Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Door Handles, and Knockers

Near the Anglo-American Book Shop
To say Rome is a visual delight would be obvious, but not all of its delights are, well, obvious.  For years we've been going in and out of, or walking by, Rome's doors.  And at some point we couldn't help noticing the accoutrements that allow access: the door handles and door knockers. Many are old, perhaps very old, some are new, but distinctive.  Some--especially those from the 1950s and early 1960s--announce their age more specifically than most.  Here are some we've found during our trips to Rome.  The earliest photos are from 2013.

Inside what was the home of Ignatius of Loyola, Piazza del Gesu

Straight out of 1960. San Paolo.
Palazzo Barberini
Unusual wood handle.  Belongs to a watch
band shop at via della Vite, 14.
Recent, but cool anyway.

Near via della Gatta

Utensils as Handles.  Possibly Monti.

An interior door, at Largo Ippolito Nievo, 1, Trastevere

An odd knocker with an Egyptian and/or African look, near the Spanish Steps

Casal Bertone.  Nice because one handle has been used, the other not.  Same with the doors. 
Very unusual hands--knockers or handles not clear.
They're on a building by Rapisardi (now housing Bulgari) on the Lungotevere

Location unknown.  Sweet.  Angel holds on tight.  

Trastevere, somewhere on the south side of viale Trastevere

Flaminio.  Recent.  The door on the right is the only one that's used.  


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Best Contemporary Art in Rome is in the....State Department!

One is greeted on the ground floor by Michelangelo Pistoletto's "L'Etrusco" (The Etruscan), 1976, with Pistoletto's
classic use of mirrors, inviting one to join the Etruscan, we we did.
"La paura" (Fear), 2004 by Mimmo Rotella.  How could
  we--film reviewers, and one of us an author of an article
on Zombie films and the Holocaust--not like this one?
The best collection of contemporary art in Rome is not in any museum--not in MAXXI, the nation's 21st-century art gallery, not in MACRO, the City's contemporary art gallery, not in the Gagosian, the city's largest private art gallery, but in the country's State Department building, colloquially known as The Farnesina. 

That's not the Palazzo Farnese, where the French Embassy resides, nor the Villa Farnesina, in the heart of Trastevere where Raphael painted rooms. The Farnesina is the enormous structure designed to be the headquarters of the Fascist party, across the Tevere (therefore, literally Trastevere) but up river adjacent to the Foro Italico, once the Foro Mussolini, the sports complex housing the city's soccer stadium, once its Olympic stadium.

Back to art.  Beginning in 2001, the government convinced artists to loan their works to the Ministero degi Affari Esteri (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, equivalent to the U.S.'s state department).  It apparently purchased some works, but most are on long-term loan, now comprising the Collezione Farnesina, and open from time to time (hey, it's Rome!).
"Battesimi Umanoi"  (Human
Baptisms) by Oliviero Rainaldi,
2006, cement.

The "di quando in quando" openings began just last year to include the last Friday of every month, except July and August, along with an early May weekend opening for Open House Roma, which is when we went.  I'd say run, don't walk, to make your appointment for one of these visits.

The work is also available on Google, but if you think you might go, save your first-time experience for the real thing.
Links are at the end of this post.

The collection is astoundingly rich and unabashedly contemporary.  The works fill the walls and halls of this building, whose construction began in 1937.  The building itself is filled with artwork from the period of its construction and decoration, which occurred mainly in the post-World War II period, with artists such as Sciajola.
From Elena Bellantoni's "The struggle for power, the fox and the wolf," 2014 video.  This video was
filmed in The Farnesina itself.
Our tour included an extensive look at the building and its hallways and rooms, which is essential to view all the artwork.
The large meeting room where Bellantoni's video was filmed.
Mosaics by Sciajola and ceiling art, part of the building decor.
Grand stairway, with original designs on sconces; classic
Fascist use of travertine marble, and use of Roman designs,
including the painting at the end, with a modernist take. 
The collection also includes some original drawings of the building by architect Enrico del Debbio (whose work we've admired in previous posts).
Del Debbio's "first solution" to the "Casa Littoria a Foro Mussolini." The building sits at the base of Monte Mario.
Today's exterior is not too different from del Debbio's "first solution" - minus the marching military, plinth and horses:

