Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gaetano Rapisardi and the funeral of Vittorio Casamonica

"You conquered Rome, now you'll conquer paradise"  
Rome was abuzz late last summer over the elaborate, August 20, 2015 funeral given in an important Catholic church for a reputed Mafia gangster of Eastern European (Sinti) origins.

The body of Vittorio Casamonica arrived at the San Giovanni Bosco church in the Tuscolano district (not far from Cinecittà and the Parco degli Acquedotti) in a gothic-style carriage, drawn by 6 horses.  Banners and
posters proclaimed Casamonica. "King of Rome" and granted the man who'd reportedly been involved in prostitution, drug trafficking, and racketeering the status of eternal life:  "You conquered Rome, now you'll conquer paradise."  An orchestra played the theme from The Godfather.  A helicopter dropped rose petals.

Not quite sure what's happening here.  
That's all quite seedy, and Romans were justifiably upset at the spectacular celebration of someone with possible connections to organized crime, and perhaps, too, at the role of the Catholic Church in facilitating the excess and giving over a premier religious building to a ceremony involving a person whose life had hardly been exemplary.

What intrigued us here at RST was the church and, as we pursued our interests, the architect, Gaetano Rapisardi.

Unfinished tomb for
Galeazzo Ciano
Rapisardi (b. 1893) served in the Italian armed forces during World War I, studied architecture at the University of Florence and, as luck would have it, married a fellow architectural student who was the daughter of one of Rome's best-known architects, Gino Coppedè, whose Rome studio he joined not long thereafter.  He did some Rome residences, and then, with another well-known Rome architect, Marcello Piacentini, collaborated on a design for at least one building for the new University of Rome campus--likely the building that houses Letters and Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Political Science.

With his brother Ernest, Gaetano designed Casa Bonanni (1933) on the Lungotevere Marzio; the building, with its exquisite arch leading from the Lungotevere to Piazza Nicosia, now houses the Bulgari jewelers' headquarters.
Casa Bonanni, now Bulgari HQ.  Piazza Nicosia is through the arch. Nice work
connecting the Lungotevere with streets in back.
Rapisardi also designed the Stabilimento Aerostatica Avorio in Rome, a building located at via della Vasca Navale 84, near Vicolo Savini, the small street we covered in another post--just across the river from the Marconi district.  The building now houses the Department of Physics of Roma Tre University.  Since
Note Rapisardi's stone work
remodeled inside, its most interesting features are the front entrance and a front façade that uses a variety of brick and stone treatments to invoke the heritage of ancient Rome. 

Although internet sources do not reveal Rapisardi's relationship to Mussolini's Fascist regime, the fact that he designed the unfinished tomb for Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and an important figure in the regime (later executed on Mussolini's orders), suggests that Rapisardi was within the fold.

Whatever one might think of Casamonica, he chose a spectacular setting for his funeral.  The Basilica di San Giovanni Bosco is in the Tuscolano quarter, not far north of Cinecitta and just a few blocks off via Tuscolana, at viale dei Salesiani 9. Construction began in 1952; the church was consecrated in 1958 and completed in 1964.  Despite its postwar origins, it has the weight and grandeur of structures common to the late Fascist era.

At left, a view toward the piazza.  The sculpture inside the arch evokes EUR's "square coliseum," a Fascist icon.

Architecture of the piazza
And its placement, at one end of an enormous arcaded piazza, evokes--like no other place in the city- -Mussolini's Fascist masterwork: EUR.

The central dome--the largest in Rome after the Pantheon and St. Peter's--when we visited was mostly obscured by scaffolding, but one could appreciate its size nonetheless, and with the smaller dome next it, serves to highlight the geometry--not only the circle but the square--that is on display here.

Two rear bell towers--only one equipped with bells--are also in the modernist mode. All this modernism: quite in contrast to the vehicle that transported Casamonica's body.

Stained glass detail

The organ and, at far right, the baroque ironwork.

Splendid stained glass mosaics, some in the subdued tones of the postwar period, others--around the large dome--in bold primary colors, soften the geometry.  The organ is enormous. The congregation is large enough that confessional booths are marked for different priests.

Don Bosco, dreaming

A stylistically restrained piece of altar furniture, 1960
Side chapels feature paintings of the period, some of them worthy of attention, all nicely described in small panels (in Italian). Curiously, the altar is centered by a swirling piece of ironwork in the baroque style, while nearby, restrained early 1960s decoration predominates. The overall impression is that an enormous amount of money was spent on the structure and its decoration.

