Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fu-turing at Cerveteri: Discovering the Etruscans through Digital Technology

RST is pleased to welcome guest blogger Theresa Potenza.  Based in Rome, Potenza is an art historian and freelance writer.  To learn more about her private tours of Rome and read her travel and feature stories about Italy check out:

Experience the past by leaping into the future.  At Banditaccia necropolis at Cerveteri, digital technology engages raw archaeology.  The long dead come to life—well, almost. 

The city of Cerveteri, located 28 miles (50km) north of Rome, was one of the largest cities of the Mediterranean before the Roman civilization.  Its burial site offers a taste of the complicated Etruscan religion and preoccupation with death and foregrounds the Etruscans’ skillful and creative construction techniques.

A new technology program at the site, called Fu-touring, enhances an already powerful in-person experience of a city of the dead.  Inside the technology center you can watch a 20-minute 3-D video providing just enough background on the people, burial practices, and art of Cerveteri to put the 25-acre (10-hectare) site into context.  Three of the tombs are enhanced inside with a 2-minute video that recreates where objects were placed along the walls, how the architectural space was carved, who was buried there, how their funerals took place in that space, and even reconstructs earthquakes and natural disasters to show how precious terra-cotta vases and other personal items were damaged over the centuries.  

Hundreds more tombs are available to visit in order to expand your imagination, including 9th century BC small hut tombs and dice tombs, resembling shop windows, set along a main road.

The most famous tombs are those of the 5th century BC, grande tumuli (mounded) tombs indicating an elite aristocratic class and built to imitate domestic architecture of the period.

Palazzo delle Esposizioni
April 15-July 20
These technological enhancements to one of most unique burial sites in the world, connected to a leading ancient city on a par with Athens and Rome, comes at a time when the Etruscan city of Cerveteri is in the spotlight in Rome.  An exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni--on from April 15th through July 20th --assembles some of the best collections of previous archaeological discoveries from inside these tombs from significant galleries around the world, including the Vatican Museums, Paris’ Louvre, and the British Museum in London. The exhibition incorporates some of the most remarkable and well-known finds from Cerveteri, as well as material recently discovered and never before revealed, providing new insight into this mysterious metropolis and the remarkably advanced pre-Roman civilization of the Etruscans.

Theresa Potenza

Friday, April 11, 2014

Italy, Rome, and the Deportation of the Jews: Some Thoughts

The little girls at right, Fiorella and Luciana Anticoli,
 were among those sent to Auschwitz from Rome
 in October 1943
In our first Rome book, Rome the Second Time, we told the tragic story of Rome’s Jews, thousands of whom were rounded up and more than a thousand deported to German concentration camps in October 1943, never to return.  

When we wrote about the event in 2009, there was a plaque on a wall at the Tiburtina Station, remembering the day when Jews were loaded on the trains; it was on one of RST's itineraries. With the recent remodeling of the station, the plaque has disappeared, and with it one more piece of evidence that Italian--and Roman--Jews were among the victims of the Holocaust. 
The plaque - now gone - at Tiburtina Station in Rome

We were reminded of the absence of that plaque a few weeks ago, at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust--a bunker-like building on the western edge of Pan Pacific Park—where we had gone to hear Guri Schwarz, a professor at the University of Pisa and visiting professor at UCLA, talk about “The ‘Myth of the Good Italian’: Origins and Evolution.”  Schwartz described the larger myth as a series of denials, including the specific denial that Italians had some responsibility for the Holocaust.  

His talk focused on how and why that specific myth developed and spread.  One cause was the German/Italian dichotomy: the "bad" German and the "good" Italian.  Between 1943 (when Italy left the war) and 1947 (when the Paris peace treaty was ratified), Italy used this dichotomy to make the country look better, and hence to protect Italian national interests--essentially, to convince the Allied powers that Italy, even as a defeated country, deserved decent treatment under the peace accords.  In 1945, for example, Italian foreign minster Carlo Forza claimed the Germans were "bad" because they had come to Christianity 1000 years later than the Italians.  Upholders of the myth also claimed that Italy was "good" because, unlike Germany, which had a large Protestant population, it was a solidly Catholic country.
Prof. Guri Schwartz, speaking recently at the Los Angeles
Museum of the Holocaust

In addition, the “myth of the good Italian" helped Italians cope with their  disturbing history of Fascism--in essence, by denying it--and it was comforting in a more general way, as evidence that “Western Civilization” (closely identified with Italy's history) had not entirely succumbed under the pressure of totalitarianism. 

With respect to the Holocaust, the myth of the good Italian incorporated several ideas, all of them, according to Schwarz, essentially false: that anti-semitism had no roots in Italy; that the Italian racial laws of 1938 were rejected by the general population, and not implemented; that such anti-semitism as existed in Italy during the war was imitative of German anti-semitism; that in areas of Italian occupation (the Balkans, Greece, Southern France), the Jews were protected; and that deportation of Italian Jews was resisted by Italians. 

