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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pasolini Remembered: The Ostia Murder Site

The legendary Pier Paolo Pasolini--poet, novelist, filmmaker, sociologist, intellectual--moved to Rome with his mother at age 28, in 1950.  His residences there include two in Monteverde Vecchio, where plaques commemorate one of the city's most admired, and most controversial, figures.

We never fail to enjoy these reminders of Pasolini's presence, but we hadn't yet visited the site in Ostia, not far from the beach, where Pasolini was murdered--run over several times by his own automobile--on November 2, 1975. Apparently he had gone there to recover several stolen reels for his latest feature film.  The murder purportedly was solved, but large questions remain (the "murdered" retracted his confession, e.g.).

The site can be reached by car or scooter (directions at end of this post) --or by bus it would seem; there's a bus stop, Idroscalo, right across the road.  Although the beach is just down the road, the area has several small businesses.  We parked our scooter across the street, and approached the park.

Although there's a sign suggesting that the park has official sanction, we found it hemmed in by impregnable fencing on all sides, a chain and lock securing the front gate, the only entrance.

We sighed, took some pictures through the fence, resigned ourselves to a less than fully successful effort, and returned to our scooter.  The owner of Oriflex, a manufacturer of mattresses, was taking a smoke break in the front of his complex. We approached and struck up a conversation, lamenting the fact that the Pasolini park was closed and locked.

One of these links is a caribiner that
can be opened easily.
He paused, as if wondering if he should continue, then explained that the lock and chain was a kind of ruse, a fake ("finta"), that one of the links could be opened, and with it, the gate.  And we could walk in.

And so, following his instructions, we did.  It's a somewhat scruffy place, haphazardly maintained, lacking elegance and grandeur.  A large white, modernist monument to Pasolini, in the back of the park, seems not to do justice to the man and his life; indeed, it appears awkwardly out of place.

That said, Pasolino's poetry--all in Italian--is nicely represented here, affixed to rocks along the park's narrow paths, and several of his major works are remembered in surface tablets.

We spent a few minutes remembering Pasolini's many contributions, lamenting his early death.  We "locked" the gate behind us, and headed home.


Directions:  From the Pyramid, take via Ostiense [via del Mare] south.  It briefly becomes viale dei Romagnoli, then again becomes via del Mare/via Ostiense.  After passing a Cineland Multiplex on the right, turn right at via di Aqua Rossa, which curves left and becomes via delle Azzorre.  Via delle Azzorre intersects and angles right onto via dell'Idroscalo.  Look for the park on the left, or the Oriflex sign on the right.  The trip takes 35 to 45 minutes by car or scooter.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tor Bella Monaca: A Church, and a Shopping Center

Our goal in heading out to the Rome suburb of Tor Bella Monaca was to see the church of Santa Maria del Redentore, one of many built in recent years on the city's outskirts.  We weren't disappointed--more on that building in a forthcoming post--but having seen it, we couldn't resist poking around.

Tor Bella Monaca suffers from a bad reputation--something along the order of
Rome's armpit--and it's not entirely underserved.  But coming from rustbelt Buffalo, with a similar reputation that we know is overdone, we're willing to give any place a chance.

We found ourselves interested in, if not quite fascinated by, the big concrete shopping center across the street.  It was built in architecture's awkward period, between 1960 and 1970, when modernism was washed up and searching, and postmodernism, despite all its flaws, hadn't yet come to the rescue.

Concrete was all the rage--the structure participates in the beginnings of brutalism--and there's plenty of it here, softened a bit with playful--or what were once playful--curving awnings of plastic.

Appropriately for Rome, it's an open-air facility.  Just a hint of postmodernism in exposed overhead steel beams.

Nice views of the Colli Albani from elevated walkways beween the 2nd and 3d floors

Downstairs, on the ground floor, we found the standard array of shops, including a newsstand, but also a "New York City Industry" store, solidly plugged into American mythology, including Muhammad Ali.

Nearby, a pay-to-play park for the little ones--no kids present--and a seating area with large ashtrays and now-shabby wooden benches.  At one of the building there's a performance space, with rounded concrete seating.

We stopped for coffee in a bar--with tables outside, but under cover.  Asked about Tor Bella Monaca, the barista, a woman of about 20, replied that the community was a comfortable one that had "everything," or everything she needed, anyway.

Things got toney upstairs.  A 1960-style sculpture.

And, lo and behold, a legitimate theater, whose manager, noticing our interest, talked the place up. Tor Bella Monaca has everything.

