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, December 27, 2015

Oldest Supermarket in Rome: 1961

Tucked away behind the 1960 Olympic Village, where the athletes stayed, and backed up against the busy Lungotevere dell'Aqua Acetosa, is the first grocery store in Rome, or so we hear.  Not the first
store that sold groceries--that would take us back into the 19th century, no doubt--but the first American-style grocery, Rome's first supermarket.  By American standards you won't find it "super"; it's quite modest in size, perhaps a 10th of the floor space of the U.S. equivalent, and not much larger than two 7-11s--maybe 3.

The Carrefourgoncino/Shopping at Home
Nor is the exterior especially noteworthy, though the enormous surface parking lot--room for at least a hundred cars and never close to half full--is, for Rome, a spectacle, and for shoppers, a gift.  Dianne took pleasure in the "Carrefourgoncino"--the store's van, parked right there in the spectacle.  The van's name is a word-play on the name of the market--Carrefour--and the Italian word for van, "furgone."

The banners outside the store's entrance announce that the store is open 24/7.  We haven't tried the place at 3 a.m., but I wouldn't count on getting the baby formula at that hour. 

The best part is the wall to the right as you enter, which you can scan as you're waiting in line to be checked out.  Though it didn't open until 1961, the store was apparently built for the 1960s games.  With that in mind, the current owner/tenant, the Carrefour chain, has mounted half a dozen large photos of athletes at the games.
This section of photos is labeled "La Moda del Villaggio" (Village Style)

The store, as it looked probably in the early 1960s.  
While Dianne was shopping I was photographing the photos.  I have included one of them here, as
well as another of the store in operation sometime in the early 1960s (the signs above the vegetables are vintage early-60s shape).  Then a woman cashier (not the owner or the manager) rushed up, shook her finger, and told me that what I was doing was "proibito."  End of photo session. 

Not far to the west, the underbelly of the architecturally
significant Corso di Francia
And all around, the buildings of the Olympic Village, now residential housing

Monday, December 21, 2015

For Christmas: A Paganica Church Built on Rock

To celebrate Christmas in very Christian Rome, RST decided to post about another favorite church. We went a bit afield this time, eschewing our usual modern churches and even travelling outside of Rome, into the Abruzzo province.

The church above is the "Madonna degli Appari" - the sanctuary, or hermitage, of the Madonna of the "appearances."  As you might guess, the church was built on the site where a believer saw the Virgin appear; in this case it was a young shepherdess, who said she was instructed by Mary to build a shrine at the site.

The site is set in the magnificent Gran Sasso - the peaks that reach heights of 10,000' in central Italy, the highest mountains in Italy south of the Alps (and, yes, we've climbed them).  In this case the church is built into, and as part of, the rock ("sasso" means "rock", and Gran Sasso, well, a really big rock).  The original shrine probably dates to the 14th century, and was expanded after that, including into the 18th century.  The frescoes appear to be mainly from the 16th century.  (Information available at the site and also on these Web sites: and  There are more tales on the site, such as the one of the priest who didn't believe the shepherdess and fell ill.
Gorgeous, restored 16th-century frescoes.

The church has had its share of threats.  Two bombs of the Allies landed near it in 1944.  And it was damaged by the devastating 2009 earthquake centered in nearby L'Aquila.  The church is fewer than 5 miles from L'Aquila, outside the town of Paganica.  (You may remember President Obama meeting near L'Aquila with the G8 in that year  - a video of him visiting is on YouTube. Seven years later L'Aquila is still a ghost town; more about that in another post.)  The church and the frescoes are recently restored and the church was reopened in 2011.

We came to the sanctuary pretty much by accident.  We were looking for a hike or walk that was substantial but still let us catch the train back to Rome that evening.  On the recommendation of our hotel clerk, we took the train to Paganica, and serendipitously she--the hotel clerk--was on the same train (she was now living in Paganica because almost no one lives in L'Acquila).  Her house there is still boarded up but she must continue to pay her mortgage, she told us.  She drove us the few km from the train station into town.  From there we asked around about the walk she had mentioned, and discovered it was a newly created trek, often on boardwalk, with the Stations of the Cross, and ending at the sanctuary.  We were lucky the sanctuary was open for some other visitors when we showed up. By the time we had crawled through the rock pathway and back, it was closed again.

The full-blown walks to, and celebrations at the church take place around Easter.  Nonetheless, we decided this dramatically sited and painted church was a good way to acknowledge the Christmas holiday.
Looking back towards the door; note earthquake bar.

Easier to see here the rock pathway to the left - it goes alongside the church, a creek and the road.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rome's Pantheon, and the Origins of Hitler's Great Hall of the People

On the 2nd page of a Martin Fuller essay in the New York Review of Books (12/17/15),  on the architecture of the Third Reich, I found this image:
Architect's rendering, the Volkshalle

It's an architectural drawing for what was intended to be the Volkshalle, the Great Hall of the People, the centerpiece of a project to transform Berlin into a city called "Germania."  What I saw, however, was Rome's Pantheon, or some version of it.  That's hardly a novel, or even an interesting observation. Almost anyone who has stood inside the ancient Rome building would have a similar perception.

Rome's Pantheon

As I was soon to discover, there is, indeed, a connection between Hadrian's Pantheon and the German architect Albert Speer's design for the Volkshalle.

