Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Ex Snia lake: industrial detritus meets nature

Wandering around our "new" neighborhood of Pigneto on one of our past stays in Rome, we came across a strange self-managed lake. Yes, lake. The largest lake in the city, surpassing even the one in Villa Borghese, and much less visited. One sign said the site was the Hadrian's Villa of industrial archeology--quite a title to live up to.

At the bottom: "La Villa Adriana dell'archeologia industriale"

We talked to a man who was tending the gardens, part of the extensive landscape surrounding the lake, and he explained the self-management to us. We read later that the Senegalese community maintains the regular opening and closing of the entire park-like area.

A view of the long-gone industrial factory; that's our Pigneto neighborhood, morphing into Prenestina,
 in back.

The lake derives from a construction error. The property was once a manufacturing facility for viscose, a type of rayon fiber made from natural sources.  When it opened in 1922, it was one of the largest plants in Italy, employing more than 2,000 workers at its peak. The facility was bombed in World War II (the fiber was used in military uniforms) and, after its employment dropped from over 1600 in 1949 to just over 100 in 1953, it closed. (No lake yet.)  The site then became one of speculation for developers, who began construction in 1992. They unexpectedly hit an underground stream, the Marranella, and the property filled up. The developers were unable to contain the underground aquifer and their construction permits--apparently with irregularities--were revoked.

Entrance, complete with mural and opening times (not the current ones).

SNIA was the name of the chemical company that owned the plant. Oddly, the initials stand for Societa' di Navigazione Italo Americana, because the company originally was involved in US-Italy maritime trade. Thus, the lake and the area are known as "ex Snia" - the former SNIA.

In the past decade, especially, the community has taken over the property, establishing playgrounds, camps for kids, and other recreational and didactic activities. They've worked diligently to keep the property out of the hands of developers. They call the site Monumento Naturale Parco delle Energie - Lago Bullicante ("The Natural Monument of the Energy Park of Bullicante Lake"). "Bullicante" comes from Acqua Bullicante, the name of the street that runs along one side of the area and perhaps another name for the Marranella stream or a village that once was in the locale. Whether the community will be successful in keeping developers' hands off this property is yet to be seen.

Rules and regulations at right. And some assertions: "This is a place liberated from profit and from building speculation, thanks to the participation and the struggle of everyone. It is a place that lives from self-management, self-financing, and solidarity."  Among the prohibitions: swimming or boating on the lake.  Among the "Not prohibited" activities: playing ball, shouting with joy.

In these strange times, the lake is open again, regularly. The FaceBook site says they are missing only the signature of the president of the province of Lazio to make their "natural monument" a legal reality.

We found the area surprisingly lovely, partly because we are enamored of industrial detritus. And Bill can find some raw material for his "found art." The interplay of the abandoned and derelict buildings with natural beauty is lovely. We returned several times, and plan to do so again--assuming the developers are held at bay.

Here's their Web site, and slogan: "A lake for everyone; cement for no one."


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