Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, October 24, 2020

The town of Pomezia, 25 km from Rome - of vaccines, Fascism, World War II

Bill looks like he's in a de Chirico painting here in Pomezia

We were surprised to learn that Pomezia, a small town created from scratch by the Fascists (inaugurated in 1939) in the Agro Pontino outside of Rome, is the site of the maker of one of the most promising Covid-19 vaccines. We knew nothing about that when we visited the town - several times in years past. We tried to figure out how we missed such an important industry. You may have heard of the Advent vaccine. That vaccine is being developed by Advent, which is an offshoot of Pomezia's IRBM, together with Oxford University. Some recent information on this vaccine trial is here. It's the Astra-Zeneca vaccine whose trial was halted for a while and is now restarted.

Our mission in the times we went to Pomezia was to view the Fascist architecture (see here for a reference to other forays) and visit the WWII German Cemetery. In those days, we were exploring the iconography of war cemeteries in and around Rome (e.g. here).  

Dianne posing with enormous fasci
 in a doorway, likely to the town hall.
The year is listed as "A. XVII E.F. -
Era Fascista, year 17 (or 1939)

We stopped in Pomezia's main square to get the requisite coffee (see Bill above) and saw some signs indicating there was to be a celebration of Garibaldi. We think that's the subject of the painting above.

We didn't have to look hard for the Fascist architecture.  Here are a couple examples (left and below, plus photo at top). There are more at the end of the post.

We then headed to the cemetery, which is only a short ways out of the town center. It's beautifully maintained and peaceful, the resting place of almost 30,000 German soldiers, some of them "unknown." 

I'll skip a description of the cemetery here, since our friend and Dante scholar, Virginia Jewiss, has written eloquently about it, and I want to give more space to her analysis in a later post.

The question remains, where is the famous laboratory making these vaccines, and why did we - who scour towns and cities - miss it?

It turns out the lab is very close to the town center, across the notorious via Pontina. It appears to be not very visible from the road (on a higher piece of land).  No doubt we scootered right past it.  See maps below.

IRBM Science Park. Pomezia's town center is at the upper right. This photo is looking South.

The map below right shows the IRBM plant on the map - at Google's inverted red drop -  with Pomezia's town center just to the West. The red cross below the green space (the town cemetery) shows the location of the German Cemetery - so obviously, we scootered right by the IRBM facility.

Italy's important connections to the Covid-19 vaccines also include a glass manufacturing company near Venice, founded in 1949 to make bottles for perfume and liquors, now devoting itself to glass vials for the vaccines. Forbes featured the family-owned company in an article here.

Jewiss says there's some irony that Pomezia, a town designed to laud the Fascists, is the resting place of Germans who fought with, and then against, the failed Italian regime. I view the cemetery as a cautionary reminder of the wages of war, and Pomezia now as a sign of the future - waging a different war - against the virus.

More on the German cemetery, and some of Jewiss's interpretations of its iconography, in a subsequent post.


Church - a central church was a
part of all the Fascist "new towns."

Pomezia's "GIL" or  youth center
(Gioventu' italiana del littorio -
the Fascist youth movement party),
the letters framed by two fasci.


A 50th anniversary monument (1990), testament to the town's forefathers - note the hand-driven agricultural equipment as the main symbol.

The ubiquitous "Bar dello sport,"
with a very nice 1953 decoration above the door,
echoing the style of Fascist figures
and also the town's agricultural founding.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Things I Miss in Rome (Part I)


     No Introduction Necessary.  Things I miss in Rome, for Starters


Rome's Coffee Bars

Artists' Studios at the American Academy


Tiny Dogs

The Aperitivo Menu


More to come....

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Old Age in Rome - Truth in Statues

Boxer at Rest at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

Covid-19 is forcing us to look at old age more closely, even to consider the value of an older human life as the virus ravages the elderly. And so it might be helpful to examine the attitude towards old age of other ages and cultures as well--in the case of this blog, that of the ancient Romans.

