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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Before and After Series: Piazza San Silvestro

It's better, right?  Piazza San Silvestro, located in the heart of commercial and tourist Rome--2 minutes from Galleria Sardi and 5 minutes from the Trevi Fountain--used to be a major bus depot of the open air kind.  Dozens of buses stopped or turned around there.  It was convenient for shoppers, but arguably a waste of a large piazza, not to mention a source of pollution.

And so the authorities decided the bus depot would have to go--indeed, cars, too, would be banned from most of the piazza, which would become a place for pedestrians to chill out, for mothers to walk the baby in the stroller without worrying about traffic, and for tourists to sit down at one of the long, curving benches, have a look at their maps, and admire the piazza's churches.  

Demolition of the bus structures began in 2012.

And here's the result:

Today, people sit in the piazza (though not much in the heat of the day, for there are no umbrellas or other shelters from the sun), and mothers walk their babies, and no doubt tourists are glad to have place to sit and browse their guidebooks for what's in the area.  So in some sense the new piazza works.  But there's something missing, too: energy, a focus of activity, trees, enough people to more or less fill the vastness and give the space proportion--and a place to get relief from the sun.  In some sense, it doesn't work.


Monday, October 9, 2017

A powerful anti-globalization polemic: Edoardo Nesi's "Story of My People"

Prato; the wool factory was just outside of Prato in Narnali
Edoardo Nesi stares at likely illegal Chinese immigrants eating, sleeping and, yes, running machines in the same building where he and his ancestors made "the most beautiful fabrics on earth," but which is now a "filthy industrial shed."  He knows they are "an astonishingly young army of extortion victims who often fail to recognize the depth of the inadequacy of their working condition."

Edoardo Nesi, who has translated David Foster Wallace
and is the author of  a dozen books, now also a politician.
Although only a decade or two has passed, what's in his sight, as he accompanies a raid on this illegal operation, seems light-years away from his life as a young businessman in the late '80s to mid-90s. He relates a life then that "really could be exciting," flying from Florence to Munich, driving a BMW at 170 mph to meet with clients, and back in Florence in the evening, where he would "watch the dizzying back-and-forth of the workers on the loading docks...or have fabric assortment meetings and we were all focused on trying to select the best items for the coming season."

Nesi's description of his beloved Prato, the town outside of Florence that was the heart of the textile industry in Italy, as it goes from the glories of small artisan shops to abandoned land, at best - or worst - inhabited by the Chinese he sees, is perhaps the best argument I've read against globalization.

The author of "Story of My People" belongs to the tradition of Herman Melville--or in Italy Italo Svevo and Primo Levi--that subset of writer/businessperson.  The lyricism Nesi brings to the effects of globalization that he experienced first-hand almost makes the reader weep, weep over fabrics and their makers.

A third generation businessman, Nesi oversaw the sale of his family's business, sold before it went bankrupt.  "I can't manage to get out of my head that '& Figli'--'& Sons' [part of the name of his company]--that seals the end of the woolen mill, that announcement of continuity...I can't say whether I was a sly fox or a miserable coward, whether I did the right thing or betrayed my birthright....Then, of course, I get over it.  I go home and get over it."

Nesi, whose tale of growing up is of a rich, spoiled kid, merges business and philosophy and provides a good take-down of the myth that globalization would bring prosperity to Italy as the Chinese would buy Italian products:  "things didn't go the way they said they would; the Chinese didn't rush out to buy Italian style, they hurried out and produced it themselves."

And he suggests there was another way:  "We should have fought tooth and nail, every inch of the way, just as all the other nations did.  We should have negotiated, negotiated, and negotiated some more."  I have my doubts that this plan would have succeeded.  And I'm certain Nesi glamorizes the conditions of his family's factory and their workers.  Nonetheless, Nesi grabs our attention with his personal story, the story of his people.

In 2011, "Story of My People" was the first non-fiction book to win Italy's Strega Prize.  Translated by Antony Shugaar.

Prato's merchant class dates at least as far back as the middle ages.  Iris Origo's first book is "The Merchant of Prato: Francesco Di Marco Datini, 1335-1410.

