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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beach Politics: the Ostia "Varchi"

A (mostly) private (or pay) beach at Ostia.  Not a particularly grand operation, with legal access to anyone
through a narrow passageway just to the right of the photo.  The beach is the same one in the last two photos, below.  
Everything's political--even the beach.   But because we're not regular beach goers (when we go we don't even take suits), it took us awhile to pick up on even the basics of beach politics.  Yes, in the past we had noticed that much of the beach was occupied by fancy clubs or expensive restaurants, and we had even made the mistake of entering one of those "membership" establishments and been turned away, with directions for the one public beach within reach.  

Then we saw this poster in several locations on the Lungotevere.  It belongs to the PD--the Partito Democratico, Italy's basic center-left party--and it presents the beach at nearby Ostia as an occupied and controlled space, inaccessible to those who aren't members, or who don't have money.  It suggests that ordinary citizens have the right, under the law and Italy's constitution, to use the beach. And it offers a way to insure that that right is real rather than than a formality.  

The sign notifies beach-goers that anyone can use the last 15 meters of beach--and
cites the relevant laws.  The photographer's back is to the water.  
The method?  "Varchi"--that is, passageways--that would allow anyone to get to the water's edge. Once there, access to the water, and to about 50 feet of sand above it, is guaranteed by law, no matter how "tony" the crowd is just beyond, no matter what club or organization owns "most" of the beach or controls most of the access from the street.  Similar access rights exist in the United States and, no doubt, in many other countries.  If you can get there, you can use it.

A varco (passageway) to the beach, between the
railing of a concrete pier and the chain-link fence on the left

On our latest trip to the sands of Ostia, we came across one of the varchi.  It's not especially welcoming: a rather narrow passageway, fenced in on both sides (to avoid users inadvertently entering the sacred space of the club at its flank), and not well marked (we overheard some folks asking what it was).  But it's there, and the masses will learn its location soon enough, and the PD will have made some progress.  A happy ending, perhaps, to this episode of "Beach Politics."   

In English and German, too

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RST Top 40: # 17. Richard Meier's Suburban Jubilee Church

In these dog days of summer, we're taking the opportunity to re-post the following piece.  Originally posted in 2010, it is the most popular item we've ever published--some 15,000 page views. 

The Jubilee Church in suburban Rome is perhaps U.S. architect Richard Meier’s finest work. Not easy to get to using public transportation, but well worth the trek for those in Rome a second time, and therefore it hits our Top 40 list at #17. (See more on Meier in the links at the end of this post.)

Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy” – the church’s religious name, taken from Pope John Paul II’s second encyclical) is set in the Tor Tre Teste working class neighborhood of Rome, as that Pope wanted. And it is one of “50 churches for Rome” commissioned for the church’s Jubilee year (celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of Christ’s birth - jubilee years come every 50 years, but clearly 2,000 was a special one), although it was not completed until 2003. (See also Sartogo and Grenon's Santo Volto Church in Marconi.)

Meier’s church is in essence 3 enormous curved sail forms, a shape unusual for him. The sacred part of the church is marked by the wonderfully organic and curved spaces these sails produce, while in the administrative part Meier returns to more familiar rectangular shapes, that we see, for example, in his Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Modern materials are a hallmark of this church project, including a coated cement that is self-cleaning, which was a delight for the white-obsessed Meier. Meier won the competition for the church over 5 other internationally famous architects, including Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman and Santiago Calatrava. Meier’s church is a testament to the Vatican’s good judgment, we think. See the New York Times' review of the church's consecrration:

We’ve also put directions on getting to the church via public transport at the end of this post.

The Vatican and Meier have been criticized for placing this modernist monument in a working class neighborhood, and basically cramming it into a space enclosed on 3 sides by unattractive apartment buildings and shops. But clearly this is what the Pope had in mind – lifting the neighborhood. As Meier recently said in response to questions about controversy over his works in Rome, “in Italy… unlike in [the U.S.]…architecture and politics are so intertwined.”

