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

Monday, February 27, 2017

Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere - Exploring Rome's Underground on Your Own

The Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere shows off its Roman columns - both as part of the church, and free-standing.
Always intrigued by the Roman columns incorporated into this church's walls, we finally paid a visit. The Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere - located on the broad, busy street between Bocca della Verità and Teatro di Marcello (in tourist landmark terms), one short block from the Lungotevere -  in fact is built over not one, but three ancient Roman temples. There's a nice model inside the church.
More columns, viewed from the south.
Model of the three Roman temples (by Igor)

And, one can explore below the church - for 2 or 3 Euros. The exploration immediately takes you into catacombs and bones.  How old?  Well, they did have green stuff growing on them.

The basilica can be overshadowed by the powerful Teatro di
Marcello, but it's there, down the street to the left.
The three temples are the temple to Janus (the northern one), build in 260 BC; the temple to Juno (middle), built in the 2nd century BC; and the third, the Temple of Spes or hope (southern), built during the First Punic war (264-41 BC).    A diagram overlaying the current structure is informative.

Giacomo della Porta's entrance, incorporating Roman columns.
This basilica is another fine example of the layers of Rome.  In addition to the BC temples, the basilica itself dates to at least the 1100s, and likely to the 6th century, with its interior decorated mostly in the 19th century.  Some frescoes are from the 15th century, and the facade is by Giacomo della Porta (1599).

One reason we can see so clearly the structure of the Roman temples is that Mussolini cleared away the surrounding buildings in driving through his wide road to the sea.  An engraving shows the cluster of buildings abutting and around the church before the Fascists cleared the landscape (and almost this church as well).
Basilica di San Nicola in Carcere, as it looked in the 18th century (Giuseppe Vasi engraving),
before Mussolini demolished the adjacent buildings, and the neighborhood.

You might need the flashlight app on your iPhone.

The Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere is an example of DIY Rome tourism, with no lines, no crowds, right in the center of Rome. English pamphlets are also available there.
via del Teatro di Marcello, 46;

Here's another link with more explanatory material on the basilica.

Interior Roman column with 10th century
 Christian markings.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bar Names, Part II

In our last discussion of bar names, RST identified "Tuo Bar" and "Mio Bar" ("Your Bar" and "My Bar") as two of our favorites.  Here are a few more, with comments.

Angolo means "corner"--the same term used for corner
kicks in soccer.  "Corner Bar": very common, and
a trifle postmodern, in that it takes its proper name
from common speech, as in "let's go have drink
at the corner bar.  

Can't get any simpler than that.  In a Rome suburb.  
Bar dei Cacciatori--Hunters'  Bar.  More common
in small towns and villages, where people hunt.  I'm not aware
of a Bar dei Cacciatori in Rome.  

Vince comes from "Vincere"--to win.  Possible
translation: "Victory Bar."
A common bar name, which doesn't translate well.
"Encounter Bar" would be literal, but
"Meeting Place" would be more literate.


A weird one.  Caffe' Apocalypse is in the foothills
town of Aielli near Monte Sirente.  Drinks after a long trek with an Italian hiking group on the gola and serra of Celano.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Il Buchetto: "Authentic" pizzeria--and a brief tour of via Flaminia

Il Buchetto
Like most tourists, we're always on the lookout for "authentic" Rome eateries--whatever "authentic" means.  Here's our latest recommendation: Il Buchetto ("The Little Hole"), a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria at via Flaminia 119, a 5-10 minute walk from Piazza del Popolo.  We found the place in Mario Matteucci's La via Flaminia (2016), a frustrating yet valuable guide to the street and environs between Piazza del Popolo and the tangenziale highway a few miles north.  Matteucci describes Il Buchetto as famous in the area and beyond, crowded at all hours of the evening, serving the best pizza "del forno."  We can't say the pizza was the best we've ever eaten, but it was good, inexpensive, served promptly--and there's no doubt that the place is "authentic."

Nothing fancy

No such thing as an underage drinker in Rome and teenage boys love plentiful, cheap food, as we know.
While you're in the area, you might take note of some of the nearby "sights."  The building in which the pizzeria is housed (via Flaminia 125) is a worthy one, designed by one of Rome's premier architects, Marcello Piacentini, and completed in 1924.  It's decorated with grotesque masks (mascheroni) and a phrase by Cicerone: homo lucum ornat/non hominem locus, which we surmise has something to do with humanity and its need for the decorative.  The building was originally public housing, and in the early 1930s it housed 45 families made homeless by new construction in the EUR and Appio neighborhoods.
Piacentini building, 1924.  