And a shout-out to my mother, who in the 1970s took me to Prato to buy me outfits made of those wonderful fabrics.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Campo Testaccio: AS Roma's Historic Field

Today, it's entirely overgrown, a swath of land in the heart of the city, abandoned to nature and inhabited by the homeless.  You can peer in from via Nicola Zabaglia, just a half block from the entrance to Monte Testaccio, at via Zabaglia and via Galvani, and just across the street from some of Testaccio's best-known bars and restaurants.  You're just five minutes from the Pyramid.  See the historical aerial views at the bottom of this post.

The site was--and still is--known to Romans as Campo Testaccio (Testaccio Field).  For 11 years, from 1929, when it was constructed, until 1940, Campo Testaccio was the home field of the legendary Rome soccer club, AS Roma, founded in 1926.  The stadium held 20,000 fans, and they reveled in the team's success in those years--103 wins, 32 ties, 26 losses. 
Campo Testaccio, c. 1935
Though the team won no championships while playing on that field, the stadium was immortalized in "Campo Testaccio," an anthem written by Toto Castellucci and sung by generations of Roma fans.  Click on the 'play' buttons in this link for traditional and modern versions of the song:

What happened to the field in the 60 years after the team moved to Stadio Nazionale is unclear, though at the turn of this century, when we first saw it, the campo still resembled a place where one could play soccer. 

But in 2008 preparations began for an underground parking lot on the site, and in came the bulldozers.
Bulldozers on their way
Apparently the area proved inhospitable for that purpose, and a grass-roots movement, peopled by Roma fans, took root--a "save the stadium" effort.  Surprisingly, just this year it met with some success; the city council removed the campo from the city's parking program and returned it to a sporting-use designation.  Maybe it'll look different the next time we see it.

Once you've seen the forlorn remains of Campo Testaccio, direct your attention to the area just west of the field, still along via Zabaglia.  Stop in front of what looks like another of the city's many Madonelle--street corner Madonnas.  In this case, we're not looking at the classic Mary.  The "madonna" being worshiped here is, appropriately, the Signora der Futtebball!    

Nostra Signora der Futtebball
         Campo Testaccio Incoronò (Crowned by Campo Testaccio)          
Testaccio Crowned Mother Mary Queen of Roma Football

Left: field center, via Marmorata Post Office upper right, Protestant cemetery lower right, Monte Testaccio lower left.    Right: 1932, from a different angle.  


Monday, September 18, 2017

Luigi Moretti's ex-GIL: Eagles, and an Occupation

It's just one photo--and not our own--but it tells a story.  The photo is of the entrance to the Casa della GIL (House of the Italian Fascist Youth), a stunning modernist structure designed by Luigi Moretti and constructed between 1933 and 1936.  It is now most often referred to as the ex-GIL.
When I first saw the photo, I assumed it was a period pic, though color photography was in its infancy in the 1930s.  My assumption was that "Rome for the Romani" was, even decades ago, a Fascist slogan.  Moreover, the photo shows large, highly stylized metal eagles above the entrance to the building--one of Mussolini-era Fascism's potent symbols--and Dianne and I, having observed the building for about 20 years, had never seen those eagles. So I assumed they were part of the original structure (which they may have been) and, therefore, that the photo was vintage.

Wrong.  The photo was taken in April, 2017, when the building--the ex-GIL--was briefly occupied by Forza Nuova, a militant, anti-immigrant, homophobic far-right political party founded in 1997. CasaPound, a neo-Fascist organization with affiliates in dozens of Italian cities, including Rome, was also involved in the occupation.

Looking more closely at the photo, the smaller flags say FN and "Forza Nuova."  According to Forza Nuova (and the press), the building's elaborate and expensive reconstruction was completed (except, perhaps for those eagles) in 2015, yet the building remained empty.  The occupation was designed to make that point, and to immediately turn the structure into a shelter for the homeless--unless, of course, they were immigrants, socialists, or gay.
The ex-GIL as it looked in 2012, when it was open briefly for an art exhibition.
Some might object to the re-mounting of the Fascist eagles.  Others would point out that the eagles hardly matter, given the prominence of a Fascist slogan on the facade.

And that's the story.


