Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pittura Metafisica: an Exploration of Metaphysical Painting

Albert Savinio, "Objects Abandoned in the Forest," 1928.  Timelessness achieved through a blending of the primeval forest with metallic-looking objects, many of modern design.   Savinio was de Chirico's brother.  

de Chirico, "Malinconia," ("Melancholy")
For the past six weeks we've been wrestling, on and off, with the idea of "Metaphysical Painting," spurred by the comprehensive Giorgio Morandi retrospective here in Rome. The term was originally Italian--Pittura Metafisica--having been invented by Giorgio de Chirico and long associated with de Chirico and the Futurist painter Carlo Carrà whom de Chirico met in Ferrara in 1917.  (De Chirico was born in Greece in 1886, lived in Italy beginning in 1909 and specifically in Rome from 1944 until his death in 1978.) The standard take on Metaphysical Painting, then, is that it was a short-lived "movement"--coinciding with the 2nd decade of the 20th century--and dominated by de Chirico and Carrà.

Some authorities include the still-life paintings of Giorgio Morandi, but only those done between 1918 and 1922, when the artist was doing self-consciously metaphysical work, including "Metaphysical Still Life" (1918, left).

Less often, some others are admitted to the metaphysical pantheon, including Felici Casorati, Massimo Campigli, George Grosz and Filippo de Pisis. The first metaphysical painting was de Chirico's "l'enigma di un pomeriggio d'autunno" ("The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon"), accomplished in Florence in 1910 after the artist experienced an epiphany at Santa Croce.

Carrà, "The Metaphysical Muse," 1917
Universal mannequin, dressed as
tennis player

A general sense of Metaphysical Painting can be gleaned from the words and phrases used to describe and characterize the paintings: "dreamlike imagery," "impossible linear perspectives," an "almost architectural sense of stillness" (said to derive from Renaissance art), "eerie mood," "strange artificiality," "haunted streets one might encounter in dreams," "featureless mannequins."  There is general agreement that there is something disquieting about the work, that it speaks of "sorrow, disorientation, [and] nostalgia," that it offers "a world estranged from man."  Art historian Mariana Aguirre adds that metaphysical painting involved a change in what we understand an artist to be.  The standard idea is that the artist is a craftsman, learned in the styles, techniques and history that go with the trade.  The metaphysical artist is, instead, a "thinker and privileged seer," a self-conscious intellectual.

That all rings true to us, and these descriptive, and sometimes analytical, phrases may be all we need, or want, to understand the phenomenon.  But in the interest of clarifying--or one might say, murkifying--Metaphysical Painting, we found ourselves wanting to know about metaphysics.  Just what is metaphysics, anyway?

Franz Marc, "The Shepherds," 1912.  The horse is every horse,
the shepherds stripped to their naked essence, outside of time.
Well, it's not physics.  Although both physics and metaphysics seek to examine and explain things, physics (and science generally) wants empirical answers--proof--while metaphysics looks for "underlying principles that give rise to the unified natural world."  Put another way, metaphysics looks beyond or beneath science to observe something more fundamental.  On the other hand, it seems obvious that there are similarities between the breadth and timing of the painterly inquiries of de Chirico and others, and the scientific efforts of Einstein to explain the nature of matter.  

The word "unified" in "unified natural world" is important, because metaphysicians believe that there are "hidden connections between things," connections our senses tell us must and do exist, but which we do not and cannot see.  (There is something new-agey in that, something close to or bound up with religion, but we'll have to abandon that line of inquiry and go on.) 

Massimo Campigli, "The Gypsies," 1928.
Gypsies, acqueducts, a game of cards.
What's happened to time?
How can "things" be connected?  The answer to that question has to do with "space" and "time" and the relationship between space and time.  Normally we privilege--that is, favor, and emphasize--the present, and so do our painters, usually, painting (for example) a picture of people on a boat having a good time [Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party"]--at a particular moment in the present, or the past.  Metaphysics takes a different approach.

Perhaps, it hypothesizes, space and time don't depend on people at all.  Maybe space and time are substances that exist "independently" of their inhabitants.  If so, one can imagine--indeed, one can have--things from one "time" in the same frame, the same picture, the same space, as things from another time.  Of course, something like that happens in an antique shop, but for metaphysics there isn't really "another" time.  Indeed, time may not "pass"; past and present are one.  Stasis--or a sense of stasis--reigns.  

