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

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.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Hiking: Tivoli to San Polo, 10 miles, 2300 feet, great views

One view from the long ridge between Tivoli and San Polo de' Cavalieri.  The hill town at center is Castel Madama.
We've hired near it too in the past, encountering one of our more brutal brier patches.
As the body ages, long rides on the scooter become less enticing.  And so we've taken to doing some of our hiking from train depots.  On a hot Sunday in early June, we scootered in the a.m. to Piazza Independenza in central Rome, walked 10 minutes to Termini, and caught the train for Tivoli (takes about an hour, less on the return).  Our plan (we've done it twice before) was to hike from the Tivoli train station to San Polo de' Cavalieri, a small hill town roughly 5 miles distant.  10 miles total.  Varied terrain, delightful views.

Monte Cattillo, seen from the Tivoli bar,
with requisite beer, after the hike. 
The hike goes up over the shoulder of Monte Catillo (seen here from a bar after the hike).  The trailhead is about half a mile from the train station: exit the station right, downhill to the roundabout, take the road right, up to the arch, and turn right up the road, where you'll find the marked path around Monte Catillo).  Then uphill through scrub to a lone oak (this much we described in an itinerary in our first book), through a lovely grove of oak trees and onto a long ridge, finally pitching down off the ridge, then up on a road and some other tracks to San Polo, where we ate the tramezzini we had purchased in a Tivoli bar in the morning.

Benches line the right side of the street in San Polo.  
We sat on one of the benches on the town's main street.

Bar Centrale.  Quiet, but open, on a Sunday afternoon. 

Or you could buy lunch at Bar Centrale.

Or, from San Polo, you could go on to Monte Gennaro - another 6 hours or so!  We've climbed Gennaro half a dozen times, from several directions, but never from this one.  Tivoli and San Polo are in the Lucreteli, and Monte Gennaro is the highest mountain outside Rome.  The Tivoli to San Polo hike gives you the flavor of the Lucretili and some small town and farm ambience as well.

The ritorno (return) is a reversal of the andato (no good translation, sort of "going" or "the way there"): down from San Polo, steep climb up a hot road to the ridge, more or less flat journey along the mostly open ridge (great views on both sides, especially left), descent through the oaks, the scrub, and along the shoulder of Monte Catillo and down into Tivoli.

There used to be a lot of cows in these pastures, and bathtubs were used as rural fontane (fountains) to provide the animals with water.

Dianne at the oak grove, on the descent.  Several years ago, during a drought,
we feared the oaks might die.  Today, they appear healthy.  Red and white trail
marker on the tree.  A clear path.

Descent into Tivoli.  The white triangle just below the horizon and about 2/3 of the way toward the
right side of the frame, is Santiago Calatrava's famous, but unfinished and unused, swimming pool.  
A short section of road at the beginning and end of the hike. 

The numbers are hours and minutes estimated to reach the
destination, not distance.

Grateful for the shade. 
The trail is well marked (above, a typical sign) in a way it wasn't some years ago, when we first did the hike.  There are just a couple of places where one can go wrong: on the way to San Polo, having passed the lone pine, bear to the right and slightly upward at the fork (the intersection is marked).

Then, about halfway to San Polo, be careful to avoid pitching downward to the left (that's another trail, and a shorter hike) and stay more or less on the ridge.  There are some lovely and cool shaded stretches.

The total dislivello (elevation gain) is about 2300 feet (total for both directions, which involve ups and downs both ways).  That means this one's for hikers, not walkers.  Lots of rocky paths, so hiking boots are highly recommended.  There's water at the Tivoli train station (look for the eagle fountain at one end) and at the fountain in San Polo's main square--but none on the trail, with one exception that's quite close to San Polo.
Water is available at the eagle fountain on the north end of the Tivoli train station.  
You'll be headed for Monte Catillo, whose top is marked by the cross in the center
of this photo.  You can go to the top or across the shoulder on the way to San Polo..
We described another hike from the Tivoli station to the higher Monte Sterparo in 2016. That blog post includes some photos of our "cow map" that has part of this hike on it as well.