The ex-GIL is located in Trastevere, on Largo Ascianghi, between viale di Trastevere and the Tiber River.  It came in at #10 in RST's Top 40.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Things Change (or Don't): The Garbatella Market

It's said that Rome is Eternal, and that may be true in any number of ways too complex to get into. But having spent time in the city and taken thousands of photographs, often of features of the landscape we had photographed before, we can say with some authority that changes do occur.

The Garbatella Market is an example.  When we first went by in 2009 (or that's when we took the first photos that we still have), the iconic market stairs were in disrepair--as was the rest of the facade-- and covered with political graffiti and an ode to Sancho Panza and Don Quixote.

Two years later, the market had been restored, the stairs repaired, the brick walls cleaned, and the graffiti removed--though a few tags had appeared.  Progress!

In 2017, the stairs had been reborn as a political space--Garbatella is a leftist enclave, and the stairway's bricks, having become impossible to maintain, had been painted yellow.  The 2010 message, about the necessity of struggling against injustice, had been replaced with something similar, but also different:  "In every epoch and in every circumstance, there will always be many reasons to give up the struggle.  But without struggle, one will never have liberty."

Inside the market has changed as well.  It was once a regional city market; then (as late as 2010), it was an empty, derelict space.  Now, on Saturdays, it is a fledgling farmers' and artisans' market.

Maybe Rome--even modern Rome--is, indeed, Eternal.  Everything changes, everything stays the same.


Monday, September 4, 2017

"Autobiography of the Mother": Silvia Codignola's exhibition, reviewed by Shara Wasserman

Shara Wasserman, right, with Dianne Bennett, 2013
For this review of an ongoing exhibition at the Museo Carlo Bilotti, RST is pleased to welcome as guest blogger Shara Wasserman. Wasserman is an American art historian and curator of contemporary art.  She received her BA in Art History with honors from Temple University and her MA in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University. Following a period at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, first as Hilla von Rebay fellow and later as Editorial Assistant, Wasserman relocated to Rome.  She is on the faculty of Temple University Rome, where she serves as Director of Exhibitions.  

The Museo Carlo Bilotti, an exhibition space in the heart of the Villa Borghese in Rome, is hosting a lovely display of a decade of work by Roman artist Silvia Codignola.  Curated by Lea Mattarella,  the show runs through October 22.

Silvia Codignola, in her Rome studio, 2013
Trained as an architect, Codignola moved to the visual arts early in her career, producing a varied body of work that includes drawing, sculpture, paintings and installations.  Her early architectural training is always present and results in a focus on structure and geometry.  Solid, expressionless figures inhabit empty spaces; dark colors and sharp chiaroscuro keep the spectator’s eye on the surface plane; still life objects and figures firmly positioned in their environment hold our attention, almost as if they comprise a stage set.

Mario Sironi, "Landscape with Figures," 1932

Her artistic preferences move from the Italian Early Renaissance, with artists such as Piero della Francesca and Masaccio, to Mario Sironi, the prominent Italian painter of the 1920s and 1930s, whose spare landscapes presage Codignola’s compositions.

Titled Autobiography of the Mother, the works on exhibition were culled from a decade of the artist’s production – 2006-2016 – and in particular from her almost obsessive focus on mothers and children. Two of her paintings are reproduced below.

By including many versions of the same subject, Codignola guides the spectator viewing this exhibition through a variety of aspects and stages of motherhood: from the powerful armless, headless, anonymous pregnant woman, to the lonely sleeping mother rigidly supporting the head of her child, to the absently nursing mother, to the mother reclining with her child, to the distracted mother inserted in an austere beachscape, to the final images of a small arm reaching out of the darkness towards an old man. 

Both a mother – the show is dedicated to her daughter Miranda -- and a daughter, Silvia Codignola infuses the works with a reflection, a kind of chronology, of mother and child. 

As we walk through the show, we think of Silvia the woman, but we also think of Silvia the artist as the link between life and the strong symbolism, especially in Italian art, that woman represents.  She is the life giver, the universal mater, the bearer of the seed and the symbol of fertility; she is wisdom and intellect and war and protection.  In short, she is Mother.

A long-time fan of Silvia’s art, I am always excited to see new work and the new way that she thinks of her previous work.  This exhibition fulfills both.

Shara Wasserman
Director of Exhibitions

Gallery of Art, Temple University Rome

Monday, August 28, 2017

More than the Trevi Fountain: Prosciutto, Palazzi, Prints and Paintings within a coin's throw.