Mario Sironi, "Malinconia," 1927.   Modern man/woman,
trapped between the present and the aqueduct past.

Although Carrà was a Futurist and had much to do with metaphysical painting, it seems to us that the Futurists' sense of time was different.  Futurism wanted to show people engaged in a particular act at a particular time: a soccer player kicking a ball, a bicyclist riding, a plane in flight.  In contrast, metaphysical painters a) removed man b) deleted the privileged present, suggesting a unity of past and present, and c) eliminated movement, emphasizing a stasis designed to evoke the eternal, the mysterious, the ultimately unknowable core of the universe.   Stasis is central to de Chirico's work, as is the fusion of time(s), signified by his placement of Greek or Roman forms in the modern space of a 20th-century city.  

Poster for the German expressionist film,
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," 1921

Why the 1910s?  For one thing, plumbing the depths for the "real" truth was part of the spirit of the age--for Einstein in physics, for Freud in psychoanalysis, for de Chirico in painting.  In addition, the heyday of metaphysical painting covers, and doubtless exists as a comment on, the decade of the Great War.  That said, much work in a metaphysical vein was done after 1920, and not only by painters such as Grosz and Alberto Savinio. The "impossible linear perspectives" of de Chirico appear in German expressionist cinema throughout the 1920s.

The use of metaphysical ideas in a contemporary painting.

It is common to run across recent works of art with metaphysical content.  Indeed, the apartment we inhabited recently had two of them: one a de Chiricoesque treatment that features a variety of forms, most of them geometric, isolated and yet somehow unified, suspended against a somewhat mysterious blue/green background.  In the other (right), two children sleep in a room whose shape has been distorted, perhaps to emphasize children's fear of the dark or being in bed. In this sense--the sense that metaphysical features can be and still are being used to achieve a goal, the metaphysical is still with us.

Similarly, today's graphic artist might employ the design sensibilities of the 1960s to attract buyers to a new line of bell-bottom jeans or mini-skirts.  Or, more germane, an advertising agency could employ a certain degree of metaphysical distortion of space to create a poster for a film noir production.  But to use metaphysical artistic practices is different from engaging metaphysical concepts and questions in the way that the founders or early practitioners did.  So it could be said that metaphysical art was significant conceptually only in its early years--certainly the decade of the 1910s, with declining intensity and curiosity in the 1920s and 1930s.  Indeed, metaphysical painting in Italy was under attack as early as 1917, when the term "metafisico" began to be used negatively. In an era of strong nationalist sentiment, the movement was vulnerable because its Italian roots were suspect.  Others saw it as overly intellectual (and perhaps not masculine enough for the Fascists), and one influential critic described it as "illustration" rather than painting.  

de Chirico, "Red Tower," 1913

Monday, June 22, 2015

Vicolo Savini: A Mysterious Corner of Rome

Having been regular visitors to Rome for more than 20 years, we cherish the familiar--the pleasure of walking a neighborhood we lived in long ago, the Caravaggio we're seeing for the 7th time, the coffee bar where we spent many mornings a decade ago.  At the same time, we can't help searching for what we haven't seen--a new path on Monte Mario, a suburban piazza suffused with events of the 1970s and the Anni di Piombi, a successful effort, this time, to finds the remains of the ancient settlement of Gabii.

There are always buildings we haven't seen, or a church we haven't been inside, but even so, it can be hard to find areas of the city, in or near the center, which we haven't explored and--and this is important--maintain a sense of mystery.

Turn left off the road down this ramp
We were in one on a recent Saturday morning. It goes by the name of Vicolo Savini.  In an essay by Isabella Clough Marinaro and Ulderico Daniele in the recent book, Global Rome, we had read that Vicolo Savini was the site of a pijat--an informal market operated by roma (rom) who had once camped in the area and returned each Saturday and Sunday to sell their wares.  We found Vicolo Savini, but not the market, which appears to no longer exist. Of mystery and wonder there was plenty.

The area that houses Vicolo Savini is at the far southern end of the zone of Ostiense (officially it is considered in the Marconi zone), perhaps 800 meters from the Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura, and just across the Ponte Marconi from the heart of the Marconi district.  The roads have been paved, and we took the first one, Lungotevere Dante, after we crossed the bridge from Marconi. About a hundred meters in, we stepped left through some trash and down a concrete ramp and found ourselves in a large piazza, empty except for a basketball court and a much-abused skateboarding ramp.

