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. Over 700 posts

Friday, August 17, 2018

Rome's only beer garden: the ex-dogana

In Rome, you're never more than 2 minutes from a cold beer; after all, it's available in any "coffee" bar.  But if you're looking to have your brew in a spot that's more unusual--and maybe stroll through an art exhibit--you can't do better than the ex-dogana (ex-customs house), a sprawling complex of buildings recently converted into an arts and entertainment center.

The ex-dogana is located about 100 yards from Piazza Porta Maggiore, which is more or less at the far end of Stazione Termini (the main train station) and at the confluence of three quartiere: Esquilino, Pigneto, and one of the city's centers of youth nighttime social life, San Lorenzo.  The entrance to the ex-dogana is on viale Scalo San Lorenzo, which runs northwest off Porta Maggiore.  The Scalo is an odd street that can feel threating, because it's busy, noisy, divided by a tram in the middle, and covered and darkened by an elevated highway.  You could be in Brooklyn in 1955.  Anyway, if you exit Porta Maggiore (hopefully without getting run over) and hew to the right (east) side of the Scalo, you can't miss the entrance to the ex-dogana.  Just walk in.

On the left, ahead, is a large parking lot.  On the right, the first thing you'll see is an enclosed courtyard, the site of special events (participatory sports, milling around, music) for which there is
usually a fee.  This area seems to appeal to younger folks.

But if it's beer you want, keep going a few yards, then up a short flight of steps on the right.  You're there!

The beer is all draft, served in plastic cups, a bit pricey (beer is oddly expensive in Rome)--E6 is what we recall.  Hey, you're paying for the space!  There's food, too.  The food stands are made from shipping containers.

You're in Rome's only dedicated beer garden (there are some outdoor spaces attached to pubs). The "garden" was produced at considerable effort, by importing dozens of large potted trees.  It worked, creating any number of inviting spaces to sit and sip.  It's partly covered.  We thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, unique for Rome. It's called the "Bosco Urbano" - Urban Forest, and is a project of Rome's La Sapienza University.  It's considered a "temporary" forest - so we're not sure how long it will be up, nor if the beer stations are there all the time. 

That's Dianne, looking contemplative. 

We liked the view too, especially to the north, where the elevated Circonvallazione Tiburtina swoops to ground with post-industrial flair. 

On the other side, a game area: foosball and ping pong.  Not much action at the moment.  The building on the other side of the game area has been the site of large art exhibitions.

At the near end of the platform (where you came in), you'll find a large open space with plants and tables, and the entrance to an interior space that houses a cafeteria, a bookstore, and a small art gallery.

On the day we were there, the gallery was hosting an exhibit by the painter Luca Grimaldi, whose work features consumer objects (such as items on a grocery store self, or racks of magazines).

Congrats, Roma, on this great new space!


Friday, August 10, 2018

The Pleasures of Parioli's via Paisiello

We were living just a few blocks away from via Giovanni Paisiello, where we [thought] we had identified the location of a fine piece of mid-century modernist architecture.  We set out to find it.  All we lacked was the precise address.

Our task seemed easy.  There's not much to via Paisiello, which runs northeast (the direction we walked) for just a few blocks between Villa Borghese and viale Liegi.  Moreover, the Parioli quartiere isn't exactly loaded with great buildings; so we figured if we saw one that was worthy--and of the appropriate time period--we would have found our prey.

And there it was, at #10.  Powerful angular corner balconies.  Captivating mosaics.  Everything in need of repair, but the elements were there.  A lovely example of a species we enjoy: mid-century modernism.
These are great balconies. Pour me a
glass of Arneis!

Today it's a bank

Very 1960

Except we had the wrong building.  As we later learned, the building we were looking for--clearly the most famous on the street, was the one in the photo below, a couple of blocks further along, at #39.  At first glance (and maybe second) it's an odd duck: the bottom half is a handsome but rather traditional palazzo in the classical language common in Rome in the early 20th century.  The top half--3 + stories--is mid-century horizontal glass and metal.  Between 1950 and 1952, some part of the original palazzo was removed and, under the supervision of prominent architect Mario Ridolfi, a modern addition added.  That kind of radical surgery doesn't happen often--we can't think of another example in Rome--and that's why the building is notable. It helps, too, that the surgery was successful.  So successful that on our first trip up via Paisiello we hadn't even noticed the structure.  Ridolfi did well.

The building's reputation also owes something to the fact that Ridolfi was in the first tier of 20th-century Italian architects.  Among his buildings are the rationalist Nomentano post office in Piazza Bologna (1932), one of the 4 commissioned for Rome by the Fascist regime; a playful and architecturally significant public housing project in Tiburtino (1950-51); and the headquarters for FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), begun in 1938 as the Ministry for Italy's African colonies.

