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

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Rome’s newest museum: The Museum of Rescued Art all

photo by Larry Litman (all photos except as noted are by Litman)

Exciting recent news out of Rome: the opening of a museum dedicated to stolen – and recovered – works, rather than one-off shows such as those held once in a while in Castel Sant’Angelo’s exhibition space or the Carabinieri museum, as occurred in 2016.

Now there’s a beautifully refurbished space that Rome resident Larry Litman (retired AmBrit librarian) recently visited and writes about here (more on Larry’s bio later in this post).

Before we launch into Larry’s first-hand guide to the new museum and his many photos of the Carabinieris' marvelous finds, we'll explore some of the hot topic news and issues surrounding the museum and the works.

Hardly a week goes by without news of “stolen” artworks being discovered in places far from where they were taken. Just this month, the New York Times reported 27 ancient artifacts, valued at $13 million, were seized from the venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art. Interestingly, it’s the Manhattan District Attorney’s office that seized the items at 3 separate times, including 21 Italian pieces taken from the Met in July, pieces that are similar to the head of Esculapius, below, from the current Rome exhibit. (One has to wonder, as one does these days, why did they have to seize the works? Why didn't the Met willingly turn them over?)

This head of Esculapius, above,
copied from a Greek original,
is from the late 2nd-3rd
century AD and was taken from the
Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

A few days earlier, the FBI Art Crime Team reported in a news release that it had recently returned to Italy a 2000-year-old mosaic. “The enormous work had been cut into 16 pieces and stored in individual pallets in a Los Angeles storage facility since the 1980s. Each pallet weighed between 75 and 200 pounds.”

We, at RST, are familiar with the art recovery section of the Italian national police, the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, or TPC (Cultural Heritage Protection Squad), but we hadn’t known of the Manhattan DA’s interest in these objects, nor the FBI's – it seems they have enough else going on these days!


Special Agents Elizabeth Rivas and Allen Grove traveled
to Italy for the repatriation of the mosaic to its home in Rome 
- photo from FBI news release.










Similarly flanking their "prize," the Carabinieri
at their 2016 news conference on art (which
we attended and covered in a post) they
had recovered, in this case a Canaletto, from
the 18th century (photo by William Graebner).


The “recovered” artworks raise multiple issues, including how a country such as Italy or Greece or even Ethiopia (more about Ethiopia in a future post) can conserve, protect, and display these objects. Italy has taken the approach of returning them to the regions from which they came, a somewhat controversial position.






Outside their storage area, next to Santa Maria
a Ripa in Trastevere, we saw the Carabinieri's 
art truck promoting their "100 opere tornano a casa" -
"100 works return home." (Photo by William Graebner)
This year in Rome we saw the area in Trastevere where the recovered artworks are – temporarily one hopes – stored. And then there’s the issue of where do the objects really belong? What about Greek vessels that were spoils of war in Greece, brought to Rome, and then stolen from Italy? To which region or country should they be returned?



Larry notes “Several years ago I visited Aidone in Sicily to see an amazing statue of Venus returned from the Getty museums in Los Angeles and a collection of Silver Plates from the Met. The region built a museum in a redundant convent to house these items and other artifacts from the area.” The long saga of the Getty's involvement in stolen works, including lawsuits and criminal actions, are well-reported in David Price Williams's 2015 "Looking for Aphrodite." The Getty also helped restore items for the Aidone museum, and put some of the objects on display (this time, on loan) at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, a sort of reciprocity (we were fortunate to see Venus in Los Angeles, before she left for Sicily). So, maybe there’s an advantage to spreading this “wealth” around. Although New York Times' writer Elizabeth Polvoledo had a different experience from Larry's in the once-Etruscan hub of Cerveteri, near Rome, where the museum did not have the staff to stay open (see caption under Larry's photo of the Etruscan female antefix below).

Journalist and author Sari Gilbert also used a stolen Etruscan vessel as the key to her intriguing murder mystery set in 1980s Rome, "Deadline Rome: the Vatican Kylix," which we reviewed here. As noted above, current, exciting, hot topics involving 2000-year-old art.


This is RST's 4th post from our "man [almost always] on the ground" in Rome, Larry Litman. Larry wrote eloquently in March 2020 about being in Rome under one of the first lockdowns. He gave a virtual tour of the unusual presepi or crèches in Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square) that year when almost no one was there to see them, and he was one of the first (as he is this time) to see the inside of the Tomb of Augustus, newly opened last year.

Larry is a retired teacher/librarian from Ambrit International School and is active at St. Paul's Within the Walls (the Episcopal Church on via Nazionale). He also volunteers at the Non-Catholic Cemetery. 


