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 650 posts

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sartogo's Santo Volto Church - a Top Ten Visit

Put the 2006 church of Santo Volto di Gesù ("the Holy Face of Jesus") on your top 10 list for modern Rome architecture.  Less heralded than US architect Richard Meier's 2003 Dives in Miseracordia (known as the "Jubilee Church"), Santo Volto is equal to Meier's work and in some ways surpasses it. It's also closer to the center of Rome and easier to get to.

It's hard to overstate the dramatic impact of Santo Volto in this somewhat run-down neighborhood of Magliana.  Rome architect Piero Sartogo inserted the church into the fabric of the community on a small plot of land, totally unlike Meier's church, which has been heavily criticized for not being "of the neighborhood."  Perhaps for these reasons, too, the church is so heavily packed for Sunday mass that one must get there early to get a seat.  Sartogo's collaborator and wife, Nathalie Grenon, confirms the people in the community are proud of the church.
The 'half dome' looming among the nearby apartment buildings.

Sartogo used the concept of negative volume to present in reality a half-dome, an echo of the Pantheon, but modernized.  Quoting Grenon in a 2013 interview with us:
     The site of the church is critical. It's the idea of a city; it's urban. The language of the architecture here is the mass and the void. The void becomes a dynamic element, the void is inserted by creating a mass; and so there's that tension, as there is tension between the urban environment and the sacred.

But Grenon won't call the building "post modern."  In her words:
Entrance, with rectangular shapes contrasting with the round 'cupola.'
We would say shades of Fascism's rationalist period, but Grenon wouldn't buy it.
She would say only that the materials are Roman.
      The Santo Volto cupola is a reference to the Pantheon, and its idea of the sacred. In the Pantheon the sphere is inside, while in our church, the two halves of the dome are separate: one represents the sacred and the other the profane. All of Rome is constructed with shapes that come from somewhere else.

Let's just say the effect is awe-inspiring.  As social critic Alain de Botton says of some churches, they're designed to make you feel the power of God--and this one does, perhaps even for nonbelievers.

Mimmo Palladino's 4th Station of the Cross (Jesus meets his
afflicted mother).
Santo Volto is a showcase for contemporary Italian artists. Sartogo and Grenon commissioned several of them to provide the liturgical furnishings.  There was no budget for this purpose, and they had to work almost for free.  Some were famous; some were young and not.  Noted artist Mimmo Palladino's stations of the cross are impressive and of this century.  Young artist Pietro Ruffo's  "face of Jesus" painting is hauntingly gorgeous.
Pietro Ruffo's face of Jesus, above the confessionals.

And then there's the crucifix.  It was originally designed by noted Italian artist Jannis Kounnelis, but the Diocese rejected his design.  Sartogo and Grenon had to come up with something quickly, before the Pope's visit.  She sketched out the crucifix, which was supposed to be temporary but has become iconic.  It's now for sale at the Vatican.

Grenon holding a replica of the crucifix she

Grenon's interview contains more fascinating comments.  It's here in TheAmerican/inItaly online magazine.

The church is open as most churches are; with a break in the middle of the day.  To be safe, we suggest going before noon or from 4-7 pm.  Impressive as it is outside, you will want to see the inside too.  Via della Magliana 166.  The church is about 3/4 mile (1.3 km) from Piazza Meucci at the southern end of the Marconi district.

As some of our loyal readers know, we have made the modern churches of Rome a project.  For posts on churches, put 'modern church' in the search engine.

Additional photos below of, first, Meier's Jubilee Church and then several more of Santo Volto.


Richard Meier's Jubilee Church.  The exception that proves the rule:  this day
we saw people enjoying the somewhat isolated church piazza.

Entrance doors to Santo Volto - echoing Renaissance church bronze doors.
Outside the half-cupola, in the open volume.

Play and contemplative space in back, nestled in the community.

From inside the church - through the back 'wall' and crucifix-
 one can see the neighborhood apartments.

Nathalie Grenon with the crucifix she designed--
now on sale at the Vatican.
Schematic of church and list of artists.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Walking to Trullo: for Art's Sake

The plan seemed reasonable, to Bill, anyway.  We had had heard that the working-class Rome suburb of Trullo--we'd been there once before--had been redecorated by volunteer street artists, and we wanted to see the community in all its new glory.  We decided to walk--Bill did, anyway--from our apartment in Monteverde Vecchio, 6.4 google map kms (3-3/4 miles one way): down via dei Quattro Venti, right on via Portuense, across via Isacco Newton, left on via del Trullo.  Voila!

