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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

1 comment:

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

From a reader in D.C.: These comments on the basilica located in EUR, along with the photographs including a real-life photo shot unfolding on your visit, bring back memories of our own visit to the site long ago. EUR now looks our on a much more modern Rome than the one we viewed in 1965, a great way to gauge just how much the urban environment of the larger setting has evolved. Such updates, when they come by our being included in the blog e-mail list, are wonderfully enriching in that they keep the old city alive in our memories. All cities need to be viewed "a second time" so they can again be appreciated and remembered. You have created a very unique portal for us to join in with you on these walks. Thanks for that.