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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Happy Holidays from Santa, in Distress

Here's Santa, struggling to delivery toys and goodies in the old Testaccio market, soon after it closed in 2012.  Happy Holidays!


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Exploring the Valley of the Aniene, and Pietralata, on a Sunday afternoon

On a warm Sunday afternoon in late April, we took a walk through an area mostly new to us: the Riserva Naturale della Valle del Aniene (Nature Preserve of the Aniene Valley).  On most days the park would be empty, or virtually so, but on this sunny Sunday it was full of families and friends enjoying a variety of activities in the way Romans do.  We followed the path/park until we arrived at the rather forbidding Ponte Mammolo, where we crossed the Aniene before returning through Pietralata (eventually on busy, possibly dangerous via di Pietralata).  If I remember correctly, the walk took about 3 hours.  Below, some pics with brief commentary.

The walk begins at the very old Ponte Nomentana (parts of it dating possibly to the 8th century), which is reached on a brief spur that angles off the broad via Nomentana in the north of Rome. The bridge carried this consular road over the Aniene. The walk over the bridge begins Itinerary 10 in Rome the Second Time, but that itinerary heads left over the bridge.  On this day, we headed right. through this large gate, which  is just over the bridge.

We went through it and found ourselves on a broad path that more or less tracked the Aniene.

We found a large water channel, purpose and origin unknown.

In the distance on the left, a family had anchored their tent to a roll of hay that provided additional shade. 

Further on, playground equipment for the kids.

And a soccer game, for all ages, amid the weeds.

Bicycles--a good way to get into the park.

Picnicking.  The Italian word is "picnic," pronounced "peekneek"

Here, the door to a garden (no doubt "abusivo," illegal) is made from a mattress frame.

Walking on Ponte Mammolo, which crosses the Aniene.

Below, a large and elaborate garden--again, likely abusivo.

The Aniene below.  It's one of Rome's 2 rivers, even if unimpressive here.

Turning right and entering the neighborhoods (bring a map to make sure you don't lose your way at this point) on our return.  Note the striking stairway on this apartment building.

Below, a restaurant on via di Pietralata, closed between lunch and dinner. As we recall, this is the Pietralata "suburban" outpost of Betto e Mary, the original of which is in Torpignattara, near the Wunderkammern gallery.

Almost across the street from Betto e Mary is the arts center, l'ex Lanificio (the former wool factory), where in the past we saw exhibitions of art by Biodpi (Anna Magnani walking the she-wolf) and Alice (the painted trailer).  The center was quiet this day.

The Butcher Shop.  Meat cured or cooked.

Blue Chair. Poignant art photo.

Acqua Vergine (one of Rome's important aqueducts), water meter, 1868. Acqua Vergine's "show" fountain is the Trevi.  The aqueduct also runs under, and is accessible (with permission) via Villa Medici.

Almost back. Graffiti-covered courtyard of a business. 

All in all, not a thrill a minute, but a nice slice of Roman life. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Before and After: the Stairway to Piazza Brin, Garbatella

It's been devilishly difficult to find a photo--any photo--of the stairway leading up from via Alessandro Cialdi to Piazza Brin, in Garbatella.  I couldn't find such a photo in the tens of thousands of Rome photos taken by RST since 1989.  And a lengthy search of the internet turned up only the photo below.  It was taken sometime in the 1920s, when most of Garbatella did not yet exist.  It reveals the stairway walls to be rather handsome, made of stone that's been employed as a design element as well as a structural one.   It's a fitting entrance to the piazza above, and just beyond the piazza, to the historic entrance to Garbatella, the entrance and its flanking buildings designed by Innocenzo Sabbatini and completed in 1922.

Sadly, the Piazza Brin stairs no longer have the elegance they once had.  In 1989, when we first saw them, they were not only overgrown with weeds but littered with needles left by drug dealers and users.  Today, the stairs are no better maintained, and the walls have become a favorite haunt of taggers and graffiti artists, including some who claim to be making political statements or support the Roma soccer club (Roma/Sud--i.e., Roma fans on the south curve on the Stadio Olimpico).  Steel railings, to keep folks from driving vehicles on the stairs, were in place.  In 2012, the stairway looked like this:

Even so, the side elements of the stairway remained fairly clean.

By the spring of 2017, most of the open areas had been filled in.  The Roma cheerleading had been replaced by standard lettered graffiti, its meaning unknown (to this viewer).  And the 2012 "Carlo Vive" was now on the left side wall, complete with a painting of Carlo.  The splendid view of the buildings of Garbatella, available in 1925, was covered by bushes and trees.  And the bottom of the stairs has become a site for garbage collection and recycling.

Who Carlo is, and why there's so much interest in him is a story that remains to be told.  The words "Carlo Vive" (Carlo lives) present on the Brin stairs in 2012 and 2017, are solid evidence that Carlo is dead. [For information about Carlo, see the first comment, below].


Monday, December 4, 2017

A Tree Lives in Rome: Giuseppe Penone's art installations in the City.

