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

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Experimental House in Fregene - in Celebration of the Bauhaus's 100th Anniversary

This amazing Brutalist construction in the seaside town of Fregene, outside Rome, is not to be missed. Architect Giuseppe Perugini - who worked with 20th-century Italian masters such as Adalberto Libera and was fascinated with early computer-generated designs - designed this structure in the late 1960s as his summer home. His architect wife (Uga De Plaisant) and son (Raynaldo Perugini) also contributed their talents. Called "Casa Sperimentale" ("Experimental House"), it became a sort of salon for artists and architects in the 1970s and 1980s.

Only a few materials were used - reinforced concrete (hence the Brutalist name -  ‘beton brut’ – raw concrete in French), steel and glass. We saw letters and Roman numerals on the concrete and learned later that at one time Perugini contemplated putting the pieces together in different configurations; so they were each identified.

The stairway was designed to be drawn up, leaving the house almost suspended over a pool.

Raymondo recalled: "Being all three architects, it was a bit of a family toy, at the time of realization each of us proposed solutions and started discussions ... it was a sort of great laboratory ... imagine a scale model!"

Round pieces (perhaps a bathroom or kitchen here at right) and outbuildings (a "gazebo" at left)  add some contrast and softness to the dominant horizontal and vertical shapes (among the weeds now).

The house, also called "Casa Albero" or "Tree House," has fallen into disrepair since the older Perugini's death in 1995. It has had some fame with the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus (Walter Gropius, 1919), and there is talk of saving it, but I don't have my hopes up.

The property is now more a canvass for graffiti artists than anything else. See the guest house at right.

One can see the house only online or by trespassing (one of us is more willing to do that than the other - you can guess which).

The exterior property wall - designed appropriately - surrounding the parcel of land looked impenetrable (left), but we found an opening in one of the gates.

More photos and video here (text in Italian - use your Google translator if you don't read it).

Bill cited the house in his post on a Rome building.

Casa Sperimentale address: Via Porto Azzurro, 57, Fregene.

1999 statue, emphasizing the (to me)
charlatan Padre's hands. He supposedly
had the stigmata, but then why did he
buy chemicals at his local hardware store?
Besides the seaside attractions of Fregene, which we've enjoyed in prior years (although our Rome friends criticized then our choice of beach towns), the town has a nice cafe' or two, an immense pine grove park, and the requisite statue to Padre Pio.

And thanks to blog reader Giulia, who rents a home in Rome on VRBO, for suggesting this locale in 2016. Sorry it took us 3 years to get here!


The town is calm before the summer season heats up.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Where Rome Ends...

On a drizzly day in late May last year, we took--with about 15 others--a guided tour of Monteverde Vecchio, in particular its fine collection of early-20th century villini (large houses), like the one above.  [The tour was by Tourismo Culturale Italiano, a group we've enjoyed for other tours, such as the ex-prison and ancient pharmacy in Trastevere.] At the time, the villini housed the city's wealthy (and still do - although one of our friends said she was scippata di bruto ("mugged") on the fashionable via Poerio, which was part of the tour). We imagine the wealthy built in the area because, while close to the city center, Monteverde was also separate, with a suburban feel, and elevated, looking down on the less fortunate.

Many of the villini were built on a hillside that overlooks Rome.  We've been all over that hillside in past years; one of the itineraries in our second guidebook, Modern Rome, is set in Monteverde Vecchio--it's a fashionable "stairwalk."

Below: Back left, the Alban Hills.  Right, the skeletal gazometro in Ostiense, once a gas storage facility.

But on that day in May, we experienced the hillside in a new way.  In a small park off (as we recall) either via Francesco dall'Ongaro or via Poerio, our guide looked into the distance--over the city of Rome and beyond--and announced we were looking at Cecchignola, "where Rome ends." Cecchignola?  Where Rome ends?  We looked again, and the guide was pointing out something far away, a tower, apparently.

