Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Casa delle Armi: a little-known gem of the Foro Italico

One of the most striking and elegant buildings that make up the Fascist-era complex known as the Foro Italico (Italian Forum--once the Foro Mussolini), is also one of the least well known.  That's especially odd, given that the architect, Luigi Moretti, is a legend of Italian modernism.  The building's location accounts for at least some of the discrepancy.  The most common entrance to the Foro Italico is far to the north, opposite the Ponte Duca d'Aosta, while Moretti's building flanks a less-used entrance, at the far southern end of the complex, opposite the recently constructed Ponte della Musica.

We "discovered" the building last year, while living so close to the Ponte della Musica that we could see the Moretti building from our 6th-floor terrace. With hundreds of others who were headed for a tennis match, we turned into viale delle Olimpiadi--and there it was.

The larger concept.  The Casa delle Armi is at left. 

Just built, 1935.  The center section, now open only on the 2nd floor, may have originally been open on the ground floor, too.
As a fencing academy, 1930s.
Moretti designed the structure in 1934, and it was finished the following year, clad in white Carrara marble.  It was originally conceived as an experimental Casa Balilla, a Fascist youth organization.  When completed, it was assigned to the sport of fencing and took on the name Casa delle Armi (literally house of arms), then the Accademia della Scherma (academy of fencing). Abandoned after the fall of Fascism in 1943, it apparently was unoccupied until the early 1980s, when it was used as an anti-terrorism "bunker" in the Anni di Piombo, housing both a courtroom and a prison for convicted followers of the Red Brigades. Today, having shed most of its Fascist reputation, it is used by CONI, the Italian National Olympic Committee.  When we were there, CONI was advertising on the facade of the building that the city was competing for the 2024 Olympics; the current mayor, Virginia Raggi, cancelled that bid.

Seen from viale delle Olimpiadi, Moretti's sleek high-modernism is set against the backdrop of wild, wooded Monte Mario.  This side of the building appears to be in reasonably good repair, including
the mosaics at the near end of the long pool.  The mosaics evoke Fascism's interest in the body and the Mussolini regime's effort to link its ideology to the glorious Roman past (let's "make Italy great again"!).

At the far end, the original design featured a space open at the top--presumably to allow more visual access to Monte Mario--and that space remains open. The space directly below the opening has been

Sten and Lex design, c. 2010. 

given over to the well-known pair of Rome graffiti artists Sten and Lex, who have fashioned a black and white geometric pattern that detracts as little as possible from the building's overall look. From the street behind, the building shows considerable deterioration, especially a rounded section on its southern end.
Great potential, poor maintenance. 

Current location of the statue.

A 1930s-era statue, once situated on viale delle Olimpiadi, now resides forlornly at the corner of the back of the building--next to a recently constructed handicap ramp--where it has no obvious function.

Former location of the statue.
We haven't been inside, and today's interior, having been given over to a bureaucracy, may not resemble the one Moretti designed.  Period photos reveal Moretti's command of the modernist pallette, in all its grace and simplicity.  The stairway below is perhaps not the equivalent of the one he created for the Casa del GIL downriver, but it is lovely, nonetheless.

Another elegant Moretti staircase, right. 


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