Cicero (106-43 BCE), from the Capitoline
Museums in Rome. Bust 1st century CE.
An image of Cicero is the lead photo
for the site: The Geopolitics of Dignity.

Much has been written about old age in ancient Rome, based primarily on writings of the classic authors of the epoch - Cicero, Horace, Juvenal, Plautus. The general conclusion is that, perhaps as today, the attitude was one of ambivalence. The weak and decrepit were often marginalized, because they were seen as not contributing to society. And Romans had a strong work ethic, and a commitment to their society. 

On the other hand, the old were valued as having gained knowledge, being good moral models for the young, and as still useful in society, some holding important positions into their 80s.

The average life expectancy of ancient Romans was much shorter than in the Western world today--around 25. This is distorted, however, by half of children dying before 10. And 7-8% of the population lived beyond 60 or 65. Although that is less than half of the percentage of Americans today living beyond 65, it's still a significant group.

This image from The Getty accompanies
an article on hair loss in ancient Rome.
25 BC - 10 CE
Most surprising is Romans' willingness--even desire--to portray old age accurately, complete with balding heads (photo at left), wrinkles, flabby skin, sunken cheeks, and blemishes. We get these depictions from statues, the faces of which are usually solemn, indicating the gravitas of old age. These physical markers of old age are considered to be signs of one's having contributed to society, having put in years of hard work and having gained experience--in a word, dignity.

Boxer at the Getty, 2015. Date of sculpture from
330-50 BCE.
We first saw the dramatic effects of this kind of portraiture in the spectacular sculpture, "Boxer at Rest." It's a Greek sculpture, valued by the Romans, and found only in the 1880s near the Quirinale. You can see it now in the national museum at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, near the train station. The statue shows the boxer's scarred and bruised face and broken nose. We saw the "Boxer" a few years ago when it had been recently restored--in a room in the seat of the Italian Senate, Palazzo Madama, as I recall. It was alone in the room, and we were alone with it, all the better to feel its power. We saw him again in 2015 at The Getty Center, which managed to borrow the statue for its blockbuster Roman statuary exhibit that year. The photo at the top is by Carole Raddato on Wiki commons.

from the Vatican Museums;
1st half of 1st century BCE.

The bust at left is from the Vatican Museums and illustrates "Verism" - the hyper-realism valued by the Romans, according to some scholars. 

Photo of bust - cast from the original
bronze -  in Wiki commons.
See By Daderot - Own work, CC0,

At right, from the Naples museum, Lucius Caecilius lucundus. He's not bald; his hair is etched into the bronze bust. But, as others have pointed out, he's a "Verism" example - or "warts and all," which the Romans preferred. He was a Pompeian banker, born 14 AD, died about age 62.

Women who reached old age also were viewed from two perspectives: as useful and authoritative matrons or as grotesque - especially, in the latter case, old prostitutes.

It's not as easy to find statutes of women in old age as it is as of men. Perhaps women were not generally subject to the "verism" of male portraits. I didn't find any in Rome--a hunt left for a future visit.
"Bust of a Flavian Matron" - Toledo (Ohio) Museum
of Art.  1st-2nd century CE

The bust at right is considered a rare portrait of an older woman. And, according to the museum's notes, the hairstyle is that of a younger woman.

Below is the statue of a clearly old woman - from The Met. It's a 1st Century CE copy of an earlier Greek sculpture. The museum notes the range of subject matter for sculptures was expanded to include figures on the fringe of society. This sculpture is known as the Old Market Woman, but it is probably, per the museum notes, an aged courtesan on her way to a Dionysian festival.
Old market woman or aged courtesan? 14-68 CE.

For more information on the treatment of old age in ancient Rome, see these two articles, both titled "Old Age in Ancient Rome":


The illustrations in this post - and decisions on how to illustrate these points - are from my own research.