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 750 posts

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A Few Adventures in Renting an Apartment in Rome

No, the authors of Rome the Second Time don't own a place in Rome.  Rome apartments are expensive--on the order of New York City--so we rent.  Indeed, our book and this blog owe a lot to our experiences renting more than 20 apartments in different areas and neighborhoods of the city. 

Until a few years ago we rented on Craigslist, and for the most part that worked out fine.  But not always.  Perhaps a decade ago we landed in Rome on the Friday before Easter, took a taxi with our 8 pieces of luggage to an apartment we had rented behind the Vatican, and within an hour had been thrown out of the apartment, basically for asking for a receipt for the E1500 we had just handed to the 80-year-old owner (we weren't "cultured," she said).  That's a story worth telling in detail, some other time. 

Who is that woman?
Another rental, in San Paolo, worked out great in most respects.  It was 5 minutes from Metro B; 2-minutes from a vibrant shopping era, yet off the beaten path; came with a gated and covered communal garage for our scooter; and had a sweet living room/dining/kitchen space--that "open floor plan" that's so "desirable" these days--in a "modernist" mode (see pic at left).  Because parts of it were semi-"interrato" (below ground level--the building was on a hillside), our internet connection wasn't the best, and we had to hang out the window to use the phone.  

Sky drain

The apartment had one other characteristic that's common in Roman rentals: not everything functioned perfectly.  It's a cliche, but here it is: Italians love design but don't seem to value engineering as much.  So things look good but sometimes don't work.

Our San Paolo apartment had two dysfunctional systems.  The door to the sky drain, which allows the person washing dishes to place rinsed dishes directly above the sink for natural draining--actually Swedish technology, by Ikea--was sprung and useless.  We solved this problem by holding the door open with a pasta roller (photo, right). 

Another pole to the rescue

The second problem was the small washing machine in the bathroom, whose "on" button would not stay depressed by itself.  Here, too, a pole came to the rescue, this one wedged between the "on" button and the nearby sink, spanning the bidet. 

So be prepared to be creative.  And pack two poles. 


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Duilio Cambellotti - an Arts & Crafts Master in Rome

From the Latina series, mythologizing the "heroic" peasant.
Duilio Cambellotti is an Italian artist who worked in, and excelled in, many mediums. He sculpted in bronze and wood, made bowls and furniture, worked in leaded glass, painted buildings, designed stamps and stage sets, painted frescoes, designed tiles for a high school auditorium. It's more a question of what he didn't do. He's both everywhere around Rome and yet little recognized.

Born in 1876, Cambellotti lived to be 83--through two World Wars and Fascism. His art was born in the crucible of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, what in Italy is called "Stile Liberty," and in some ways his art - while spanning many media and showing great creativity among them, in my opinion did not change much. The English Wikipedia entry on him is surprisingly thorough, though short on any explanation of his work under Mussolini.

In 1937, Cambellotti created an ad for a Fiat car named "La Nuova Balilla." The ad says it's the "Balilla of the Empire."  "Balilla" is the name of the youth groups that engendered Fascism in Italy's youth (Bill reviewed a book about them).

A stamp Cambellotti designed
for the Mussolini government,
with Art Deco ("Stile Liberty")
style fasce.

Cambellotti sculpture of peasant with
plow. The plow was another icon he used
in different media.

We first encountered Cambellotti's work in the town of Latina, in the Agro Pontino southwest of Rome, the marshes Mussolini's government reclaimed and in which it built new cities, of which Latina is one. There Cambellotti painted frescoes in public buildings, depicting a nostalgic view of agriculture and the land (see top photo above), reflecting his ties to the British William Morris and the widespread Arts & Crafts movement. There is a small museum of his work in Latina.
The plow used on a bowl.
Poster for 1911 "Show of the Agro Romano" in Rome,
featuring the plow.

Cambellotti's iconic (for him) kneeling bull, again demonstrating his mythologizing
of agricultural life, which was basically a horrific existence in the Agro Pontino,
especially with the malarial swamps there. The kneeling bull appears in several
 of his sculptures, bowls and paintings.
We've also seen Cambellotti's sculptures in a villa, a museum and a high school in Rome, ran across one of his painted buildings in Prati, and enjoyed an expansive exhibit of his works last year at Villa Torlonia: "Duilio Cambellotti: Myth, dream and reality."