We think a trip to the Tor Tre Teste neighborhood is enlightening in many ways. You’ll see how ordinary Romans live. You’ll see magnificent architecture soaring in the midst of the commonplace – what could be more representative of Rome? If you walk a few yards from the church, you’ll also be able to amble through a park with a preserved ancient aqueduct – again, very Roman.

Meier’s other building in Rome is the “museum” and display of the 9th century BC Ara Pacis, the Roman altar to peace (“pacis”) - in this case meaning Roman conquest. It was the subject of even more controversy when it opened in 2006 (and there's still controversy - see Bill's post on a tunnel to be built along the Tevere next to the Ara Pacis). The right-wing picketed (we were there to cross the lines); the new right-wing mayor Alemanno called for Meier’s building to be torn down (or moved to the suburbs). Like everything else in Rome, these nutsy ideas, while stoking the culture wars ($24 million! To an American! It’s just a white box! It’s for the elite!), are now little more than vapors in the air. We didn’t put the Ara Pacis on our RST Top 40 list because it belongs on the First Time list – it’s the 3rd most visited site in Rome.

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(For more on Meier, see Bill's post on Rome's "Starchitects", Piazzo Augusto Imperatore, where the Ars Pacis is located - which comes in at No. 9 on RST's Top 40, and further afield the Rome/Michael Graves connection..  Generally for architectural comparisons of the highest order in Rome, see our recent post on MAXXI versus MACRO.)

Best option: get a friend to drive you;

second, take a taxi (but it will be very costly);

third - public transport as follows:
In back (on the South side; right as you're facing the terminal) of the main train station in Rome (Stazione Termini) is a commuter train line. You can take Bus 105 or 105L from the front of Termini to this place (3 stops) - or just ask and walk the several blocks back there. Then take the "train" labelled GARDINETT (for Gardinetti) 16 stops - the stop you want is "Tobagi"; the train runs every 5 minutes in normal hours. Walk about 50 yards to the bus stop "Tobagi" and catch Bus 556 (Gardenie) for 12 stops (to Tovaglieri/Ermoli); the 12 stops aren't that long, really just winding through the suburban high rises. The bus runs every 15 minutes. When you get off, you're 100 yards from the church and you should be able to see it or find it by asking for the church.

TO RETURN: Go back to where you got Bus 556 and take it again, going in the same direction you had been to arrive (Gardenie) - not back; take it 11 stops to Togliatti/Molfetta; go to the Tram stop Togliatti (this is a real tram) and take Tram 14 back to Termini.
Caveat: we have not taken public transportation; I'm relying on the City's transportation site for these directions. Don't ask me why the ways to/from are different. If you're a walker, you could walk to/from the Train or to/from the Tram and not have to go to and from different ways. Just a suggestion. Good luck on this!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trastevere, 4 photos, June 2015

The Centro Storico, from Piazza Trilussa, Trastevere, weather threatening

Mickey in Trastevere
Zucchini, with flowers
da Cannes a Roma

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Le Corbusier in Rome. Well, not exactly.

Le Corbusier's Cité radieuse, Marseilles, 1947-1952.  Balconies a feature.  

Le Corbusier (1887-1965), the French/Swiss pioneer of architectural modernism, built nothing in Rome.  Nor, apparently, was he influenced by the city, which he failed to visit on a wide-ranging tour as a young man.

Still, Rome came to mind while reading Rachel Donadio's story in a recent New York Times (July 13, 2015), based on several new books on the architect and an exhibition at the Pompidou Center.  Once again, the issue is the extent to which Le Corbusier's architectural values and ideals were modernist and democratic--housing for the masses could easily be understood as fulfilling an underlying democratic mission (meeting the needs of the people)--or essentially totalitarian (Le Corbusier was involved with right-wing parties in France in the interwar years, and he was an admirer of Mussolini).
Concrete supports for Cité radieuse

This is not the place to resolve or devote serious attention to the issue of Le Corbusier's politics and ideology.  What interested us at RST was the color photo that accompanied the essay.  The photo was of Cité radieuse (Radiant City), a complex of 337 apartments constructed in Marseilles between 1947 and 1952 and repeated in other European cities in 1955, 1957, 1963 and 1965.  It was constructed of rough-cast concrete (a material identified with the Brutalist movement to come) and partly for that reason is a considered a founding statement of Brutalism.  The Marseilles building is widely understood as one of Le Corbusier's most important works.