As it happened, we had been in Cecchignola, and not that long ago.  Indeed, we had been there more than once, the first time hiking the hinterland, the 2nd to explore a public housing project nearby.  On one of these trips, we learned that the area was known for a substantial military base.

But we had not seen the tower--and didn't know it existed.

We took a photo while in the park, looking into the distance at something we could barely see.

Later, cropped and enlarged, the tower appeared like this:

And here, from the internet, the 187 meter spire, La Torre di Telecomitalia a Roma (Rome's telecom company tower), also known as the Torre Laurentina, after the nearby avenue.  Constructed in 1983, it is the tallest structure in Rome.  And it's where Rome ends.

It's on 2020's to-do list.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Intriguing Independent Book Stores - those that remain - in Rome

English-language book stores (or bookshops, as the English call them) in Rome have dwindled over the years (along with map stores, to our chagrin) - I have an RIP at the end of this post for a couple of them.

Marcello at the desk of Anglo-American Bookshop, with his favorite book
(just kidding)
We unfortunately see the same trend in the US, as reading of books in print declines and screens and earphones take over. Yet, there are 2 older stalwarts in the independent book store market that remain in Rome, plus an upstart. These three are all appealing options for those looking for English-language books. We have personal ties of sorts to all of them (and they all carry Rome the Second Time and Modern Rome).

The most Italian of these is Anglo-American Bookshop at via della Vite 102, founded in 1953, when, as it says on its site, "This choice was very courageous as the English language was not yet considered a recognized language worldwide for any type of exchange (economic, cultural, tourist etc.)." Hmmm.  [The "Story" is still only in Italian on the site, but you can click your 'translate' button to get it in English.] 

We've always appreciated Anglo-American because our Italian friends shop for their English language books there, and because they sell more of our books than anyone else (except, unfortunately, Amazon). They are still ordering Rome the Second Time 10 years after its publication. Marcello, who manages the shop, is friendly and helpful. The location is ideal, very near the Spanish Steps. The shop is large, with lots of sections, magazines, and book paraphernalia.

The most American/English of the three is Almost Corner Bookshop in Trastevere at via del Moro 45. Owned for many years by Dermot O'Connell, who moved from Saudi Arabia in the 2000s to buy it (from the founder, who opened it in 1991), the bookshop recently was sold. It's tiny and chock full of books. You'll find Scottish patriot Anita Ross at the desk, as she has been for years; she's very knowledgeable and helpful.

Translator Frederika Randall and author Giacomo Sartori,
of "I Am God" at Almost Corner Bookshop.

We also like Almost Corner because of the events there, many involving our friends. Frederika Randall brought in now-Paris-based Italian author Giacomo Sartori, whose fascinating 2016 novel "I Am God" she translated and sheparded to US publication (named one of the NYT's best books in translation a year or so ago - look for a review in this space soon). 

And we had a terrific free trip to the nearby hilltown of Montecelio and its surprisingly excellent Archaeological Museum "Rodolfo Lanciani" (Museo Civico Archeologico "Rodolfo Lanciani") where Notre Dame (in Rome) Professor Ingrid Rowland gave a reading from her extensive scholarship on Italy (our favorite of hers, her book on Giordano Bruno). 

Ingrid Rowland being introduced at the Montecelio Archeological
Museum in an outing sponsored by Almost Corner Bookshop.
That day as I recall she read from her Pompeii book and talked about the mystic German monk, Athanasius Kircher, who ended up in the monastery, Santuario della Mentorella, well behind Tivoli (near Guadagnolo), which we hiked up to and almost killed ourselves hiking down from (it's on a precipice; we took the wrong path - and I hadn't read yet the part about Kircher's heart being burned in the church on his death - maybe that should've been an omen). Photos of our near-death trip and the sanctuary are at the end of this post.

In Montecelio's excellent Museo Civico Archeologico
"Rodolfo Lanciani."

