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

Friday, August 24, 2018

Mikis Mantakas: a Prati Story

In April, we found ourselves for the first time living in the della Vittoria quartiere of the city, with Prati--also more or less unknown to us--only steps to the south.  Neighborhoods have their own stories, and we came across one of Prati's stories on our 2nd day in the city.  We were strolling around Piazza dei Quiriti when we saw this poster, which from its condition had been put up some time ago:

We knew then that Mikis Mantakas was no longer alive.  But who was he?  Two days later, in the same area, we found another poster.

Now we knew that Mantakas was, for some, a martyr ("Europe in the struggle for liberty does not forget its martyrs"), and that he had died on February 28, 1975--a victim, it seemed likely, of the political turmoil and violence known as the "Years of Lead, the "Anni di Piombo."

Here's the rest of the story, or some of it.

Mikis Mantakas was born in Athens, Greece on July 23, 1952.  In the 1970s--probably 1974--he came to Rome to study economics.  An activist and militant in Greece, in December 1974 in Rome he became attached to the Greek contingent of FUAN, the Fronte Universitario d'Azione Nationale ("the university front for national action"), a right-wing group known for militancy.

On February 28, 1975, he was shot twice with a .38 caliber pistol by a leftist extremist (some claimed a communist) in front of the offices of MSI, located at via Ottaviano 4, in Prati.  MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano) was a neo-fascist political party, founded in 1946.

A hostile crowd had gathered around the building, and Mantakas had moved to another side of the building and another exit, this one at Piazza del Risorgimento, 4, close to the walls of the Vatican.  He was shot and killed there by Alvaro Lojacano.  Lojacano was proved to have committed the crime and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.  But before being incarcerated, he fled abroad and never served his sentence.

It's not just a few people who care about Mantakas' death and seek to keep his memory alive.  If one can believe today's right-wing websites, each year on February 28 "nationalists" from many European countries gather in Rome to celebrate Mantakas and affirm their nationalist ideals. They post banners and march west along via Cola di Rienzo to Piazza del Risorgimento, where they rally in front of the site of Mantakas' death, what is now a Foot Locker store.

We're almost never in Rome in February, so we can't confirm that these marches take place every year.  But images on one website make clear that a march did take place in 2015 (the 40th anniversary of Mantakis' death), and that there were dozens, if not hundreds of participants.

"Your memory does not allow surrender." 

And that's the story of Mikis Mantakas, a Greek young man who died in Prati.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Rome's only beer garden: the ex-dogana

In Rome, you're never more than 2 minutes from a cold beer; after all, it's available in any "coffee" bar.  But if you're looking to have your brew in a spot that's more unusual--and maybe stroll through an art exhibit--you can't do better than the ex-dogana (ex-customs house), a sprawling complex of buildings recently converted into an arts and entertainment center.

The ex-dogana is located about 100 yards from Piazza Porta Maggiore, which is more or less at the far end of Stazione Termini (the main train station) and at the confluence of three quartiere: Esquilino, Pigneto, and one of the city's centers of youth nighttime social life, San Lorenzo.  The entrance to the ex-dogana is on viale Scalo San Lorenzo, which runs northwest off Porta Maggiore.  The Scalo is an odd street that can feel threating, because it's busy, noisy, divided by a tram in the middle, and covered and darkened by an elevated highway.  You could be in Brooklyn in 1955.  Anyway, if you exit Porta Maggiore (hopefully without getting run over) and hew to the right (east) side of the Scalo, you can't miss the entrance to the ex-dogana.  Just walk in.

On the left, ahead, is a large parking lot.  On the right, the first thing you'll see is an enclosed courtyard, the site of special events (participatory sports, milling around, music) for which there is
usually a fee.  This area seems to appeal to younger folks.

But if it's beer you want, keep going a few yards, then up a short flight of steps on the right.  You're there!