Surprisingly, even Italian Jews came to the support of the myth of the good Italian in the postwar years.  They did so, according to Schwarz, because the Jews that remained wanted and needed to re-integrate into Italian society, and re-integration required building bridges to neighbors, even if they had once been Fascists.  Moreover, as the war ended, tens of thousands of displaced Jews flowed through Italy on their way to Palestine, and Italy’s Jews wanted Italian authorities to support the movement of those persons. 

Stazione Tiburtina, where Rome's Jews boarded trains
 for Auschwitz
Schwarz did not say much about what actually happened to Italy’s Jews, though he did comment on that in the discussion that followed his talk.  He argued that after 1943, when Germany occupied the northern 2/3 of the Italian peninsula, Italian authorities assisted the Germans in rounding up and deporting Jews.  About 6,000 of Italy’s estimated 25,000 Jews were arrested, deported, and killed.  

Of those 6,000, Schwarz cited evidence evidence that one half were deported as a result of the efforts of Italians, or of Italians and Germans working together.  Schwarz also emphasized that Italy’s 1938 racial laws, aimed at Jews, were widely and thoroughly enforced, which indicates that Italians were not the reluctant anti-semites that the myth of the good Italian would suggest.  

These are very complex issues that have vexed historians for generations.  It is often pointed out that Italy’s history in dealing with Jews in this period is one of Europe’s best; the percentage of Italian Jews deported to the killing camps was one of the lowest in Europe--at 16% much better than France, for example—even though Italy was German-occupied for almost as long as the southern zone of France.  Writing in the March 6, 2014 issue of the New York Review of Books  (“Jews: How Vichy Made it Worse”), Robert Paxton argues, in contrast to Schwarz, that Italian police cooperation in deportation was “desultory.”  “To be sure,” he continues, “some Italian Fascist militiamen helped the Nazis hunt down Jews; it was they who arrested Primo Levi, for example, on December 13, 1943.  But the public largely refused to help them, and much of the administration dragged its feet.”  Paxton notes, too, that French views on the Jews were influenced to a considerable degree by anxiety over a great wave of foreign Jews that entered the country during the war—something that did not occur in Italy. 

There’s more to be said, of course.  Having become in thrall to another recent Los Angeles speaker, Alain De Botton, who believes deeply in the importance of humanism to civilized values, we would add only that Italy’s experience with art, music, and culture are deeper than any other nation’s, and this link held strong even under Fascism, when the Mussolini regime celebrated the arts—while the Nazis did

In 2010 and 2011, Rome embedded over 100 gold, 10cm square stones ("pietri d'inciampo," or "stumbling blocks) in Rome's streets, in remembrance of Jews, Roma, and others who died in the Holocaust.  The artist is German.  
their best to bury them.  It seems likely to us that some Italian Jews—possibly very many—survived because large numbers of Italians, even under Fascism, and even while supporting Mussolini's regime, remained decent and humane.  Guri Schwarz has made us aware that the "good Italian(s)" were not as good as we imagined, or hoped. But perhaps they were "better" than most.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Street Art: Sign Modifications

One of the most recent developments in the street art world, appalling to some, amusing to others, is the adaptation (some would say abuse) of street signs.  These adaptations run the gamut from simple tagging and stickering to clever reuse, and the best of them--we are sticking our necks out here, into a universe we know to harbor understandable concerns--have a Warholian feel in the way they manipulate the most common of symbols to produce new meaning.  We've been recording the results for several years.  

Rome, at night.  Our first sighting of the genre, and a
design that's been copied. Two dimensions become
three.  Right hand a nice touch. 
Upper left, the same design as the first sign.  Lower right, the
standard sticker job--no cigar. 
A mess

On the Gianicolo.  That appears to be the
Mona Lisa. 
Anti-apartheid.  Sign politics.  Nothing
clever here, or artistic.   

From a distance, looks like another mess.
Close up, it's serious and nicely designed.
Unfortunate tagging. 

Florence.  Good work with 3 dimensions.
Florence.  Looks normal from a distance. 
Nice color work, paint job. 

We've since learned that the Florence pieces are by a French artist, Clet Abraham.  Clet's work is not appreciated by the Florence authorities; he's been fined, and fined again.  He has also left his mark in Brussels, where he goes about the city on a bicycle, modifying signs.  You can see him at work in this video--and following it, about two dozen examples of his work.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fascist Design--in Miami Beach

RST is pleased to once again have Paul Baxa, an outstanding scholar and interpreter of the Fascist experience, as a guest blogger.  Here, Baxa takes us through the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach, currently (through May 18) hosting 3 exhibits on the Fascist era.  A smaller, fourth exhibit on Italo Balbo's air exploits, closes April 29.  Baxa is Associate Professor of History at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida and the author of  (University of Toronto Press, Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome (20l0).  

