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, June 26, 2016

Francesco Berarducci's Brutalist Masterpiece: Villino Colli della Farnesina

It's tucked in the hills above the Palazzo Farnesina, the massive Fascist-era building that now serves as the nation's foreign policy center, but was once Fascist Party headquarters.

Less monumental but perhaps more striking, the Villino Colli della Farnesina hugs the street by the same name (no. 144).  The community is gated, but open for a tour on this particular Sunday, the 2nd day of the 5th edition of Open House Roma.

A gated community, but even the gate is cool brutalism.
The front.  Impressive verticality,
deteriorating concrete below.
RST had been looking for an outstanding example of Rome Brutalism--a style, look, and feel based on masses of raw concrete.  We had come to the right place.  There, at Palazzina 16, stood Berarducci's brutalist palazzo, somewhat the worse for wear--the building dates to 1969--but muscular, and even
majestic, still.  As our knowledgeable guide Elisa explained, the front of the building, despite its obvious weight, manages to project  an impressive verticality, while, as we shall see, the back emphasizes the horizontal.

Cantilevered front canopy, now supported by posts.  

The enormous, cantilevered canopy over the front entrance has suffered significant decay--its reinforcing steel bars (rebar) revealed here--to the point where it no longer can be depended on to hold itself up, and is now supported by construction posts.  That condition is likely permanent, since it seems doubtful that the building's owners would elect to finance the kind of high-tech reconstruction used to reinforce the sagging balcony at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Framed in red, that's the front, glass, door, hinged in
the center.

One enters the building through a center hallway that houses services--stairs and the elevator--for apartments on both sides.  The door to the hallway, like some others in the complex, is a single sheet of framed glass, perhaps 10 feet wide, that pivots in the center.

The Berarducci studio

Concrete-framed hole lets  in light, lightens load.

The Berarducci studio, now occupied by the architect's son--also an architect--is on the floor below, entirely below ground level but lit from the end by a large window that looks out onto a sloping garden, and by a large, round hole (in concrete, of course) that drops down into a square glass container with white stones below.  It not only brings in natural light, but lightens the load on the roof of the studio.

Berarducci (1924-1992) is described in the literature as "schivo" (secretive), and he spent most of his later years in this studio, avoiding theoretical debates while focusing on design and construction.

A stone path meanders around the east side of the building, revealing a projection that from inside seems to have no other purpose that to give the building shape and complexity.
Exterior projection right, in the trees.

Interior view/result of the exterior projection, above.
Tiered, Wright-like balconies--that is, like the massive balcony at Fallingwater--dominate the rear of the building, together emphasizing the horizontal line. They've been repaired and repainted,
unfortunately in a creamy color that doesn't match the raw concrete above, left unpainted.  While necessary (one of the balconies is held up with supports), the repairs and painting deprive this part of the building of some of its expressive power: it's no longer raw concrete, but something else.

A visit to a top floor apartment, originally Berarducci's, allows us to appreciate those balconies from inside, where the great expanses maintain their elegance.

The front door opens onto a very large, essentially square living room, slightly sunken; it reminded us of Don Draper's apartment in the Mad Men television series.  It's been poorly decorated--the remaining furniture is
Living Room
Showmanship in Concrete
almost comical--and painted in an uninteresting white, apparently to the tastes of its last tenant, an Egyptian.  The room to the right is more dramatically elevated.  Otherwise, the spaces seem rather ordinary.  The living room is the spectacular center of things.
A not-so-spectacular view of the living room, looking inward.
Bad art, bad decoration.

Church of San Valentino in the Olympic Village.

Berarducci's influences include Le Corbusier, Pier Luigi Nervi (his teacher at the university, where he graduated in 1950), Victor Morpungo, with whom he collaborated on the Torre Spaccato quartiere, Mario De Renzi, and postwar Scandinavian architects.  Most of his work was residential, including Rome palazzine in Via Cavalier D'Arpino and Via S. Giovanna Elisabetta.  He is perhaps best known for the church of San Valentino, in the Olympic Village (1962) and, especially, for the RAI center on Via Mazzini, apparently--though this is difficult to believe--the first all-steel structure in Rome.

The most famous concrete building in Rome is Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport, on RST's Top 40.

For more on concrete, see Adrian Forty, who lectured on the topic this year at the American Academy in Rome and has inspired RST to do more posts on this topic.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

'Popstairs' by Diavù: Street Art at the Trionfale Market

We weren't there for the cherries.

Diavù, center right, introducing his project in front of the Trionfale market.

On Wedesday just before noon, RST scootered over to Prati's sumptuous Trionfale market, though not to buy cherries--though they're in season--or anything else. We were there for the unveiling, as it were, of the latest work by street artist David Vecchiato (known in the art world as Diavù) in the Rome series "Popstairs" (that's not a translation).