No people except for us and one automobile, going round and round--a father, it appeared, giving his son driving lessons.  The piazza (it's really more of a large parking lot) is the site of a defunct dog-racing
Greyhound racetrack building decoration--in black and white--by street artist Blu
track--a Cinodromo, as the sign says--signaled by a sleek greyhound (levriero) in neon above the main building (photo at top).  The track was closed in 2001.

At the center of  the scenario of corruption and violence,
the average man, a sort of Archie Bunker
The vacant main building (above) has since been decorated by the well-known street artist Blu.

The panels are worth pondering.  One features a businessman bribing a politician (who is in the next panel). Other panels critique the Catholic heirarchy, a Ku Klux Klan-type organization (pointed hats and sheets) and the military/police, some represented as mechanical automatons, smashing heads.  At the center is the average guy, eating and drinking while selling his vote on the one hand and manipulating the TV remote, on the other. Whether or not you agree with Blu's politics, this is a fine, complex piece of work--one of the best in the city.

Acrobax, on the sign, appears to be an
occupied center, with a café and bookstore
and, it appears, rugby.  All was quiet the
weekend afternoon we were there.

We went through the far end of the parking lot, past a colorful directional sign (at left), and took the first street right--Vicolo Savini--hoping to find the roma market.  No market, though there did appear to be a few roma trailers down the street on the right.

Vicolo Savini.  Fence at left put up to "protect" the
university from roma.  What's left of the roma community,
On the left, the street is lined by a corrugated metal fence, likely the one installed about 15 years ago when faculty, students, and administrators at the University of Rome Tre (a portion of which is located on the other side of the fence) became concerned about roma using university toilets and engaging in petty thievery on university grounds.

The neighborhood was first populated by small numbers of roma from Bosnia in the 1970s. They lived on the bank of the river and under the Marconi bridge.  That area is vulnerable to flooding, and in 1985 the city government granted 44 families the right to settle on the vicolo, which was further from the river.  In this way, a roma "camp" was officially established.  By 1995--we are relying on the Marinaro and Daniele essay in Global Rome here--more roma families had moved in, some living in prefabricated huts, others in dwellings of their own making or in trailers.  The roma sold goods on the street in the Marconi neighborhood and in the weekly Porta Portese market and frequented nearby bars and sports facilities. As the camp grew--to about 1,000 in the year 2000--the quality of life deteriorated.  In 2005, 5 years after the "wall" was constructed by the university, all the residents of the camp were moved to a new camp, Castel Romano, about 25 km away, near the town of Pomezia.

Swimming complex.  Don't forget to water the roof garden.

At the end of Vicolo Savini is a low building with an undulating roof.  We turned left there, glad, frankly, to be past the few remaining trailers.  The building is now a sports complex, with olympic-size swimming pools, built for the 2009 World Aquatics Championship.  We don't know whether it's still in use, but we've never heard of an event taking place there. One of the interesting features of the complex is the roof, which appears to be covered with grass--for ecological reasons, we assume.

Soccer complex, folks watching a game

Moving on, we come upon a complex of soccer fields, where games are in progress.  There are locker rooms and a covered area for parents and friends to watch, and a bulletin board with postings of various sorts and photos of club players who went on to greater or lesser glory.

Plans were made

Beyond the club, an over-grown ramp leads up to a large Roma Tre sign and gate, beyond which there are only weeds.  Another Roma Tre building is at left, housing the Department of Physics (weird location!) and some other programs.

Animals with tools 

We turn left and find a large piece of street art, this one featuring some strange animals, including a moose with a wrench, and some massive wall-writing (below), dedicated to one Anto'.  It reads: Di Lavoro si Muore perche' Di Precarieta' si Vive (Of work one dies, because life/employment is uncertain)--or something like that.

Film institute
And further on--we've made the circle back to the dog track--the rather shabby entrance to the Robert Rossellini State Institute of Cinematography and Television.

We don't recommend you take this journey. Though fascinating, it was a bit creepy for us. But if you've made it this far, you know the way out.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rome's most famous Building that Never Was: the Arch for E42

It may be Rome's most important building--that is, among those that were never constructed. Certainly the architects and engineers involved--Pier Luigi Nervi, Adalberto Libera, Gino Covre, Vicenzo di Berardino, among others--were top-notch.  And the stakes were high.  According to one authority, had it been built "it would have become the symbol of modern Rome."  Likely true.