Rome’s newest museum: The Museum of Rescued Art - by Larry Litman 

Entrance (after you've purchased your ticket
around the block), still with "Planetario"
above the doorway.
In June the Rome Museum of Rescued Art (Museo dell’Arte Salvata) opened in the Octagonal Hall of the Baths of Diocletian, a 3rd century AD space within the ancient baths that many Romans identify as the Old Planetarium. (The new Planetarium is in the modern neighborhood of EUR and was built in 1928.) [Note to RST readers, the Planetarium is where the Museo della civiltà romana used to be, making the cover of our Modern Rome guidebook now misleading. Bill’s office, when he taught at La Sapienza in 1993, overlooked the Old Planetarium, now the Museum of Rescued Art.]

 

A 2nd century AD copy of a Greek statue
 of Doriforous by Polyleitos,
from the Baths of Caracalla;
so presumably it will stay in Rome.





The Museum of Rescued Art will present changing exhibitions of objects recovered by the Carabinieri unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

For the foreseeable future there will be enough recovered items to keep the museum going. It’s giving a visible profile of the Carabinieri unit involved, discouraging theft and encouraging restitution/return.

 



This initial exhibition features about 100 objects from more than 200 artifacts, dated from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century AD, stolen over the past 50 years, that were returned to Italy from the United States between December 2021 and June 2022. The New York Times, in a piece about the new museum, called this location a “pit stop,” because all objects at some point will be returned to their places of origin in Italy.

 

An Etruscan female antefix
(ornaments at the eaves of a
building), from the beginning
of the 5th century BC. It's
unclear where this statue will
end up, possibly in a special
museum in Cerveteri, home to
many Etruscan artifacts. 
But that museum does not have 
the funds to stay open much,
according to Elizabeth Polvoledo
in her New York Times piece,
cited above..

The soaring dome of the Octagonal Hall [photo at top of post] is an impressive environment for this new Museum of Rescued Art. 

 

Admission for the National Roman Museum also allows entrance to the exhibition of recently returned artifacts. (Note: You must buy the admission ticket at the main museum entrance facing Termini Station and then walk around the block, through Piazza della Repubblica, to enter the Museum of Rescued Art.)

 

Explanatory panels on the display cases are in Italian and English, identifying the objects in each case as well as presenting a narrative about the work of the Carabinieri to identify stolen art and negotiate the return of works from private collectors, museums and galleries with the cooperation of authorities in the United States.

More photos and descriptions follow.

Ceremonial Kramer with four handles
surmounted by red impasto bowls
overpainted with white ("white on red"),
produced in Northern Lazio.


Decorated Etruscan terracotta storage
vessels. Again, one wonders where these
objects will end up.


Statue of Artemis, 2nd century AD,
from the Baths of Caracalla.







Etruscan olpe (pitcher) made
 in a Corinthian style with animal friezes,
first half, 6th century BC.



Black and white painted terracotta vessel
from the ancient town of Crustumerium,
a site now identified about 10 miles north
of Rome near Settebagni, 7th century BC.



Brown cremation urn in the shape of a house
with figured decorations (horse, soldier and boat)
on the walls and on the lid. 7th century BC.

Etruscan terracotta votive heads,
8th century BC.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Mystery of the Crowing Rooster: A day in the Italian hill town of Gallicano nel Lazio

 

The photo above gives some idea of the hilltop nature of the town, and the curving roads.

Gallicano nel Lazio (i.e., in the province of Lazio, the same province as Rome - there's a Gallicano in Tuscany that has some history involving Puccini, but it's not this one) is one of those Italian hill towns (meaning they are situated smack dab on the hill, not just "in the hills") that have great appeal for us. Bill already posted on Facebook a bit about this town of 6,000 people, but we thought it deserved more attention than Facebook allows.

Our photo from 2014. We saw buses doing the same treacherous
turn this year.

It was Bill's pick for our almost-weekly trip out of Rome. I was delighted with his choice, because I thought we would pick our way among the fabulous aqueducts that lie below the town (more about those at the end of the post). But, no, he's "been there, done that," and so after 20 miles or so from Rome, we wound our way up the town's steep, curvy approach, deciding to bail out as tilting buildings and road curves lay above us. We parked at a new-ish gas station, perched on the side of the town's cliffs. (First we had to go through a gap in the tufo rock so narrow that it now has a light and one-way traffic at times, and we were astonished that a bus could pick its way through it - so astonished we didn't take photos - but we did find a photo from 2014, when we had the sense to take a picture - above).