Cambellotti is perhaps most often seen in Rome in the Casina delle Civette (Casina of the Owls) in Villa Torlonia, where the Torlonia family commissioned several Stile Liberty artists in the second decade of the 20th century to design the faux-Swiss cottage and adorn it with stained glass.  Cambellotti did the owls.

Villino Vitale, 1909
In the Prati area of Rome one can simply look up and see Cambellotti's birds on the 1909 Villino Vitale, via dei Gracchi, 291. The doves are frescoed and the swallows on the tower are in maiolica (tiles).
The doves frescoed on Villino Vitale

The swallows in maiolica on Villino Vitale

The "aula magna" of Liceo Galileo Galilei decorated with Cambellotti's tiles.
Unfortunately, the projection screen covers some of the work.
One of the more astounding of Cambellotti's works is the tile decoration on the walls of the auditorium in a Rome technical institute and science high school, Liceo Galileo Galilei, a building designed in 1920-22 by Marcello Piacentini, one of Fascism's famous architects about whom we've written previously. (Via Conte Verde 52, near the Manzoni Metro stop and not too far from Palazzo Merulana.) The building went through several transformations, and therefore I'm not sure of the date of Cambellotti's work, but certainly after 1920. We will write about the school's interesting history in another post. One can get inside only on special occasions, in our case for an Open House Roma tour. In the tile work, one can see the themes of mythology, industry, and, in this case, sea-faring, again a valorization of the
Poster for a 1948 production of "Agamemnon"
at the Greek Theater in Syracuse.

Finally (for this post), here are a few examples of Cambellotti's work for the theater.  We hadn't known, until we saw the Villa Torlonia show last year, that Cambellotti designed sets, costumes, and posters for the theater. Many of these were for the Greek Theater in Syracuse (Siracusa), Sicily.

Stage set for a 1933 production of a Sophocles play.
Program insert.

Prolific though he was, we find Cambellotti's name almost unknown in Rome today. The temporary exhibitions that crop up now and then, and the placement of his work in 20th-century art galleries and museums, such as the too-little visited Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Roma Capitale and Palazzo Merulano, hopefully will change that.


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Touring RAI Headquarters. Or, at least we saw the horse.

The semi-artsy photo above was taken from the parkway between the two halves of viale Mazzini (at #14), across from the headquarters of RAI, Italy's largest television station, in the della Vittoria area of Rome (adjacent to Prati).  We had made hard-to-get reservations for a tour of the building through Open House Roma, the two-day, May event that promises access to buildings that are normally off limits to those without badges and the like.  We imagined observing busy newsrooms, reporters at their desks, local celebrities preparing for the news hour--or something like that. The tour is beginning to form.

Sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes you don't.

Being part of the tour did get us inside the gate and the fence, and in close proximity to the "Cavallo Morente" (the dying horse). The horse is visible from the sidewalk and can be photographed through the fence, but we appreciated the closer view of what has become the symbol of the company--an odd one, we think, given that the horse is dying.

With our tour group in front of the building.
It's a well known sculpture, designed by Francesco Messina (1900-1995), who was an active sculptor during the Fascist era and managed to survive that experience without undue damage to his reputation.

In 1941--two years before the fall of Fascism--Messina was at work on four horses, of about the same size as the Cavallo Morente, that were to be installed atop the Palazzo dei Congressi, in EUR.  The war intervened, and the horses were never completed and, of course, never installed.

Thirty years later a wealthy man in the town of Formello (a town we've enjoyed hiking from not far out of Rome) acquired the molds for the 4 horses, had them cast in bronze and placed in Villa Leoni, where they are not--to my knowledge--visible to the public.  Indeed, the photo I found of the horses on the internet was not copyable by ordinary means.  I took the photo below with a camera, from a  computer screen.  (By the way, we didn't learn any of the above from the tour.)

These could be seen at Villa Leoni in Formello--if you knew the owner. 
The RAI horse motif also appears in a "Flying Horse" designed by Mario Ceroli, which we saw on our visit to the suburb of Saxa Rubra, where RAI has more operations.