Just south of the Piacentini building is the home of the Italian navy.  One can't tour the building except on special occasions, but the facade, on the Tiber, is worth a glance, and the giant anchors out front are good for a photo op.  It may be possible to enter and enjoy the great hallway that runs across the front of the building.  We toured the building in 2015.

Still home to small auto shops.  
The area across the street from Il Buchetto (and, if we recall, a bit south) has a long history of automobile repair and construction, dating to the early 20th century.  In 1918, the area housed the Carrozzeria Maraga, the factory where the Maraga roadster was produced.  Mussolini owned a Maraga.   During World War II, the Maraga factory was converted to the production of ambulances and military vehicles.  After the war, the Maraga facilities were abandoned, and some of its buildings became gardens and bed and breakfasts.  Even so, as you walk the lanes off this area of via Flaminia, you'll see that there are still some small automobile repair shops.

Also across the street but further north are the remnants of a much older past.  The large building directly across the street from the pizzeria is la Casina ("the little house") Vagnuzzi, seat of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana (Roman Philharmonic Academy)  (founded 1821).  The building was at one time a part of Villa Giulia, the residence of Pope Julius III (1551-1555).  Composer Franz Liszt stayed here when he was in Rome.
Dianne at the Fontana dell'Arcosolio, struggling with
Matteucci's disorganized (and in Italian) book.  

Beyond la Casina (and moving north), and usually tucked behind a row of garbage dumpsters, is the Fontana dell'Arcosolio.  The tub is of ancient Roman origins.  It wasn't always here, which is probably why Romans refer to it as "la fontana che cammina" ("the fountain that walks").

Nice wood door from 1930 could use some TLC.

Next door (still moving north), is the headquarters of Rome's notaries, a Fascist-era building dating to 1930. The wood door and its handle are of modest interest.

Palazzo Borromeo
Finally, at the intersection of via Flaminia and via delle Belle Arti, you'll find the Palazzo Borromeo . Although it's seen better days and is much changed from the original, it's an historically significant structure.  Dating to 1561, it was designed by architect Pirro Ligorio as a residence for Pope Pius IV.


Detail.  Hey, it still works! Nice fish.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Best Posters of 2016

"Best" Posters has become a yearly feature of RST, and here we are once again, offering the "best" of 2016, all found in Rome in April, May and June.  Though the internet has doubtless eroded the presence and influence of posters in Italian culture, they nonetheless have a role here that they don't have in the U.S.--except perhaps in times of political upheaval like the late 1960s.  I am tempted to claim that postering is more common in societies with a significant leftist heritage--they were a significant feature of the visual landscape in China in 1979, for example, when we were there--but I can't say for sure that's true.

Postering also appears to aggregate in specific places.  Some locales in Rome--especially outlying suburbs--are more likely than others (e.g. the Centro) to have large numbers of posters.  We found an especially rich lode in Serenissima, on Rome's outer eastern side.

What makes a poster "best"?  Design.  A compelling message.  A story we haven't heard, or, if we do know the story, the sense that the poster reveals something quintessentially Italian or Roman.  In 2016, as was true in 2015, some of the best posters are those done by the far-right fringe.  They're angrier, and that can make for more compelling posters.  And most of the centrist political posters--ubiquitous during the run-up to the Rome mayoral election--are pedestrian.

Still, the left can produce some decent posters.  The one below at least goes beyond Vota Communista ("vote Communist").  It's both weird and refreshing to see that Italian Communism still exists; it all goes back to the important role played by Communists in the Partisan movement that battled the German occupation during World War II.  Today, according to the poster below, the enemies of the Communists are petty politicians (politicanti), the European Union, NATO, and the banks.
Enough! (vote Communist Party).
This poster (below), which appears to be part of the student mainstream at one of Rome's great universities--La Sapienza--strategically links the current generation of anti-fascists with the partisan wartime resistance:

Yesterday partisans, today anti-fascists.
What's with the German?

Resistance is also the theme of the poster below, authored by an organization (we presume) called Partizan.  Although the poster would seem to be appealing to thoughtful people ("Thinking people must resist"), the gas-masked figure looks anything but thoughtful.

Casa Pound, a right-wing bad-boys organization named after the American poet, Ezra Pound, who cozied up to the Mussolini regime in the early 1940s, is perhaps the most frequent posterer in Rome, helping to keep the form alive.  The Casa Pound folks are opposed to immigration, and beyond that they're big on not surrendering to the powers that be.  They appear to relish physicality and to locate their heroic heritage in ancient Rome.
Alcuni Italiani Non Si Arrendono!
"Some Italians Don't Surrender!"