The beer is all draft, served in plastic cups, a bit pricey (beer is oddly expensive in Rome)--E6 is what we recall.  Hey, you're paying for the space!  There's food, too.  The food stands are made from shipping containers.

You're in Rome's only dedicated beer garden (there are some outdoor spaces attached to pubs). The "garden" was produced at considerable effort, by importing dozens of large potted trees.  It worked, creating any number of inviting spaces to sit and sip.  It's partly covered.  We thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, unique for Rome. It's called the "Bosco Urbano" - Urban Forest, and is a project of Rome's La Sapienza University.  It's considered a "temporary" forest - so we're not sure how long it will be up, nor if the beer stations are there all the time. 

That's Dianne, looking contemplative. 

We liked the view too, especially to the north, where the elevated Circonvallazione Tiburtina swoops to ground with post-industrial flair. 

On the other side, a game area: foosball and ping pong.  Not much action at the moment.  The building on the other side of the game area has been the site of large art exhibitions.

At the near end of the platform (where you came in), you'll find a large open space with plants and tables, and the entrance to an interior space that houses a cafeteria, a bookstore, and a small art gallery.

On the day we were there, the gallery was hosting an exhibit by the painter Luca Grimaldi, whose work features consumer objects (such as items on a grocery store self, or racks of magazines).

Congrats, Roma, on this great new space!


Friday, August 10, 2018

The Pleasures of Parioli's via Paisiello

We were living just a few blocks away from via Giovanni Paisiello, where we [thought] we had identified the location of a fine piece of mid-century modernist architecture.  We set out to find it.  All we lacked was the precise address.

Our task seemed easy.  There's not much to via Paisiello, which runs northeast (the direction we walked) for just a few blocks between Villa Borghese and viale Liegi.  Moreover, the Parioli quartiere isn't exactly loaded with great buildings; so we figured if we saw one that was worthy--and of the appropriate time period--we would have found our prey.

And there it was, at #10.  Powerful angular corner balconies.  Captivating mosaics.  Everything in need of repair, but the elements were there.  A lovely example of a species we enjoy: mid-century modernism.
These are great balconies. Pour me a
glass of Arneis!

Today it's a bank

Very 1960

Except we had the wrong building.  As we later learned, the building we were looking for--clearly the most famous on the street, was the one in the photo below, a couple of blocks further along, at #39.  At first glance (and maybe second) it's an odd duck: the bottom half is a handsome but rather traditional palazzo in the classical language common in Rome in the early 20th century.  The top half--3 + stories--is mid-century horizontal glass and metal.  Between 1950 and 1952, some part of the original palazzo was removed and, under the supervision of prominent architect Mario Ridolfi, a modern addition added.  That kind of radical surgery doesn't happen often--we can't think of another example in Rome--and that's why the building is notable. It helps, too, that the surgery was successful.  So successful that on our first trip up via Paisiello we hadn't even noticed the structure.  Ridolfi did well.

The building's reputation also owes something to the fact that Ridolfi was in the first tier of 20th-century Italian architects.  Among his buildings are the rationalist Nomentano post office in Piazza Bologna (1932), one of the 4 commissioned for Rome by the Fascist regime; a playful and architecturally significant public housing project in Tiburtino (1950-51); and the headquarters for FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), begun in 1938 as the Ministry for Italy's African colonies.

We might have considered our first effort on via Paisiello a failure, were it not for some other discoveries, all within a few blocks.  We admired the enormous cantilevered corner balconies of this otherwise ordinary apartment house:

Then there was this treasure, at first sight just another classic palazzo, this one in red.  On closer inspection, it turned out the palazzo wasn't so classic.  Indeed, it's of Fascist-era origins--1935 to be exact.  It carries a Latin inscription, some heads that reminded us of the heads that decorate one of the buildings in Piazza Independenza and, high above, a couple of elegant statues to link the building (and the regime) to ancient Rome.

Next door, and not so well cared for, another 1930s building with nice curvelinear lines, no doubt originally an apartment building but now the Hotel Paisiello.  The round side/rear balconies are exceptional.

