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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

2,000 years in one day - Rome through "Open House Roma"

James Turrell couldn't do beter than this great view from the courtyard of Palazzo INAIL

We basically subscribe to the adage that to see Rome, even a lifetime isn't enough.  But sometimes we challenge that.

An angel?  What part of "Neopythagoreanism" was this?
In the subterranean Basilica of Porta Maggiore
On one May day last year, we managed to go from 1st century AD to 21st century, with a few stops in between.  We did this sweep through history with tours of buildings that day, thanks to the Open House Roma (that's it in Italian) program that has been in place annually for the past few years.Of the hundreds of offerings over 2 days, we picked on a Sunday:

1) The underground (probably always was) Basilica of Porta Maggiore, dating to the 1st to 2nd century.

2) The Palazzo INAIL, a 1926-33 building in the city center.

3) The reputed home of Cola di Rienzo, dating from the 11th-12th centuries.

4) Two EUR buildings - the Palazzo Uffici, and
the Square Coliseum, just restored thanks to the fashion house Fendi (1938-43, restored 2017).

None of these is normally open to the public, and so we were anxious to get advance tickets.  
So, what and why.

Interesting set table - stuccoed 2,000 years ago, again
on the walls of the subterranean Basilica of Porta Maggiore

The basilica is still in the midst of its recuperation.

The underground basilica was a real treat, as we thought it might be, since it's rarely been open and can host only a few people at a time. We had no idea it was even there; its entrance is tucked in among the tumult of Piazza di Porta Maggiore.  We didn't even see it when we did our "Wall Walk."  

The basilica was discovered only in 1917, by accident, and has been the subject of archaeological restoration and analysis since. It's now 40 feet underground and has elaborate decorations in stucco.  It was excavated from tufo rock.  Apparently it was a sacred spot for devotees of a little-known cult called Neopythagoreanism. Originating in the first century BC, this was a school of mystical Hellenistic philosophy that preached asceticism and was based on the writings of Pythagoras and Plato. We felt privileged to be able to get that close to these 2000 year-old markings of an ancient civilization.

We had to focus our attention 20 centuries later when we showed up at Palazzo INAIL, which sits at the head of via 4 Novembre, right off Piazza Venezia.  The large photo at the top was taken inside the palazzo.

Roman architects of any era love their
spiral staircases.
We'd been by the building hundreds of times and basically hadn't noticed it.  It was constructed in the Mussolini era for the bureaucracy that dealt with those considered "unfortunate," or without support.  
The view from Palazzo INAIL down via 4 Novembre into Piazza Venezia.
Palazzo INAIL is amazingly sited on the hill above villa Colonna and has superb views of the city, rarely available to the public.  The architecture is some of the best of that period, in our opinion.
Even here, Roman ruins were found, and preserved.
One of many great views from Palazzo INAIL.
Again, a Turrell-like framing.
Part of Mussolini's demolition projects, Casa dei Crescenzi stands alone
at the end of the block - at right.
Crowds lining up to get into Cola di Rienzo's home.
Then we ran to get to what we thought was another prize, Casa dei Crescenzi or Cola di Rienzo's home. 
This is a fascinating building, partly because Mussolini tore down everything else in the area, leaving only this building--at the pleading of one of his architects.  It has some of the best 'spolia' in the city - being made up of parts of ancient Rome.  The building has had quite a troubled history, including being a stable at one point. 

A great example of use of 'spolia.'
The disappointment was that the organization occupying the building wanted to proselytize about their work, rather than let us see and understand the building.  We pitied the people waiting in long lines to get in - only to be sat down and lectured to.
But you had to sit through 2 lectures to see much inside.
And there was much to see!

Mussolini featured in the bas relief on Palazzo dei Uffici
(along with fellow visitors)
We then headed out to EUR, one of our favorite places, and managed to squeeze in for a tour of the building known as "Palazzo Uffici," - "Offices building," from the 1942 world exhibition that never occurred.  We know this building well, and had been in its bomb shelter previously, but the tour of the upstairs and offices, including a head of Mussolini ignominiously sitting on the floor, was a delight.

That's Mussolini's head on the right (in back, some great frescoes of the period).
And he thought he'd be on a big statue!
This building too has its version of the spiral staircase.

The furnishings, some by Gio' Ponti, as we recall, were lovely, but
of questionable comfort.

Palazzo Uffici is at right, the Square Coliseum in back.  There's a lively outdoor
market here on Sundays.
Then we capped off our day with a place we desperately wanted to see - the Palazzo della Civilta' Romana, also known as the Square Coliseum. 
View from the rooftop of Palazzo della Civilta' Romana, looking out to the hills and Calatrava's desolate, abandoned swim complex.
It was closed for years, surrounded by cyclone fencing, and in disrepair.  As is the case for many Rome monuments, it was restored thanks to private funding - and advertising.  In this case, Fendi, which was sponsoring the tour of the newly-restored building.  Unfortunately, they announced when we arrived that we could see only the art gallery on the first floor (always open to the public) and the rooftop terrace.  The rest of the floors were closed - to keep their fashion designs secret (bait and switch!).  The rooftop views were spectacular, but we missed the opportunity to see how the building itself was constructed and has been restored.

The Square Coliseum with a Penone sculpture.

Quite a day - and that was just Sunday.  Next up, our itinerary for Saturday, which was equally informative and exciting.

For information on Open House Roma 2018, which will be May 12-13, see their web site.


Richard Peterson said...

Some very fortunate visits! It would be worth co,mpiling a list of the desirable, but inaccessible bits of Rome, including (as I saw Tosca here two nights ago) the Palazzo Farnese. When I was studying architectural conservation in Rome at ICCROM in 1982, we were promised several times to see the subterranean Porta Maggiore basilica,m but we never did, sadly.... I envy you...


Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

Grazie Richard - always interested in your thoughts. D and B