Via dell'Impero, 1938 illustration
The "building" was not even quite that.  It was an arch, but a spectacular one, intended as the centerpiece of the grand exposition E42--a world's fair, really.  The fair was designed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Fascism (the 1922 March on Rome) and, then, to become a model suburban neighborhood in the south of Rome.  The great world fairs of the past had been represented by, and left behind, iconic constructions: London's Crystal Palace from the 1851 fair, Paris's Eiffel Tower from 1889 and, it was expected, Rome's triumphal "Arch of the Empire," from its 1942 extravaganza.  A gateway to Rome, from the south, just as a planned 100-meter "Colossus of Mussolini" at the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico) would have functioned as a gateway from the north.

The arch was not to be.  The war intervened, of course, and the half-finished grounds of EUR--the Esposizione Universale di Roma--would become a staging area for German and then American armies.  But it wasn't only the war.  An arch on the scale imagined, up to 600 meters wide and 240 meters high, proved an enormous technological challenge.

Virtual reconstruction of the final plan for E42.
Had it been built, it would have been sited in the southern portion of EUR, more or less where Nervi's Palazzo dello Sport (1960) now stands, Some argue that the arch would have been just to the south of Nervi's stadium, but in models it appears it would have been closer to the EUR lake, in front of, or perhaps in the middle of, the space now occupied by Nervi's building.

Ortensi/Pascoletti, et. al. design in steel, set against
model of St. Peter's
The idea for a grand arch of spectacular dimensions (600 x 240 meters, dwarfing St. Peter's) first emerged in 1937.  At that time, two groups offered elaborate plans and specifications for a proposed arch.  One group, led by engineers Dagoberto Ortensi, Cesare Pascoletti, Adelchi Cirella and Covre, offered an arch made of steel--a "spectacular metal arch," according to the plans.

Libera/di Berardino design in cement, 1938
Another group, led by Libera and di Berardino, offered an arch in concrete, inspired by a contest-winning painting of an arch by Ludivico Quaroni, soon to become a well-known poster.

Materials made a difference.  One issue that seems a trifle silly now, but was then of considerable importance, was whether the materials for the arch were "autarchic"--that is, able to be produced within Italy, rather than imported.  The Libera/di Berardino group's first proposal, in 1937, envisioning an arch in non-reinforced concrete, had appeal because Italy produced concrete.  The group also presented a proposal for an arch in reinforced concrete, somewhat less autarchic, perhaps. Nervi argued later that both arches--in reinforced and non-reinforced concrete--were feasible and could be built with Italian materials.  Steel, the favored material of the Ortensi/Pascoletti group, would have to be imported.

As it happened, steel and concrete were both thrown under the bus in April 1939, when E42 President Vittorio Cini announced that the arch would be built in "Italian aluminum''--that is,
Vittorio Cini, gesturing center right, picture of
arch behind and, in the model, at right
"absolute autarchy."  Cini asked that bygones be bygones, and that the two groups come together to jointly solve whatever problems might arise.  And they did, though Nervi would argue that the aluminum was less than fully autarchic because of the ancillary materials required in its production.  In any event, once aluminum was chosen, the arch's dimensions were reduced.  The "final" specifications called for an arch with a 330 meter span and about 200 meters high--smaller than once imagined, but still quite something.  Even with the reduced dimensions, the arch envisioned was to have a system of carriages inside, conveying groups of people to a restaurant/recreation area at the top.  Some even imagined a platform for parachuting to the ground.

Ad campaign idea from the Mussolini regime.  Ship
owners nixed it as unsafe.  
Mussolini was infatuated with the E42 project and, especially, with the arch.  The Duce scribbled: "Arch=E42 and vice-versa."  For a time it looked as if it might happen.  In the late 1930s and early 1940s the arch became a feature of many advertising campaigns--one envisioned ocean liners and commercial ships sporting large on-deck arches; and E42 and its iconic arch were widely promoted at the 1939/40 New York World's Fair.

Ludovico Quaroni's 1937 poster for
E42.  Saarinen's St. Louis design (1948)
was- for some - uncomfortably similar.
The technical problems were not solved by the time the war came to Italy and Rome.  In the 1950s, the idea was set aside for other building priorities, and decisions that one scholar describes as "A pity, not least because there was very little ideologically to be attributed to the Arch," which was, he
argues, even then all about peace and solidarity with other countries.  Not so.  From the beginning, the Arch was deeply identified with Italian Fascism and with Fascist ideology: the drive to the sea, the desire for territorial expansion.  From the beginning, it was understood as "The Arch of the Empire." That's why Mussolini so desperately wanted it built.

