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

Thursday, January 17, 2019


What one sees--in Rome or anywhere else--depends on where one looks. Over the years, we've probably done more down-looking than most travelers. RST regulars may remember the post on manhole covers, or the one on curbs, or the offering on Rome's undulating and ugly asphalt sidewalks, or the one on love poems chalked onto those sidewalks.

But we also look ahead and up; that's where much of the architecture is, and we're fans of buildings of all kinds (even the much-maligned and misunderstood brutalism of the 1970s).  We've written about door handles, spiky things that prevent people from sitting down, the scallop shell motif that appears on so many 19th-century buildings, broken pediments, and the open loggia that's ubiquitous in Rome.

What we haven't written about--hadn't really "seen"--are the "mensole" that are a prominent feature of many buildings.  "Mensole" is the Italian term, and there's no good translation in English; perhaps architects have a specialized word, but other than that the closest English word is "supports." We're talking about the mensole that support--or appear to support--Rome's balconies, roofs, and windows.

Below, a few, of thousands; the last two photos are of Noto, a Sicilian town known for its mensole:

Near the intersection of via Nomentana and viale Regina Margherita
Romanesque Basic 

Late-19th century elegance
Via Paisiello, in Salario.  Not sure what's supporting what here.  
The once-Poligrafico dello Stato (State Printing Office), Piazza Verdi
Coppede'. Focus on gate, unfortunately.
Nice lion. Otherwise leaning into modernism. 
And the Sicilian town of Noto:



Friday, January 11, 2019

Join the Italian sing-along at Fonclea in Prati

Singer Luca Vicari covers Lucio Battisti songs at Fonclea.
It's not an easy task to find music in Rome that's neither contemporary rock (including rap, new age, electronic) nor classical. We've searched for every jazz club in town, and many, if not most, have disappeared over the years (as in Casa del Jazz, La Palma, 28 Divino; although we just discovered Alexanderplatz (in RST's Top 40) which had been closed for over a year and we feared forever, has reopened).

One mainstay of nostalgic rock is Fonclea, a club in Prati, not far from the Vatican. Fonclea started in 1977 as - per their Web site - a "cantina alternativa," an alternative cantina, where young musicians would have a chance to play in public.  Those young musicians have aged and now Fonclea is a 7-days-a-week music spot mainly for cover bands, which seem to be an even bigger phenomenon in Italy than in the U.S. That said, Fonclea is a great place to see and hear those bands.

Choose beer over wine.
The atmosphere is British pub.  As a result, the beer selection is much better than the wine selection.  There is a good-sized menu, and the Italians like to eat there, with their music.  We'd rate the food as fair.

They all knew all the words.
A sampling of Fonclea's schedule, from their Web site.
One night this spring, everyone in the room was singing along to the songs of pop singer Lucio Battisti, who, as Wikipedia says, "is widely recognized for songs that defined the late 1960s and 1970s era of Italian songwriting."  Something of a loner, he died at age 55 in 1998. Some of the songs sounded familiar to us, but we didn't know them well enough to sing along. Even so, it was great fun to be there and hear the music.  

One night another person joined us at our table.  A German tourist, she had wandered into Fonclea from a nearby hotel.  She wanted to know what was going on with the singing audience.  After listening for awhile she declared it was her birthday and the best way she could have spent it, confirming our sense that a night at Fonclea is terrific even if one doesn't know the language.

The cover band for Lucio Battisti's music that we heard makes frequent appearances at Fonclea.  They were founded in 1994 as "Anime Latine" ("Latin souls") by the singer Luca Vicari and drummer Francesco De Chicchis, dedicating themselves only to the music of Battisti.

Info at (if it doesn't work, try it another time). Via Crescenzio 82a. +39 06 689 6302.


We hadn't realized until we looked in our photo files that we had seen the same cover band - from the other side
of the room - in 2015.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Buon Pastore: Armando Brasini's complex Convent

The elegant, complex structure below opened in 1933 as a convent, to house the local congregation of the Suore di Nostra Signora della Carita' del Buon Pastore di Augiere; it is known familiarly as "Buon Pastore."  It still exists, but not quite as it appears in the photo.  The "guglie" (spires, of stone) that graced the building in its first four decades were torn down in the 1970s. There was decay, and safety was surely an issue, because the building was still in use.  But there's more to it than that.

