Rome Travel Guide

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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.


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