St. Louis Arch, under construction, c. 1965
Today, there is renewed interest in building an arch in EUR.  In 2007, the Rome City Council approved a small amount of money, some 30,000 Euros, for very preliminary plans and discussions for a project that was estimated then at 70 million Euros--an extraordinary amount for a city that can't afford to fix potholes.  Some are suggesting an international competition for an arch to "symbolize universal peace," an idea apparently broached by Piacentini in 1937.

It's not hard to imagine that an arch would be an attractive complement to EUR and perhaps draw tourists to the area.  Unfortunately, it's been done.  It seems likely that architect Eero Saarinen got the idea from posters and designs and publicity for E42.  Regardless, he built the arch, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, in St. Louis, almost 50 years ago.  The horse is out of the barn, as they say.

For photos and commentary on the E42 arch--past and present configurations--see L'Arco dell'E42, Supplement to C.E.S.A.R, March-April 2009, a softcover large-format book available in Rome at the Casa dell' Architettura bookshop in the  l'Aquario building, near the Termini station.  On the relationship between the arch intended for E42 and Saarinen's St. Louis Arch, see William Graebner, "Gateway to Empire: An Interpretation of Eero Saarinen's 1948 Design for the St. Louis Arch," Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies, 18 (1993): 367-399, reprinted in Italian in Ventesimo Secolo (May-December, 1994). 


Design for "Arch of Peace" with a new square, 2009.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Tale of Two Suburbs: Balduina, Trionfale, and the 1977 Killing of Walter Rossi

I went for a walk today, and found myself back in--1977.  Alone, abandoned by the wife who had chosen the London granddaughter over me, I headed west from our new digs in Piazza Gentile da Fabriano (Flaminio quartiere, end of via Guido Reni), over the Ponte della Musica and across the Lungotevere to the base of Monte Mario.

My plan was to take the stone path up the mountain (it's on Itinerary 9 in Rome the Second Time) and, once over the top, explore the nearby fringe of Balduina before heading north/northeast for a look at another near-in suburb, Trionfale.
The Flaminio quartiere, seen from the bar/restaurant Lo Zodiaco on Monte Mario.  The rounded buildings in the center are
Parco della Musica.  The large mountain at center-left is Monte Gennaro, "Rome's mountain."  

All that worked.  Wearing my altimeter watch, I measured Monte Mario at precisely 400 feet--to the bar/restaurant Lo Zodiaco on top, with great views of the city and surrounding mountain ranges.  On the other side,
Piazza Walter Rossi.  The painting, by Spanish artist, Borondo, is on all four
sides of this small building.  The red increases until on the last side, it
obliterates the image.   
I found my way down to Piazzale Medaglie d'Oro, took a left on viale Medaglie d'Oro, turned around after a few blocks and, 45 minutes later, was in Largo Cervinia, a thriving business district. I turned east (right) from there. Two blocks further on, I saw this painting--and there I was, back in 1977 and the Anni di Piombo ("years of lead").

I was in Piazza Walter Rossi. Once known as Piazza Igea, it was renamed in honor of Walter Rossi, killed on September 30, 1977 at age 20, on viale Medaglie d'Oro--I had been there less than an hour before--by a bullet in the back of the head.

Rossi, right.
There is a bit more to the "full" story.   Like so many young people at the time, Rossi was a militant Communist, affiliated with the group Lotta Continua ("The Struggle Continues"). The previous day, September 29, 19-year old Elena Pacinelli was shot 3 times and killed in Piazza Igea--that is, today's Piazza Walter Rossi, in the Trionfale Quartiere, right where I was standing--while in front of an [illegally] occupied house (i.e., one occupied by squatters).

The next day, September 30, the leafletting in which Rossi participated was organized, and the participants, including Rossi, were handing out their leaflets in viale delle Medaglie d'Oro. They were in Balduina, an area known as a stronghold of the MSI-DN [Movimento Sociale Italiano - Destra Nazionale], a militant right-wing group.
Affixing a plaque commemorating Rossi.  Date unknown.
They were near a "section" (local offices) of the MSI when a fight--mostly rock-throwing--broke out.  Merchants quickly closed their metal shutters and bystanders fled.  At some point in the melee, Rossi was killed.

Despite the presence of about a dozen police, no charges were filed with respect to Rossi's death.

