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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.


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