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 800 posts

Monday, June 27, 2022

Eating and Drinking on Rome's Sidewalks and Streets: Changes to Come


Pompi is a fancy coffee bar in the Piazza Re di Roma area, known for its tiramisu. Here is its enormous
in-the-street addition. The coffee is lousy, the staff too busy to be friendly. Get your coffee at Antica 
Caffetteria, a family-run place, on nearby via Pinerolo. 

Complaints about restaurants and bars that put tables on the sidewalk and into the street are nothing new in Rome. But the story is a bit different this time. In May, Rome's city government passed some new regulations, designed to restrict the amount of public space that restaurants can occupy. 

The city is grappling with a substantial increase in the amount of appropriated public space that came about two years ago, when Covid-19 drove the clients of restaurants and bars into the open air. Because of the Covid emergency, the city allowed establishments to appropriate space without paying extra fees and to self-certify the additional space, rather than go through a more complex, more bureaucratic procedure that would involve hiring professionals to measure and perhaps design the exterior extensions. The new rules will require paying fees and hiring either an architect or a "geometra"--which might be translated as a project engineer--and submitting requests to the Superintendent in charge of such matters.

The new regulations are scheduled to go into effect on July 1 of this year (2022), though there's some interest in delaying the regulations so that the requirements for "furnishings" (tables, chairs, etc.) can be made uniform in the area. 

Via dei Falischi, in the San Lorenzo quarter.
The street closure and most of these street tables are new since 2019, before Covid

The concern is primarily focused on the Centro Storico, the historical center of Rome, where tourists congregate and the streets are generally narrower. Somewhat less restrictive measures would be applied to other parts of the city as well, allowing those outside the Centro Storico to appropriate more public space than those in the Center. Residents in every locale are upset at the loss of parking spaces, although they also enjoy the expanded outdoor eating and drinking opportunities.

"Off License," a wine bar in the San Giovanni neighborhood. Sidewalk tables
and an in-the-street area, taking up parking spaces. Good wine
list, and quite hip, but crowded.

Restaurateurs and bar owners--at least 3,000 of them--took advantage of the lack of fees and Covid self-certification process. Some added tables to the sidewalk area, others built onto city streets, sometimes constructing large platforms so that patrons didn't have to step down to enter. Often the new spaces were quite elaborate, with umbrellas or awnings, metal railings, plants, and light fixtures. 

An elaborate, in-the-street Japanese restaurant on via Taranto. 
Lots of money went into building this addition. 

Another large, expensive, in-the-street platform

Owners of these establishments are now concerned that the new fees and regulations will be costly and will reduce their business and their profits, already hammered by Covid and an increase in prices due to the war in Ukraine. Some proprietors, they say, have gone into debt during the Covid crunch and the new rules will make it more difficult to pay off these debts. Another argument they make is that Covid, and the de-regulation that took place two years ago, has changed the social life of the city, allowing tourists and residents to rediscover city streets, to see Rome in a new way. They also think that the July 1 date--coinciding with a substantial increase in tourism--is simply bad timing. And they argue that Covid not only remains a problem, but that the pandemic has changed dining habits, so that patrons now want to drink and dine in the open air.

The municipal government is considering delaying implementation until the end of September. 

More photos below.


Young people's bar, sidewalk and street, San Lorenzo. Good--and economical--drinks and food in this area populated by many university students.

Appropriating space, next to Porta San Pancrazio, on the Gianicolo

Thursday, June 16, 2022

GECO in Rome: Art or Egotism?


The building in the photo is a public market on Via Magna Grecia (we wrote 10 years ago about the market and Morandi), not from the the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. It was designed by Riccardo Morandi, a well-known and admired engineer in his day, whose reputation has since been tarnished by the collapse in 2018 of the "Morandi" bridge in Genoa, which Morandi also designed. The circular parking ramp at the far end of the building--not visible in the photo--is nothing short of lovely. But in light of the Genoa debacle, it has been closed.

