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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Murales Italian Style: Rome's Street Art Brought to You by Wunderkammern

Russian artist Alexey Luka painting his  multi-story work in Torpignattara, thanks to Wunderkammern and the Russian Embassy. See the finished work, below.
By Spanish artist Escif, "The Right Ear."
Just a great painting, building-high, on the proper
side of the building too.
Wandering the streets of the near-in 'suburb' of Torpignattara, as we have many times, we are constantly delighted by the street art that seems to mysteriously appear where one least expects it.  Most of this street art consists of large works sponsored by the trendy, yet earnest Wunderkammern Gallery, located in the heart of Torpignattara.

The professionally executed 'murales', as the Italians call large wall paintings, stand in contrast to the neighborhood's historical reputation as an impoverished hotbed of crime and, now, the media claims, degraded by an influx of immigrants, Bangladeshi in particular.  
At opening for 2501 (aka Jacopo Ceccarelli) in Wunderkammern's
Torpignattara gallery.

Torpignattara indeed is changing, and rapidly.  An industrial and working-class neighborhood once filled with immigrants from Italy's Southern and Central areas, Torpignattara's population started to decline in the 1980s due to poor housing and high crime rates - until the Bangladeshi (now numbering 5,000) and other immigrants moved in. 

The area has the lowest percentage of college graduates of any in Rome, and the exodus of Italians preceded the influx of international immigrants.  But residents remain unrealistically nostalgic about the "old" Torpignattara, before part of it became "Banglatown." Sociologists describe it as a "re-urbanization," rather than a "gentrification."  There is less crime now than before the Bangladeshi moved in. One could even say it is being cleaned up by the immigrants.  It is an area that continues to be separated socially into different districts.  We found the Bangladeshi merchants concentrated in one section. Another section is the rapidly gentrifying - in the true sense of the word:  Pigneto.  

So how to explain these gorgeous paintings?  They are almost all the result of the intervention by Wunderkammern, which 7 years ago located its gallery here, moving from the charming medieval town of Spello, just south of Assisi in Umbria.  

Change seems to go with the territory for Wunderkammern.  The German word refers to the Victorian "cabinet of wonders," and Wunderkammern is such a cabinet, but one going well beyond its "cabinet doors."  It's a first- rate gallery with artists' works that sell into the 6-figures of Euros.  So it could be located in the center, it could ignore the streets outside its doors. In fact, it does the opposite.
Jef Aerosol's "Tom," near Wunderkammern's gallery space.

As Co-Director Giuseppe Pizzuti told us, "We usually ask artists that we work with and that we invite for a show to Rome to leave a sign of their staying and to realize an outdoor work." Wunderkammern selects the sites.  Pizzuti continues, "Usually we are inspired by outdoor spaces that we see while riding the streets of our neighborhood. Whenever we find a wall that is inspiring for us, we try to obtain an authorization from the people living in that building."  I asked him how receptive the building owners are to the request.  "At the beginning it was not always so easy," Pizzuti said.  "Right now people are calling us to 'offer' their walls to us to have our artists work on them." 
Found this one just walking around Torpignattara,
By Parisian artist Ludo, untitled.  

Of course the 'murales' in Torpignattara can be viewed simply as part of a world-wide trend.  Berlin, London, Los Angeles - all cities famous for their street art.  Torpignattara's 'murales' differ from the concentration of murales in the neighborhoods of San Basilio and Tor Marancia, where large blocks of 8-10 story public housing buildings have created vast 'canvasses' for multiple works close together.  Hitness did 6 of these facades in San Basilio and Tor Marancia's housing project features about a dozen works from international artists, all done in 2015.  By contrast, Torpignattara's walls are varied.  There's no single big block of public housing featuring facades like those in San Basilio and Tor Marancia.  As the neighborhood is described in the book Global Rome, the housing is of varied ages and types, from farmhouses dating from the "agro Romano" to some multi-story block housing.  As a result, the works are more surprising and mysterious to the walker.  And they come in all different sizes.

A C215  (French) work next to the bar across from
Wunderkammern's gallery.
Agostino Iacurci, Clear Sky on the Pink House
One can see Wunderkammern's intervention as changing part of the fabric of this community, most recently under some siege from racists who would limit the percentage of children in the schools whose heritage is non-Italian - even if those children were born in Italy and speak only Italian.