Foglie di Pietra  in Largo Goldoni
Giuseppe Penone's massive tree-like sculptures have dominated Rome's art scene over the past few years, and one is now on permanent public display.

Another view of Foglie di Pietra  in Largo Goldoni
We'd say don't miss it, but it's hard not to.  The large sculpture, entitled Foglie di Pietra ("Leaves of Stone"), occupies a prominent spot on Largo Goldini, along via del Corso in front of the Fendi store there.  It's Fendi, the luxury brand, that paid for the sculpture and its installation.

"Penone, Fogie di Pietra stupiranno Roma" - "Penone, Leaves of Stone will astonish Rome" reads the headline of an article describing the installation of the work and using Penone's verb, "stupire" - to astonish, surprise or make wonder.  The work "rises on high because I'm working on public ground that shouldn't occupy space," said Penone.  The trees, weighing 11 tons, are designed to "provoke a sense of wonder that should make one reflect on the meaning of the work:  the reality that surrounds it, the architecture of the city based on's also a reflection of the material, the marble, and nature.  The Corinthian capital [see top photo - it's the white block] represents historical memory.  I put the block on high to indicate the elevation of man and to make one think about the ruins underground below."

In 2009, Penone's work was the subject of a large exhibition at Villa Medici, the French academy in Rome.  Any time a show occupies the inside space at Villa Medici, including the ancient cistern, and the outside space, it's a great experience.  The tree and stone theme was evident in 2009 as well.

Earlier this year, as part of Fendi's grand opening of its headquarters in the Palazzo della Civilta' Romana (the Fascist era "Square Coliseum," the restoration of which Fendi also financed) in EUR, it sponsored Matrice, an exhibition of Penone's more recent work.  Speaking of this show, Penone said, "The trees appear solid, but if we observe them over time, from their birth, they become fluid and malleable.  A tree is a being that memorizes its own form."  That exhibition closed in July; some photos of it follow.

Penone, born in 1947, is considered part of the Arte Povera movement.  For those non-Italians,the Arte Povera movement was active primarily in the 1960s and 1970s and includes artists such as Jannis Kounellis, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Mario and Marisa Merz.  The movement was marked by the use of "poor" or "impoverished" materials and promoted art free of established conventions.  Some of these principles still inform Penone's work.

Outdoor sculpture in front of the Square Coliseum, EUR
part of the Matrice exhibit (no longer there).

Fendi's entrance to the restored Square Coliseum.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Piero Bruno: Political Soul of Garbatella

"A Piero Bruno...Chi Sogna Non Muore"  (To Piero Bruno...those who dream, never die)

A stroll through Garbatella--a neighborhood south of central Rome, built as public housing in the 1920s and 1930s, and then as now strongly identified with the political left--will inevitably introduce
one to the name and face of Piero Bruno.  In a sense, Bruno represents Garbatella's radical, militant, in-your-face history and image. Knowing something of Bruno's past, you'll understand better what Garbatella is about, and better appreciate the political fissures--rooted in World War II and the postwar era--that continue to divide Romans and Italians.

Marchers from the Armellino Technical Institute
Piero was born on 8 December, 1957.  He lived with his parents and two sisters in Garbatella and attended the Armellino Technical Institute in the next suburb to the south, San Paolo.

The 1970s was an intense political era in Italy--not unlike the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States.  Piero was involved with the Lotta Continua ("the struggle continues"), a far-left organization founded in 1969 as a spin-off of the student/worker movement in Turin.  Lotta Continua encouraged radicalism and militancy and had a hand in setting up social centers in Italian cities.

Possibly a photo of the demonstration in which Bruno was shot.
On November 22, 1975, Piero participated in a large march/demonstration--some 2,000 people--in support of the Republic of Angola's struggle for independence from the colonial power, Portugal.  As the marchers passed the intersection of via Muratori and largo Mecenate--near the gate of the Zaire embassy--violence broke out (that's vague, yes).  Piero was shot twice--apparently in the shoulder and the back--one shot fired by a Carabinieri (state police) and the second, while Piero lay on the ground, by a Rome police officer.  He died the next day.  No charges were filed.  The website "Maverick" sees the larger issue as the "violence of power" and blames the Christian Democrats (the party that held power through most of the postwar era), including Giulio Andreotti and Aldo Moro, high-ranking Italian politicians, both prime minister at times, for employing a "strategy of tension."

Ahead, the school named after Bruno.  The artwork has changed
little over the years.

