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Friday, May 6, 2016

Casal Bertone: Tantalizingly close, yet nearly Unreachable

Casal Bertone.  A stone's throw from bustling San Lorenzo. Closer to Stazione Termini than the Vatican or the tourist mecca of Trastevere.  But no one goes there, and hardly anyone (even Romans born and raised) knows about this quartiere, which is sometimes referred to as Portonaccio, after the wide street that spans the area's western flank.

Always start with coffee
So close to the heart of Rome, yet so isolated. Ringed on the west and south sides by multiple rail lines, the Verano cemetery, and an old freeway, the Tangenziale, from which the Autostrada plunges east/southeast, right under Casal Bertone.

So it's hard to get to, and had to get out of. You can access the place from via Prenestina, but it's a long walk.  Or--as we did one morning on the scooter--from via Tiburtina: south (right) on via di Portonaccio, right at the big fork onto via De Dominicis, where we found a fine coffee bar, equal to any in the more upscale neighborhood of Monteverde Vecchio, where we've living for the month of May.

Underneath, the Autostrada

Turning right (south) out of the bar, the first sight is a large roundabout--almost a piazza. Moving counterclockwise, a massive metal screen hiding the Autostrada entrance as it passes beneath the town.

The building in the distance is a prize - and has a "legend" to go with it.

The centerpiece of the piazza is a housing project on its south side, graced by two striking bronze deer on pedestals to each side of the main entrance. After some 70 years, it's a wonder they're still there. Glorious. The story goes that the deer once had horns, and that the people who live in the building, so the story goes, had been called "cornuti"--meaning you're being cheated on, by your spouse.  So, one day, one of the residents sawed the large horns off the deer.  And now, no one can call them - or the residents - cornuti.

Inside the project a young man was weeding the stones (an uncommon sight) around a fountain, guarded by two eye-catching, snarling wolves.  Down a ways, a large fir tree on one side, and, on the other, a Madonella giving thanks for the survival of the building's inhabitants during the allied bombing of 1944 that took over a thousand lives in nearby San Lorenzo--and the rest of the war (below).  Note, too, that the stairways to sections of the buildings are differentiated, marked with letters, creating interior communities.

We also should mention that the intellectual filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini set the most iconic of Rome films, Mamma Roma (1962) with Anna Magnani, in this housing project.

The Madonella

A bit further to the south, there was a lot going on along via Casal Bertone: a very old building, holding out against the future; the construction of a new public market (or so we thought); some interesting urban graffiti; a leftist poster (Se Non Ora Quando, left) enjoining youth to take action, as right-wing thugs toss a person off a building balcony--an event that actually happened many years ago, in another part of Rome.  YouTube has several videos on the confrontation between right- (Casa Pound) and left-wing groups in Casal Bertone.

Shades of Hadid!
And, near the eastern end of the street (above), a stunning modern housing development in the latter phases of construction, elements of it reminiscent of Zaha Hadid's MAXXI.  We were surprised to see it here, in Casal Bertone.

Baptismal by Ugolino da Belluno, 1995
East on via Casal Bertone is the Piazza Santa Maria Consolatrice.  A public park with large play areas for children fills the square, and across from it, a church, vintage 1940s.  The column-work inside is
worth seeing, as is a side chapel in mosaics accomplished in 1995 by church artist Ugolino da Belluno.  The apse mosaics, of 1960s vintage, are also interesting, as are the columns on each side, decorated with repeating phrases. In the left side aisle there's a bronze statue of Padre Pio, both his outstretched hands revealing stigmata.

Casal Bertone has some tree-lined shopping streets, on which we found clear signs that the community's soccer team is AS Roma, as well as evidence of the poster presence of the right-wing organization, Casa Pound (photo right).  Ghoulish stuff.  Makes one wonder what they have in mind.

On the southeast side of the quartiere, an industrial building--above, center--has been re-used as artists' studios.  You can go inside and poke around--even talk to the artists.

Just one morning in the "real" Rome--Rome the Second Time.


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