The gas station that became our home base.
More on this photo at the end of the post.



When Bill asked the gas station (really the woman at the bar attached to it) if we could park there, she indicated we should park in a corner. We thought that rather silly, since the station didn't seem to be attracting customers. But we did as we were told and 'hiked' our way up to the town, finding a superimposed 'modern' staircase here and there to help us get to the top.


Dianne trying one of the vicoli.

The town had many of the small "streets" and alleys (vicoli) common for hill towns (we decided the Mediterranean diet isn't so much what they eat, but that they climb up and around all these hill towns!). 


What fascinated us about the town was its various monuments, and especially the town crest, which features a crowing rooster.  We think that's what Gallus-Canit means ("canit" perhaps related to "cantare" or singing). While the town seems named after a nobleman named Gallicano who was a friend of Constantine's, there's another story about the crowing rooster that's more evocative.


The town crest worked into the sampietrini or 
cobblestones (apologies for the car covering
the star, and Dianne's legs).



Legend has it... that one night, a group of soldiers, in the service of the enemy Rospigliosi family (aristocrats of Pistoia), tried to attack the town, taking advantage of the rest of the inhabitants. But a dog started barking at strangers. A rooster echoed him and with his insistent crow woke the population from sleep. The people armed themselves with spears, swords and everything that came within range, repelling the invaders. Since then the town, to give back to those who had, unwittingly, saved the town from occupation, took the name, by which it is still known today, of Gallicano.


.
The crest appears in many forms,
in many places in the town, including
  the parking area and this fountain.



The town was full of monuments of all types. The one above right is a war memorial which has the crowing rooster crest at the top, and a reference to 1850 (maybe to the Risorgimento [Italy's effort to create a state and release itself from Papal and other control]?), and the words: "We died, say our heroes, so we could lift the tricolor [Italian flag] of victory to the skies [heavens]."

And, to show off it's not just about roosters and war, one of the town's parks had this bench, which, if you look at it from the side, is an open book:

The excerpt from Dante's Inferno, Canto 26, reads:
"Consider your origins. You were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge."

A last monument is in the photo below. We found it while scouting the outskirts of the town.  Unfortunately, we don't have any more information on it. If someone does, let us know!


Close-ups reveal some interesting figures in the "windows" - women? immigrants? people in distress?










At the gas station, we found a good assortment of tramezzini (those crustless white bread sandwiches you wanted as kids - though they probably didn't come in funghi e spinaci [mushrooms and spinach]) and Coca Zero (apologies, but we can't celebrate the end of a hike with a beer when on the scooter). The people-watching there was good as well. The attendant was right - the gas station became the town center as people came and went after their 1-3 p.m. pranzo, buying milk, cigarettes, ice cream for their kids, lottery tickets, and gas. We enjoyed our front-row seat to the town's populace (Bill is at one of the tables on the left in the gas station photo above).

The railings to keep you from falling into the
stream below are now mostly gone.

Our final stop, at my insistence, was to get a glimpse of the wonderful aqueducts. Only this time, after 30 minutes one-way of walking, we found only one and then a blocked road.  We'll have to go back to find our "aqueduct trail" that we wrote about 8 years ago.




And, here's a photo from the 2014 aqueduct hike that should give you an incentive to try it (and us to go back)


Dianne





Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Finding "Our" Coffee Bar in Rome: the Story of Two Searches

If you're in Rome more than a week, nothing is more important than choosing your coffee bar. The coffee bar is central to Roman--and Italian--life. Mornings begin with coffee and a cornetto (a Danish); then there's the late-morning break for coffee--either at the bar or delivered from the bar on one of those ubiquitous round trays. And so on. 

On a recent trip, we were lucky to stay in two Rome neighborhoods; we got to choose two coffee bars rather than just one.

Our first neighborhood (quartiere) was Aurelia South, a busy, pleasant, middle-class enclave tucked in between the Vatican on one side and the long shoulder of Monte Mario on the other. The area is full of coffee bars. We tried ten! The one closest to the Vatican was nice enough, but the prices were too high--the tourists had reached the area, if only barely. Others were men's bars (the tables outside invariably occupied by long-term, older Roman guys), or the coffee wasn't good enough, or the outside space was limited, or whatever.  

Here's one reject: 


And another reject, a bar called MilkCoffeBurger. Despite the name, we tried this one a couple of times.  


Another was too fancy, although, as you can see in the photo below, the police stopped in for coffee late one day. This was our late-afternoon wine bar. 