For those entertained by graffiti, there's plenty of it, mostly the colorful, less offensive kind, on the center's exterior walls.  Those walls reveal, too, that Tor Bel Monaca has a neo-Nazi or otherwise right-wing constituency.  One script read, "E Neo Fascista/L'Uomo Sano [The Neo Fascist is the Sane Man], signed by a group called Azione Frontale [Frontal Action], whose sign is a fasce.  Rapinato/Ti Hann Umiliato/Ti Hanno Tradito" [They've robbed you, they've humiliated you, they've betrayed you]: "Popolo Italiano/Alza La Testa" [Italians, Raise your Heads"].  It's by a right-wing organization, Forza Nuova.  Raising his head, and leading the charge, is our own crazy king of right-wing paranoia: Mel Gibson.


Monday, October 13, 2014

A New Bauletto: the Curious Charms of Porta Portese


Porta Portese is best known for its enormous Sunday flea market, and perhaps to motorists for the rather harrowing twist into and through the porta from the Lungotevere.  But it has still another attraction: as the site of the biggest collection of shops devoted to scooters and motorcycles--and bicycles.  You need it, it's there: helmets, gloves, jackets, pants--and yes, bauletti, the lockable storage boxes for helmets and clothes and the like that sit on the back of the machines.  And we needed one.  Ours was old, and the hard rubber pieces that anchored the bauletto to the metal frame above the rear fender were cracked and warped, to the point that we were worried about it falling off.

Our Malaguti at box 40
The entrance to the narrow back alley of shack-like shops at Porta Portese can be intimidating; you feel like the white guy in the ghetto.  Still, we summoned our courage and drove the Malaguti 250 into the center of things, asked a few questions, and in less than two minutes had found the right shop--box 40--and the right bauletto.  Although Porta Portese is known as a discount place, the bauletto is not cheap: Euro 110 [about 150 bucks] with or without installation.

Price includes installation
Installation is important.  The connections are tricky, require parts and tools most people don't have, and more than a little experience at the curiously intricate task.

Crowd gathers

The job took about 20 minutes and, as it turned out, attracted the attention, and the assistance, of other shopkeepers.  It was a slow day.  We fretted that somehow our machine wouldn't accomodate the new bauletto.

But then it was done, and off we went, pleased.


Bicycles, too

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In the shadow of the Pantheon: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

As you exit the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, you'll be in the
shadow of, and amidst the crowds swarming around the Pantheon
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva ("Saint Mary Above Minerva") is a treasure trove of artworks, as well as an emotional (to me) historic site.  Yet it is only lightly visited, perhaps because it is so overshadowed - literally and figuratively -  by the Pantheon, in its own Piazza della Minerva.

Construction began on this Dominican church in the 13th century, and it is an interesting, or perhaps unfortunate, mix of Gothic and baroque architecture.  "Sopra Minerva" is thought to derive from the Minerva temple over which the church may have been built.

Before one tries to identify all the magnificent art in the church, hie thee to the choir in the adjacent convent, reachable from the church, on the left side.  Here you can see where Galileo was tried - for history buffs, it doesn't get any better than this.  The tomb of Pope Paul IV (1555-59), the Great Inquisitor, appropriately is in this church.  Some church history is available online.  Also see
Pope at rest

In the church itself, you can spend hours mesmerized by the art works that in every conceivable form commemorate death, as the Catholics do best.  You can start with Michelangelo's Christ Bearing the Cross, also known as Christ Risen, and then move on to Bernini's memorial to Maria Raggi and his tomb for Giovanni Vigevano.

Tombs to be walked on, or prayed against

Bernini's memorial to Maria Raggi

Bernini's tomb for  Giovanni Vigevano

You might save the best for last - Fra Lippo Lippi's Carafa Chapel frescoes from the late 15th century.  These are astoundingly beautiful, very accessible (no long lines and you can walk right up to them).  Have Euros available for the pay-light box; definitely worth it. A list of all the frescoes is online at: 

The altarpiece painted by Fra Lippo Lippi in the Carafa Chapel;
 here St Thomas Aquinas is presenting Cardina Carafa to the Virgin Mary.
The angel on the left is the angel of the Annunciation,
and this fresco is sometimes described as The Annunciation.

And, of course, outside is the charming Bernini elephant atop a 6th century BC obelisk. The symbolism seems odd, but it has an historical basis.  The inscription, translated from Latin, reads: "Whoever you are, who sees here the figures of the Egyptian wise man carved on the obelisk carried by the elephant, the strongest of wild animals, understand the symbolism to be that a strong mind supports firm wisdom." 