We've been partial to Tivoli for a long time, not only for hiking, but also for just the feel of this small, very old town (dating from the ancient Romans), the magnificent 19th-century Villa Gregoriana (#6 on the RST Top 40) and the more famous 16th century Villa d'Este with its fountains (the wild and the ordered, respectively, were compared in Rome the Second Time).


Friday, July 6, 2018

Caffe' Natalizi

via Po.  At right, what was our coffee bar a year ago,
now being remodeled for a dress shop.
The most extraordinary aspect of this photo is that only one vehicle is parked in the crosswalk.  At right, the woman in
pink has just exited the caffe' and is giving the black man, who has a cap out, some change.

We lived in the Salario neighborhood, not far from Villa Borghese, for about a month, and this was our coffee bar.  Caffe' Natalizi is on Salario's main drag, via Po. It's old style rather than trendy modern; the baristas (most of them large men, usually working two at a time) wear black shirts or jackets.  The heavy glass, circular counter has seen so many cups of coffee that it's almost white with scratches.

It's both a coffee bar and a pasticceria (bakery), which means that the cornetti (croissant, brioche, sweet rolls, pastries) are fresh and, in this case, extraordinary--not only warm and delicious but large enough that we could purchase only one and divide it (with the spoon that always comes with coffee).  On the saucer was a piece of wrapped chocolate.

Not a lot of counter space, and the place could get
very crowded.  But service was excellent, and most
Italians drink and go.  
We always ordered the same thing--due cafe' Americani (2 American coffees), un cornetto (price E3, about $3.50; some bars charge up to an additional 50 centesimi for American coffee--we don't return to such places). 

After about a week, the woman at the cassa (cash register, where you place your order and pay) knew the order and said simply, "il solito?" (the usual?) and a barista would begin making our American coffees when we walked in the door.

It's customary to place your receipt (scontrino) on the bar with a tip (mancia) of 10 centesimi (12 cents) for each coffee, and we did that.

Outside, every day, a black man, likely Nigerian, and not necessarily the same man every day, held out a cap, asking for money (the man at the right of the photo at the top).  We usually gave him 50 centesimi (about 60 cents) on our way out.  Because immigrants without their legal status (usually waiting for their legal status to be determined) are not allowed to work for wages, some beg in front of bars and grocery stores or, along via Po and many other Rome streets, sweep a portion of the sidewalk while soliciting contributions.  The woman in the top photo has just exited the bar and is giving the man some change.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Rome's Falling Trees: Here Come the Stumps

Rome has a tree problem.  They're falling down.  It's happening at the rate of about 1 tree per day since the beginning of the year.  Many of the trees are old and weak.  Streets such as via Cristoforo Colombo, where the problem is especially severe, were planted in the 1930s and 1940s, when areas then on the city's periphery were developed. A wet, windy winter and spring has contributed.

This may sound like typical Rome media hysteria, which is common enough.  But falling trees present real dangers.  Falling trees--some of them massive--have hit automobiles and buses, sending drivers and occupants to the hospital.  Just recently, trees have fallen in viale dell Milizie (Prati), on the Aventino, in the town of Acilia, in via Volturno and via Pacinotti, and on the Rome-Lido railroad line.

The city government is doing its best (which, knowing the government, probably isn't very good) to deal with the problem.  It's monitoring some 82,000 at-risk trees and has already removed about 700 trees thought to be potentially hazardous.  Still, the trees keep falling.

Among the serious issues raised by the falling trees is what will the city look like if and when thousands of trees are taken down.  There will be promises of replanting, some of which will be kept. But one consequence is predictable: there will be stumps.  There already are thousands of stumps along Rome's streets, left there by the city department that cuts down trees.

Stump as trash receptacle

Blossoming stump
Flower shop adaptive re-use, viale Regina Margherita, Salario 
Handsome old stump in scooter park, della Vittoria

Seriously large stumps, Prati

Whatever their good intentions, these folks would appear to be unconcerned about the stumps they leave behind.  It would seem to be easy enough to leave a 6-inch stump, but most stumps are larger than that, at two and even three feet, and some are 20 feet or more.  While stump-grinding machines (essential to replanting) are common in other parts of the world, in Rome they seem not to exist.

