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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Ostia's Garbatella - 1926 public housing and a WWII bomb shelter

Ostia, a town along the Mediterranean Sea not far from Rome - the new, not the ancient Ostia - is partly a creation of the Fascists. It was founded earlier, in 1884. Later the Mussolini government invested massively in it, resulting in many buildings of the 1920s and 1930s style architecture (the famous post office, among them).

Public housing ("case popolari") was first constructed in Ostia in 1926 and bears all the markings of the pre-modern architecture that was built shortly before the Fascists fell in love with modernism. The Ostia buildings most resemble those of Rome's Garbatella quarter, or of the quarter of Monte Sacro, built along the lines of a "garden city" in the1910s and 1920s. The state of the infrastructure is sadly poor, but the basic design of the complex is still lovely and worth exploring.

Above, one of the grand terraces, with an enormous Michelangelo-like cornice and citations to the Roman arches, that makes one think one is in Garbatella (as well as evidence of crumbling stucco).

The lead photo at the top gives a sense of the wonderful detail of early 19th century public housing, including small balconies, and especially portholes and the ship bas relief (top photo and photo at right), echoing Ostia's life as a port since Roman times.

The brief description of the tour we took described the housing project in these terms:

"There exists in Ostia a place where one seems to turn back in time to find oneself walking through Garbatella in the '20s...."  The architect was Camillo Palmerini, who designed the buildings "on the model of a building with an open courtyard. The arches, chimneys, the loggias, the small columns, the corners, the large cornices, all are examples of the so-called 'barocchetto romano,' a term coined by Gustavo Giovannoni in the '20s to identify the style used in Garbatella, today, an ideal dialog with the mosaics of Ostia Antica, colored with local elements of ocean inspiration - boats and marine animals."

In the basement (cantina) of the building complex were other reminders of history: exhortations to support Mussolini and the King, still visible on the walls of what was a bomb shelter for the residents. Below are two double V signs meaning "viva" or "long live" and then Il Duce and Il Re (the Duce, i.e., Mussolini, and the King) [love the brooms lined up against the wall too]/

We had a fairly intense discussion with a friend - a renown scholar of Fascism - who posits that retaining these "memories" of Fascism is not conducive to democracy. We appreciate the discourse, but in this case, disagree. [More photos of these 'writings' are at the end of this post.]

At left, the sign - in the same typescript - is an arrow pointing to the "Security Exit" (what Americans would term an Emergency Exit). Again, this is a leftover from the war, covered with modern electrical mechanics, and mostly ignored (like the one above) as text.

Above, our tour group in the basement/cantina.

The buildings also have beautiful staircases, with unusual angles, photo at right. We know the Romans love their staircases, witness the Bernini-Borromini Palazzo Barberini, as well as Luigi Moretti's in Trastevere's L'ex GIL (written about in our posts, as linked).

Our inside look at this complex, including its cantina, was courtesy of Open House Roma, which had a special focus on Ostia last year. At left, the crumbling arch through which we entered and sign at right of the OHR tour.

Adjacent to these beautiful, unrestored buildings is modern-day housing - which we eyed while having a coffee across the street.  Not bad, but one can't imagine having a tour of these 100 years after their construction.

Another stop on our tour was a brief look at this column, which once marked the end of via del Mare, the "road to the sea" that Mussolini constructed starting near the Colosseum and ending here in Ostia. The plinth now sports a bust of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the once "bad boy" of Italian arts, who was murdered on the outskirts of Ostia (another RST post features the park in his memory - near the murder site) [small photo above from Google Street View]. It once - as we recall - sported a bust of Mussolini. How times change (thankfully)!

More of the writings on the wall, beginning with the one below: "Mussolini - today more than ever - is right."

Below: not all the "saying" is visible, because of the light fixtures put over them (and note garbage cans below), but something to the effect of "don't worry about...who, for YOU it's best...."


PS - another post on a location adjacent to Ostia is RST's on the self-built, basically squatter community of Idroscalo.


Gianni Accasto said...

Garbatella is few meters outside Aurelian Wall. Constructed by the Istituto Fascista delle Case Popolari (directed by Giovannoni and Calza Bini). The most important buildings are the Alberghi Popolari, by Innocenzo Sabbatini. There are also the Case Sperimentali, by Aschieri, De Renzi, etc.

Anonymous said...

Just one correction: Ostia is not "a town not far from Rome" but it's a neighborhood of the city of Rome which is found within the city of Rome's administrative boundaries.
Therefore, if it's part of Rome, it cannot either be far or close to the city it belongs to.