The Trevi Fountain is definitely a Rome the First Time experience--and many more times after that, we think. So don't miss it.  (And some advice on visiting it below... it's not so simple these days.)

But there's more!
Three historic Renaissance palazzi, more than three free exhibition spaces, and great food abound in the small streets to the right and left of the fountain.

To fuel yourselves for fighting the crowds and police that now surround the fountain, try the mouth-watering, tiny prosciutteria off the piazza. I must admit I wasn't keen on meeting our family there, expecting something trending on Yelp or Facebook, with little local flavor.  I was so wrong, as the "before" and "after" photos illustrate. La Prosciutteria Trevi, via della Panetteria, No. 34,11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.

Sonia Delaunay print
Now for some art.  The Trevi Fountain overwhelms everything near it; thus, it's understandable that three or more (depending on how one counts them) art exhibition spaces are almost on top of the fountain and yet usually quite devoid of visitors. Istituto Centrale per la Grafica - the Central Graphics Institute - is contiguous with the building on which the fountain is built.  Go along the street on the right of the fountain and you'll find the entrance on your left.  It has excellent shows.  We've seen many there - from Piranesi's fantasy prints to Sonia Delaunay's work.  Free.  Via della Stamperia, 6.
Piranesi - from his fantastica "jails" series.

Borromini's 17th-century frieze at
Accademia di San Luca, with an Ontani
sculpture in the niche inside.
This is one of several exhibition spaces behind the fountain. The main one is in Palazzo della Calcografia - an 18th-century building by Giuseppe Valadier.  A second one is in Palazzo Poli, with an entrance on the left side of the Trevi Fountain (as we recall), and which is considered to house the Trevi. Some of the space is devoted to a permanent exhibition of older print-making machines and explanations of the techniques then and today.  You might be lucky, too, as we were one day, to find yourself on the second floor of the palazzo and looking out the window right onto the fountain itself.

Across from Palazzo della Calcografia is the main building of Rome's exclusive arts academy - Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, founded in 1577.  In this palazzo, Palazzo Carpegna,you can simply walk in to see the famed Borromini ramp and friezes from the mid-17th century.  Prominent exhibits often are installed on the ramp and elsewhere throughout the building.  We've seen excellent architectural drawings by contemporary Italian Starchitect Renzo Piano,who also designed the New York Times headquarters in New York and the newer buildings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

That's Ontani in the shimmery pale blue silk
 suit and pony tail.  We caught a glimpse of
him touring his own exhibition
while we were doing so as well.

This summer the Accademia's primary installation is of works by an Italian sculptor and painter of whom we hadn't heard - Luigi Ontani. We found his capricious sculptures technically superb as well as fun and a bit bizarre. The exhibit is open until September 22 of this year. The building also houses a permanent exhibition of works donated by some of the famous members of the Academy, including Bernini.
Ontani's version of the lupa, Rome's she-wolf, with himself as the wolf.

Part of an Ontani sculpture channeling
Gertrude Stein.

Okay, advice on the Trevi Fountain.  Try to go very early in the morning or late at night.  Otherwise, it's a mob scene.  Don't try to wade in the fountain ala Anita Eckberg in La Dolce Vita.   There are police patrolling and pushing tourists to obey an unwritten code of conduct.  Eating lunch isn't in the code (see below).  Nor, for some of the fountain police, is sitting on the edge of the fountain. 
Trevi Fountain code police:
The couple is being told to put their food away.

Last photo - Curator and professor (Temple University, Rome) Shara Wasserman --she with the gold purse -- takes a group to the exhibition space in Accademia di San Luca.


Monday, August 21, 2017

RST's 700th Post. Holy Cow!

We've been writing this blog for more than eight years, but it remains surprising--no, astonishing--that we have managed to produce 700 posts.  Yes, 700!  If you figure it takes about 8 hours of work to produce one post (some are less, some much more--like days), that amounts to 5600 total hours spent making content.  That's like having a 40-hour-a-week job for almost 3 years.  Yikes!

To celebrate our 700th, we're offering links to some of our most popular posts (those with the most page views, and some others with lots of traffic).  Click on the link to see the original post.