The decade of the 1970s is perhaps best remembered architecturally for its fascination with concrete, and the "brutalist" structures--some of them fluid and remarkable, others stolid and grim--that came with its use. More than that, the architect of Buon Pastore, who died in 1965, was not then much remembered nor much respected, and his reputation, or lack of it, surely had something to do with the decision to demolish, rather than repair, the spires.

Armando Brasini
Today it would be different.  Armando Brasini has an admiring following these days, and those who care about Rome's architectural heritage are increasingly aware of his contribution to the city, which include the entrance to the Rome zoo (1909-1910), Villa Flaminia (his own residence, 1920-1925), Ponte Flaminio (begun 1933), a significant church at Piazza Euclide, and the magnificent Palazzo INAIL (1926-1933), on which he collaborated with Bruno Zevi. (He also designed a church in Buffalo which had to be torn down because of deterioration; some say he didn't understand Buffalo winters.)
Ponte Flaminio, photo from 1960s
Decades after his death, he has been justly compared to the more famous Gino Coppede', who like Brasini experimented with an eclecticism that anticipates postmodernism: the delicious combining of historical styles from the Renaissance, the baroque period, and the medieval era.  Coppede' deserves the lavish praise bestowed on the neighborhood/community in Salario that bears his name.  But no single building of his approaches the breathtaking monumentality of Brasini's Buon Pastore.

The complex, monumental, front entrance. What style is it?
Work began on Buon Pastore in 1929, and the building was opened in 1933, but construction was not completed until 1943, in the midst of the war.  In its early years the building functioned simply as a convent with chapel.  The world war brought change.  Although the nuns remained, the building also served as a military hospital--1500 beds--through the war years, first for the Italian wounded, then for the occupying Germans, then, briefly in 1944, for the American forces.

Interior courtyard, Sant'Ivo-like cupola
Courtyard detail
Courtyard, from above, looking toward front
Dome closeup
Walkway detail

In August 1945 Buon Pastore became a home for the "re-education" of adolescent girls, including 20 from Laurentina, an area destroyed during the war, and 10 from a building on via della Lungara (now the Casa Internazionale delle Donne).  The left side of the building remained a hospital (it closed in 1964), and the right side was given over to rooms for the nuns and the girls.  By 1953 there were 60 girls receiving assistance and treatment at the facility.  In 1955, Buon Pastore housed a scuola media (middle school) for girls in the quartiere, known as "Roma Gianicolense."  Since 1969 it has housed a variety of scholastic institutes.

While shockingly diverse stylistically, what appears to be a rambling, oddly shaped building is also perfectly symmetrical.  The "arms" of the building house separate (and, of course, symmetrical) cortili (courtyards), intended to bring in air and light.  The central courtyard is especially impressive.  According to one authority, the cupola replicates the cupola of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, Borromini's 17th-century baroque masterpiece.  On special occasions, it is still possible to climb out and around on the roofs of the building.

Our tour at dome level.  Great place for a cocktail party.
Brasini's powerful and yet myterious building has attracted the film industry; at least a dozen films have been shot there, including Una Vita Violenta (1962), based on the novel by Pier Paolo Pasolini; Il Cartaio (2004), directed by the Italian master of horror, Dario Argenta; and Il Papa' di Giovanna (2008), a Pupi Avati production.

Buon Pastore is at via Bravetta 383, about 3 miles SSW of the Vatican.  The interior is accessible only on special occasions, such as the spring program Open House Roma, in which we participated.  The exterior, worthy in its own right, can be circled any time.  The photos below are from a 2016 visit.


