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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Behind the Ministry of Transport: Spectacular Villas from a Century Ago


Not long ago (Covid time--in real time, it was May, 2018), Dianne and I took a tour of the magnificent ville and villini in the neighborhood behind the Ministry of the Railroads (and, these days, also the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport). That's the big, white building on Piazza Croce Rosso/viale del Policlinico, just east of via Nomentana (and Porta Pia), the one with the iconic Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane sign on top (still serving that purpose). It's worth going across the street to get a good look at the sign, which for a time served as the front page for this Rome the Second Time blog. 

The steps of the building are a cat hangout, complete with cat ladies (gattare) who dutifully feed the felines.  Birds get in on the action too.

The tour took us north and west, to viale Regina Margarita, and beyond to the outskirts of Villa Torlonia, where Mussolini lived when he ruled Italy.  

Exceptional iron work

I no longer remember much of anything of the details of the buildings we saw. Most were constructed between 1900 and 1920--that is, before modernism became a force in Rome and elsewhere--and are usually described as being in the "Liberty" style (a term not used in the United States, where "late Art Nouveau [transitioning into Art Deco] would suffice). I thought they were extraordinary when we toured, and nothing since  has changed my mind.

The tour was sponsored by a group we've joined several times: Turismo Culturale Italiano, as part of their "Conosci Roma" ("Know Rome" series). They call these magnificent residential structures "I villini Eclettici e Liberty" (The Eclectic and Liberty small villas--one might question the "small" here). The villas give testimony, per the organization, "to an era capable of producing splendid works."

The above two close-ups of Villino Ximenes illustrate its
categorization as "the first flowering of Art Nouveau" in Rome.

Enjoy the photos (I've included only a sample--didn't want to spoil "reality"). Should you get to Rome and want a sense of how the city's wealthy lived a century ago, find the Ministry of Transport, and enjoy the walk. Walk the small streets that include via dei Villini (street of the small villas), via di Villa Patrizi (the rococo villa that morphed into the Ministry above), and the crossing streets. Then go onto viale Regina Margherita itself.

These were not all the aristocratic wealthy, but more the new class that arose from Italy's new 1870 (in Rome) statehood and all the government buildings and jobs that were suddenly proliferating in Rome. Those high-end bureaucrats needed places to live, and populated this area just outside the Walls of Rome and yet very near the state buildings (including that for the Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, which is just outside the Walls). Some families with royal titles built in the area as well, ensuring they were close to the sources of  power in the country's new capital. This surfeit of moneyed people built dozens of these buildings "of great richness and decorative and architectural fantasy." Even the names of the villas and their patrons are exotic: Franknoi, Hout, Nast-Kolb, and Ximenes, for example.

The two photos above are of Villino Ximenes (1902), facing viale Regina Margherita itself (the only building in floral Liberty Style of the early 1900s, according to some scholars). Villa Berlingieri, also on viale Regina Margherita, was designed by Pio Piacentino, helped by his young son Marcello, both of whose work we've admired elsewhere in Rome, and who would later design in the Modernist style.

In front of one of the villas, we found this woman, walking her cat on a leash. Years ago we tried that. It didn't work. We did discover that it IS possible to drag your cat on a leash. 


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