Our discussion with Petra led to her telling us of another short film she did that explores a church in Gibellina, by the famous architect Ludovico Quaroni.  Petra described his son as "my ex-lover who killed his mother."  We bought the dvd on the spot.

Wine, kids and views - along with the art.
The 3 Preservation and Conservation Fellows are fascinated by some of the same 20th century work as are we. Tom Leslie celebrated with us his love of Pier Luigi Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport, which we've lauded on the blog.

One of Dobbins' puppet shows.
Reynolds' film of his artist-and-model
Among the visual artists, we particularly enjoyed the puppetry of Hamlett Dobbins that uses Futurist authors' [Marinetti, Depero, etc.] plays, and Reynold Reynolds' short film that riffs off the Durer etching of a man sketching a nude through a grid [ "painting made easy"?].

These are just 6 of the 16 studios we visited.  We also found time for the villa's spectacular views, and the free flowing wine and almonds.

Serving up the wine.

If you are in Rome at the end of May/beginning of June, don't miss next year's AARome's Open Studios.  A footnote - the concept of the Open Studios was begun by our friend Dana Prescott, then the Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome, now Executive Director of Civitella Ranieri Foundation, which hosts fellows in a spectacular castle in Umbria.

To next year...  Dianne
We're always pleased to see Rome the Second Time
on an Academy bookshelf.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Man Bites Dog.....Fai da Te comes to Rome

Rome isn't Manhattan, where the failure to pick up after your dog can get you yelled at, ostracized, and fined.  No, in Rome dog owners let their dogs do what they want, then walk away, leaving the sidewalks a mess and the dirt around trees covered in dried feces.  If that sounds unpleasant, it is. 

So we were surprised one day on Piazza dei Re di Roma to see a man bending over, plastic bag covering his hand (and another in his back pocket) to clean up after his dog.  Not "man bites dog," but perhaps as uncommon. 

Man sweeping sidewalk, via Olbia
Since we took that photo in 2013, we've seen a few other dog owners picking up after their
canines.  But until this year--2014--we had not seen home/apartment owners sweeping the sidewalk in front of their buildings.  We've seen it twice, now, both times on the street where we live--via Olbia.  These efforts are not sufficient--two guys sweeping now and then on a block with maybe 20 buildings will not make the area look "clean," but it's a start.

AND THEN the real shocker: a major story in La Repubblica noted several volunteer ("fai da te" [do it yourself]) efforts to clean up and beautify Rome neighborhoods.  In Monteverde, two women had taken matters into their own hands, cleaning sidewalks on via dei Quatro Venti and neighboring streets--while asking scooter owners not to drive on the sidewalks--and in the zone of Ardeatina had begun to plant flowers at the base of trees.  On one of the trees they had posted a note: "Dear neighbors," it read, "come see that we've begun to clean and decorate your street." Something is happening in Rome.  Man bites dog.  Bill

More evidence, again from via Olbia

Volunteers--area residents--clean the sidewalks of via dei Quattro Venti