No, you can't see Le Corbusier in Rome.  But you can experience something of his vision in Rome's Flaminio district, where Italian architects Adalberto Libera and Luigi Moretti, among others, were working in a similar vein on, and around, the Olympic Village, built for the 1960 games.  The village is a bit over a mile north of Piazza del Popolo--a 10-minute tram ride will get you close--and well worth seeing.
Olympic Village, Rome

Supports for Corso Francia (Luigi Moretti)
The Olympic Village complex consists of dozens of buildings, some smaller and some larger--longer, that is--than Citeé radieuse, and of brick rather than concrete.  But the overall scale and look is similar, as is the use of color to lighten the weighty look of the structures. Both the Cité radieuse and the Olympic buildings are elevated, the former with massive concrete stanchions, the latter with smaller columns with more of a modernist flavor.  The Le Corbusier supports have their equivalent in Luigi Moretti's massive concrete supports for the Corso Francia, an elevated highway that bisects the Olympic Village and was built at about the same time.

Elegant rooftop, Cité radieuse
Like Le Corbusier, Libera, who headed the Village architectural team, employed a flat roof and used it to feature a rounded ventilation system that added to the complex's modernist appeal. 

Both Libera and Moretti worked for, and during, Mussolini's Fascist regime.  Libera was the lead architect on the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico), located northwest of the Olympic Village, just across the Tevere. 

So visit the Olympic Village.  It's the closest you'll come to Le Corbusier in Rome.


Olympic Village topped by round, modernist ventilation system.  Colors, too, and balconies.  
Olympic Village

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Murales Italian Style: Rome's Street Art Brought to You by Wunderkammern

Russian artist Alexey Luka painting his  multi-story work in Torpignattara, thanks to Wunderkammern and the Russian Embassy. See the finished work, below.
By Spanish artist Escif, "The Right Ear."
Just a great painting, building-high, on the proper
side of the building too.
Wandering the streets of the near-in 'suburb' of Torpignattara, as we have many times, we are constantly delighted by the street art that seems to mysteriously appear where one least expects it.  Most of this street art consists of large works sponsored by the trendy, yet earnest Wunderkammern Gallery, located in the heart of Torpignattara.

The professionally executed 'murales', as the Italians call large wall paintings, stand in contrast to the neighborhood's historical reputation as an impoverished hotbed of crime and, now, the media claims, degraded by an influx of immigrants, Bangladeshi in particular.  
At opening for 2501 (aka Jacopo Ceccarelli) in Wunderkammern's
Torpignattara gallery.

Torpignattara indeed is changing, and rapidly.  An industrial and working-class neighborhood once filled with immigrants from Italy's Southern and Central areas, Torpignattara's population started to decline in the 1980s due to poor housing and high crime rates - until the Bangladeshi (now numbering 5,000) and other immigrants moved in. 

The area has the lowest percentage of college graduates of any in Rome, and the exodus of Italians preceded the influx of international immigrants.  But residents remain unrealistically nostalgic about the "old" Torpignattara, before part of it became "Banglatown." Sociologists describe it as a "re-urbanization," rather than a "gentrification."  There is less crime now than before the Bangladeshi moved in. One could even say it is being cleaned up by the immigrants.  It is an area that continues to be separated socially into different districts.  We found the Bangladeshi merchants concentrated in one section. Another section is the rapidly gentrifying - in the true sense of the word:  Pigneto.  