The author readings and trip were all courtesy of Almost Corner. Again, great book store location, helpful and friendly staff. There's a nice story on prior owner Dermot O'Connell here:

The appealing entrance to Otherwise
Bookshop near Piazza Navona.

And then the upstart. To open an independent bookstore in these trying times is indeed courageous.  Otherwise Bookshop is just off Piazza Navona, in fact practically on Piazza Pasquino on via del Governo Vecchio.

Otherwise is across the street from its Italian counterpart, Altroquando, which has a pub and reading area in its basement. It was at that pub that we gave a talk on our approach to Rome - talk about the need for courage! - to Romans. Otherwise has a full schedule of events, including book clubs, poetry slams, and music.
Audience for our talk on our "second time" take on Rome at
Otherwise Bookshop's pub below its sister bookshop, Altrove.

Just before our talk at Otherwise began.
I also originally cited Feltrinelli International, which WAS an adequate bookshop selling books in languages other than Italian near Piazza della Repubblica - part of that immense publishing house and chain and soulless compared to these other three. Just before this post went live, Feltrinelli announced it was closing several stores, among them this international bookshop.

So the RIPs besides Feltrinelli International?  Among them, The Lion Bookshop, the grand dame of English-language bookshops in Rome, which simply closed one day in 2011. And, the Trastevere Open Door Bookshop which exists, but has turned into only a used-book store.


The rock-perched Santuario della Mentorella where
the philosophical monk Kircher hung out.

Taking the wrong path (the view down was precipitous). Note the path is marked (lower right) and there's a cable to hold onto, upper right--suggesting the steepness of the hill.  

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Tufello: A Rebel Community

Vigne Nuove--we started here - no "new vineyards" in sight. 
On a sunny day in mid-May, we got on the Honda Forza 300 and headed north to Vigne Nuove.  The name refers both to the quartiere/neighborhood of Vigne Nuove, and to one of Rome's largest public housing projects (above), this one from the 1970s. Our plan was to have a look at the housing project (which we did--we plan a full report in a future post), then walk south into Tufello, an older, more human-sized enclave just to Vigne Nuove's south. If you're not on a scooter or in a car, Tufello is accessible, at its southern end, by the relatively new Jonio stop (one beyond Conca d'Oro) on Metro's "B1" line (though some refer to waiting for a Metro B1 as "waiting for Godot"). Vigne Nuove means "new vineyards." We're not sure when it got its name, but the area obviously was at one point an agricultural area with vineyards, and ruins of a 1st-century AD villa have been found there. And "Jonio" is also spelled "Ionio" as in the Ionian Sea between Italy and Greece.

"Welcome to Tufello, a Free and Rebellious Quartiere" - note the "Welcome" is expressed in BOTH the masculine and
feminine plural (very PC), instead of using the masculine plural to refer to both males and females - the classic use.
Tufello's "charm" comes in part from its geographical confinement; it's essentially a triangle with one angle at the top, bounded on the south by Viale Jonio, on the west by via Giovanni Conti, and on the east by via delle Vigne Nuove. At its center is Piazza degli Euganei (see below).

Just north of that piazza, off via Monte Massico, we encountered several apartment buildings--probably dating to the late 1940s or 1950s. The courtyards were less than elegant--not unusual for "public" spaces in Rome.  A few of the apartments had air conditioning, but here, as elsewhere in the city, clothes are dried by hanging them in the sun.

A sparse, uninviting courtyard.  Dianne checks the map. Yes, a print map.

This interior space had nice pine trees, but was overgrown
On one of the buildings, an ode to "Fabio," now deceased, "nel paradiso degli eroi" ("in the paradise of heroes").

Tufello has a cultural center, the C.C.P., or Centro di Cultura Popolare, offering a Yoga experience.

At the end of several blocks of this older housing, a new, more modern building:

Some new investment in the area
The main piazza has a large, somewhat awkward, modernist market, surrounded by the standard array of shops, many of them closed in the early afternoon, when we visited.