We finally settled on Venere Caffe' (Bar Bistrot) a place with a nice outside space, stuck out into the street--and covered, shielded from the sun. Good coffee. The label "bistrot" is widely used these days. We've even seen "ristrot," a combination of bistrot and ristorante. 


After about two weeks in Aurelia South, we moved to an apartment just a short block from Piazza dei Re di Roma.  We tried Pompi, the largest and most famous bar in the area, known for its tiramisu. We found the coffee ordinary at best and the staff impersonal. No. And we tried Cannoleria, a bar that features cannoli. No seating inside, a nice outside space [see photo below, with Piazza dei Re di Roma in the distance] (you carry your coffee and stuff out the door on a tray, and walk around the flower shop). Coffee was good, cornetti excellent. Too expensive. Slow service from a too-busy staff, but good enough that it was our favorite on Sundays and holidays when our otherwise favorite one was closed.


We tried a small corner bar on Via Aosta--too small inside, rather ordinary tables, uncovered, outside. No comfortable space in which to reader the morning paper. And lousy coffee.


Then we found "our" bar. On via Pinerolo, just steps from our apartment. The name is Antica Caffetteria, and on the awning it says "Wine Bar Gastronomia," half of which is true. This is definitely not a wine bar, in the sense in which that term ought to be used, although they serve an afternoon "spritz." But there is a kitchen, which serves a daily lunch that attracts quite a crowd, and the cook is the wife of the owner/manager.


Here's the bar from down the sidewalk. When the sun is shining, as it usually is, the tables on the right, beyond the awning (and nearer the street), are not favored.


Across from the bar there's an old phone booth, now an informal library, decorated with embroidery. We saw lots of folks looking at the books and taking one or two.  


The bar has good outside seating, some of it uncovered (not good) and some of it covered sufficiently to ward off the morning sun. 


Befitting a place where food is served, there were a number of tables inside in back, where we often sat and read the paper. The price was right: E1 for coffee (no additional cost for an Americano), E1 for a cornetto, total E4 for both of us (about $4.20). The cornetti were Roma standard, the coffee uniformly excellent. 

Like many establishments in these days of Covid-19--especially those not in a tourist area--there's no extra charge for sitting at a table, inside or outside. Rather than table service, customers are encouraged to take their coffee and cornetti to their table, on one of those round trays. When finished, we always disposed of our napkins and took the cups back to the bar--not required, but a courtesy. Our bar usually gave us small glasses of tap water with our our coffee (see the glasses on the tray, below). 



Late in our visit we learned that the bar is a family operation. Dad runs the cassa (the cash register), cleans up here and there and buses tables. In the photo below, he shows surprise at being photographed (I didn't expect him to come into the frame).


His two sons are baristi, making coffee and serving customers their cornetti. As noted, their mother is the cook. A young woman, who often made our coffee, was apparently the only non-family member working at the bar. Her head can be seen in the 2nd photo, below. 



Like all good Roma coffee bars, the baristas at "our" bar knew our order by the third day. That's not only a nice touch, it's a form of community that you won't get at Starbucks. 

If you're in the vicinity of Piazza dei Re di Roma, save a few minutes for a stop at Antica Caffeteria, on via Pinerolo. One of our favorites. 

Bill 





 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Rome's Industrial Heritage: A Valley's Name, its Remaining Relics

 

"La Fornace" - the remains today of a 20th-century industrial site, in this case the Veschi Foundry, which operated from the 1920s to 1960, taken from just below the Rome-Viterbo rail line arches - see next photo.

From this simple smokestack that we had seen on earlier treks to this area, and that now was a couple blocks from our apartment, we discovered so many stories - and theories - that it's impossible to relay them all in a blog post. The stories cover wars, names, workers' rights, vistas, government intervention, you name it.

A photo from 1890, when the Rome-Viterbo rail line was being built.

Taken from Monte Vaticano, during the construction of the bridge of the old Rome-Viterbo railroad. Clay quarries and brick-kilns are visible in the background.

Let's just start with the long-time name of the valley in which this relic stands - just behind the Vatican: "Valle dell'Inferno." - Okay, it's the "Valley of Hell" - a name the government would like to erase from memory (current official name "Valle Aurelia") Did that come from the smokestacks?  Local lore would say "yes," because once this valley (this smokestack is at the southern end of it - closest to the Vatican) was home to about 20 foundries, each with at least one smokestack.  (And, unrelated to the name, the bronze for Bernini's Baldacchino in St. Peter's may have been smelted in this area.) The best old photos I could find are the one above and here:

Two smokestacks are easily visible in this 1938 photo. Look closely and you'll see several more behind, in the greyness that no doubt was constant here, and, according to some, gave the valley its name.

