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

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Rome's first Drive-in Theater: Casal Palocco

When we first saw this photograph, from the New York bureau of United Press International, we thought it might be of early construction on the Palazetto dello Sport, designed by Annibale Vitellozzi and engineered by Pier Luigi Nervi. It isn't, but it's likely not a coincidence--given the angled, concrete supports--that the Palazzetto and the structure in the photograph were completed in the same year: 1957. [Thanks to Dianne's cousin, Jim Bennett--an Italophile, for sending us this original UPI photo.] 

The concrete in the photo is there to support a 540 square meter screen for Italy's first drive-in movie theater, then--and perhaps still--the largest ever in Europe, with 60,000 square meters of parking for 700 cars.

Another view of the construction

The completed screen. 

The drive-in was built near Axa in Casal Palocco, a then-new Rome suburb (completed in 1961) on the north side of via Cristoforo Colombo, well beyond the GRA and not far from the coastal town of Ostia. 

The theater was very successful through the 1960s, then fell on hard times until, sometime in the 1980s, it closed. 

In the 1960s

It was briefly reopened in the late 1990s and again, briefly, in 2015, by the committee behind the Trastevere group, Cinema America Occupato (an "illegal" sit-in or squatter type arrangement). 

How it looks today--assuming it's still there. 

Designed to resemble the American suburbs of the 1950s, Casal Palocco was a planned community with design links to Adalberto Libera, whose vision produced Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico) under the Fascist regime, and to Raffaele de Vico, Rome's most famous and prolific landscape designer. 

The plan for Casal Palocco

Because of its many parks and gardens and athletic fields, Casal Palocco--actually a part of Rome--was known was known as the "Quartiere Verde" ("Green Quarter"). Many of the homes were large and sumptuous. A central shopping plaza had, and has, a rationalist flair. 

Late '50s rationalism

Today, about 32,000 people live in the community. 

Not sure of the date of this photo, but the cars are vintage, and that's Charlton Heston on the screen in the 1956 film, "The Ten Commandments." On the horizon, back left, the Alban Hills.  

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Finding another (too well) hidden gem - Diulio Cambellotti's Santa Barbara Chapel

We feel comfortable bringing this post to our readers, even in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, because even were the virus to disappear tomorrow, it wouldn't be possible to visit the remarkable chapel of Santa Barbara.  The Institute in which it is housed is closed for repairs, with no opening date in sight.  So enjoy RST's virtual tour!

We are fans of, and followers of, the 20th-century craftsman and artist, Duilio Cambellotti, who is featured in works in Villa Torlonia (especially the Casina delle Civette) and elsewhere in Rome as well as other places in Italy. Last Spring we gathered in a post several places in Rome to see his work - indoors and out. But we had missed a large and lovely one, the windows that frame the altar in the small chapel within the Istituto Storico e di Cultura dell'Arma del Genio - an odd complex of buildings Bill wrote about in 2014, near Foro Italico.

Sketch by Cambellotti of Santa Barbara
for the chapel in the Istituto...
Imagine our surprise to find a large and complex Cambellotti work later last year IN that Istituto Storico - the chapel of Santa Barbara, patron saint of, appropriately, artillerymen and miners.
(Capella Santa Barbara)

Immediately below is Cambellotti's "signature" in the windows, explaining it was his idea and design, and that Giulio Cesare Giuiliani was the craftsman (I think), created in XVIII E.F. (18th year of the Fascists, or likely 1940). One reason the enormous windows look so good is that they were restored in 2000.

In the photo of the chapel below, one can see the military men digging out a bunker at left, underground at right and in the middle, bottom and above the bottom middle panel, as radio transmitters (2nd photo below). 


 We were fortunate to have an extensive tour of the museum and the chapel as part of 2019's OpenHouseRoma. 

And now, I must add a postscript - unfortunately the Institute and Museum are now closed for restoration. And, as those things go, who knows for how long. It's possible one could talk one's way into the chapel. The library and archives remain open by appointment.

Below are external views of the Istituto.


This very Fascist design is outside, but inside the external walls of the complex; in a courtyard.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Danish Academy: Modernist Treasure, or Cold and Sterile?

"I hear you knockin' but you can't come in."  We're opening with a lyric from Little Richard (RIP) because we love Little Richard and find the line descriptive of life under Covid-19. You can knock on the door of the Danish Academy [Accademia di Danimarca] (or of any other academy in Rome), but you can't come in--and may not be able to for quite a while. So what better time to explore an academy, virtually of course, through a few photos taken (some of them surreptitiously, if I recall) at Open House Roma, just a year ago.

(Open House Roma, an annual weekend jam-packed with tours of buildings and sites usually closed to visitors, [and of which we always take full advantage; see one of our many posts on our OHR discoveries here] would have been May 15-16. This year. of course, it was cancelled.)

The entrance to this academy is forbidding: up a long stairway to an immense, low, metal, black door. We were forced to wait outside until the last minute when a select few with reservations (that included us--we've learned our OHR lessons well) were invited in and asked to supply IDs.

First 'vista' when one walks in. 

Inside, a rectangular entry with a low ceiling opened up onto what could be described as an open-air sculpture garden, if it were a garden and had more than one sculpture in it.  The block of granite was carved in the early 1970s by Soren Georg Jensen (1917-1982).

Like many of the academies that dot the Rome landscape, Denmark's Academy was founded in the post-World War II Era--in 1956--to develop and nurture cultural and scientific ties, in this case between Denmark (Danimarca) and Italy. Its first incarnation was located in Palazzo Primoli, near Piazza Navona and then, in 1967, transferred to a new building of modernist design on via Omero, off Piazza Thorwaldsen, where several other academies are located (we refer to it as "Academy Gulch" in our first Rome guidebook).