Mural study, Antonio Santagata
Ferruccio Ferrazzi's Il Mito di Roma, 1940
For those interested in the intersection of Modernist design and twentieth-century politics, a visit to current exhibitions at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach cannot be missed.  This museum, run by Florida International University, was established by Mitchell Wolfson Jr. who collected documents and artifacts of modernism and was especially interested in materials that connected modernist design with totalitarian regimes.  As a result, there is a wealth of material from Fascist Italy.  I’ve had the good fortune of spending many hours in the Wolfsonian reading room this past fall and also to visit their three special exhibits pertaining to Italy:  The Birth of Rome; Rendering War: The Murals of A.G. Santagata; and Echoes and Origins: Italian Interwar Design.  All opened in the fall of 2013 and will close May 18, 2014. 

The Birth of Rome exhibit displays materials related to Mussolini’s attempts to revive ancient Rome in a Fascist mode.  On display are renderings of the E42 (EUR) as it might have been—including sketches of the never-to-be-built arch.*  Next to these are posters, sketches, and photographs of the Foro Mussolini and its sports complex.  Included are maquettes of statues from the Foro Mussolini designed by Eugenio Baroni.  The centerpiece of the exhibit is a massive detail for Ferruccio Ferrazzi’s tempera on paper drawing, Il Mito di Roma, designed in 1940. Spanning two floors of the Wolfsonian's atrium, the detail is an allegory of the Tiber River holding the twins with the she-wolf at its feet.  To be sure, Baroni and Ferrazzi were not star names of the interwar generation of artists but they figured prominently in the attempts to make a Fascist aesthetic.

Antonio Santagata.  Fascism looks back at the
Great War 

Off to the right of the Birth of Rome exhibit are several rooms filled with large-scale mural studies by Antonio G. Santagata.  These superb studies were designed for the walls of Marcello Piacentini’s Casa dei Mutilati in Rome (on the Tevere, sandwiched between the Palace of Justice and Hadrian's Castle).  The subjects of the murals all deal with the First World War and provide a glimpse of the myth of the Grande Guerra under Fascism. 

Up a floor, one finds the Echoes and Origins exhibit.  This is a perfect complement to the propaganda of the previous exhibits as it demonstrates another side of Fascist Italy—that of consumerism and style.  Here one finds vases and furniture by Giò Ponti, as well as exquisite cupboards by Gustavo Pulitzer Finali.  There is some wonderful kitsch here as well including a 
Fascist-inspired wall lamp
wall lamp designed as lictors rods.
  A magnificent La Cimbali espresso machine is one corner next to artifacts from the famous ocean liner Rex.  Posters advertising FIAT, chocolates and cruises are plastered on the wall.  This was another face of Fascist Italy—no less propagandistic than the Imperial Roman bluster but revealing a desire to create a modern, consumerist culture. 

The magic of the Wolfsonian exhibit is found not just in the materials on display but also in the mounting of the exhibits.  The curators create spaces that enhance the impact of the displays.  For example, the Birth of Rome exhibit is displayed in an all-white, minimalist space which emphasizes the Novecento (20th-century) style of the drawings.  In the Echoes and Origins space the visitor is greeted by a massive, amber-glass bowl and pedestal from the Fontana Arte group next to a pillar containing the famous, Futurist-style bust of Mussolini by Renato Bertelli. 

The effect of the exhibits is to immerse the visitor into the visions of the Fascist regime as interpreted by less famous artists and sculptors.  None of these artists had the fame of the likes of Piacentini, Terragni, Sironi et al, but they all in their own way contributed to the Fascist program of reviving Rome in a way that harmonized modernism with classicism.

Paul Baxa 

*  The arch for E42 was intended to span the multiple lanes of the via Cristoforo Colombo, a task that proved beyond the skills of Italian engineers at the time.  Many designs were offered, among them a poster rendering by architect Ludovico Quaroni (left), which closely resembled Eero Saarinen's winning entry in a 1948 competition to honor Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase--the design that in 1966 became the St. Louis Arch.  The site of the E42 arch is on Walk 2, "EUR: Mid-Century Spectacle," in RST's new guidebook, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler  (2014).  On the Quaroni/Saarinen controversy, see William Graebner, "Gateway to Empire: An Interpretation of Eero Saarinen's 1948 Design for the St. Louis Arch," Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies, vol, 18 (1993).  Ed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Charles Lambert: The View from the Tower

Charles Lambert is England born, but he's lived in Italy for decades--now in Fondi, between Rome and Naples--and he writes about Rome's "dark side."  The View from the Tower (2013) is his latest, a "psychological thriller" in the language of the Amazon description.  The words are apt, but only if one understands that the novel is a lot less thriller and a lot more psychological.  The story moves back and forth from Rome in the present to Turin in the "anni di piombo"--the late 1970s--when the protagonists, now essentially part of the political establishment, were committed radicals.
Thankfully there's more Rome than Turin, because it's in Rome that a murder occurs that stirs the pot and jump starts the plot.  Suspense (rather than action) is in ample supply.  It's of a low-key sort; the book is fundamentally about angst and depression and grief and guilt, mother and son, mother and daughter-in-law, husband and lover (a "Jules and Jim" sort of threesome is at the center of things, for a while). The prose is strong, and reasonably frequent references to Rome streets and locations will keep Romaphiles entertained.