Another theory is that the valley was named for the 1527 sack of Rome by German mercenaries, who massacred the Papal troops "with a ferocity to evoke the pains of hell" in this very valley. 

A third theory is that it was here that those who fell ill with the Spanish flu in 1918-1920 were sent to a hospital to die, then buried in a common grave. (A friend recently told us his great-great-grandfather's remains are in that common grave. We could find no confirming historical information on the hospital or the common grave.) Apparently the Valle dell'Inferno name was on a 1548 map, which gives credence to the sack-of-Rome origins.

What is clear is that the Valley was home to the foundries and, closer in, near where the remaining smokestack stands, it was home as well to the foundry workers and those in related professions: makers of bricks and ceramics. They lived near their workplaces, but they also lived outside of the city and outside of the Vatican, apparently (we've learned from more than one source) because the Popes, who ruled the city until 1870, did not want the working class inside the city walls, finding them too radical, having learned lessons from the French Revolution. The area was at one time known as "little Russia" because of its leftist leanings.

The smokestack above, and the walls of the foundry beneath it, were preserved as part of the development of a new shopping mall, called "Aura," that opened in 2018. The developers restored what they could of the foundry, and when we first visited it, it was pristine, at least on the outside (nothing remains inside), but in a few short years, has fallen into disrepair yet again.

The name "La Fornace" is on a number of establishments in the area, including a good, classic Italian restaurant we enjoyed twice while staying in the area. Its symbol is of the smokestack and furnace, and a painting of those is on its walls (photo above).

Above, the foundry - now surrounded by the
ubiquitous (in Rome) orange fencing and graffiti.
There were some plans (dreams, visions)
 of instructing people about this
 continuous cycle "Hoffman" furnace.




The mall, with grand visions of being a new meeting place for the locals, a new "agora," seems to have survived the worst of the Covid years if not in great shape, at least not completely degraded. Below, a wall of signage at the mall.








The steps of the mall also are the scene of a 2021 painting (it's hard to call it "wall art" or "murales" when it's on stairs, not a wall) by the well-known 

Diavù- whom we interviewed at another mall (the Trionfale Market) not too far away. 


Diavù chose as his subject an 18th-century puppet-maker who lived in the Trionfale area nearby, but not exactly a fixture of the Valle dell'Inferno.

Diavù's steps "painting" at the Aura mall of Ghetanaccio,

the nickname of puppet maker Gaetano Santangel (note his puppets to the left and right).

Outside of the Veschi foundry, the hamlet of the foundry workers and brickmakers has only a few remaining markers of its prior existence, mainly street names: Via dei Laterizi, Via dei Mattoni, Via delle Ceramiche, Via degli Embrici - all names of the professions, basically words for bricks, ceramics, and rooftiles. These are similar to the charming streets of Rome's center - via dei Coronari (makers of rosary beads), dei Chiavari (locks and keys), etc., but the Valley's streets are not quite as charming these days as those in the center.

Even less charming is the public housing that sprung up after the last of the small houses inhabited by the descendants of the foundry and brick workers were demolished. Built (poorly, of poor materials, according to some) in the 1980s, the buildings are some of the tallest in Rome, but still compliant with the law that nothing can be higher than the "Cupolone" ("Big Dome" - of St. Peter's). These have as many stories as they do because they were built down in the valley itself. Some locals prize the buildings, with their red trim, and the wall paintings and library - all of which we found, but we also found these locales not exactly prizes. What may be a prize is the view from the top floor apartments, as one friend told us.  We couldn't get those views, but they no doubt are similar to the views from Monte Ciocci - from which we took the photos of the smokestack. (Photos below.)

Dianne

Public housing, replacing the hamlet of workers' structures.


Wall paintings in the public spaces created as part of 
the public housing; the "prized" library is in here too. It 
was closed when we visited (hours are limited). So the young
people just hang out around here.

The view from Monte Ciocci - the views from the top floors of the public housing in Valle dell'Inferno would be similar.
The writing says: "How many times have you seen the sky over Rome?"
and on the horizon is the radio tower for "Radio Maria," the Vatican radio station, and 
Michelangelo's "Cupolone" - or "Big Dome" of St. Peter's basilica.


Another view from Monte Ciocci - the housing below is upscale, not public housing.
That's the Cupolone and the crenelated Vatican walls, in back of which the workers lived, not being welcome too close to the Vatican (because the Pope did not want workers they perceived as anti-Papacy unionists too near those Papal walls).