The new building (funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, whose brewery founder died in Rome in 1876) was designed by Kay Fisker (1893-1965), known both for monumental forms and modernist inclinations, and was inspired by the Scandinavian architectural tradition. It is considered Fisker's "last masterpiece" (he died before it was completed), and an archetype of Danish functionalist form, in contrast to baroque Rome. Structurally, the design consists of three cubes--one for the Director and administrative offices; a second to house the "borsisti" (scholars, fellowship holders); a third containing the library--set on three sides of a grand terrace, overlooking a garden, and with a view to the West. It was restored most recently in 2014-15 under the direction of Danish architect Bente Lange.

The terrace, looking toward the gardens.  Inviting, in its way, but with the tables set far apart, hardly organic, though perhaps appropriate post-Covid-19. 
View from the terrace of the housing for visiting scholars. 

Housing for the fellowship holders, overlooking the terrazzo. 
The Academy's building is notable for the high quality of its furnishings. The classic Scandinavian furniture was designed by Ole Wanscher (1903-1985), a professor of interior design in Copenhagen.

A lounge.  Note the furnishings. 
Food service facilities.  Wood everywhere.
The multi-story library: modernist, but classical in layout. 
Conference room, artist of work on wall unknown
Curtains, rugs, and other textiles were designed by Vibeke Klint, Ruth Malinowski, and Lene Helmer Nielsen. Paintings, drawings, and etchings--most of which I did not feel comfortable photographing--are abundant. At least one, an untitled piece by Seppo Mattien--is by a Rome artist.

"Posthumous Letters to Clara Jensen," Richard Mortenson, 1970. 
As we walked around and through the complex, the two of us disagreed on our evaluation of the aesthetics. She found the buildings cold, dark, somewhat sterile, and ultimately uninteresting--not clearly worthy of reporting. He liked the combination of modernism and comfort (on the inside) and the monumentality of the complex (on the outside).

Anyway, you can keep knockin', but you can't come in. (Don't miss the interesting photo at the end of the post).


A much earlier photo--perhaps 1967--with modernist tree trimming and before vines were allowed to cover much of the brickwork.
Compare with the 2019 photo just above. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Rome's Urban Countryside: a Walk from Pigneto to Centocelle

Rome's more open today than it was just a few weeks ago, so it may be possible to actually walk the walk that we took about a year ago.  If not, maybe in the fall. [This post was first published in April, but we took it down after a few days as events compelled us to write about "Liberation Day" and then the loss of Frederika Randall. We bring it back for the rest of its 10-day or so 'run.']

Rome isn't a mega-city (pop. about 2,800,000), and it sprawls.  One result is that there are surprising swaths of countryside remarkably close to the urban core--and even within it.  One minute you're on an urban thoroughfare, busy with commerce and residences; turn the corner and you're walking on what feels--and is, in some respects--a country road. Then, further on, more urban Rome, in the shape of a phalanx of modern apartment buildings.

We found an example of "country Rome" on a walk from Pigneto, a dense, hip, immigrant neighborhood on the northeast of the urban core, to Centocelle, a suburb further to the east.  We'll pick up our walk on via Acqua Bullicante, a north/south street packed with shops. Imagine you're walking straight south, about halfway between via Prenestina (to the north) and via Casilina (to the south).

On the left side of the street, facing an Esso gas station, note the mural by Atoche (above), a prominent area street artist, whose studio is in Pigneto.  Then, not far ahead, the Supermercato Il Castoro, with a country remnant--an Olive tree--in the front courtyard.

Immediately beyond the supermarket, turn left on via Forma--our "country road."  For the next mile or so, you'll have to be careful as you walk. There's a good deal of traffic, and--typical of the countryside--NO SIDEWALKS.

 Right away, some interesting buildings, including one with some neo-medieval touches.

It seems likely that via Forma once traversed small farms and orchards. A few still survive, now joined by small industrial/commercial sites.

After about a half mile on via Forma, turn right at the "T"--onto via Cori. A few hundred yards ahead, in Piazza Sessa Aurunea, note the Carpe Diem Bar (on your right) and a functioning crossroads nasone, if you haven't brought water.

Turn left (east) just before the fountain, onto via Labico.  More country road. Again, no sidewalks for about a half mile. Lots of traffic. Note an abandoned sculpture park in the weeds on the right.

On the left, a ways down, an old factory with a rusted green gate.

Bill took one of his "found art" photos here (which he later printed at 17 X 22 inches--looks great!)

Continue on until the road forks and there's a huge apartment complex ahead.

The "country" part of the walk is over.  We like exploring the architecture of such apartment complexes, and we went into this one through a nearby gate, coming out the other side on a road.

Make your way to the NEXT street, to the east, via Francesco Ferraironi, and turn right (south).  Follow this street until it curves right onto via Oberdan Petrini. You've got one more block to viale della Primavera.  From that street, head straight east, working your way through the 'hood, to the main drag of Centocelle (which in 2010, Bill called Rome's New Rochelle): via dei Castani (below).

 Then just a bit south to the large piazza that houses the church of San Felice da Cantalice.

On that same piazza, across the street from the church, there's a bar/cafe with outdoor space.  If you're inclined--and the place is open--have a coffee or a glass of wine and contemplate your journey through the Roman countryside.

Just a couple of blocks to the west and a bit south, you'll find the via Casilina tram. If you don't mind being on public transport, it should be operating, as of this writing, at 50% capacity and you must wear a mask. The tram will take you back to Pigneto.