The letters at the top/end of the building are not part of Morandi's design. They are work of Lorenzo Perris, a 32-year-old Roman who until 18 months ago was anonymous, known only for the letters GECO--Perris's "tag." Over the last few years, Perris has done his GECO thing on hundreds of buildings, most of them in Rome and some in Lisbon. Sometimes with paint, but more often with paste-ups. The letters on Morandi's building are most likely large paste-ups. He also uses smaller stickers on signs--and anything else he can find to affix them to.  

A GECO sticker on a motor scooter, outside our apartment on  via Tuscolana

Perris, who resides in the Via Prenestina area of Rome, has recently been accused of damaging many of Rome's buildings with his tags. Just how many buildings have been "damaged" is not clear, nor is the extent of the damage, but the legal complaint filed against Perris charges that his work has appeared on the Central State Archive building, on the benches along the Tevere near Porta Portese, on the Arch of Quattro Venti, in Villa Pamphili, in Via Ardeatine, and at the Parco degli Acquedotti (Park of the Aqueducts -- #2 on RST's Top 40), among many others. Authorities claim to have confiscated some 13,000 of his works. 

In the San Lorenzo quarter

The authorities, and the folks at the Rome newspaper Il Messaggero, not only believe Perris's GECOs to be damaging, but they are convinced that his "bombing" is entirely lacking in artistic merit. 

Perris seems to agree with the critics. In 2018, when interviewed during a sojourn in Lisbon--Rome having become too "hot," a place where he was more likely to be caught (and identified), even though he works only at night or at dawn--Perris admitted to being a "bombardier," whose style did not differ from city to city. 

"I want to spread my name," he added, more than to develop and sharpen an aesthetic sensibility. "The prime objective of the aggressor [that is, him] is quantity....My objective is to be everywhere and be seen and known by everyone. I see graffiti as a sport--an illegal one. It's as if I were a superhero; the more one is exposed, the more one must be anonymous. The world of graffiti is pure egocentrism, in my case a veritable megalomania. I want to attract the attention of everyone and to provoke feelings, whether of love or hate."


Graffiti GECO, 2020

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Bill Viola brought to you by an insurance company

A newly restored space in Rome. Palazzo Bonaparte (not to be confused, as we almost did, with the Napoleonic Museum) is in a palazzo where at least some of the Bonaparte family lived, on Piazza Venezia, at the beginning of via del Corso (tucked in a corner behind which wraps the Palazzo Pamphilj).

Above, the poster for the Viola exhibit, a video
still from his "Martyrs" series, this one "Water."

The current shows are two: the renowned US video artist, Bill Viola, and the Italian sculptor known as Jago, who is described as a "rock star" for his popularity.  Jago will have to wait another day for our visit. We went for Viola, whose work we've admired for years. 

Above, from "The Path (Going Forward by Day)"

The Viola exhibit includes 15 works, and therefore is one of the larger collections of his work in one place. It was curated by his wife. Kira Perov. It's hard to get photos of videos in the darkened rooms, though Bill was successful with a couple. (A good description and review of the exhibit is here: )

The Viola videos in this show have one characteristic in common: they are slow-moving in the extreme. One can watch for five minutes and nothing appears to happen. And then it does. 

Although we have not yet seen the Jago exhibit, his work seems to share with Viola's a concentration on the body.

Because of the darkened rooms for the Viola show, one cannot get a good look at the restored palazzo. We could see the floors are glass - designed so one can see (if the rooms weren't so dark) the elaborate painted and inlaid floors without tromping on them. The Palazzo Bonaparte Web site has some 360 degree views of the rooms.

A view of the Palazzo
Bonaparte's ground floor

The Web site also has an informative timeline (in Italian and in English) of what this palazzo "saw" over its two centuries on this famous piazza - from 1657 when it was first being built - through the creation of the Italian state, the beginning of gas lighting (it was the first palazzo so lit in Rome), World War I,  the building of the monument to King Vittorio Emanuele II, Fascism, World War II, and the post-war epoch. 