In May of 2015, the saga of the Casamonica funeral story took another turn, when it was revealed that the Roman comedian Dado (Gabriele Pellegrini) had been threatened on social media because of a song and dance parody of the funeral that he'd posted on the social media.  "I don't want the moon," he sang, "I only want a funeral with Rolls Royces, horses, a cortege, and police who direct traffic only for me." "'I want a flaming casket,' he sang on, and outside the church giant photos of my face.  And a band that plays the tune of The Godfather, King of Rome."  The video of Dado's performance went viral, and it wasn't long before threats began to appear on the entertainer's Facebook page, some quite direct:  "Yes, it could be that tomorrow you die, and I'll give you a beautiful piece of shit."  The person who left this comment, and 9 others who made similar ones, are currently being investigated by the authorities for threats and defamation.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Eurosky: Tall Buildings come to Rome!

Rome and Los Angeles aren't usually understood to be similar.  But in one respect they are: they're both essentially low-rise cities, made up mostly of buildings of less than 5 stories.  Decades ago, Los Angeles made a decision to concentrate the much larger buildings that were needed by hotels, banks, law firms, and some condo folks in a few areas, including downtown (now the site of the tallest building west of the Mississippi), Westwood, Century City and, more recently, parts of Hollywood.

Rome came later to the idea of concentrating its tall buildings.  Its first effort is in the south end of EUR, the mainly Fascist-era suburb to the south of the center.  The second is not far away, near Pier Luigi Nervi's Palazzo dello Sport that essentially marks the southern end of EUR..  This 63 hectare (157 acre) complex is known as Eurosky or, on the company's website, as Business Park Europarco (sounds a bit like a rue de road) or Europarco Business Park.

The rather uninspired sales offices of Eurosky.
Maybe that's why the place feels empty.  

From via Cristoforo Colombo, going south, turn right (east) on viale dell' Oceano Pacifico, then left on viale Avignone.

The first building you'll see, on the right, is occupied by Microsoft.  It's not clear whether it's part of Eurosky, or just adjacent.

And beyond this building, to house those visiting Microsoft execs and others of "i big" ilk, a handsome Novotel in a white skin with some weird angles. Up ahead, there's plenty of space to park.  Let's have a look around.

Microsoft building at right, Novotel at left, soccer field awaiting players in foreground.  
The complex has some of the feel of Parco Leonardo, the newish suburb/shopping center still further out.  Empty and sterile.  Great expanses of what might be called "piazza," but few popoli.  Perhaps the buildings haven't filled up yet.
Those are people down there.  
To the southwest, a big hole in the ground, primed for yet another Eurosky skyscraper, and beyond it, the Euroma2 shopping center, where you'll find an Apple store.
Euroma2 - from the back.
Looking east, a modest effort notable for the cutout, upper left.

Upper left detail
The centerpiece of the development is the Eurosky Tower (Torre Eurosky)--the one with the big angled slabs on top. Probably solar panels. The building is basically a huge apartment complex. Except for few touches--the angled staircase, a vertical cut-out in the center--it's a rather soulless structure.  But it is the tallest building in Rome and one of the largest residential buildings in Italy.
Eurosky Tower, from the parking lot.  Business traveler at left.
Angled stairs, Eurosky Tower
That big square glass structure down the way?  Surprise!  That's the Italian Ministero della Salute (Ministry of  Health).  Its angled doorway aside, it's ordinary, too, though arguably handsome.  In an era when the Italian government needs every cent it can get, we wondered why the ministry needed to be housed in new, and presumably expensive, quarters.
Ministry of Health

And its angled doorway.

Perhaps the most interesting element in all of Eurosky is just steps from the entrance to the Ministero della Salute: a small sculpted monument, commemorating the global elimination of Rinderpest in 2011 under a joint Ministry of Health/FAO program.  (Rinderpest is a German word meaning "cattle plague." The virus likely dates to the 7th century.)  It's a lovely, organic piece of work, lost here amid all the uninspired modernism.  

More tall buildings and empty piazzas to come! Don't miss our Eurosky updates!


Bill's ingenious selfie in the reflection of the Rinderpest plaque.  How clever!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Pope's Escape: Castel Sant'Angelo's Secret Passageway

Castel Sant'Angelo from the Passetto - we had to wear the day-glo vests so they didn't lose track of us.
Until November 20 of this year, you can take a tour of Castel Sant'Angelo's secret passageways and rooms.  You can even play Robert Langdon or Vittoria Vetra from Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. I was intrigued; so I signed up, forking over Euro 5 in addition to the Castel's general entrance fee of Euro 10 for Castello Segreto (Secret Castle).