Luka's finished work (at dusk; so the colors aren't true in this photo).
When we were here, there were Rom around having collected detritus and
headed back to, we assume, their camps in cars and with their kids' bikes.

Besides a trip to Wunderkammern, which we highly recommend, one can check out the street art with the new app, streetartroma. We don't recommend the city's tourist map, yes, of street art; it's close to unintelligible.

We do recommend Jessica Stewart's book: Street Art Stories ROMA.

Wunderkammern: 124 via Gabrio Serbelloni.  From Termini, the 105 bus or the tram on via G. Giolitti. tel. Tel: +39 - 0645435662
Cell: +39 - 3498112973 
A stupendous piece by Nicola Verlato, born in Verona, now from Los Angeles.
It portrays Pierpaolo Pasolini's death.  That's Petrarch and Ezra Pound below (we
needed the explanation from the streetartroma app).  This does not appear to have
been sponsored by Wunderkammern, but clearly the location and its existence
owe much to the gallery.
Generally open Wednesdays to Saturdays 5 - 8 p.m., when there is an exhibit, or by appointment. .  Check the Web site.  Current exhibit is on until 25 July, 2015.

An added attraction is the osteria, Betto e Mary, a few blocks
from Wunderkammern.  One of the cheapest, and most authentic, Roman
trattorie - complete with any kind of animal innards cooked any way
you want them.  This is just one of their several large spaces.
via dei Savorgnam, 99. +39 06 6477 1096.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Caffè Perù: Time for an Aperitivo

Caffè Perù is one of our favorite spots (Bill's especially) for an early evening aperitivo, and not least because of its location near one of Rome's busiest tourist attractions: the complex that includes Campo de Fiori and Palazzo Farnese.  In that area, it can be hard to find a place that feels Roman.

Don't be put off by the signs in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese on the front of the building; Italians eat and drink here. It's a real bar. The aperitivo--food with a drink--is reasonably priced, and the white wine selection is very good (though some premium wines add a euro or two onto the cost of the aperitivo).

There are two rooms--the main room on the left, with the bar, food, and the cassa, where you order and pay, in advance.

And another, to the right as you go in, quieter and more homey and comfortable, though more divorced from the action. Depending on the weather, both rooms are open to the light, air, and activity of the small piazza.  Much of the drinking--and talking--takes place outside.

Don't miss the bathroom, which is one of the city's funkiest.

Caffè Perù is easy to find.  Facing the Palazzo Farnese, exit the piazza up and to the right.  The café is a half block up the street, on your right.

PS from Dianne, the accent inserter.  This is an accent-challenging post; hope we got them in correctly.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Vatican Walls: Where Fascism Meets Catholicism, or Letting Out the Popes

On one of our great Wall Walks (we know there are those of you who have wondered what happened to our plan to walk the perimeter of the 7th-century Aurelian Wall... yes, those posts are to come), we encountered a physical reminder of the 1929 "Conciliation" between the Italian State and the Catholic Church.  The grand double arches you see in this post are impressive evidence of the Romans' ability to use architecture and symbols to constantly remind us of their history.

In 1929, Benito Mussolini signed for the State, and Pietro Gasparri, Cardinal Secretary, for Pope Pius XII, the Lateran Pacts that resolved the question of the role of the Catholic Church within the secular Italian State - basically, the territories the Church would retain, financial reimbursement for property seized in the revolution, the Church as the State church.  That question had been pending since the "Risorgimento," or the overtaking of most of Italy by the non-Papal forces, in 1870.  And, since that time the Popes had not come out of the Vatican, a self-imposed incarceration.

The Conciliation - commemorated by Via della Conciliazione, which leads from the Tevere to St. Peter's - is also known as the Lateran Pacts, because the agreement was signed in the Lateran church: San Giovanni in Laterano.  (We had always thought they were signed in Piazza della Pigna, where there is a plaque to that effect. Perhaps Il Duce and Gasparri negotiated aspects of the Pacts in that quiet piazza, in which sits a restaurant we have frequented.)

Perhaps more interesting.
So to the Wall.  The photo above, of a double archway, shows one of the first "signs" of the Conciliation that we found on our walk.  In this case we are "inside" the Wall, inside the Vatican, that is, looking out.  On the top of the arch on the left is the coats of arms of Rome, the SPQR, and on the right, the symbol of the Pope, the Pope's hat (mitre) and St. Peter's crossed keys to the Church,  (Why the balls on the coat of arms?  See below.)  So we have the Wall, we have the exit from the Vatican, now usable by the Popes, and a symbol on each gateway representing the two sides in the power struggle.