"What is written with the blood of the fathers is not erased with the saliva of the politicians."
A close-up of the upper left portion of the above poster:
Scary dudes
The Blocco Studentesco ("Student Block"), responsible for the poster below, is a 2006 offshoot of Casa Pound, focusing on school issues.
Not quite sure what's doing on here.  "They Aassault/We Laugh!" Joyous resistance.
Once in a while the poster left gets its act together and posters against Casa Pound.  This poster grounds its opposition in an open immigration ideal--in Italian multiculturalism.
And mostly in English
As in the United States and England, there's strong opposition in Italy to international trade agreements that presumably cost workers jobs.  The message below is significant: No al TTIP refers to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the EU and the United States that's been in the works since 2014.  The anti-TTIP folks are concerned that the nation states of Europe will be victimized by transnational corporations--especially, according to the poster's graphic, American companies

"Let's liberate ourselves from the 'Liberators'"
 Also under attack are austerity measures advocated by wealthy, creditor countries (like Germany) and imposed on poor, debtor countries (like Greece, Spain, and, to some extent, Italy). A decent graphic here (Piano B [Plan B]), but the poster's too busy to be visually arresting.

One of our design favorites is this poster, of uncertain political ideology.  It reads Roma non si vende"--"Rome is not for sale."  And it communicates this message with a delightful image of the Coliseum in a shopping cart.

Another top-design candidate is this anti-immigrant political poster ("We'll Stop the Alien Invasion"):

The poster below is austerely anti-design.  And yet its message--Siamo Già Tra Voi ("We are already among you") and signed "(hashtag) Enemies of the City," is compelling in its mystery and threatening tone.

The "What Happened to Dino?" poster that we found near Porta Metronia was mysterious, too, because we had no idea who Dino was.
Do you know what happened to Dino?
The most common poster in April was, understandably, the one below, announcing Liberation Day: 25 April.  It's not obvious why the date April 25 was chosen in 1946.  Although Liberation Day in general celebrates Italy's liberation from the horrific German occupation--and honors the resistance to the occupation--the country was not actually entirely free of the Nazis until May 1, 1945.  According to some sources, April 25 is important because on that date the National Liberation Committee of Upper Italy (CLNAI) proclaimed in a radio annoucement the death sentence for all Fascist leaders (Mussolini was killed 3 days later).  Others note that April 25 was the day Turin and Milan were liberated from the Nazis.  More than you needed to know.

For the best of... 2014 and 2012, check the links.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lessons for Our Times from Mussolini's Son-in-Law, Galeazzo Ciano

The diaries of Benito Mussolini's son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano are, indeed, remarkable, as Bill posted after he read them 7 years ago.

They are worth revisiting at this time and, in fact, a new edition is due out in March.  Although we generally avoid politics in this blog, the parallels with Trump are glaringly obvious.  And the parallels extend to the relationship.  This is a cautionary tale for another son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Ciano went from an art and drama critic who was critical of Fascism to Il Duce's foreign minister, which seems like a stretch.  The diaries don't clue us in to his "conversion," but start only after Ciano has married Mussolini's daughter, Edda, converted to Fascism whole-heartedly, and become, at age 33, the Italian government's Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Covering 1939-1943, these are diaries of a government official, perhaps the closest advisor to Mussolini in these years when Italy went to war against the Allies as part of the Axis with, primarily, Germany and with Japan.

Ciano's almost daily observations show us how a charismatic leader whose ego is his defining motivation can lead into war an apparently unwilling nation, whose people he often despises and castigates.  In the end, Ciano decides, it's Mussolini's ego, in reaction to foreign press reports, that drives him into the arms of Hitler.  Mussolini is a man of leadership skills and talent, according to Ciano, but he listens to those who prop up his views, berates the press and the Church, and cares mainly about his own prestige.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs for 7 years, Ciano had an intimate view of Il Duce, and he wrote regularly about the Italian Fascist leader's views and moods.

As the diary begins, the Italians clearly have their own design on empire.  They see Albania, for example, simply as one of their provinces, and when they take it, international reaction is almost nonexistent, Ciano notes - "the inertia of democracies."  Both men want a new "Roman Mediterranean Empire," but both hope to achieve it without war.

The Italian people don't want a pact with Germany, a country with whom they share few values, but it is Il Duce, not the majority of the people, who decides, says Ciano early on in his diary.

While Mussolini seems to agree with Ciano in 1939 that war is not desirable, the Duce "says that honor compels him to march with Germany.  Finally he states that he wants his part of the booty in Croatia and Dalmatia."  So it's ego and loot that's important here.