So how to explain these gorgeous paintings?  They are almost all the result of the intervention by Wunderkammern, which 7 years ago located its gallery here, moving from the charming medieval town of Spello, just south of Assisi in Umbria.  

Change seems to go with the territory for Wunderkammern.  The German word refers to the Victorian "cabinet of wonders," and Wunderkammern is such a cabinet, but one going well beyond its "cabinet doors."  It's a first- rate gallery with artists' works that sell into the 6-figures of Euros.  So it could be located in the center, it could ignore the streets outside its doors. In fact, it does the opposite.
Jef Aerosol's "Tom," near Wunderkammern's gallery space.

As Co-Director Giuseppe Pizzuti told us, "We usually ask artists that we work with and that we invite for a show to Rome to leave a sign of their staying and to realize an outdoor work." Wunderkammern selects the sites.  Pizzuti continues, "Usually we are inspired by outdoor spaces that we see while riding the streets of our neighborhood. Whenever we find a wall that is inspiring for us, we try to obtain an authorization from the people living in that building."  I asked him how receptive the building owners are to the request.  "At the beginning it was not always so easy," Pizzuti said.  "Right now people are calling us to 'offer' their walls to us to have our artists work on them." 
Found this one just walking around Torpignattara,
By Parisian artist Ludo, untitled.  

Of course the 'murales' in Torpignattara can be viewed simply as part of a world-wide trend.  Berlin, London, Los Angeles - all cities famous for their street art.  Torpignattara's 'murales' differ from the concentration of murales in the neighborhoods of San Basilio and Tor Marancia, where large blocks of 8-10 story public housing buildings have created vast 'canvasses' for multiple works close together.  Hitness did 6 of these facades in San Basilio and Tor Marancia's housing project features about a dozen works from international artists, all done in 2015.  By contrast, Torpignattara's walls are varied.  There's no single big block of public housing featuring facades like those in San Basilio and Tor Marancia.  As the neighborhood is described in the book Global Rome, the housing is of varied ages and types, from farmhouses dating from the "agro Romano" to some multi-story block housing.  As a result, the works are more surprising and mysterious to the walker.  And they come in all different sizes.

A C215  (French) work next to the bar across from
Wunderkammern's gallery.
Agostino Iacurci, Clear Sky on the Pink House
One can see Wunderkammern's intervention as changing part of the fabric of this community, most recently under some siege from racists who would limit the percentage of children in the schools whose heritage is non-Italian - even if those children were born in Italy and speak only Italian.

Luka's finished work (at dusk; so the colors aren't true in this photo).
When we were here, there were Rom around having collected detritus and
headed back to, we assume, their camps in cars and with their kids' bikes.

Besides a trip to Wunderkammern, which we highly recommend, one can check out the street art with the new app, streetartroma. We don't recommend the city's tourist map, yes, of street art; it's close to unintelligible.

We do recommend Jessica Stewart's book: Street Art Stories ROMA.

Wunderkammern: 124 via Gabrio Serbelloni.  From Termini, the 105 bus or the tram on via G. Giolitti. tel. Tel: +39 - 0645435662
Cell: +39 - 3498112973 
A stupendous piece by Nicola Verlato, born in Verona, now from Los Angeles.
It portrays Pierpaolo Pasolini's death.  That's Petrarch and Ezra Pound below (we
needed the explanation from the streetartroma app).  This does not appear to have
been sponsored by Wunderkammern, but clearly the location and its existence
owe much to the gallery.
Generally open Wednesdays to Saturdays 5 - 8 p.m., when there is an exhibit, or by appointment. .  Check the Web site.  Current exhibit is on until 25 July, 2015.

An added attraction is the osteria, Betto e Mary, a few blocks
from Wunderkammern.  One of the cheapest, and most authentic, Roman
trattorie - complete with any kind of animal innards cooked any way
you want them.  This is just one of their several large spaces.
via dei Savorgnam, 99. +39 06 6477 1096.