Piero is remembered in Garbatella not only through wall paintings and a plaque--and in marches in his honor--but also through La Scuola Popolare Piero Bruno, an after-school help and social center where university students assist middle-school students with their homework on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Marching to protest Piero Bruno's death.  Judging from the winter clothing, probably fall/winter (1975).
via Passino 20

An element of what may be a Piero Bruno
walking tour in Garbatella
To locate the Piero Bruno images in Garbatella, start from Piazza Pantero Pantera, follow via Luigi Fincati southeast, past the central market and onto via Francesco Passino.  The "Chi Sogna" wall, above, is further ahead in Piazza Damiano Sauli.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Rome on Fire

Fires in Rome are relatively rare, or so it seems.  It may just be that, like traffic accidents, fires are numerous but almost always elsewhere, out of one's personal sight.  To our knowledge, there hasn't been a "real" fire in Rome's mountains and rolling hills for decades, even though farmers continue to light small fires to burn trash (or whatever), and it seems logical that the practice would sooner or later produce a conflagration in nearby fields or woods. When I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1950s, it was legal (and widely practiced) to have an open, circular iron contraption to burn stuff at the back of the property.  And sure enough, the adjacent fields caught on fire on a regular basis, blackening an acre or two of open land.

Despite the rarity of Rome fires, we have seen a few over the years.  Nothing major, but interesting nonetheless.  Four years ago, while exploring the somewhat dicey working-class town/suburb of Trullo for the first time, we came across not one but TWO burning trash bins (above and below).  Young punks resisting authority, we supposed.  Not good publicity for Trullo, but since then the town has experienced something of a regeneration through a substantial program of wall art and wall poetry

Then, in the spring of 2017, we happened upon--or in one case, read about--several fires.  In one case, we were on the way to a physician's office in the exclusive quartiere of Coppede'.  There on via Adige was this sad sight.  The owners of the burned automobile at left were there on the sidewalk, grieving and coping, a lot of work ahead of them.  Perhaps more young punk activity; privileged, alienated youth. 

Then, on the return from a hike in the Colli Albani, while passing through Piazza Finocchiaro Aprile, we came upon a more serious blaze along the far side of the railroad track, close to the Tuscolana station.  We parked the scooter and had a look.  This fire was in the papers the next day, but it was apparently put out without consequences.

There were, indeed, consequences to the final fire on our list.  This was a river bank blaze, known by some as the gazometro fire because of its proximity to the iconic Ostiense structure.  We knew this backwater area well, having explored it and observed its inhabitants from afar.  No one was killed, but quite a few "residents" of the river bank--Roma living in huts and tents--were rendered homeless by the blaze. 


Monday, November 13, 2017

How the Elite Played in 1920s Rome: The Cadorin Frescoes on Via Veneto Revisited

The elite of Rome in the mid-1920s, including Mussolini's Jewish mistress, are still on display in a hotel dining room on via Veneto.

The frescoes of Guido Cadorin, a Venetian called to Rome to decorate the large room, have been restored to their original vibrancy and are easy to stop in and see any time--whether or not you are dining or staying in the hotel.  We wrote about these gorgeous paintings 7 years ago, as part of our RST Top 40 (#28).  And, yet, when we went back this year, they were better than ever.  We were fortunate to have the room to ourselves and take good photographs.  (That 2010 post has some additional information not included here.)

The Cadorin Salon/Dining Room - one side.
The style is "Liberty," Italy's version of Art Nouveau merging into Art Deco.  And in the hands of this artist, these beautifully dressed men and women of Fascist Rome come to life.

"Fiammetta and I wanted to pass into immortality in the salon's frescoes," explained the mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, of the painting of her and her daughter.  Although Margherita merited a place on the salon's walls--she was a journalist and art critic--her role as Mussolini's mistress perhaps led to Cadorin portraying her with "denti stretti," as some have said - gritted teeth or a fake smile--and in the background.

Sarfatti and her daughter are the two women in the

Margherita Sarfatti
Other notable figures in the painting include the wife of one of the architects of the hotel, Marcello Piacentini, the most prominent and prolific of Fascist architects, and the painter Felice Carena. The figures on these walls seem oblivious to the Fascist politics from which they were benefiting.  That painted obliviousness had a cost, however.  A few months after the inauguration of the salon paintings, an official statement from the hotel said that there were some who were disturbed by the paintings and that they therefore covered them with draperies; the cover-up lasted until after the end of World War II.  The explanation given now is that the paintings omitted a central figure in Fascism, Mussolini. (There's a different explanation in our 2010 post, also involving Mussolini.)

One can also note some unusual figures in the paintings, including dark-skinned men in exotic costumes and the woman smoking, looking aggressively outward with her cigarette hanging out of her mouth (see Bill's review of "Fumo: Italy's Love Affair with the Cigarette.").  The architectonic details in the paintings are by Cadorin's brother-in-law Brenno Dal Giudice.  Between the two painters, the paintings flow around the doorways and windows of the salon (see the bottom photo).

For the first time we were able to find a written explanation of the frescoes, and identification of some of the people.  Ask at the front desk.  They don't have extra copies, and it's in Italian, but it's worthwhile to consult this several page explanation while you look at the paintings.
Smoking woman.

Exotic figure.
We included the Cadorin Salon in our first book, Rome the Second Time, as part of Itinerary 5: The Nazis and Fascists in Central Rome.  The salon is even more accessible now, with the paintings easier to see.  Don't miss this gem at #70 Via Veneto, now the Grand Hotel Palace.

More photos below.


Having the room to ourselves.

Figures painted around the door opening.