We arrived as an affable Diavù was speaking. Wearing a Che Guevara shirt, he explained that the paintings on the stairs leading up from the market were the latest in the Popstairs series, each of them featuring a female movie star, and he expressed gratitude at the reception that his work had received from those in the neighborhood.

The Trionfale paintings feature an iconic figure of Italian cinema--Anna Magnani.  The Magnani on the left staircase (below) is a young Magnani from the film Campo de' Fiori (dir. Mario Bonnard).

On the right staircase, an older Magnani, after Mamma Roma and Roma città aperta, her lined face a symbol, according to La Repubblica, not only of Italian film, but of romanità.

Right staircase.  Our best photo, and not that good., partly because too many people are trying to get in a photo with Diavù.  You'll have to go in person!

Right staircase, another angle.  

Feeding frenzy about to begin.
When the speakers finished, Diavù hung around to answer questions and accept congratulations. Photographers--and there were many--struggled to photograph the harshly backlit stair art.  Most of those in attendance headed for the buffet--pizza, finger sandwiches, and wine--all gratis thanks to the restaurant at the top of the stairs, PummaRe. RST could not resist, even at noon.

Vecchiato explained to us that the Italian actress series takes him at least 5 days per painting.  We talked about the StreetArtRoma app, which we regularly recommend, and he said that app makes him "proud" (that was in Italian too).  Vecchiato is clearly considered one of the most important street artists working in Rome today.
Dianne makes a fine point with Diavù.

This was not our first experience with Vecchiato's work.  As we mentioned to him, we had seen an earlier mural in the borgata of Finocchio, where a mafia estate had been expropriated and turned into a park.  Diavù was pleased that we had seen that one--not so easy to get to--and he noted that despite its political content, it had been carried out in something resembling a cartoon style.  We
wrote about the Finocchio mural earlier this year.

Our second encounter was in the Popstairs series, though we didn't know it at the time. It's on the stairs at via Ugo Bassi, just off viale Trastevere.  It depicts the actress Elena Sofia Ricci, the heroine of Luigi Magni's film, In nome del popolo sovrano (In the Name of the Sovereign People), set in 1849, and set partly in Trastevere.

We found another of  Diavù's paintings later that day, walking from Flaminio, past Ponte Milvio, to the intersection of Corsa Francia and via Ronciglione, where a portrait of French actress Michele Mercier graces portions of a very long and steep stairway (157 steps).  The image is from the comedy Il Giovedì, whose last scene takes place on this stairway.

The stairs off the north end of via Ronciglione

The art work is part of a cleaning up of these neighborhoods and locations, much of it done by volunteers.  Retake Roma (also not a translation - that's Italian) was part of the Trionfale initiative.
Volunteerism in Rome is a story for another day and post.

Vecchiato plans two more works in the series before the end of 2016: in EUR, of Monica Vitti, the young star of Antonioni's L'eclisse, which was set partly in EUR; and Gabriella Ferri, at her home in Testaccio.

We hope to see both, next year. And another, completed, that we haven't seen, of Ingrid Bergman, in via Fiamignano.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ballad of the Aegean Sea: Patrizio Nissirio's new Historical Mystery

A little-known World War II war crime on a Greek Island is a major focus of a fascinating first novel by Patrizio Nissirio, an accomplished journalist and author.

The book's title, Una Ballata del Mare Egeo/A Ballad of the Aegean Sea, does not reveal its ties to Rome. However, the novel's protagonist, himself a young journalist, was born and raised in Rome's Piazza Bologna area (the setting for two of Rome the Second Time's 15 itineraries).  And it is from this mid-century, middle-class quartiere of Rome that the story unfolds. The journalist-protagonist, like the author, is of Greek descent, and he traces his family's history back to those Greek Islands that were the last part of Greece to be reclaimed - in 1945 -  after Italy invaded Greece and the Axis powers then occupied it.

Nissirio expertly weaves the story of Italians on the Greek Islands in World War II with present-day desires to explore one's family roots and the origins of right-wing nostalgia.  The mystery is fascinatingly complex and fun to follow.  Even more fascinating for me is the history on which the novel is based.  The book definitely will appeal to those who like "true crime" stories.

Nissirio's visceral love for Greece jumps from the pages of the book, as does his knowledge of the Greek islands.  These islands even today bear witness to significant signs of Italian colonization (if I can call it that), with their Fascist-era town plans and buildings that remain.

Kudos to Nissirio for a story well-told, history well-revived, and a good read.

Ah, yes, the question of language.  The book to date is available only in Italian, from  For those of us whose knowledge of the language is less than perfect, it is a surprisingly easy read.  And hopefully a translation and movie rights are in the book's future!