The church is generally open 8 a.m. - 7 p.m., except not from 12:30-4 on Saturday and Sunday - long hours for Rome churches.  Check the times on the church's very basic Web site (in Italian).  You can also finish off your visit with a (expensive) glass of wine on the rooftop of the adjacent Hotel Minerva, with lovely views overlooking this piazza and the Pantheon.

In the piazza the last time I was there, a soccer game was set up.
The goalie (see photo above left) obviously disputed the call - with tears. 

You won't find lines like these, or waiting times at
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Colle Oppio: In the Shadow of the Coliseum

So you've "done" the Coliseum.  It's not yet lunchtime [1-3 in Rome outside the tourist areas], you've given the fenced-in Arch of Constantine its due, and you're tired of being surrounded by tourists and badgered by folks wanting to sell you stuff. Where do you go?  What's next?

You wouldn't know it, but you're just due passi--literally two steps, but generally meaning "nearby"--from Colle Oppio [Oppio Hill], a fascinating, compact, Roman park, filled with attractions from the historic to the funky.  You can get onto, or into, the Colle Oppio through the gate, and then the path, that runs roughly north from the Coliseum, paralleling via Labicana. This is one of Rome's famous seven hills, and some say one of the most inspiring in Rome, with the Coliseum as its backdrop.

One of the first things you see, on your left, is a statue to Alfredo Oriani [1852-1909].  On the side it says A Roma Madre Ravenna.  It's a creation of the Fascist era--XIII, the 13th year of the Fascist regime, or 1935.  A novelist, poet, and social critic, Oriani's work received little attention until the end of the Great War, when it was discovered by the Fascist regime and, with Mussolini as editor, republished in 30 volumes.  Oddly, Oriani was also appreciated by leftist and anti-Fascist Antonio Gramsci, who wrote about him in his prison notebooks.  When we saw the statue, it had been lightly defaced with a right-wing symbol.

Shortly after the statue, turn up to the left.  Ahead is a large pool/fountain--another, somewhat earlier Fascist-era monument.

Perhaps its outstanding feature is the amphorae that decorate it--symbols of ancient Rome, when clay vessels of this kind were used to transport oil and other commodities.  The smaller fountains at the sides of the larger ones are of interest as well.  Above each of them is the letter "A" [for Anno, year] and the number VI [the sixth year of Fascism, or 1928].

Beyond the fountain, on a wall to the right, is some intriguing and, we assume, relatively permanent graffiti: Omnia Vincit Amore [sounds to us, who have never studied Latin, like Love Conquers All/Colle Oppio, and in the center a symbol we haven't seen before.  And just ahead, the remains of a substantial and once-elegant complex of ancient Roman baths.  These are what remains of the magnificent, 10,000 square meter Baths of Trajan (Emperor 98-117 AD), designed by the brilliant architect Apollodorus of Damascusa in 109 AD above Nero's famous - or infamous - Golden House (closed/open/closed - we think now truly closed - the conservationists can't seem to prevent its collapse.  Luckily we saw it in its brief open period a few years ago). [See Marco's update in the first comment below - there may be hope here.]  There's another piece to your left and back--we'll get there in a moment.

This park has another aspect, one that you may--or may not--appreciate.  It's a gathering and resting place for black immigrants, some of them the itinerant merchants who are ubiquitous in Rome's tourist areas, others, perhaps, unemployed or underemployed.  When we visited in May, the field next to the baths was dotted with sleeping young men.

As you move more or less back toward the fountain, and somewhat to the right, you'll find a second set of
ancient bath ruins.  These are more of the Baths of Trajan.  When we last were there, the city had put up some informative placards near the various ruin sites.  Since the baths covered 10,000 square meters and had gyms, saunas, hot and cold rooms, etc., you will find ruins dotting Colle Oppio, which has been called an archaeologist's dream.  No crowds here.

Next to this piece of the baths is another treasure, from the 1930s: a stone fountain in the modernist style, once elegant but now broken and defaced.  The marble bowl is beautiful, nonetheless.  And the fasces on the side of the fountain are remarkably well preserved.

Two more sights to see.  One is a modest, 2-story building of unknown origins--it could be hundreds of years old, or only a century--fenced in and circled by bushes and trees.  As the sign says, it's the property of the Comune di Roma--the city government--and houses the Centro Anziani "Colle Oppio": a social center for the neighborhood's population of older, retired people--of which Italy has plenty.

Our last stop is a small athletic field, in sight of the Coliseum, where we began our journey.  On our visit it wasn't being used for soccer or any other sport, but rather as a meeting place for the the area's itinerant merchants.  They often carry their wares in blue plastic bags.  On this day, these merchants also hoped to sell umbrellas.  A broader view of the field is at the end of this post.