Hitler's interest in the project dates at least to 1925, when he sketched an early idea of what the hall might look like, and it deepened in May 1938, when he toured the Pantheon as part of his only trip to Rome, where he met Mussolini and laid the groundwork for the Axis.

Hitler's admiration for Rome, and its Pantheon, surfaced again in 1940
Speer and Hitler, examining a model of Germania
when, with Speer and other German architects, he toured Paris and that city's Pantheon, only to be disappointed.  By that point, he imagined that his Germania would "only be comparable with ancient Egypt, Babylon or Rome.  What is London," he asked, "what is Paris by comparison?"

Well, Hitler was right about that, anyway.  But he and Speer--according to Martin Kitchen's recent book, a pedestrian architect with delusions of grandeur, and an evil man--had conceived of a project that even they couldn't pull off.

The overall plan for Germania included two grand boulevards (Mussolini, too, loved his broad boulevards), each 120 meters wide, lined with triumphal arches and
Imagining the exterior
grand buildings, including the Volkshalle.  As with Mussolini's Rome, the reconstruction of Berlin would have required tearing down hundreds of existing buildings and relocating tens of thousands of people.  Speer had designed the Volkshalle along stupendous lines.  While the interior skin of the dome resembled Rome's Pantheon, the German version was to have been much, much larger: 320 meters high; the podium on which the dome was placed was figured at 315 meters square, roughly the length of 3 football fields; the dome's oculus, at 46 meters in diameter, would, apparently, have been large enough to place inside the entire rotunda of Hadrian's Pantheon.  On top would rest an enormous eagle, holding in its claws a ball--the earth.  So subtle!

Hitler and Speer, who spent night after night mulling over plans and models of Germania, imagined a building in which Hitler would mesmerize the great throngs: 180,000 people at a time, most of them standing,
A rally outside
if the preliminary drawings are an indication. There was also a seating area along the sides, resembling the Congress Hall at Nuremberg--which, according to one source, was modeled on the Coliseum.  So large was the interior of the Volkshalle that even Speer, during time spent in prison after the war, speculated that so many bodies (and, therefore, so much humidity) in one great space would produce the dome's own "weather"--drizzle and rain.

Mussolini had grand plans, too, but he had the common sense to position his equivalent of Germania--EUR--in a largely undeveloped area south of the city center.  In contrast, Hitler's Germania was in the heart of Berlin.  According to one authority, had it been built, "Berlin's historic center would have forever been destroyed."

The dictators differed on their cities.  Mussolini was fond of Rome, and one could argue that his interventions, while hardly minimal and undeniably damaging, were designed to improve the city. Hitler, in contrast, disliked Berlin, most of whose voters had refused to support him in 1932-33. Germania was his revenge.  

Of course it wasn't built, nor was EUR completed until the 1950s.  The war intervened.  How sad!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

North Africans Who Died for Italy: Rome's French Military Cemetery

A first look inside the gates of the French Military Cemetery.  The tombstone on the left is inscripted "Inconnu" - Unknown - and "Mort pour la France"-- one could add, of course, and Italy.
For years we wanted to visit the French World War II military cemetery in Rome, but the hours it was open were difficult to discern and the access to it even more so.  But this Spring, when we lived right across the Tevere from Monte Mario, on which it's located, it was time to try again.   We found it, and found it open, but yet it held surprises for us.

The first sight to greet us was row upon row of crescent-shaped tombstone tops.  Clearly, here, French means North African, or mainly so.  One site describes it as "a modest cemetery for 1,700 French Expeditionary Corps soldiers, mainly Moroccans and Algerians."

There are Christian graves, fewer in number, and at a more prominent location - actually lower on the mountain but surrounding the main monument.  A video clip from 1947 of the inauguration of the cemetery shows only Christian graves.

Looking at these markers of those North Africans who literally gave their lives for France, and Italy, we were reminded of Italy's current treatment of North Africans. Italians should be reminded, we thought, of the sacrifices made by these non-Christians for the modern Italian state.
A permanent map in the cemetery showing
"The Offensives in the Abruzzi, December 1943 - May 1944"

The French military cemetery is as moving in its way as the Non-Catholic (Protestant) cemetery next to the Pyramid, and the small British Commonwealth military cemetery next to it in Ostiense.  All serve to impress upon us the tragedies of war.
The Christian section

Information on visiting the cemetery is not easily obtainable in English.  The hours are now generous, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. Saturdays.  Closed Sundays.

If you are bold, you can try this "alternate" path down.  We did
 and ended up in bushes and with a few sketchy characters around.
But we did finally get to the Olympic Stadium and home.
Getting to it is still a challenge.  It is not connected directly to the Monte Mario paths on the main part of the mountain.  To reach it from those paths, e.g. from the bar/restaurant complex Lo Zodiaco, you must walk on roads that might lead you to reside permanently in a cemetery.  There is only one entrance--at the top end of the cemetery, off  Vicolo dei Casali di Santo Spirito.  At the end of this post, I've provided a few links that have maps.  I wouldn't expect a taxi driver to know the location of the entrance.


The 1947 monument, designed by A. Chatelin
Back of the monument, listing cities where battles occurred.

And once down, we found this statue to the
Czech fighter for liberation,  Alexander Dubcek.