For visits, consult the Web site (it says it's in English, but it is not:
Google's "virtual tour" is here:

Mario Sironi's Il lavoratore  ("The worker"), 1936.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Quartiere INA-Casa Tuburtino IV: a Postwar Suburban Public Housing Project

One of our favorite Rome guides is 200 Architetture Scelte: Il Moderno Attraverso Roma (200 Architectural Choices: The Modern Across Rome; pub. 2000).  Obviously in Italian, it has multiple authors: Gaia Remiddi, Antonella Greco, Antonella Bonavita, and Paola Ferri (I just noticed they are all women).  Our fondness for the book has less to do with its analysis of the buildings, which is often quite technical, perhaps meant more for architects than historians or tourists, than its "pointing out" function; without it, we would never have found some of its "choices."

And so it was that in the Spring of 2017 we found ourselves dismounting the scooter at kilometer 7 on via Tiburtina (the right side, going out).  We were there to see and experience a major housing development built between 1949 and 1955.  We've driven by this project dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, and never noticed it.  It has the feel of a protected suburban enclave. The project was coordinated by Mario Ridolfi. The dozen or so architects who designed parts of the project include Ridolfi and Ludovico Quaroni, the latter perhaps best known for a poster designed to commemorate an enormous arch for E42 at EUR, but never built.

When you see the gas station sign (at left in the photo above), turn right and park across the street from the "Snack Bar."

Quaroni and his colleagues designed and built 771 housing units on the site.  Many of the buildings are sited at odd angles to via Tiburtina and to area streets (and to each other), are of moderate scale, and--for public housing units--have a remarkably "homey" presence, to this day.  Despite the overall dimensions of the project. the dominant feeling is of a comfortable suburban community.  Exterior colors are in several shades of "terre romane" (Roman earth).  "INA-Casa" was a post-World War II government entity designed to provide subsidized housing, in this case for a class above working class. "INA" refers to l'Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni, (the National Institute for Insurance), that managed the funds.  One of our favorite architectsGiò Ponti, was critical of the project, though most architects of the day were not.

If you park across the street from the bar on via Tiburtina and walk south, up the street, on via. D. Angeli, you'll find a Ridolfi-designed 2-story structure with an unusual stairway and an elevated second-floor walkway.  The building has this unusual look because of changes in the terrain. In suburban fashion, all units have exterior space.  Our book calls the building case a ballatoio (houses on a gallery/walkway).

Below, on via dei Crispolti, a winding/jointed 4-story complex by Quaroni and Mario Fiorentino.  Communal outdoor space at ground level.  Because the building is composed of several large units set at different angles, the result is that the interior units vary in angularity, from rectangular to octagonal.

At via D. Angeli and via L. Cesana, the tallest building in the complex at 7 floors (below).  Designed by Ridolfi, its distinguishing feature is the intersection at angles of three square buildings--a feature that can be hard to see from some perspectives and from ground level.

Communal outdoor space is a feature of several of the buildings.  When we visited, this space was being used by a group of older men.

Angular businesses, perhaps part of the original design:

There are other project buildings to the south and southwest--explore at your leisure. 

Pleasant as the INA-Casa project was, the most spectacular "find" of the day was a structure that stood in stark contrast to those around it.  This Brutalist masterpiece,  Santa Maria della Visitazione, was designed in the Mayan temple mode by Saverio Busiri Vici, who was active in Rome between 1960 and 1980.  It was completed in 1971. More on the church in a post to come.

The view from the church terrace showcases the surrounding community.