The archway in the photo above, another exit/entrance from/to the Vatican is perhaps more interesting because it has three layers of secular and Papal symbols.  On the lower level, if one looks closely (see photo left), the State symbol has 1) the King's crown 2) the fasci, representing the Mussolini government, and 3) SPQR, the ancient Rome's government acronym, adopted by Mussolini to tie his Fascist regime to ancient Rome.

The coats of arms at the top likely are older ones that were placed here. The Papal one on the left is of the Barberini Pope (see the bees), Urban VIII (1623-44), and the State one on the right is for the King of Savoy.

Finally we leave you with the grand double archway below, looking from the outside into the Bernini colonnade.  Here the multi-layered blocks and symbols appear to have both Papal and Fascist dating. There is a reference to Pius IV (IIII), a Medici (note the balls in the coat of arms in the photo at the top of the post), who in the early 1500s built the now destroyed Porta Angelica, to welcome pilgrims from the north.  It was at Porta Angelica in 1849 that Garibaldi and his troops made their first forays into Rome to take over the city from the Popes.

So perhaps the Vatican is extracting a sense of justice.  We have a gate (think exit) built after the 1929 Conciliation to acknowledge the Vatican territory and let out the Popes for the first time in almost 60 years.  But on that gate, the Vatican has placed highly symbolic parts of the 1500s Porta Angelica, the gate where at one time (1849) anti-Papal forces forcefully challenged the rule of the Popes; and the Popes won that battle.  Garibaldi's forces won about 20 years later: 1870.  While I disagree with him, David Kertzer, in his book Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes, the Kings, and Garibaldi's Rebels in the Struggle to Rule Modern Italytakes the position that even though Garibaldi won the battle for Rome in 1870, eventually the Popes won the war, in the sense that the Catholic Church has religious (albeit not state) dominion over more than 1 billion people.  In any event, in these grand arches and gateways, the Popes are making their point: we're still here.


Monday, July 13, 2015

The Butterfly Roof: from Marconi to Palm Springs, California

This forlorn building, partly boarded up and for rent, is located just south of via Grimaldi, in the Marconi district.  It was once a theater.  We took the photo because we're interested in Rome's modern architectural forms, and the roof line--an element of what is known in the states as "googie" architecture--is an unusual one for the city.

We were reminded of the photo a few days ago, when we read in the New York Times of the death of architect Donald Wexler at the age of 89.  Wexler lived and worked most of his life in Palm Springs, California, a hotbed of mid-century modernism (now all the rage among the millenial generation).

He is best known for the Palm Springs International Airport, for a set of 7 prefabricated "steel" houses, and for El Rancho Vista Estates, 75 homes built in 1960.  One of Wexler's signature architectural features, found on many of the houses he designed, is the folded or "butterfly" roof--see below--very much like the one on the Marconi district theater.

Wexler didn't design the theater, or the butterfly roof at its front, but his story offers a window into mid-century modernism, and it helps to fix the date of the Rome building.  It was very likely constructed in the 1960s, probably early in the decade.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Rome's New Metro Line: Walking the Walk.

The pristine travertine stairs and escalators at the Lodi station, on its pre-opening day tour
On June 29 Rome's transit system accomplished what many thought it might never do - it opened new Metro line C with 6 stations.  In theory line C had been opened earlier, further out of Rome, but that was just a refurbishing of an above-ground train line already in existence.  The 6 stations and 5.4 kilometers of track opened recently are the true accomplishment, because they actually put line C IN Rome, rather than way outside of it.

Men in Black
We took advantage of a rather unusual offer in late April. The 6 newest stations were open a few hours on April 29 for self-guided tours, even though there were no trains running.  To see them all, one had to drive or walk between them.  So we made it our goal to do a 6-station trek, and back.  We figured, oh, 5+ km x 2 - we had to get back to our moto without the metro, of course - that's only 7 miles and we're used to that.  Oh, how wrong we were... but for now to the features of that day - the stations.

The line is billed as from "Mirti" to "Lodi" because the outer part of the line, the old train line, is already operating.  But Lodi is the most central of the Rome portion of the line - to date. The line still doesn't hook up with either of the other 2 operating lines - A and B, but it will when the San Giovanni station is added in, supposedly, 2016.
A visitor checks out the line - it's the part in red we're visiting.