As in other art spaces in Rome, capitalism is at work here. The owner of the building - and the restorer - is Generali Group, an Italian insurance conglomerate, the largest in Italy and among the top ten largest insurance companies in the world. They've teamed up with a cultural behemoth that knows how to mount and run shows: Arthemisia.  The Palazzo's gallery space opened in October 2019 with an exhibit of Impressionist work, which closed in June 2020. The current shows, which opened in March, are the ones to follow, after a period of quiescence caused by Covid.

Cutbacks in government funding for the arts, the lack of a history of individual contributions to not-for-profits, and Covid--all have contributed to a shrinking of the Rome contemporary art world. The capitalists are to be applauded for filling in some of the gaps, much as I think their doing so creates a host of issues, including the obvious demonstration of inequality of income, and their control over what is shown. The Fondazione Sorgente and the Palazzo Merulana are two Rome examples. A Los Angeles example is a gallery opened by the Marciano brothers who made their money with Guess Jeans. It closed when the workers tried to unionize, to underscore my point about control.

Above and below right, two stills from the "Fire" video in the "Martyrs" series.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the art that the capitalists are bringing to us, even if they are making us pay for it. Tickets for each of the Viola and Jago shows are 15 Euro, 20 Euro for both shows at the same time (with a host of "reductions"). From our experience, you do not need to book in advance.  Ticket, days and hours (open every day, for many hours) information here.


Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A Tomb in Appio Latino, Newly Discovered


The headline reads: "A tomb in via Latina. Valeria died 1900 years ago."

We read in Il Messaggero (a Rome daily newspaper) one morning this month (5/4/22) of an archaeological discovery in the Appio Latino neighborhood, about a mile from our current location, near Piazza Re di Roma. We couldn't resist the temptation to find the site, and headed there on our mid-day walk. We found the excavation at one end of via Luigi Tosti--a cross street along the famous consular road, via Latina--not far, as it turns out, from one of our previous (28 of them) Rome addresses.    

There was a guy there eating his lunch, who turned out to be an archaeologist on the project.  He said he was present when the discovery was made, in the course of very ordinary work on old water pipes a meter or two below the surface.

What the workers found was a portion of a necropolis that exists on both sides of the length of via Latina. More specifically, a funerial altar in marble, inscribed to "Valeria Laeta, daughter of Publio, who lived 13 years and 7 months." According to the archaeologists, the altar and the tomb date to the 2nd century a.d. (CE in woke speak)--1900 years ago. It is not clear if they found Valeria's remains. 

Dianne chatted up the archaeologist, who said the first hint of significant remains was a Roman wall--the one directly in from of him in the photo above. He said the presence of archaeologists was typical (even required) on projects that involved digging at any significant depth. Some neighbors were interested, too. 

The altar has been removed to the care of the superintendent who presides over such issues, to protect against the risk of theft, according to the Messaggero story. The archeologist confirmed to us that is had been removed for "conservation." When it will see the light of day for the public is anyone's guess. Don't hold your breath. 


Monday, May 16, 2022

Of Pigs and Boars: Rome's Problem with Cinghiali--and Swine Flu


There was a time, not so long ago, when a story about a cinghiale (a wild boar) showing up in Rome  brought a smile to one's face. How unusual. Cute critters. 

A wild board in Piazza Verbano
No more. The boars are more common now. Just in the past week, a boar was seen rooting around in a flower bed and a garbage bin in Piazza Verbano (near where we lived one of our times in Rome), in the heart of the neighborhood Trieste/Salario. Police arrived and closed the piazza for 20 minutes. A woman walking her dog in Villa Glori, in toney Parioli, was threatened by cinghiali (and folks are now being warned to keep their dogs away from the animals). Wild boars have also been sighted in the southern suburb of EUR, on the busy thoroughfare Cristoforo Colombo, in Piazzale Pio XII, in Piazza Vescovio (Trieste), on Monte Mario (one of our favorite close-in hiking venues and featured in our guidebook, #11 on RST's Top 40), and around a children's playground in Prati, near the Vatican. According to a veterinarian expert on the subject, the boars are not generally aggressive but will defend themselves, and they may become aggressive if people have food with them. His advice: drop the food and leave. 