A couple of shots of the building's exterior:

Angled steel columns, typical of the period.
An elegant corner staircase (we assume). Italian staircases are invariably well done.
Our group was allowed to proceed through the glass doors and into an interior courtyard decorated with a garden and fountain in, as I recall, vaguely Asian style.  I say "I recall" because we were not allowed to photograph the courtyard.  With two exceptions.  We were permitted to photograph a model of the building in a plastic case, which at least offered some sense of the structure's configuration, which is in the shape of an "R" for RAI (or even "R+A+I," depending on how you look at it):

And we were allowed to photograph a composite photograph of the building under construction.

It goes without saying that we never got beyond the courtyard.  No newsrooms.  No celebs.  No upstairs.  As restricted as we were, there were prohibitions: no caschi (motorcycle helmets), no bagagli (baggage, suitcases).

RAI is a state-owned enterprise, part of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.  It was founded in 1924, and until 1954 was known as Radio Audizione Italiane, whose initials form RAI.  Since 2000 it has been known simply as RAI (pronounced like "rye").  Designed by Francesco Berarducci (we have written about his buildings before, including a nifty apartment house in the Brutalist mode) and Alessandro Fioroni and completed in 1965, it was the first building in Rome constructed entirely of steel.  It's considered a fine example of 1960s architecture, or so we were told.  We didn't see enough to be sure.  At least we saw the horse.


"Tour" over

Monday, February 25, 2019

"Children of Rome": From Trajan's Column to Robert E. Lee

RST is pleased to welcome guest blogger Dr. Daniel D. Reiff.  Dr. Reiff is SUNY Fredonia Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus (and for many years a colleague of RST's William Graebner), where he taught architectural history.  With co-author Janina K. Darling (a classicist), he recently published a 5-volume compilation and history of column monuments: Column Monuments: Commemorative and Memorial Column Monuments from Ancient Times to the 21st Century:A History and Guide (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2018).  The text includes 286 major monuments in 36 countries, including 98 sites in the United States.  As Dr. Reiff's post reveals, all the later columns owe a debt to the columns of ancient Rome; hence the title "Children of Rome."  

Trajan's Column, Rome, c. 113, commemorating the
military campaign against Dacia (now Romania)
The commemorative columns of ancient Rome--notably those of Trajan (c. 113) [above] and Marcus Aurelius (c. 193) [below]--had a profound impact on later memorials. Trajan's column contains a helical, or spiral, staircase of 185 steps, illuminated by 40 small windows.  By the 12th century the column had become a powerful symbol of the city of Rome.  So great was its importance that in 1162 the Senate passed a law that condemned to death any person who would damage the column, declaring that it must stand intact as the talisman of Rome "as long as the Earth endures."

The Marcus Aurelius column, Rome,
in Piazza Colonna, c. 193.
Pompey's Pillar, Alexandria, 302.

Other examples from the Roman world, that confirm the importance of this sort of monument, also survived the centuries: Constantine's column in Istanbul (330), and "Pompey's Pillar: in Alexandria (302) [right] were always well known.

The Venetian columns, 1100s.

Simple, clear, and of urban importance, such monuments (after a Medieval hiatus when they were considered icons of paganism) reappear in the early middle ages, now sanctified by images of saints--not pagan emperors--at their summits.  Those in Venice [left], one bearing the lion symbol of St. Mark (1126), and the other an image of St. Theodore (1172), are among the most famous.

Elaborate columns supporting images of the Holy Trinity (17th-18th centuries) or the Virgin Mary (17th-19th centuries)--usually offering thanks for their intercession in stopping plagues--were ubiquitous in Europe; a splendid one in Olomouc (Czech Republic) [below], with a column in High Baroque style, was completed in 1723.

In the Baroque style, Czech Republic, 1723.
But the first column monument with a mortal at its summit finally appeared less than a century before: it was erected in Warsaw in 1644, to honor Emperor Sigismund III [below].  From that date onward, mortals, and symbolic figures, found their way to the apex of hundreds of such columns, throughout Europe, and beyond.