Besides the painting, there's a piece of sculpture in the small park that centers Piazza Rossi.  It appears to feature Rossi, dead yet struggling for life, encased in cement.  A plaque on the sculpture
Sculpture in the piazza, dedicated to Walter Rossi
reads:  "Hanno spento la tua giovane vita/Hanno fermato il tuo forte corpo/Ma non potranno mai/Distruggere i tuoi ideali/Che rimarranno sempre vivi nel tempo" ("They snuffed out your short life/They stilled your strong body/But they will never be able to destroy your ideals/Which will always remain alive").

A torn poster from the previous September features a photo of Rossi--and a call to his memory and ideals--and describes a 3-day program of anti-fascist events, including speakers on the history of the struggles of the 1970s.

I found nothing in the Piazza related to the death of Elena Pacinelli.

Alemanno (left), Francesco Rossi (center)
Perhaps because Rossi's killer was never found, his name, and the piazza that now carries it, remain political lighting rods.  At a commemoration in the piazza in 2009, right-wing Mayor Gianni Alemanno, once a militant ring-wing punk himself, attempted something of a rapproachment, and did so in the presence of Francesco Rossi, Walter's father.

Right-wing mayor, father of left-wing son, shaking hands
"This day is very important for me," Alemanno said in a brief address, "because it's the first time that I have honored and commemorated fully ("fino in fondo") a young man of the left killed in his city."  Alemanno saw his action as "breaking a tabu."  He and Francesco shook hands.

Two years later, at the 2011 commemoration, members of Lotta Continua--Walter Rossi's organization, 34 years later--prevented Vice-Mayor Sveva Belviso (Alemanno's 2nd in command) from entering the piazza to present a wreath, arguing that her presence involved a "false pacification" and that she represented the "fascist" mayor.


A demonstration on behalf of Rossi, the banner reflecting a case still open

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Rome: Not Always Eternal; the Changing Itineraries of Trastevere

Right in the middle of Modern Rome's  Stairs of Trastevere walk.
Suggesting itineraries for visitors to Rome is a hazardous activity.  In some ways, yes, Rome is eternal and some things have not changed for 2,000 years - and more.  But in other ways, Rome changes all the time.

We discovered the latter principle recently when we decided to use some of the stairs in an itinerary in our last book - Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  The itinerary plays off of the popularity of stairways walks in the US, especially on the West Coast.  It's titled: The Stairs of Trastevere.  Ooops!  We were greeted by the nemesis of all Rome walkers: orange netted fencing.
Path looks okay here - note the grotto-like effect.

But, as we looked more closely, we could see there was an easy entrance in spite of the fencing and signs, and that we wouldn't be the first people to use the stairway. These particular stairways use the rough, country-ish, 'grotto' look so prized in the 19th century - ala Tivoli's Villa Gregoriana.  And, they continued to seem that way to us.  Then we saw that the rocks were falling from the supporting walls.
This could be seen as just more authentic looking grotto effect,
but the city likely closed the stairway because of these rocks.

 And, no doubt that danger is what has closed the stairways.

There had been some heavy rains recently; so we guessed the stairways had just been closed and would reopen soon.  Think again! The signs posted said the stairways had been closed since Fall, 2014 (not long after Modern Rome was published), and the residents were sick and tired of waiting for them to be fixed and re-open.

It looked as though no one had tried to get through this fence.
So we didn't try either.
A second set of stairs has no opening and appears to be completely unused.  Better not to try that one.

So for the hundreds of  people trying this stairways walk (p. 70 in the print version, right before the heading "A Fascist-Era Ossuary"), go ahead and walk up the stairs after the hairpin turn.  But when you cross the road to get to the second set of stairs, well-blocked off, turn left instead and walk up to the U-curve and take the stairs in front of you as you round the curve (under the original itinerary you would have been coming down the road to that curve and these steps were  on your right). You'll miss 52 steps.  BTW, we did walk the rest of the itinerary and it's all good.

Lessons learned:  Don't expect any itinerary to stay the same.  Sometimes you can get through barriers, but we don't recommend it unless it's fairly clear others have done so.  Once closed, a monument or site won't reopen anytime soon.  Going off-itinerary isn't all bad.  When the going gets bad, have a coffee or glass of wine.
Bar across from first closed stairway.  It's better than it looks in
this photo.  Lots of nice outdoor tables, fairly large inside.
"Il Baretto" - "the cute little bar."
Other people (that's not RST there) were using this stairway;
a clue that it's fine to use it.