While Ciano sees himself as trying to speak truth to power with Mussolini, he laments "I have been completely abandoned by the large group of men who are concerned with telling the Duce only those things that please him.  To tell the truth is the least of their cares."

Ciano also views the Duce as focusing his attention "mostly on matters of form; there is hell to pay...if an officer doesn't know how to lift his legs in the Roman step....Does he fear the truth so much that he is unwilling to listen?"

In late 1939, Mussolini becomes "more and more restless.  He feels that he is out of this great struggle and in one way or another he would like to find a way to fit into it....He was quite pleased with an English article which said that the Italian people might fight at the side of Germany for reasons of honor.  This is also his point of view, and even when there are a thousand voices to the contrary, a single anonymous voice saying that he is right is sufficient, and he will cling to it and overlook, indeed deny, the others."

What concerns Mussolini most, as Ciano quotes him, is this:  "It is not possible that of all people I should become the laughingstock of Europe.  I have to stand for one humiliation after another."

Mussolini becomes more fascinated with Hitler as Hitler achieves military successes.  And that success, writes Ciano, "has had a favorable echo among the Italian people who, as Mussolini says, 'is a whore who prefers the winning mate.'"

Mussolini is also a believer in his own charisma:  He has written Hitler, "The feeling of the Italian people is unanimously against the Allies."  Ciano responds, "Where does he get this information? Is he really sure of what he writes, or is it not true that, conscious of his personal influence, he is thinking of the opportune moment for modifying the national mood at his whim."

Ciano argues against war because he distrusts the Germans, thinking they are playing the Italians, and he knows the Italians do not have the armaments and training for this war, though the sycophants around Mussolini tell him otherwise - "the clownish politicians, who have become exaggeratedly pro-German."

Ciano cannot stop Mussolini at this point:  "it is not that he wants to obtain this or that; what he wants is war, and, even if he were to obtain by peaceful means double what he claims, he would refuse." On May 29, 1940, Ciano notes, "Rarely have I seen Mussolini so happy.  He has realized his dream: that of becoming the military leader of the country at war."  Ciano adds:  "I am sad, very sad.  The adventure begins.  May God help Italy!"

When France capitulates quickly, Ciano finds "Mussolini dissatisfied.  This sudden peace disquiets him. ...The war has been won by Hitler without any active military participation on the part of Italy, and it is Hitler who will have the last word. This, naturally, disturbs and saddens him."

Mussolini becomes more and more concerned with how Hitler views him, And the Duce thinks a long war might restore Italy's lost prestige.  "Oh, his eternal illusions...," writes Ciano.

As the war becomes a series of losses for Italy - in Egypt, Libya, Greece, and elsewhere - "News from all sectors is bad."  Ciano, along with the entire cabinet, is relieved of his post on February 5, 1943, and he is made Ambassador to the Holy See, an unimportant position.  Mussolini reassures him, "Your future is in my hands, and therefore you need not worry," Ciano quotes Mussolini.  "He has invited me to see him frequently....I like Mussolini, like him very much, and what I shall miss most will be my contact with him."

The diary then goes silent for almost 10 months, until December 23, 1943, its final entry.  Ciano is now writing from his prison cell in Verona.  He reiterates that he opposed the pact with Germany, but received unequivocal orders for that alliance.  It was, says Ciano, a decision "that has had such a sinister influence upon the future of the Italian people."  That decision to join with Germany in provoking and promoting war, he says, in hindsight, was "due entirely to the spiteful reaction of a dictator to the irresponsible and valueless utterances of foreign journalists."  Italy was treated by Germany "never like partners, but always as slaves....Only the base cowardice of Mussolini could, without reaction, tolerate this and pretend not to see it."

Ciano has concluded that Mussolini read reports in foreign papers that he was subservient to Hitler and to counter them, and to protect his prestige, he had to join the Axis.

The last words of the diary are these:  "I believe that an honest testimonial of the truth in this sad world may still be useful in bringing relief to the innocent and striking at those who are responsible." Galeazzo Ciano  December 23, 1943, Cell 27 of the Verona Jail."

Ciano, who took part in the ousting of Mussolini on July 25, 1943, was executed, on Mussolini's orders it appears, on January 11, 1944.  His wife, Edda, Mussolini's daughter, disguised herself and smuggled the diary out of Italy.

PS - Although Bill read the diary 7 years ago, I read it just this year.  I believe there are reasons it continues to be reprinted from time to time, and, as I indicated at the top, right now.