The guided tour indeed takes you along the above ground passageway that follows the walls of the city up to the territorial line of the Vatican.  I expected more, but it was still exciting to follow along this passageway that Pope Alexander VI used in 1494 to escape the invading CharlesVII.  Some versions have Charles' army shooting at the Pope's white robes as he ran for his life.  And the antagonist in Angels and Demons uses the Passetto to transport the 4 Cardinals he abducts from the Vatican.  They're all escaping from the Vatican to the fortified castle, once the tomb of Emperor Hadrian.  Brown's Langdon and Vetra use the passageway the other direction - as a shortcut to the Vatican.  The Passetto di Borgo, in other words, has a long and storied history; but it is open only every few years.
  The Passetto from the Castle - imagine the Pope running along this walkway
with shots being fired at him.

As our tour guide explained, one can only travel part of the Passetto because at one point one hits the territory of the Vatican, a totally independent jurisdiction, no longer a part of the State of Italy or the city of Rome. Still, cool!

The "secret tour" also includes the Castel's prisons, oil storage room (and those Italians take their oil seriously), and other rooms usually closed to visitors, the nicest of which is Pope Clement VII's bathroom (1523-24), decorated with frescoes by the School of Raphael, and the first running hot and cold water bathroom in the world, we were told.
Clement VII's bathroom.

Now for the disappointment and a suggestion. The English-language guide I had was not up to the task.  Her English was sub-standard.  She had memorized lines about the Popes, Mussolini, and the Vatican, but she couldn't vary from her script, and if you didn't come with a working knowledge of the basics (such as the Popes' self-exile in the Vatican after 1870 and the Conciliation Agreement with Mussolini), you wouldn't be able to understand her.  She did not understand basic questions some of the visitors posed in English, and thus couldn't answer them.  Still, if you read up a bit ahead of time, and you like this kind of history and access to usually closed-off rooms and passageways, then go for it.

Castel Sant'Angelo has 4 of these tours each day through November 20, 2 in Italian (11 am and 5 pm) and 2 in English (10 am and 4 pm), maximum 15 persons each.  I didn't need them the weekday I went, but generally I recommend you buy tickets ahead of time.  The Web site is not very user-friendly but it is (mostly) in English.  Just keep clicking and you'll get to the ticket site with the capability of buying tickets for the secret tour as well.  There's an extra Euro 1 charge for buying online.

Instruments of torture in the prison rooms.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Street Artists Transform Nomentana Train Station

This artist has a number of pieces of a similar nature in the underpass.  They're presented in homage to street artist Blu.  The artist may work under the name qwerty.

Most of the "letters to the editor" that appear in the newspaper La Repubblica are from citizens complaining about something: potholes, garbage collection, bus service and the like.  But this one was different.  It was a feel-good story, about a place--an underpass serving the train station at via Nomentana--that had been filthy and a bit intimidating for years, but that had recently been fixed up--by volunteers.  So we went.  We had our doubts that there still was a train station in Nomentana, since we'd never heard of it.  And we knew we'd have trouble finding the underpass.

Wrong on both counts.  There is, indeed, a via Nomentana station, and the underpass was easy to find: on viale Etiopia, just south of the circonvallazione and just east of Piazza Gondar.

One of several by the artist LAC 68.  

Urban scene.  By BOL?

Lots of affection here, but also bla bla bla

Thelma senza (without) Luise (Louise), aqueducts as background.  LAC 68.  The figure at right is a regular feature
of the artist's work, as is the shopping cart (which also appears frequently in Banksy's drawings).  

Dianne with bird, who's been reading
The Jungle Book and appears to be
a commuter
What we found was inspiring.  A group of street artists have decorated hundreds of feet of passageway--the main passage and long side ramps, too.

Save the whales.  

Animal images--rhinos, Moby Dick, fish, a wolf--- abound,
giving much of the space a playful look.  "Love" is another theme.

Some of the art is not up to "international" standards, in our opinion, but some of it very good, indeed.  We especially enjoyed the broad brushwork and humor of LAC 68, and the evocative stick figures of the artist we identified (perhaps incorrectly) as qwerty.

We talked briefly with two artists who were working on one of the few unfinished sections before moving on to another town (Pavona, if we remember correctly).

All the artists were brought in through the efforts of a retired railroad worker, Francesco Galvano, who, as one article stated, created this as an homage to the station in which he spent his working life. The overall project is to decorate 120 stations, under the heading Arte in stazione e citta' a colori - Art in stations and cities in color, coordinated by the group Nucleo Sicurezza Ambientale (perhaps the best translation - Secure or Healthy Environment Group), of which Galvano is the Roma Nord head.  More pics below.


Side ramp

Another side ramp

There are things to read, too
Mermaid with red hair.  LAC 68

Northern entrance.  No longer intimidating.