Via Portuense is one of Rome's less fashionable streets, but even so, not without interest.  Early on we noticed (right) a building that had once been a gas station, perhaps a car wash. Many elements, frequently modified.  Concrete block, air conditioning, a covered terrace, a nice old wall, a tattered banner and, of course, graffiti.  In a curious way, a delight.

Further on, a sad memorial to a tragic accident: a young woman, Valentina, had died at that spot.

And two very different buildings, side by side: on the left, what appeared to be a municipal building, constructed in the 1930s; on the right, an apartment complex, perhaps of 1970s vintage, with its brazen rounded balconies.

An architectural find on via
dell'Imbreciatto.  Modernist
brutalism, recent vintage.  

Just beyond, we discovered a flaw in our plan.  Via Isacco Newton is an enormous highway, and there are no sidewalks on the fast-moving portion of via Portuense that crosses it.  Only Evil Knievel would walk that route.  So we doubled back to via Pietro Frattini and turned south through the 'hoods, onto via dell'Imbreciatto, right onto a country road, right again along Isacco Newton and over it, on a bridge, then up the hill and down the hill into Trullo.  Including the doubling back, this route is about 8.2 km, or roughly 5 miles.

Trullo has, indeed, been upgraded, as your exhausted duo discovered.  We didn't see any burning trash cans this time around.  Many of the 1930s housing project buildings that dominate the area have been decorated in one way or another: some simply and playfully--the kind of work that could be done by an untrained crew with a bit of direction. There's lots of poetry, too.

Others have benefited from the first-rate work by professionals.   Several examples follow.

Many other buildings, including the market, sport wall art.  At left, the decorated wall of an eyeglass store. Below, the market.

"The voyage is a search for hidden courage that knows no bounds."

View from the bar.

There's a comfortable bar in the center of town where you can sit outside on the covered patio and watch the main street traffic and the kids playing in the park across the street.  Best on a Saturday.

Worth it.  But don't walk.  We took the bus home. Weak!

PS - Posts on other areas 'upgraded' with street art include those on Quadraro and the Nomentana train station.  The book, "Global Rome" also investigates this phenomenon.

In Trullo, even the trucks are painted!  The graffiti on the building at center is older, not part of the remodeling. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

May Day in the Mountains near Rome, with Italians: The 12-hour Story

Dianne and I occasionally enjoy hiking with an Italian hiking group; we can get farther out of Rome and more deeply into mountains than with our scooter.  There are at least three hiking groups operating out of Rome. On the May 1 (Labor Day) national holiday, we hooked up with Centomilapassi (a hundred thousand steps), a relative newcomer to the species, and headed by a couple: Domenico and his French-born partner, Evelina (we knew she had an accent in Italian, but we hadn't pegged it as French; she told us she was French "cento per cento" (100%)).  Both were solid hikers.  Although most of the groups we have hiked with have included a few English speakers, this one was, with the exception of a moment or two, Italian-speaking. 

We thought it would be useful, and perhaps interesting, to narrate the adventure, start to finish, to give our readers the scope of the day-long endeavor.  Most of the narrative is presented under the photos, but parts of it we didn't photograph.

6:15 a.m.  Wake up and put on hiking clothes, already laid out.  Pack backpacks with lunch, sufficient water, remember hiking sticks.  Turn on coffee pot (all set), down a quick cup of coffee.
6:45           Leave apartment, take scooter 15 minutes to Piazza dell'Independenza.  Walk 1/4 mile to Termini to get the Metro for Anagnina, the last station south on the A-line.
7:30           Arrive Anagnina, with instructions to turn right and go through the underpass to a gas station on the other side of the multi-lane highway.  We are the first ones there.

The bar next to the gas station (where the group really will meet up).
  Outdoor elegance. Real Italian coffee and a cornetto.  

Others arrive.  The group uses private autos/ride sharing.
That's Fabrizio, our 'pilota' (driver), and Patrizia, who will be the
fourth passenger in the customary small car.

The various cars drive south on the A24 for about an hour.
The group meets here, on a wide circle - basically the autostrada off-ramp,
 for all the cars to arrive.  We're headed for the far center of the Lepini Mountains,
visible at right.  

Hiking groups always stop at a bar for coffee and bathroom
break.  It's about 9.a.m.

After a ride through a town and into the heart of the Lepini Mountains,
on a road cut from rock in places - hugging the vertical side of the
mountains, with hairpin curves - we arrive at a large parking lot.  It looks basic
 but below, in an enormous grass field, there's a swing set and slide.
And of course, the large prato/vallone ("meadow/valley") has the requisite
grazing cows and horses.  The sound of the tinkling of the bells on the cows
 will carry up the mountains.