Many of Rome's neighborhoods have a "favorite son"--always a young man rather than a woman, and usually a political figure from the Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead), a period in the 1970s and early 1980s characterized by deep political divisions and violence. The identity of the favorite son defines the political identity of the neighborhood.

Tufello's walls tell the story.  In posters and wall art, the quartiere remembers Valerio Verbano.  Verbano was born into an anti-fascist family in 1961, and became an active militant during his high school years in the Rome neighborhood of Nuovo Salario.  He was a Communist and a member of Autonomia Operaia ("Worker's Autonomy" - loosely translated - perhaps "Power to the Workers" might be better).  In April 1979, Verbano was arrested and charged with fabricating explosive devices--basically, Molotov cocktails--in an abandoned building in San Basilio.  He was convicted and served 6 months in prison.

These signs appear on a gymnasium building (palestra). 
"Valerio Verbano--Militant Communist, Assassinated by the Fascist Skunks
An Idea Never Dies"
On February 22, 1980--three days from his 19th birthday--Verbano was shot and killed by three armed and masked men who had come to his home at via Monte Bianco 114, tied up his parents,and waited for Valerio to come home from school. Though the case was investigated many times over the years, it has never been solved--which may explain Verbano's prominence on Tufello's walls 40 years later. The Monte Bianco address places Verbano's home just south of Viale Jonio.

While much of the area's wall art and postering deals with Verbano, a good portion is more broadly political, marking the neighborhood as anti-fascist, militant and, after almost 80 years, still linked to the anti-Fascist/anti-Nazi partisans (partigiani) of World War II.  This wall immediately below links Verbano and Carla to the partisans.

"ieri partigiani"--yesterday, partisans
Identifying the enemies: money and Nazis--and something else

"Antifa Tufello"--anti-Fascist Tufello
Again, red and black flags

Cuore is heart, ribelle is rebels or rebellious. Not sure what a good translation would be
other than a literal "Rebellious heart". 
And the poster below reveals that Valerio is more than an idea; every year, on the anniversary of his death, the community marches in his memory, and for what he presumably stood for and against: against the "racism of the state," against the "war on the poor," "connecting the resistance."  A significant level of distrust of government here. (Tufello was cited in one of Conor Fitzgerald's novels as a neighborhood "wherthe police have not disturbed the criminal status quo." 

"1980...The Revolt Goes On...2019"


I've written many posts on "heroes" celebrated on Rome's walls, from both the left and the right. Here are some of them:

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Shopping for Gloves in Rome - One of Life's Little Pleasures

A work of art?  In some ways. In reality a few of the many gloves stacked floor to ceiling in the delightful, tiny Mieli glove store in central Rome.

Just off Piazza San Silvestro, this shop is a regular stop for me. I need leather gloves to ride on the scooter, and they get rather worn after a season of that use. So I head back every Spring to Mieli to buy a new pair, and pick a new color.  Last year dark green; this year vibrant purple.

In the same family hands since the 1920s, the store
features dozens of photos of luminaries, some with
notes to the owners.

The store is easy to miss, because it literally takes up about 15' square (5 m sq) of floor space.

Gloves of every style are on sale: lined with cashmere, lined with silk, unlined, fingers closed, fingers open, dappled leather, smooth leather, short, long.  The only requirements? Leather and gloves (guanti) and "made in Italy."

You'll see Josephine Baker, Gregory Peck and Gina Lollobrigida, Enrico Caruso, on what little wall space remains.

The affable salesclerk told me about the family's long-time ownership. An older woman came in while we were talking and sat in the one chair.  At the time, I didn't have the guts to engage her in a conversation, but I should have.  She's a current owner.

The prices are reasonable.  My rather long (protect those hands and wrists!) purple unlined leather gloves were about 40 Euros ($44 today).

Mieli Gloves, via di San Claudio, 70; tel. 06 678 5979. hours generally 10:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. (except Mondays opens at 2; closed Sundays).

And not too far from Orologeria Senzacqua, where I get leather watch bands.