We might have considered our first effort on via Paisiello a failure, were it not for some other discoveries, all within a few blocks.  We admired the enormous cantilevered corner balconies of this otherwise ordinary apartment house:

Then there was this treasure, at first sight just another classic palazzo, this one in red.  On closer inspection, it turned out the palazzo wasn't so classic.  Indeed, it's of Fascist-era origins--1935 to be exact.  It carries a Latin inscription, some heads that reminded us of the heads that decorate one of the buildings in Piazza Independenza and, high above, a couple of elegant statues to link the building (and the regime) to ancient Rome.

Next door, and not so well cared for, another 1930s building with nice curvelinear lines, no doubt originally an apartment building but now the Hotel Paisiello.  The round side/rear balconies are exceptional.

From another era, but equally fine, at the far (northwest) end of the street.

And that's via Paisiello--or rather, what we saw of it.


Friday, August 3, 2018

The Catacombs in Torpignattara: Our Candidate for Best Catacombs in Rome

Rome has 500 catacombs.  About a dozen are regularly open to the public, and we've been to half of those.  One of us (guess who) claims re these almost 2000-year-old evocative burial grounds, "seen one, seen 'em all."  But our recent visit to the catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter (Santi Marcellino e Pietro) proved him wrong.

Easily reached by the "trenino" (little train) that runs from Stazione Termini (more directions at the end of this post), these lightly visited catacombs have a wealth of newly restored frescoes dating from about the 4th century on.  The story of the frescoes' restoration includes funding by Azerbaijan (you tell me!).

President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
and of the Pontifical Commission for
Sacred Archaeology, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi,
 hosts Dr. Mehriban Aliyeva, President of the
 Azerbaijani Heydar Alieyev Foundation in 2014
celebrating the Foundation's funding of the
laser technology restoration of the catacombs, 

New laser technology was used to remove the black gummy coating (from age, mold, candle smoke) and graffiti on the paintings.  The before and after photos are remarkable.

We were not allowed to take photos inside so these pictures (except at the end of the post) are not ours.
2006 excavations of 1,000 skeletons.

There are almost 90 decorated rooms in these 4.5 kilmoeters (3 miles) of burial niches on three levels well below ground.  We saw a dozen or more.  Over 20,000 bodies were once in this "cemetery," 1,000 of which were found only in 2006, with their togas still on.

An elaborately decorated room of likely a wealthy family.
These frescoes apparently document women participating in church rites, though we didn't see enough to draw that conclusion.  They include a painting of Jesus healing a "bleeding woman," the topic of which is of interest in church history.
Jesus healing the bleeding woman.

The frescoes are, of course, highly symbolic, and our tour guide (who spoke excellent English to the three of us on the tour that day) seemed to enjoy elaborating on the symbolism, which we attempted to interpret as well.

The new laser technology has been used on paintings in the more visited Catacombs of Domitila off the via Appia Antica, but those newly-restored paintings are not part of the tour as of 2018.

The mausoleum of St. Helena, undergoing restoration.
You enter the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter from the courtyard of the mausoleum of Helena, Constantine's mother, which is in the process of being restored.  When it is, this complex likely will attract more visitors.

One of the more informative aspects of the complex is the mausoleum's use of amphorae in its walls.  Amphorae, old vessels used to carry olive oil and other liquids, were thrown away once they were empty.  These old, often broken, ceramics then were sometimes used in the building of walls to lighten the load, because they were empty.  The wall, which basically was a tower, deteriorated over time, so that it now shows the amphorae inside.  A colloquial word in Italian for amphorae or jugs, is "pignatta."  The tower was known as the "tower of the jugs" or "Torpignattara," and so the neighborhood is named today.  That was a new one, even for our Roman friends.
The orange remains of the amphorae in the mausoleum's 'tower' from which Torpignattara gets its name.

Tours of the catacombs are available 5 times/day, every day except Thursday (much online information about the catacombs is woefully out of date), in English and Italian, and also via mp3 players in German, Spanish, and French. The regular price is 8 Euros, children under 7 free, reduced for children 7-18 and some others.  The Web site is sparse but clear and in English as well as Italian.  You can book via email (in English) online, and not much in advance.  We did it the day before we went.

Take the trenino or tram at the far end of via Giolitti next to Termini towards Centocelle, to the Berardi stop.  It's a short ride - about 10-15 minutes.  The catacombs are directly across the street.  A walk back towards the center along via Casalina will give you a feel for the heavily ethnic neighborhood of Torpignattara - and places to eat and drink.  You can catch the trenino back to Termini every few blocks.