Richard Meier's Jubilee Church.  The all-time page-view champ at over 15,000.  A ways out of town, but worth the trip.  #17 on RST's Top 40.

Europe's Largest Mosque--in Rome.  We may have a lot of Muslim readers, but the building is quite something no matter what religion you are.  Also on RST's Top 40 - at #24. Interestingly, a post we did on Rome's Kebab was also widely seen.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A Moral Act or Not?  Philosophy professor Raymond Belliotti examines the ethics of the murder by evaluating it against 7 moral criteria.

Riding a Scooter in Rome.  Actually, RST's post on renting a scooter in Rome was somewhat more popular, but this one's more useful--lots of hard-earned tips about riding a scooter in Rome, should you decide to do it, which you shouldn't.

Italy's Liberation Day: Bella Ciao.  Guest blogger Frederika Randall pulls apart the legendary anthem and examines the history of "Bella Ciao."

 Tracking Elizabeth Taylor.  ET spent some time in Rome, some of it with Richard Burton, while she was making movies.  She's still iconic here, but perhaps less so than Audrey Hepburn, whose image is everywhere.

The 1960 Rome Olympics: An Itinerary.  There's lots to see in Rome related to the 1960 Olympics: the Olympic Village; the Palazzetto dello Sport, where Cassius Clay made his name and reputation; an amazing stadium built by Mussolini where the athletes warmed up.

Garibaldi in Rome.  The darling of Italian unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi fought the French on the Gianicolo and lived to tell about it.

Via Tasso.  To most Romans, via Tasso means "place where the Germans imprisoned and tortured their political enemies," or something like that.  It's not far from the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, and you can visit, even walk into the cells and read the messages prisoners scrawled on the walls. RST Top 40, #3.

On St. Paul's Path.  Cities have their "named saints," saints special to the city.  Rome has two: Peter and Paul.  Paul brought Christianity to Rome, and was martyred just outside the city.  You can visit the sites and try to feel his presence.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"No Bolkestein" Say what?

The sign outside the new Testaccio market said, "No Bolkestein."  What?  What could that mean? 

If you spend much time around Rome's public markets, you'll see more of those "No Bolkestein" signs.  Here's some background:  The phrase refers to Fritz Bolkestein, a former commissioner of the European Union.  In 2006, Bolkestein issued an EU directive designed to create a "free market" for certain services, including food trucks, public markets stalls, and beach concessions.  As Bolkestein saw it, services were monopolized or controlled by only a few organizations or families, which held long-term licenses (some for 10 years) that were automatically renewable.  Competition, he claimed, was stifled. 
The sign on the truck, parked at an open-air market in the Val Malaina/Serpentara neighborhood, might be translated "Get Bolkestein out of the markets" 
As we understand it, Fritz Bolkestein had the authority to issue the directive, but it had to be implemented by national, regional, and local governments.  In 2010, The Italian government implemented at least parts of the directive, applying it to beach concessions and "ambulanti"--that is, licensed street sellers. Under the new regulations, street seller licenses would not automatically be renewed. 

New regulations for beach concessions proved especially unpopular among those already licensed to operate such concessions.  They argued that the Bolkestein directive would change a locally grown, "Made-in-Italy" brand of "beach tourism" into "beach supermarkets" controlled by multinational corporations and foreign investors. 

In Rome,  anti-Bolkestein protests began in 2005, anticipating the proclamation of the directive; some 50,000 workers participated in a demonstration that year.  Street traders again took to the streets--to Piazza della Repubblica, actually--in September 2016.
The No Bolkestein protest march, Piazza della
Repubblica, 2016.  The sign in the middle photo reads
"Salviamo Mercati" (let's save the markets).
Newly elected Rome mayor Virginia Raggi--the local leader of the anti-government party M5S (Movimento Cinque Stelle, 5 Star) was behind the No Bolkestein movement.  Under Raggi's leadership, the Rome council approved (31-7) her motion to postpone the implementation of the Bolkestein directive--indeed, all directives designed to increase competition in the services sector.  The council vote included extending trading licenses for stands to 2020.  Although it looks like Raggi's initiative was intended to help individual small businesses, in fact a majority of Rome's food trucks were (and are) owned by one family group: the Tredicine.