From another era, but equally fine, at the far (northwest) end of the street.

And that's via Paisiello--or rather, what we saw of it.


Friday, August 3, 2018

The Catacombs in Torpignattara: Our Candidate for Best Catacombs in Rome

Rome has 500 catacombs.  About a dozen are regularly open to the public, and we've been to half of those.  One of us (guess who) claims re these almost 2000-year-old evocative burial grounds, "seen one, seen 'em all."  But our recent visit to the catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter (Santi Marcellino e Pietro) proved him wrong.

Easily reached by the "trenino" (little train) that runs from Stazione Termini (more directions at the end of this post), these lightly visited catacombs have a wealth of newly restored frescoes dating from about the 4th century on.  The story of the frescoes' restoration includes funding by Azerbaijan (you tell me!).

President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
and of the Pontifical Commission for
Sacred Archaeology, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi,
 hosts Dr. Mehriban Aliyeva, President of the
 Azerbaijani Heydar Alieyev Foundation in 2014
celebrating the Foundation's funding of the
laser technology restoration of the catacombs, 

New laser technology was used to remove the black gummy coating (from age, mold, candle smoke) and graffiti on the paintings.  The before and after photos are remarkable.

We were not allowed to take photos inside so these pictures (except at the end of the post) are not ours.
2006 excavations of 1,000 skeletons.

There are almost 90 decorated rooms in these 4.5 kilmoeters (3 miles) of burial niches on three levels well below ground.  We saw a dozen or more.  Over 20,000 bodies were once in this "cemetery," 1,000 of which were found only in 2006, with their togas still on.

An elaborately decorated room of likely a wealthy family.
These frescoes apparently document women participating in church rites, though we didn't see enough to draw that conclusion.  They include a painting of Jesus healing a "bleeding woman," the topic of which is of interest in church history.
Jesus healing the bleeding woman.

The frescoes are, of course, highly symbolic, and our tour guide (who spoke excellent English to the three of us on the tour that day) seemed to enjoy elaborating on the symbolism, which we attempted to interpret as well.

The new laser technology has been used on paintings in the more visited Catacombs of Domitila off the via Appia Antica, but those newly-restored paintings are not part of the tour as of 2018.

The mausoleum of St. Helena, undergoing restoration.
You enter the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter from the courtyard of the mausoleum of Helena, Constantine's mother, which is in the process of being restored.  When it is, this complex likely will attract more visitors.

One of the more informative aspects of the complex is the mausoleum's use of amphorae in its walls.  Amphorae, old vessels used to carry olive oil and other liquids, were thrown away once they were empty.  These old, often broken, ceramics then were sometimes used in the building of walls to lighten the load, because they were empty.  The wall, which basically was a tower, deteriorated over time, so that it now shows the amphorae inside.  A colloquial word in Italian for amphorae or jugs, is "pignatta."  The tower was known as the "tower of the jugs" or "Torpignattara," and so the neighborhood is named today.  That was a new one, even for our Roman friends.
The orange remains of the amphorae in the mausoleum's 'tower' from which Torpignattara gets its name.

Tours of the catacombs are available 5 times/day, every day except Thursday (much online information about the catacombs is woefully out of date), in English and Italian, and also via mp3 players in German, Spanish, and French. The regular price is 8 Euros, children under 7 free, reduced for children 7-18 and some others.  The Web site is sparse but clear and in English as well as Italian.  You can book via email (in English) online, and not much in advance.  We did it the day before we went.

Take the trenino or tram at the far end of via Giolitti next to Termini towards Centocelle, to the Berardi stop.  It's a short ride - about 10-15 minutes.  The catacombs are directly across the street.  A walk back towards the center along via Casalina will give you a feel for the heavily ethnic neighborhood of Torpignattara - and places to eat and drink.  You can catch the trenino back to Termini every few blocks.

And thanks to our friend Brian who told us about the recent restorations.