Una Ballata del Mare Egeo is available on

Patrizio Nissirio
Nissirio has spent most of his career with ANSA, the Italian news service, with long assignments (as in 4-6 years) in Washington, DC., Athens, and London. He is director of ANSAMed,  ANSA's multilingual information service for the Mediterranean.   He has written several nonfiction books, including one on the Greek economy.  Full disclosure: Patrizio Nissirio is a long-time friend of ours.  He helped us secure Walter Veltroni's (then a recent mayor of Rome) introduction to Rome the Second Time.  And, he introduced us to much of the Piazza Bologna area.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Italy's Elite Art Theft Discovery Squad Shows its Stuff in a New Exhibition

Carabinieri from the TPC squad - Cultural Heritage Protection - flank a Venice painting attributed to Canaletto seized at the Florence train station on its way to an auction in Monaco.

1493 Columbus letter, an original and a "false" one, announcing
the discovery of the New World.
Cops and culture... the two aren't often mentioned in the same breath, but they are here in Italy, where the Carabinieri branch of the military has its own section, Tutela Patrimonio Culturale - or TPC - Cultural Heritage Protection. The unit has been tracking down stolen Italian art for decades. Each year there is at least one exhibition in Rome showing off the TPC's finds.  This year it kicked off on June 8 with a press conference (yes, RST were certified journalists there) at the Carabinieri historical museum in Piazza Risorgimento, very near the Vatican.

"Attributed" to Guido Reni, 17th-century Bolognese painter.
This small show has some blockbuster finds - including a letter from Columbus that ended up in the US art market, a lovely Guido Reni (attributed to) found in a bank vault, and an archaeological piece from Palmyra - one saved from ISIS.  Apparently trafficking in historical artifacts has been a money maker for ISIS, much more so than destroying them, and the Carabinieri have been on the front line in tracking down these objects.

The press crowd was especially interested in the Comandante's
discussion of the Columbus letter, which was found with the help of
the US Department of Homeland Security (who knew they did that?)
If you are in Rome before July 4, stop by this small, free exhibit.  The explanatory panels are in Italian and English.

The museum is a real find too.  The "hall" in which the exhibit is mounted is a great Fascist-era paean to the Carabinieri.  The entire museum traces the history of the Carabineri, from their founding as the police for the Savoy kingdom, which produced the first king of unified Italy in the 1860s (the Risorgimento), to their partisan activity in WWII.  After that, history stands still except for the temporary exhibition.  And, unfortunately for international tourists, the museum panels are only in Italian. Still, it's a museum from which you can take away a lot simply by looking at the materials in it -- uniforms, arms, paintings, statues, photos, among others.

The museum on Piazza Risorgimento. 
Museo Storico dell'Arma dei Carabinieri, Piazza Risorgimento, 46, hours generally Tues-Sunday 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.  Free.

A room in the museum devoted to the Resistance in World War II.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Lessons in Rome Politics, 2: Marchini's "Liberi"

In the last lesson in the ultra-sophisticated politics of Rome's mayoral race, we examined the posters of Alfredo Iorio: all invasion all the time.  Today, we take up the equally complex posters of Alfio Marchini. Marchini has a better chance of becoming mayor than Iorio, but that isn't saying much. The newspapers still take him seriously, but in the last poll the former polo player had only 11% of the expected vote.  He's handsome but apparently that's not enough.
Norman Rockwell:
Freedom of Speech

Marchini has spent a lot of money on posters.  His campaign theme is "liberi," which means "free." It's a worthy theme.  In American history, the concept of freedom was used effectively by Norman Rockwell in four 1941 covers for the Saturday Evening Post  (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear) and in 1968 by Martin Luther King, Jr. ("free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last").

Marchini joins this distinguished company with his "liberi" campaign, mostly using the word as in "free to...."  One might imagine "free to get a good education," or "free to find stable employment," or "free to access quality medical care."  But that's not Marchini's approach.

Instead, one poster suggests the citizens be "Liberi nel dire no agli abusivi"--that is, free to say no to abuses.  The word "abusivi" is commonly used to refer to illegal construction or to restaurants that put tables on the street without the permission of the city government.  Maybe that's what Marchini means.  And maybe not.  Pick your abuse.

This one (below) says "Liberi di chiudere i campi nomadi":  Free to close nomad camps.  This is a curious form of freedom, indeed.  Donald Trump would like it, as in "Free to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans."  

The next one is more complex: "Liberi da chi ti ha tradito."  Free from those who have betrayed you.
Not clear who the betrayers are, but who cares?

In the next poster, we get a hint of who has betrayed the "voter":  "Liberi dai partiti."  Freedom from the parties.  Anti-government is a big theme this year, all over the world.

But's it's not all negative.  Here we have "Liberi di puntare sui giovani": Free to focus on youth, or perhaps free to rely on youth.

How about "Free to play polo"?   Bill