And thanks to our friend Brian who told us about the recent restorations.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Love Nests"/Exploitation in the Woods: Rome Prostitution

Get a few miles outside Rome's center, on any of a hundred country roads, and you'll see young ladies in very short shorts, trolling for business.  Sometimes there's a couch where the work gets done.  In this case, the love - or sex -  bed, which admittedly seems a bit too close to the traffic for privacy, has been covered with wide strips of blue fabric.

These photos were taken on via di Castel di Guido, between the town of Castel di Guido and via Aurelia, west of Rome.  A few hundred yards down the road, we found the women who might have made use of this spot, soliciting motorists as they came off the eastbound exit ramp. 

We probably see more evidence of prostitutes than most Romans, since we are often hiking near these only-barely-remote spots.  We've chatted with some of these women, but not about their jobs.  They've offered to - and have - protected our scooter while we go exploring.

The issue of prostitution in Italy is a difficult one.

The European Union categorizes prostitution as completely legal in Italy and other European states, including Spain, Portugal and the UK. But it’s street prostitution that’s legal in Italy. Brothels are not. The 1958 Merlin law (named for Lina Merlin, the first woman elected to Italy’s Senate) banned brothels (known as case di tolleranza, "houses of tolerance") and imposed a new offense, “exploitation of prostitution,” aimed at pimps and clients.

In Italy, police use laws based on obscenity, including dressing in revealing and suggestive clothing, to move prostitutes out of an area or neighborhood. Current Italian law punishes obscene acts committed in the vicinity of places frequented by children and young people. According to a Rome prosecutor, these are parks, schools, day-care centers and athletic facilities. The result is women who ply their trade on the roadsides we frequent - far from the city center.

In Italy immigrant sex workers are a particularly vulnerable group. The International Organization for Migration estimated that 80 percent of the 11,000 Nigerian women who entered Sicily in 2016 would end up trafficked into the sex trade. These women — as well as undocumented women in the U.S. sex trade — face deportation if they attempt to report their circumstances.

There's more discussion of the pros and cons of legalization of prostitution in Dianne's article in TheAmerican/inItalia.

Bill and Dianne

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Rome's New Metro "Archaeological Station" - "Archeo-Stazione" - its newest and best free museum

Travelers in the San Giovanni metro station amidst artifacts from ancient Rome.
Everyone agrees Rome's 21st-century infrastructure is deteriorating to a new low - piles of garbage in the street, holes in the asphalt big enough to close streets and kill motorists, buses catching on fire, tram brakes sabotaged, parks unkempt, trees falling on cars.  And yet, one can enter a Metro station and be in a first-class archaeological museum that opened this May.

Under this very ordinary Metro entrance
lies an incredible museum.
The expansion of Rome's Metro system to a third (!) line, the C line, resulted, as almost all excavation in Rome does, in the discovery of layers of ancient artifacts.  In this case, the discoveries at the connection of the C line to the A line at the busy hub of San Giovanni in Laterano held up the inauguration of that station by a couple years and in the process opened a window into centuries of Roman life.
Artifacts discovered under the station at this level (more photos below).
Because the station was so deep, archaeologists had the chance to reach depths they don't normally work in. As a result, they used the depth of the station to provide a timeline.  As one descends into the basic 3 levels of the station, the panels on the walls and the artifacts reveal the time lines at those depths.  It's a clever way of showing human, and pre-human, history.
At the top, times for the next trains arriving.  On the wall, an indication that we are 14 and 15 meters (45-50 feet) below current Rome and in the "Middle Imperial Age--third century AD."
Also noted is the year 216, when construction began on the Baths of Caracalla.
One of the most interesting discoveries was of a 1st-century BC water system, on a farm it appears, with pipes made from used and broken amphorae.
A 1st-century BC plumbing system (more photos at the end
of the post)

The station, which opened May 18, has been an enormous hit primarily with Romans.  It may take time for tourists to catch onto this - in reality - marvelous free or low-cost museum.
A central hub - travelers going through the station, and video displays on the right.
The first level is before the Metro turnstiles and thus is free.  But for a 1.50 euro ticket, anyone can travel down to the other levels of the station. The free level has very good videos, in both Italian and English.  The second level is the most rich in artifacts.

The escalator going to the bottom level takes one down through time.
On the right it says "Republican age" and then "Proto-historic age."

The lowest level does not have artifacts, but has pictures on the
walls of the kind of life that existed on earth (in Rome)
at this level of feet below the current level of Rome.

A Roman delighting in her 'find.'
Pipes from the 1st century BC plumbing system
(and Bill's hand and camera reflecting in the glass)
The discovery of broken amphorae used to create a pipe
in the plumbing system.

An end piece from the side of a Roman house.

Amazingly enough, the remains of a wooden basket--
1st-2nd century BC.