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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Round Rome: An Architectural Guide

Architects of all ages have favored square or rectangular buildings; they're easier to design and cheaper to build, and everything from bookcases to sofas fits better against a straight wall than a curved one.  Nonetheless, Rome has its share of round or rounded structures, or structures with distinctive round features.  Some are churches--older ones and newer ones alike--but the modernist architects of the 20th century, with their investments in geometric forms, were also fond of round forms.

Below, RST presents 24 examples of Rome in the round.  If you can identify--by name, general location, or architect--any 10 of them, you can take credit for having a solid knowledge of Rome architecture.  Get 15 and you're ready to guide tours.   Look at the photos and make some notes before reading the text and captions!   Bill

The Pantheon is the mother of all Rome's round buildings. At least this is true chronologically, and the structure has been influential over the centuries in encouraging the city's architects to construct round buildings.

Pantheon, exterior

Pantheon, interior

Other buildings of ancient Rome have round or
rounded features.  The ruins of this Roman bath
are located on Colle Appio.

Churches often have round features--most obviously the dome. The church at the right, probably constructed about 1940, is simply weird.  You can find it--assuming we recall correctly--in Piazza Lecce, intersecting Via Bari, southwest of Piazza Bologna.

This dainty little round building is actually a temple, inside the courtyard of a church. It's called the Tempietto (little temple), and it was designed by Bramante.  Scholars consider it a nearly perfect structure and by all accounts it has been enormously influential for architects.  It's on the Gianicolo, a stone's throw (assuming you've got a major league arm) from the Aqua Paola fountain.  (And Dianne insisted on including it on the stairways walk, one of the 4 itineraries in Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.)

Santo Stefano Rotondo, exterior

At right, Santo Stefano Rotondo (round).  It was the first Rome church with a circular plan. The original incarnation dates to about 475, but it's been through numerous restorations.  Even so, the interior, especially, is powerfully evocative.  Perhaps because that most famous of round Rome buildings, the Pantheon, was pagan rather than Christian, some scholars--and for a while RST--thought Santo Stefano Rotondo was coverted from a pagan temple.  Nope.  It was always Christian.  (Almost directly south from the Coliseum.)

Santo Stefano Rotondo, interior.

The round church  below--exterior and interior--is on the University of Rome's main campus.  Likethe rest of the campus, it was constructed during the 1930s, when modernism was in fashion in Fascist Italy.  The rounded windows--a common feature of modernist buildings for the period, perhaps referencing ship portholes--add to the effect.  

A 21st-century church on Rome's periphery.

A round, modernist tower graces the church of Gesu Divino Lavoratore in the Marconi district, just off Piazza della Radio. c. 1940s

One of many buildings that make up the Foro Italico (once Foro Mussolini).  To repeat: the architects of the era reveled in geometric forms. The fascinating complex is located on the right bank of the Tevere, just across the river from the big bulge in the Flaminio zone.  In the shadow of Monte Mario.

More rounded forms--and more of that classic red/rose paint. This structure was originally an outbuilding for the Foro Italico.  Today's it's a privately owned business: Officine Farneto.  A two-minute walk from Stadio Olimpico, up via Monti della Farnesina.  You'll walk right into it.  Looks better today than in this photo.

This impressive rounded structure dominates Piazza Bartolomeo Romano, in the Garbatella neighborhood.  The Teatro Palladium (1927) was designed by Innocenzo Sabbatini, who did other buildings in Garbatella.  It was originally a movie house, with apartments behind, and is now a cultural center owned by the Third University of Rome. (Again, part of one of the itineraries in Modern Rome.)

The two buildings below are not round, but they do have round flourishes, round decoration.  The first is just a supermarket, construction date unknown.  The circular decoration fits nicely with the 1950-ish apartments behind the store.  The other building, the Banca Popolare di Milano (1972-73), is standard late modernist box-style--two boxes, actually--but given a bit of style with three round constructions atop the structure. Although it's not a particularly interesting building, the architect is one of Rome's most famous: Luigi Moretti.  Moretti's best-known Rome work is the Casa Della GIL (House of the Italian Fascist Youth, now often referred to as the ex-GIL).  Built between 1933 and 1936, it's a lovely example of Fascist-era modernism.  The ex-GIL is in Trastevere.  (Moretti's best-known work in the US is the Washington, D.C. Watergate complex, which has given us all our "-gate" scandal names, and which has round features.) The bank is just outside the wall at Piazza del Popolo, in Piazzale Flaminio.

Another late modernist structure, just up the road from the bank (above) in Flaminio.  A true classic: Pier Luigi Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport (1956/57).  Nervi was an engineer as well as an architect, and he had to be to produce this elegant building out of reinforced concrete. Because the roof needs paint, it looks a bit shabby in this photograph.  It's gorgeous at night when there's an event taking place inside.  We wrote about this building and many others in the area in our book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler (2014)

We have no idea who designed this building or when.  But we--Bill, especially--loves the lines created by the white fencing around the apartment balconies.  On, would you believe, the current route of the old road, via Latina.

This mushroom-like building is, or was, a dancehall.  This is the back of it.  It's crammed into a small space (obviously) somewhere (we might be hard pressed to find it again) in Appio Latino.

Another mushroom facility.  Not sure what it's for.  Exact location is unknown, but it would be quite close to the intersection of via Boccea and the Circonvalazione Aurelia, near the entrance to Parco del Pineta Sacchetti, in the city's northwest quadrant.

Renzo Piano's Parco della Musica.  Location: Flaminio, just steps from Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport.

Parking garages don't have to be circular, but Rome has two that are.  This beauty by architect Riccardo Morandi is on via Magna Grecia, just south of San Giovanni in Laterano.  It was built in 1957, and we wonder if it inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim, completed a few years later.

Another parking garage, architect and
date unknown.  Hard to find, because it's hidden
except from one angle.  Location: a few blocks
northwest of Piazza Fiume.  Good hunting!

Not really a round building, but the circular ceiling cutout is so lovely that we couldn't resist. Another Luigi Moretti creation.  Part of the ex-GIL (1933-36) in Trastevere, next to Nanni Moretti's theatre.

Rome's gazometri (literally, gas meters) are among Rome's best-known Rome structures: very visible, and quite strange.
As we understand it, they are essentially shells that once housed and contained large bags of natural gas.  Such structures are not unique to Rome.  In the Ostiense neighborhood.

Above and below, two of Rome's finest staircases in the round mode.  Above, a Luigi Moretti staircase in the ex-GIL (around back on the left, beyond the entrance to the athletic complex).  Below, the staircase that leads up and out of the parking garage beneath the Villa Borghese.  Incredibly, it, too, was designed by Luigi Moretti.   

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