Stump display, Villa Torlonia, where Mussolini once lived
Middle-of-sidewalk stump, Trieste
Stump trifecta, via Salaria

Despite stumps, a rare successful replanting.


And so the stumps remain, mocking most replanting efforts, multiplying as the trees go down.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Elsa Morante's Room - A glimpse into the life of one of Italy's best 20th-century writers

Elsa Morante from her terrazzo at via dell'Oca 27,
overlooking Piazza del Popolo and one of its
almost-twin churches, this one Santa Maria
dei Miracoli..
Elsa Morante was born, lived, and died in Rome. And her sprawling novel, History ("La Storia"), presents Rome during and after World War II as one its main protagonists.  The center of Rome was Morante's life-blood.  She never cooked at home; she ate in the city's restaurants. She was part of the city's most vibrant literary scenes, and the literati too met in the cafes and restaurants.  She lived in many different apartments in different parts of the city, and wrote in her city studio.  She was moody and idiosyncratic, married to and divorced from, and, in the opinion of many today, unjustly overshadowed by, the literary lion Alberto Moravia (whose apartment - which he occupied with his second wife, Dacia Maraini -  we visited and wrote about in a 2013 post).

It seemed, then, a potentially rewarding and easy task to track Morante's life in Rome, starting with Lily Tuck's 2008 biography appropriately titled "Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante."  But the Rome of today is not the Rome Morante lived in; it's not even the Rome of the 1980s when she died.
La Stanza di Elsa  - Elsa Morante's study, at via dell'Oca 17, re-created in the Biblioteca Nazionale.
What IS available is the re-creation of Morante's study inside the Biblioteca Nazionale ("National Library") in Rome.  Like many creative people, Morante had a particular way of writing, and, with few exceptions, wrote in her study.  The re-assembling of her study, with all of her furniture, books, and art, was made possible through a grant to the library by Carlo Cecchi, her literary executor and close friend.  The library also was given her archive - thousands of pieces.  These include the notebooks on which she wrote - long hand - all but her last novel.  Digital photographs of the notebooks also are available in the library.
Piazza del Popolo today.  The large apartment building to the right is where Morante lived
and where her study was located.  The picture at the top shows her on the terrazzo of
this building, with the church dome behind her.  The building's entrance, on via dell'Oca,
is on the side that is in back of Piazza del Popolo.  

For those of us who appreciate seeing how and where creative minds work, La Stanza di Elsa  (Elsa's Room) is a required stop in Rome.  And La Storia should take its place in the 20th-century canon of best literature. (I take issue with Tim Parks who says it does not have "the charm...and dazzling imaginative richness" of her other works.)
Morante with Moravia and Pier Paolo Pasolini.  She was very
close to Pasolini, though estranged from him after he wrote
a devastatingly critical review of La Storia.  She was overcome
by his brutal murder.

We can see that Morante was passionate
about British poet Sylvia Plath.  This
photo is of books on the bookshelves
of "Elsa's Room" in the Biblioteca
Nazionale, part of the trove of her
archives donated to the BN.

All of the materials associated with La Stanza di Elsa, including large panels and a 10-minute impressionistic video with readings, are in Italian.  Head curator Elenora Cardinale said there are plans to provide some materials in English in the future.  In the meantime, if you don't read Italian, look up some material on Morante ahead of time, or use your smart phone while you're there to gather information.

Bill Morrow's paintings in "Elsa's Room"
If you don't know Morante's bio, one piece of information explains the paintings on the walls, most by Bill Morrow, a charismatic American more than 20 years her junior.  She and Morrow planned to live together in Rome, but in 1962 he jumped to his death from a Manhattan skyscraper (presumably under the influence of LSD), before their plans materialized. His paintings hung on her studio walls until her death, more than 20 years later.

Morante's notebooks also are fascinating.  She wrote longhand on one side of the page, using a consistent type of notebook for a work, but a different type for each different work.  Once finished, apparently she would go back and on the reverse side of the page make notes, drawings, and basically develop more fully characters, plot lines, and ideas for the novel she was writing. For reasons of copyright protection, according to Cardinale, the notebooks are not available on the internet.  Some material on Morante is available online from the library (again, in Italian).