So we showed up at the "Lodi" station - named for its proximity to Piazza Lodi - at noon, when the stations were to open.  Well, we were 5 minutes early.  So you can see the guys in black blocking the entrance until the appointed hour. And it turns out, guys in black were at every station, being very one-might-say fascist-like in ordering the few people coming to see the stations which way to go in and out, protecting fenced areas, and the like.  Part of the ambiance of the day.

Lodi is undistinguished from the outside.  It has only surface level entrances.  Below it has some of the grand travertine staircases and it looks wonderfully shiny new, of course.  So we dutifully walked down all the levels, and up, and marched on to the next station.

Pigneto station skylight, outside

Pigneto comes next, and this is a long-awaited station in a rapidly gentrifying, even hipster neighborhood of Rome.  Pigneto's station is more interesting, with an enormous skylight.  And here we learned about the "TBM", "Tunnel Boring Machine" (yep, that's Italian) used to create the metro openings below ground without opening up the ground from the surface and then

skylight, inside
recovering it, as Rome has done for prior lines.
Display photo of Pigneto station under construction.
This process minimizes the problems of archeological finds.  As former Mayor Rutelli put it to us once, one can dig at 35 meters, but not between 15 and 35 meters.  Of course, since it's Pigneto, we were treated to lots of street art as we came back up and started our walk to our third station, Malatesta.
Leftist graffiti in Pigneto

Dianne interviewed by radio reporter at Malatesta station
Malatesta is one of the more elaborate stations. That's the reason, we assume, it was selected for Mayor Marino's visit.  So it was full of people. Enough so that a radio reporter interviewed me, in Italian, on my reactions to the new stations. And our timing was good enough that Bill got a photo of the mayor.

Photo op for mayor (red tie) and cohorts.
Unlike the other stations, this one had a train car open to visit.  Helps to have the Mayor around.  It was here we learned from the instructive panels that this line is "driverless" (again, Italian).  Whoa, that's a bit scary.
Inside the cars

"Data (I Numeri) of the "Driverless trains"":
80 km/hr maximum; 35 km/hour normal; 1200 passengers
per trip; + or - 30 centimeters - leeway in terms of where
they stop at the stations.

Open stairs lead down into the Malatesta station

Walking out of the Malatesta station to the next one, Teano, we were reminded that, yes, old Rome still exists.
We passed some old medieval-like buildings, towers, agricultural land, and then a pretty strange building for Rome.

Opera sets were stored here.
We read later it was built in the 1950s and stored opera sets and costumes!  It's been repurposed partly as a school and community center.  And, across from it is perhaps the most interestingly-designed station. The ATAC Web site tells us that the "atrium" is meant to be used for commercial activity and cultural events.
Teano station

Atrium for commerce and cultural events, Teano

The prosaic Gardenie station.

1930s public housing in the far-flung suburbs.
The 5th station, Gardenie, again is ordinary. Outside it we were reminded that the Fascists built public housing out this far in the 1930s, sending workers far away from where the jobs might be, and sending any potential challengers to the regime out of communication with the city.

We ended up at Mirti in Centocelle, a once disparaged suburb of Rome that is reviving a bit, and certainly the metro line will help that.
That's a victory sign at Mirti, as well as storm clouds brewing.
 Besides having time to give the victory sign, we found a tour group in this station and we learned more about the entire project (including the use of the TBMs).
Tour group at the Mirti station.

At this point, we figured we probably had walked close to 10 miles - the 5.4 km is the way the Metro or crow flies.  Walking between stations is much more circuitous.  Plus we went up and down the stairs at each station (the escalators weren't operating). And it was starting to rain.

Dianne checks the various transit options.
Walking another 4 or 5 miles back to our moto was ruled out.  While celebrating our 6-station triumph with a glass of wine in Centocelle at a familiar bar there, we discovered the "trenino," or urban train, was not far away.  So we walked over to it, through the familiar non-glitzy underpass of existing Rome transit, to catch the train back reasonably close to "Lodi" and our moto.

What the 'normal' transit underground looks like.

The Italians are good at design, and these stations are striking in their pristine state.  We don't want to think what they might look like if the graffiti artists get busy on them.  This project connects some of these far flung suburbs and we hope makes Romans living in them feel more in touch with the city itself.
Video in the station teaching kids to hang on.

We'll do a check in 2016 to see how the system is progressing.


Study in black and white