A family of cinghiali at a children's playground in Prati. 

A genuine sense of crisis has emerged only in the last few days, when a boar was found dead with the swine flu virus in the Insugherata Reserve, an enormous, largely undeveloped area northwest of the city center. The disease is highly contagious among wild boars and regular pigs, and deadly 98% of the time (ok, we've hiked there as well - and came out on one of the farms ringing it). Now we're learning that there are some 12,000 small pig farms in the region, with all their 43,000 pigs in danger from the virus, which is lethal for the pigs. Although it seems clear that the virus does not spread to humans (and one always worries about when a virus will "jump" to humans), it is a resistant virus, able to survive for up to 100 days in the outdoors (and several months in salami or frozen meat), and it is spreadable by human contact--on one's clothes, for example. 

Now there's at least one article a day in the newspapers about the "la peste suina" (the swine flu, referred to in the papers here as psa [swine flu africana]). It's no secret that the major cause of the problem is Rome's horrendous, decades-old garbage problem. In every section of the city, the garbage bins in which residents throw their refuse are overflowing, to the point where frustrated citizens put their garbage outside the bins, on the ground, where it often remains for days. The boars love these easy pickings, and come into the city to eat. They eat and multiply. Estimates differ, but it's likely there are about 20,000 wild boars in and around Rome--especially, but not entirely, in the areas to the west and north.

There are plans to deal with the problem. The Lazio regional government (in which Rome is located) has created a "red zone" (see map above) where picnicking and other events, and the feeding of animals, will be prohibited. The red zone is bounded on the west and north by the GRA--a super highway that circles the city, and on the east by stretches of the Tiber River. But there is no "natural" barrier to the south, where the red zone will be marked by city streets, including via di Boccea and via Cipro (see the numbers on the map - we were living 2 blocks from via Cipro last month).  And, as a glance at the map reveals, wild boars have been sighted in many areas of the city that are outside the red zone and on the east side of the Tiber (Piazza Verbano is one example). 

The Commune of Rome will fence off some of the garbage bins. Medical authorities will check the farm pigs for disease (not a simple task). Some of the larger green areas will be closed, though which ones and to what extent has not been revealed. And the plan includes efforts to close off the migratory avenues (the "green channels") that the boars use to come into the city proper. How that will happen is not clear.

Dealing with the boar invasion won't be easy. The last half dozen of Rome's mayors have sworn they'll get the city's garbage collected, and, no matter the political party in charge, the problem has only gotten worse. The city's northwest is the site of several enormous parks. Some are heavily used and cared for, including Villa Ada (the source of some of the boars in that area of the city) and Villa Borghese. But others are quite primitive spaces--Monte Mario, Parco del Pineto, and the Insugherata Reserve among them--and it will likely be impossible to find the boars in these areas, let alone remove them or change their migratory patterns. 

In the meantime, we're thinking of staying out of the more remote parts of Monte Mario--for years, a favorite haunt--and leaving Parco del Pineto to the cinghiali. 


P.S. Two days after I drafted this account, the papers reported 16 dead wild boars in the Insugherata, 2 of which had swine flu (only 2? why did the others die?), and that 650 pigs would have to be destroyed to keep the disease from spreading. The day before, it was reported that, because of the small number of cases, pig farmers were not required to register with the authorities. Today, May 11, the word was that a woman in the suburb of Bufalotta couldn't leave her house because there were 20 boars outside; a 4th case of swine flu was reported; and residents who live inside the affected area--presumably the "red zone," were asked to disinfect their shoes whenever they left that area. Good luck on enforcing that one!.