A corner of her re-constructed study and a photo of Morante writing
in the study.
Morante was childless, yet wrote often about mothers and children (the mother and son are the main characters in History), and she transferred some of that love to her cats.  You will hear them also in Elsa's Room.

The entrance to "Elsa's Room" with explanatory panels
(in Italian).
The Biblioteca Nazionale is at the Castro Pretorio Metro B stop.  The room is open to any visitor, without a reservation, currently during the hours of 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Saturdays.  The entrance is before the turnstiles for the library itself.

Since Elsa's Room was conceived and constructed, the Biblioteca Nazionale has added more rooms that focus on about two dozen major Italian writers of the 20th century, called Spazi900 ("20th- Century Space"), which opened within the past year.  This is also a fascinating path through Italian literary history of the last century, and includes a major focus on Pier Paolo Pasolini.  More about Spazi900 in a future post.

via dell'Oca 27 - not much to see here.
And now to my attempt to follow Morante through Rome.  Her studio that is re-created in the Biblioteca Nazionale is from her apartment at via dell'Oca 27, basically in a building on Piazza del Popolo (though one enters it behind the piazza).  She and Moravia lived in the apartment for the greater part of their troubled married life, and she continued to live there after they divorced.
Dal Bolognese, the restaurant under Morante's building
at via dell'Oca 27.  This woman reflected my mood that day.

One of the restaurants she frequented was just below her apartment backing onto the piazza, but I was there on its weekly day of closure.

Building where the gallery
"La Nuova Pesa" - which
exhibited Morrow's work -  is
now located on an upper floor,
via del Corso.
I also tried to find the gallery where Bill Morrow had a major exhibition.  It still exists (or rather has been revived), but in a totally different location - actually one quite close to via dell' Oca 27 on via del Corso.

Instead of artisan shops, one now finds
high-priced boutiques on via Frattina,
but also a plaque indicating James
Joyce lived here.
I also tried to find the stationery shop where Morante bought her particular notebooks, on via Frattina near the Spanish Steps.  It no longer is there, replaced by upscale clothing boutiques.  The address in Prati to which it supposedly relocated and should still be, seems now to be a Chinese-run housewares store.

via Margutta still looks pretty, perhaps as it
did in Morante's day.

Morante spent time on the once (and sort-of-still artsy street of via Margutta (where Gregory Peck had his studio in Roman Holiday), but I saw mostly digital companies there.
but this is the type of enterprise one
sees most of these days.

She also spent a lot of time on via del Corso, which runs in a straight line from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo, but it's now mostly a tacky tourist shopping street, and I can't imagine she would find it appealing.
About as good as via del Corso can look
these days.

Morante once called Piazza Navona the most beautiful piazza in the world.  Though jammed with tourists, and those hawking wares to tourists, it still may warrant that description.

In Testaccio.
  This plaque has a poetic tribute to her (I'm
taking some liberties in the translation):
"A visionary mind.  A profound sense of pain.
A life that had the humble capacity to
transform history [la storia] into myth. 
A life told in brutal and mysterious stories."
Morante's rather lower-class family lived in various locales in Rome as she was growing up, including in Testaccio, then a working-class district.  We found a plaque on a building where she once lived as an unhappy girl.

We also serendipitously visited the site where Morante's father (in name only) worked as a probation officer - the boys' and girls' reformatories of San Michele a Ripa in Trastevere (which we covered in a recent post).
The boys' "reformatory" at San Michele a Ripa
(restored recently).

Although there are other places I could have gone to 'locate' Morante--the restaurant where she broke her leg, an accident that led eventually to her death (Da Giggetto in the ghetto, on via Portico d'Ottavia) or the nursing home where she spent her last 2 years near Villa Massimo in the Piazza Bologna area--it seemed to me the Rome of Morante was simply not psychologically and physically the Rome of today.  Better to go to La Stanza di Elsa at the Biblioteca Nazionale.