Inevitable selfie, from highest accessible point, above the entrance

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

See, Eat, Listen, Shop, Pray, Watch - Rome at Christmas and New Year's

RST is pleased to welcome back (her last post was in 2014, using her Etruscan specialty) 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:

There is no better place to be than Rome during the holidays.  A city that is eternally enchanting becomes even more so during the magic of Christmastime. Whether you want to shop, eat, pray, or witness the great spectacles of holiday cheer, here is a list of what to do and where as 2018 comes to a close.


Picasso's sculpture in the Galleria Borghese.
A special treat just this year at the Borghese Gallery, one of Rome’s most important attractions, is an exhibition of the work of Pablo Picasso. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to see Picasso’s sculptural work. It is worth a trip to Rome just to experience over 50 of his three-dimensional works, displayed in the setting of a Baroque villa and surrounded by antiquities. The exhibit runs through February 3 and must be booked in advance.

For other main attractions, most museums and archaeological sites stay open through the holiday season, closing only on Christmas Day. The Vatican, however, is closed both the 25th and 26th.  All sites are free the last Sunday of every month; so you can enjoy entrance to the Coliseum, the Vatican, and other major sites free of charge on Sunday December 29th (although you might be fighting crowds then).


Roasted lamb with potatoes.
Many restaurants offer a fixed menu on the holidays, which is a great opportunity to taste the local holiday traditions of Rome. Try Hosteria Grappolo D’Oro or Ditirambo in the historic and lively Campo de' Fiori neighborhood.  Their fixed menus on Christmas day feature an abundant lunch including baccalà mouse, tortellini, and roasted lamb, while the Christmas Eve dinner menu includes pasta with shrimp ragu, pumpkin crepes, and fish fillet. All are served with local wines and traditional desserts.

Campagna Amica market, on via di San Teodoro,
behind the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) and near
Circus Maximus.
If you are cooking for yourselves, for food shopping try the Campagna Amica market on Via di San Teodoro near the Circus Maximus. It is open only on weekends and will be bustling with activity the weekend before Christmas. The market is part of the 0-km initiative (in the U.S., we’d say “locavore”), which supports local producers. Everything at the market is produced in Central Italy and is seasonal. It's a great place to stock up on fresh fish and meats if you’d like to cook a holiday meal at home, or to collect local cheeses, honey, wine, craft beer, and other homemade items to bring home as gifts.


With its Christmas fair and live concerts, the Auditorium Parco della Musica is the place to be. Their Gospel Festival running from December 21st to December 31st is the most important gospel festival in Europe, presenting some of the best gospel artists from the United States. For a program of events, see their website,

Ice-skating at Parco della Musica.
The Auditorium also becomes a winter wonderland from the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th to the Epiphany on January 6th, with an ice-skating rink and Santa Claus!

At 5 p.m. Thursday, December 20th, the Chorus from the University of Tor Vergata will give a Chrismtas concert of traditional songs at the Biblioteca Nazionale (Metro B).

If you’re interested in a day trip, Orvieto is a perfect idea, just 2 hours by train from Rome. From December 28th through January 1st the hilltop medieval town will be host to one of the world’s most famous music festivals, Umbria Jazz - Winter, celebrating its 45th year. Past performers include Miles Davis, Sting, Chet Baker and BB King. This year there will be street parades, and a mixing of food with music with many places featuring live concerts over lunch or dinner, highlighting the local cuisine and a variety of jazz sounds including soul, funk, classical, and swing. For a program of events see their website,
Orvieto Winter Jazz


One of the world’s most creative urban markets expands to 2 levels at Christmastime. Mercato Monti, open on weekends from 10am-8pm, is laden with products, all made in Italy. The market features local, young and creative artisans, designers and innovators showcasing their handmade jewelry, leather goods, shoes, clothes and beauty supplies. Located in Rome’s “hipster” neighborhood, which also happens to be the city’s oldest, makes it the best platform for "Made in Italy." The motto of Mercato Monti is “emancipate yourself from ordinary shopping,” which is perfect advice at Christmastime. 


It always surprises me how solemn and peaceful Rome can be amid the city’s hustle and bustle. It should be no surprise, however, that the Vatican is impressive at Christmastime. Its life-size nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square this year is uniquely made out of sand, from a beach in Venice. And its decorated tree from Northern Italy is an impressive 23m (75 feet) tall. In addition to information on their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day masses and New Year’s Eve Te Deum prayer and vespers, you can find out about Vatican celebrations and Papal audiences during the holiday period online at the Vatican website, www.vatican.vaunder the category of the prefecture of the Papal household.

One of the presepe or Nativity scenes on via della Conciliazione.
While at the Vatican, you will want to check out the 100 Nativity Sets exhibition on Via della Conciliazione, where Sala San Pio X will host nearly 200 (ironically) nativity sets from around the world, such as traditional Neapolitan and Sicilian wooden-crafted creches, to modern techniques using sand, terracotta, and even pasta! These creches are artisan wonders, and some are even life-size.

Several churches in Rome offer masses and music in English, which you can celebrate in a variety of ways, such as traditional midnight mass, carol service, and children’s pageants. Among the primary English language churches are All Saints' Anglican Church, St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church and St. Patrick’s American Roman Catholic Church.
Concert at St. Paul's Within the Walls Episcopal Church.

Because Rome is a world capital, it's a great place to celebrate New Year's Eve.  This year on New Year's Eve Rome is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing with 24 hours of events.  In the Circus Maximus starting at 9 p.m. there will be a free outdoor event, a mix of "moon inspired" performers such as dancers, acrobats and an orchestra, culminating in a fireworks display at midnight.  Another option is to ring in the New Year at the Baroque masterpiece fountain called "Il Fontanone" on the Janiculum Hill overlooking the city--a magical experience (and inexpensive).

And while most tourist sites may be closed on New Year's Day, hundreds of performers will continue the celebration throughout New Years's Day around the Aventine Hill and Tiber Island.  Also on New Year's day, check out the parade of American marching bands that will perform throughout the city's historic center.  The parade starts at 3:30 p.m. in Piazza del Popolo and lasts 2 and a half hours.  Street performers, American high school marching bands and Italian folk singers will turn the Spanish Steps and surrounding area into their stage!

Theresa Potenza

P.S. For thumbnail descriptions of Christmas markets in Northern Italy, see Dianne Hales's post:

Monday, December 10, 2018

"Smucinate," and other Signs of Shopping in Rome

Tourist citations of inept menu descriptions or botched foreign language translations are standard fare.  And we are not immune to enjoying the signs of petty capitalism (though we do avoid posting on menu infelicities).  Below, some of our favorite ones from this year.

You won't find this word in an Italian-English dictionary, but you will find at least some definitions of "smucinare"
 in a good Italian dictionary.  Here - at this mixed items stall in a street market - it means "Rummage at will." 
Apparently "smucinare" has some other meanings that aren't appropriate for a family blog.

The sign that accompanies these Zippo reading glasses (a good buy in Rome - about Euro 5 each, and they have 3.0s) mashes English and Italian, of course, and uses the classic Italian phrase "Buon..." whatever (as in "buon apetito," "buon giorno," "buon natale") translated - as it sometimes can be - to "happy," and "vista" = sight.  So, Happy Sight!
I also like the colors of the glasses and their cases, of which I now own a few.

This sign is appealing for its play on the Italian verb, to walk or to take
a walk, "camminare."  It's done here with an Indian style writing
and also an Indian-like spelling that ends up sounding the same
as "camminare."  And, of course, it's the name of a - in English-
tour operator.

Can't resist this one - "Torno subito" - or "Back soon."
To which our usual response is, "yeah, sure."

What I like about this photo is the services offered by a more-or-less permanent
street stand.  The hand-printed sign at left (and see below) basically says "we deliver."
  I had a nice chat with the owner - from whom I bought only a bottle of water. 
He was fascinated to know where we were from (we were in the Africano quarter,
which doesn't host a lot of tourists; it's name comes from the street names, which were
created when Italy was in the process of conquering - or failing to conquer - north Africa;
streets such as Somalia and Libia); the shop owner was an immigrant, obviously hard-working.

And then marijuana comes to Rome: