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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Santiago Calatrava's Unfinished Swimming Pool at Tor Vergata

Walking to the pool
Late in our last visit to Rome, we ventured east of the city on public transportation to have a look at Rome's newest university, Tor Vergata, and to finally see a building we had heard much about: Santiago Calatrava's Palanuoto (swimming pool), located, we knew, somewhere near the university.   Our tour of the university was satisfying (more on that in an earlier post), but the pool evaded our grasp. 

Dianne in the olive trees
A long, hot walk over a barren plain (right above), and through an abandoned tract of olive trees (being harvested by squatters), brought us no closer than a half mile, we estimated.  That's Dianne in the grove, with our goal in the distance. 

We surrendered and returned two days later, this time on the scooter.  Even that proved problematic, as we carved turn after turn on new roads leading nowhere, mostly frequented by bicyclists in tandem, enjoying the emptiness. 

Abandoned road
We parked on a traffic circle, climbed over a railing and through an opening in a perimeter fence and up a road abandoned to geckos and weeds.





Calatrava's swimming pool, through the weeds
Moving along a second fence, we found no opening and gave up on our plan of getting within touching distance of the structure.  We took several photos; they all resemble the one on the left, shot from a low angle to emphasize the tumbleweed look.    





Calatrava's idea of how the Sports City would look
We assumed then that the pool was under construction.  No no.  Here's the story:  What we charmingly referred to as Calatrava's "pool" was, in fact, one of two fan-shaped pavilions that together were to comprise a "Sports City," intended for general sports use but especially designed for the 2009 World Swimming Championships in Rome.  Calatrava's conception, taken from his web site, is at right.


The tower, designed to house the Rector of the new
university.  Appropriately grandiose. 
Looks like a new EUR. 
The Sports City was to be located at one end of a massive promenade, modeled after the ancient Circus Maximus, with the university's Rectorate (meaning the building housing the rector, the university's president) at the other end.  The new university's buildings were to be distributed along this promenade. 

Ground was broken for the Tor Vergata campus (named after the alternating red and grey bricks of a "striped tower" sold in 1361 as part of the Annibaldi estate) in March, 2007.  But rising costs for Sports City led the right-wing Mayor, Gianni Alemanno, to halt the pool project.  The 2009 swimming competition was moved to the Foro Italico complex (on the Tevere, across from the Flaminio district) and to other hastily constructed pools, some of them carved out of tennis courts. 

Calatrava's Sports City was also linked to Rome's bid for the 2020 summer Olympic games.  Most of the other venues already existed.  But the world financial crisis intervened, and in late 2011 or 2012 the new premier, economic technician Mario Monti, ended Rome's Olympic bid by refusing it state support, despite an offer of 380 million Euros (of about 500 million needed) from a private Swiss group for Sports City, in exchange for 25 years of ownership of the structure. 

In July 2011, a report in La Repubblica remarked on the surrounding "moonscape" and characterized the site as one "dove non si vede l'ombra di un operaio" (where one doesn't see even the shadow of a worker).  By mid-February of the following year, the same newspaper referred to what there was of Calatrava's Sports City as "a cathedral in the desert," an "emblem of defeat," a "vero e proprio capolavoro senza futuro" (a veritable masterpiece without a future). 

When the Olympic bid was abandoned, Mayor Alemanno, who had earlier blocked the Calatrava project, was now upset.  He argued that the games would have helped expand the region's tourist potential by developing areas around Ostia, on the sea.  La Repubblica's Robert Mania, perhaps thinking of Mussolini's ambitious plans to extend the city to the Mediterranean--and beyond--wrote, "Ma questa idea di Roma che si estende verso il mare non avevamo gia sentita?"  (This idea of Rome extending itself toward the sea--haven't we already heard of this?).  Another overreach, another failed Italian--and perhaps imperial--dream.
Bill

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