Hike begins up the first of two mountains, Monte Gemma. There are 13 of us.
It's 9:45 a.m. 

Near the summit of Monte Gemma, we come upon a woman
and her poodle.  

Almost every mountain in Catholic Italy has a cross.  This one's on Monte Gemma.  The view is southeast, toward the valley leading to Cassino.  We can see straight south, across the plain of the Ciociaria, a region beloved by urbanites and the setting for the famous Sophia Loren film, "La Ciociara," as well as across the "pontina" (Pontine plain) to the Mediterranean Ocean, with the Circeo cliff barely visible through some haze.  The view here is of at least 4 sets of mountain ranges.

Coming down off of Gemma, with our next mountain, Monte Malaina,
directly in front of us.  And down we went, below the level of our cars.
One of our hiking slogans is "what goes down must go up," and so it was.

Up the very steep side of Monte Malaina.  1400 feet vertical
without a pause.  One of the tougher stretches we've done (as in ever).

Dianne on Malaina.  The first mountain we climbed, Mt.
Gemma, is back right.  Our cars are parked in the valley just behind Dianne.

Summit of Malaina, about 4900 feet above sea level. It's cold up there.  This sturdy hiker in front, Domenico's dog, "Trek," gets lunch craps from everyone.  We meet some people Domenico knows.  They have two children with them: one 3 years old, the other about 1, both with tiny hiking boots and clearly acclimated to the mountains.

Domenico helps the 3-year old down the mountain.  "Trek"
free-lanced the whole day, sometimes out of sight.  Chased
some horses at one point.  

Back at the parking lot.  Total distance: 9-10 miles.
Total vertical: about 2550 feet.   There are children on the swing set.
That's Dominico and Evelina sitting on their rear bumper, Fabrizio at right.
Everyone is changing boots to shoes - it's bad form not to have
 clean shoes to wear in the car.
And back at Bar Michelangelo (you never go straight home) for
drinks - usually beers -  and settling up.  The cost for both of us, which
includes a year membership in the group, is E50--about $55.
We will also share the cost of gas and tolls--E15 for the two of us - a good deal.
Everyone kisses everyone on the cheek goodbye and says "alla prossima" -
to the next one (hike)! 
Then, we reverse our trip: back into the car, ride back to the Anagnina station (opera on the radio), take Metro A 15 stops from Anagnina to Termini, walk to the moto, drive to our apartment in Salario.

7:00 p.m.  Back home.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Magic of Trajan's Market at Night

Baritone in the Great Hall
The views after dark Saturday evening at Trajan's Market (I Mercati di Traiano) were breathtaking.  The market itself was glowing with lights inside.  Add soloists from Teatro del Opera--two arias on different levels of the complex--and the night was magical.

Trajan's Market is an ancient Roman site we've enjoyed for years - mainly from the outside looking in - easy enough from via dei Fori Imperiale.  We have visited the site as paying customers once or twice in the past, always taking pleasure in its vast Roman streets, vistas, archways, rooms, and great hall (not to mention the bathrooms).
The Knights of Malta occupy this gorgeous palazzo and were preparing
for a fancy dinner on the terrazzo.

This time, and for only one Euro, it was simply spectacular. We also got in on the end of a guided tour in very clear Italian. Our guide, standing at the highest outdoor spot in the market, pointed out the places where Michelangelo and Raphaele lived, and where the Knights of Malta still own property (thanks to Pope Pio V from the province of Alessandria, hence the name of the road - now re-opened to pedestrians - and the district, Alessandrina).  He showed as well where 5 Roman castles could be seen - or at least located.  The presentation of photos showing the destruction of this area at the hands of the Fascists was intriguing as well.

This was a special evening. Anyone could take advantage of this well-documented and presented site (explanatory material in both English and Italian) for only one Euro, when the going rate is 13 Euro.

Because the market usually closes at 7.30 pm, only in the dead of winter can one have these wonderful views and the sense that one is stepping into ancient Rome.

Walking Roman roads in the market.
After all the complaining in the papers here about Rome's neglect of tourism, give Rome credit for pulling off this magnificent evening - one of several in April that the museums put on for this low price.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Salario: Rome's Unsung Hot Neighborhood

Right, our apartment building on the Via Simeto side.
Our place is on the 4th floor above the ground
floor--the one with the "cutout" that is our
terrace.   No market when this was taken.
When we arranged to rent a Rome apartment months ago, we thought we were headed for Parioli, a ritzy area of north Rome known for its fancy avenues (Viale dei Parioli and Viale Bruno Buozzi among them), expensive restaurants, and high-end shopping.

But we're not in Parioli--at least we don't think so.   More likely we're in one of Rome's lesser known districts: Salario.  Our 4th floor apartment is on the corner of Via Salaria--one of ancient Rome's consular roads--and Via Simeto, which is two blocks south of Viale Regina Margherita, the main drag with trams that go all over Rome.  We think Parioli "officially" begins on the other side of Via Salaria.

No, we're not in Parioli.  But what we've found--by sheer good fortune--is one of Rome's most
dynamic neighborhoods.   Curiously, we  had lived nearby a few years ago--just to the north of Viale Regina Margherita, in what's known as Trieste.  But we almost never ventured across the Viale. What a mistake!

Our building is of early 20th-century vintage, but
beneath it are catacombs!  We discovered they are open
one day each year - November 23.
It didn't take long to discover the pleasures of our Salario neighborhood.  It's full of small shops. On one side of our streetside apartment door is a barber.  On  the other side, a sartoria (a shop for sewing repairs of all kids). There's a ferramenta (a hardware store) nearby on Via Simeto, as well as the Rome version of a general store, crammed with stuff (and run, as many of them now are, by Chinese). Via Simeto also has a key shop and a butcher shop and an orto-frutta (fruits and vegetables).

Our "Tigre" grocrery, located in what used to be a movie
theatre (note the U-shaped lettering of the theater).  While
a chain, the Tigre has an informal book-exchange in
a room off the entrance.  

There's a nice wine shop just across Via Salaria--but of course you can buy wine almost anywhere, including at the medium-sized chain grocery store that you can see from our living room window (right).  The 4-star Beverly Hills Hotel (no joke!) is across the street.

The high-end shopping is on Via Po, two blocks down: men's clothes shops that drew the attention of a friend who's lived in Rome for years; a shop that sells only olive oil; a salumeria (a cheese/salami/bread store).  As that friend - who's lived in Rome 30 years - said when he met us for dinner nearby, "How did you find this place?"
Hugs at the market

Dianne with her home-made vignarola
Oh, yes.  There's an outdoor market on our side street (and up the next one) every day but Sunday--cheap clothes, kitchen items, and food: shelled peas and fava beans, trimmed artichokes, you name it.  In 5 minutes, we had bought those ingredients for vignarola - all ready to cook up.

Eating out?  There must be a dozen restaurants within a 10-minute walk--maybe more.  On our block alone there are three, all traditional trattorias serving Rome cuisine; we've tried two and they were both worthy, highlighted by a pasta with seafood and truffles.

Kilo, red meat capital of Rome.  Dianne on the prowl.  
Toward Via Po, we discovered Kilo, an enormous corner restaurant with elaborate outdoor seating--all in hip modernist style--serving meat cuts from animals raised around the world - Danish and Uruguayan beef, not to mention Chianina (from Tuscany), Kobe and "American" meats.  It's full of young people, which we like.  A wine bar called "dietro le quinte" also looks promising.  And there are a couple of popular places for the sushi crowd.

Hip outside cushion seating at "dietro le quinte"

After checking out a dozen "bars" for our morning coffee and cornetto, we finally settled on a somewhat upscale place on Via Po--where you can sit down and read the paper without paying extra. Indeed, the trend here in Salario--and Salario could be trend-setting--is toward larger places with ample seating at no extra charge. Dogs get in free.

An entrance to Coppede'
It would be too much to say that Salario is centrally located. It's well to the north of the Centro, with no subway line nearby.  Still, the famed Via Veneto is less than a mile walk, and the Galleria Borghese is at most 10 minutes.  The fantastical neighborhood of Coppede', named after the architect Gino Coppede', who designed its structures in the 1920s, is 5 minutes away.

A tram got us to Prati (near the Vatican) in about 30 minutes for some jazz at Alexanderplatz  the other night, and in the other direction (east), a tram will take you to the university, to the hip young scene at San Lorenzo, and just beyond to Porta Maggiore, with its enormous aqueducts, a short walk from another hip scene in Pigneto.

Life could be worse!


Could have been and would have been our
regular coffee bar, but they overcharged us--twice--because they
thought the Americans wouldn't be back or wouldn't notice.  Big mistake.
It's on Via Salaria if you don't want to go there.