Warsaw, 1644.  The first column to have a person on top.  
In America, such memorial columns begin with Charles Bulfinch's Bunker Hill Monument of 1790.  Thereafter, such monuments, large and small, became a popular way to commemorate important events or persons.  Some had statues of the dedicatee, as that to George Washington in Baltimore (1829)--one of the tallest at 193 feet [below].

George Washington on top of this large column in
Baltimore, MD, 1829.  

Phoenixville, PA, (c. 1890) with spiral bands
perhaps derived from Trajan's column

In the post-Civil War era the columns often displayed a figure of "Liberty," "Columbia," an American eagle, or most often, a statue of the "common soldier."  Such soldier figures provided the viewer, often grieving for a lost husband, brother, or son, greater empathy.  Such monuments can be found all across America, both North and South, for the half-century following the war.

Several representative ones can be illustrated.  The elegant version from Ogdensburg, NY (1905) follows the model of the "basis type" closely.  An elaborate version of this model, beautifully carved in white marble, is in Phoenixville, PA: it even emulates the spiral band motif of the Column of Trajan! [Right]

A post-Civil War column, Buffalo,
Lafayette Square, 1878.

Somewhat more elaborate versions included statues of soldiers
representing the branches of the military, as seen in Boston (1877) and Buffalo (1878) [left] around the base.

Separate pedestals, Lancaster, PA, 1874.

Some examples, such as that in Lancaster, PA (1874) [left], place these figures on separate pedestals, for ease of viewing.  This monument uses a pillar--a "square column"--as its support.

But having an actual historic person on the summit was very rare: that in New Orleans (1884), capped by Robert E. Lee, is an example [below].  (The bronze figure has recently been removed.)

Commemorating Robert E. Lee, New Orleans, 1884.
The Lee figure was removed to an unknown location in 2017.
The column stands in Lee Circle.
The "basis type" continued in use for World War I monuments too.  One of the most beautiful is in Washington, D.C. (1924); another, in Lockport, NY, from 1930 [below], uses a pillar of somewhat "moderne" style to support a figure of "militant Liberty," based on Roman sculptures of seated Jupiter!
Lockport, NY column, in the "moderne" style.
But column monuments also celebrate a host of other people, and events, in America--a brief sampling:

Henry Clay, Pottsville, PA (1852)
Christopher Columbus, NYC (1892)

                                                John C. Calhoun, Charleston, SC (1896) [below]

John C. Calhoun, a pro-slavery politician, atop a Charleston, S.C. column, 1894. The column
was dedicated in the midst of the Jim Crow era--one of the reasons a later generation
would call for the removal of the figures (see Robert E. Lee column above).
Elijah Paris Lovejoy (19th c. martyred publisher), Alton, IL (1897)
James Rumsey (18th-century inventor of a steamboat), Shepherdstown, WV (1915)
Henry Hudson, Bronx, NY (1938)
Doctors Column (historic doctors, ancient times to 20th century), Philadelphia, PA (1976)

End of Revolutionary War, Yorktown, VA (1884)
Commodore Dewey, San Francisco, CA (1903)
Revolutionary War "Prison Ship Martyrs," Brooklyn, NY (1909)
Revolutionary War Generals, Columbia, SC (1913)
1812 Battle of Lake Erie, South Bass Island, OH (1914)

                                             Columbia River Column, Astoria, OR (1926) [below]

                                            Cancer Survivors Column, Cleveland, OH (1989) [below]

The ultimate source for all these varied designs is, essentially, the column monuments of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius.  In these "children of Rome," the richness and variety of architectural designs, and sculptures by many leading (and some un-sung) artists and architects, make this a history of "hidden masterpieces"--little studied, until now.

Dr. Daniel D. Reiff

Monday, February 18, 2019

Monte Mario Alto: the Suburb that's Nowhere near Monte Mario

In our latest effort to escape the powerful gravitational pull of central Rome, RST got on the scooter and headed out the heavily trafficked and not-too-safe via Trionfale to an area known as Monte Mario Alto, which we had never heard of and on our map had some curvy streets that we thought might yield this or that pleasure.

The first thing you need to know is that Monte Mario Alto is nowhere near Monte Mario, the 500-foot hill near the Olympic Stadium.  The second is that you don't have to drive (let alone risk your life on a scooter) to get there; there's a train station in the center of "town," and it's clearly labeled Monte Mario (not Monte Mario Alto). More information on using the train to get to Monte Mario Alto is at the end of this post.

Anyway, we parked the scooter and headed slightly uphill on via Vicenzo Troya, arriving a few minutes later in what appeared to be the town square: Piazza Nostra Signora di Guadalupe.  There are a couple of businesses in the square, including a comfortable coffee bar, run (and owned) for many years by a Filipino woman, with whom we had a nice chat about, among other topics, being a decades-long immigrant and how long it had been since she'd seen her adult children in the Philippines. We were the only ones at the bar, but there were the usual several men at tables outside, smoking and chatting in the wide piazza.

Across the way there's a newspaper stand amply graffitied, and a sign in the red and yellow of the Roma soccer team: La Curva Sud non si Divide!  PGU Roma.  Curva Sud  (literally "south curve") refers to the section of the Olympic Stadium (in US football, it would be the end zone) where the Roma fans sit, and the sign appears to suggest that the curva (the fans there) are united.  We have no idea what PGU stands for.

At one end of the piazza is the church for which the piazza is named: Parrochia Nostra Signora di Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe parish), built in the late 1920s and early 1930s, originally to serve Mexican nuns.  The parish priest was outside talking with his flock.  We admired the heavy metal doors of the church (below).

Gorgeous doors that feature the agricultural themes and stylized Art Deco design,
popular under Fascism. We couldn't figure out the artist, but the work
resembles that of Duilio Cambellotti (described in a future post). These types of
decorated doors are on many churches in Rome and hearken back to
 Ghiberti's doors on the Baptistry in Florence.
Turning a bit north and then left (vague, yes, but this isn't an itinerary, really), we came upon Monte Mario Alto's public marketplace, on Piazza Pietro Thouar.  We were a bit late to observe it at its mid-morning best, but even so, it seemed clear that the market had seen better days--perhaps the victim of several supermarkets in the area.

But the side of the market had some interesting "graffiti"--what Bill calls "found art."

You'll find this piece on Bill's website:

Back to via Trionfale, we noticed this building, a once-handsome structure from the late 1950s, now housing a technical training facility.

The sign reads "60 years of quality technical instruction." The degraded state of the building and the weeds don't exactly
underscore the slogan.
We crossed via Trionfale and made our way around the back of the station.  We passed this industrial building.  Note the new-ish bike path.  This is no podunk.

We soon came to the rear of another church, Parrocchia S. Luigi Maria di Monfort, built in the 1960s, a nice contrast to the 1930s church and an indication of the expansion of Rome's population into the suburbs. The graffiti on the walls between the church and the bike path reflect the left- and right-wing sloganeering around Rome.

"Attention: No racism."

Not everyone in Monte Mario Alto is on board with liberal progressivism.  This graffiti translates: "With the Syria of Assad, forward to Victory."  
And the following poster, with its slogan, "Tomorrow Belongs to Us," is put up by a right-wing organization. Chillingly prescient of the Salvini government.
"Tomorrow Belongs to Us!"
Around the front of the church, the courtyard was open--but the church closed.  However, our interest in the structure was noticed by a cleric who let us in and walked away, telling us to close the door behind us!  (Life in a small town?)  We enjoyed the interior with its 1960s art reflected in the liturgical furnishings and stained glass window behind the altar.

Always interesting to us is the addition of "homey" touches to modernist features in contemporary churches.
Satiated with church stuff, we followed via di Torrevecchia westward, into the more upscale side of Monte Mario Alto.  We imagine that middle-class people live here and commute to Rome.

We found a café with a sidewalk tent, and had a forgettable but surely tasty lunch, complete with our regular Coca Lite.  There are several other cafés and restaurants on this more modern side of town, the 'sides' being fairly clearly demarcated by via Trionfale..

Back to the scooter, and home to Salario--and we're still alive!


Re: arriving/departing by train. Regular trains leave from the Roma Ostiense station and the trip takes less than 30 minutes. Here's a map showing the station in the community: