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 900 posts

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Remembering Giacomo Matteotti, and the Early Days of Italian Fascism


One of Rome's least prominent--and probably least visited--memorials is located on the Lungotevere Arnaldo da Brescia, just steps from the Tevere, near Ponte Pietro Nenni--a 5-minute walk from bustling Piazza del Popolo.

There, on June 1924 (two years after the March on Rome), while walking along the Lungotevere Arnaldo, the Italian politician Giacomo Matteotti was waylaid, thrown into a Lancia Lambda, and stabbed to death. Of the 5 men involved, one was a prominent member of the Fascist secret police. The extent of Benito Mussolini's involvement is not clear. [See the RST post on David Kertzer's book The Pope and Mussolini for more information.]

Matteotti was an anti-Fascist socialist--a member of the Unitary Socialist Party--and a deputy in the parliament. Ten days prior to his murder, he had spoken in the parliament, concerned about violence that had occurred during recent elections and critical of the anti-democratic Acerbo law, which had assigned 2/3 of the seats in parliament to the party of Mussolini--the largest in the body--which had won 35% of the vote. 

The monument to Matteotti occupies a semi-circular green space on an elevated terrace above the river. The space can be accessed by the Lungotevere or from the river bank, via a substantial staircase that appears to be a part of the memorial. 

Inaugurated in 1974 (50 years after Matteotti's death) and paid for by the Socialist Party, the bronze memorial consists of two very different sculptures, both by Jorio Vivarelli (1922-2008), who as a soldier was captured and imprisoned in 1943 by the German forces. The monument includes the words, "Although you kill me, the idea within me can never be killed."

The original plaque was smashed in January 2017, 6 months before we visited the site and these photos were taken.  


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Luigi Moretti's Il Girasole: a House Divided


Il Girasole. From this angle especially, easy to pass up, to walk by, as if were just another building.

We're walkers, but we don't recommend walking viale Bruno Buozzi (in the Parioli quartiere), unless there's a reason to do so. (Though it's named for an influential union leader murdered by the Nazis towards the end of World War II.) It's a long and curvy street, more or less connecting viale Parioli with via Flaminia, with few attractions and minimal commerce. Not all that interesting. 

But there is at least one reason to walk that walk: Luigi Moretti's "Il Girasole" (The Sunflower) house. 

Il Girasole, as it looked in 2012. That split in the middle is important.

Its architect is famous, and not only in Italy and Rome, his home town. Born in 1907, Moretti studied architecture at the Royal School of Architecture in Rome, then worked for several years with archeologist and art historian Corrado Ricci on aspects of Trajan's Market. In the 1930s he became one of Italian Fascism's favored architects, designing the fascist youth organization building in Trastevere (1933) and several buildings in the Foro Mussolini, including Mussolini's gymnasium (1936) and the Academy of Fencing (1936).

In the United States, he designed the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C., notorious for the 1972 burglary of Democratic National Committee Headquarters that precipitated the "Watergate scandal," and produced the political term "Watergate" and all the other "-gates" (scandals) that followed.

"Il Girasole" is a postwar work, designed in 1949 and built in 1950. It's considered an early example of postmodern architecture, a building architect and theorist Robert Venturi described as ambiguous, existing in a new space between tradition and innovation.

This photo, from an earlier period, shows off the structure's 
horizontal lines as well as its vertical division. 

This shot of the interior emphasizes Moretti's origins in modernism, though the
brickwork/window, jutting out (and interrupting) at left, has a post-modern valence. 

Swiss architectural theorist Stanislaus von Moss has argued that Venturi's Vanna House (1962-1964) "recalls the duality of the facade of Luigi Moretti's apartment house on the Via Parioli [sic: viale Bruno Buozzi] in Rome." We agree. And both the Vanna House and Il Girasole disrupt the flow of modernism. Hence modernism, with a post-modern touch.

Moretti also designed villas for wealthy patrons, including La Villa Saracena (1954), in the village of Santa Marinella, about an hour by car from the center of Rome. In 1958, he was one of several distinguished architects who designed Rome's Olympic Village in preparation for the 1960 games. 

The trees are larger in this 2017 photo (not good for the look of the building), and there's more foliage on the roof. 


Tuesday, October 17, 2023

36 Hours Around Piazza Navona

 A friend recently asked us for suggestions of what to do around Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori. She was clear that she and her companion would be in Rome only 3 days, had seen the big sights and did not want to go back to those this time, and they did not want to do much walking. So maybe this is "36 Hours in Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori." 

We put our heads together, created a list and a map for her, and enjoyed the exercise enough that we have made it into 2 blog posts, the first on Piazza Navona and the second on the Campo. Here's our map of Piazza Navona for starters, and you'll see #1 is Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers - not exactly Rome the Second Time, but a good place to begin any walking around.

Below is the code we gave our friends (with a few elaborations; and note she has been a French teacher - so there are a few Francophile hints here) for our suggested meanderings in and around the piazza. Bear in mind our idiosyncrasies, and that we leave all restaurant suggestions to Katie Parla (

Piazza Navona and environs:

1.         Fountain of the 4 Rivers (Fontana dei fiumi – Bernini)

Piazza Navona can be a magical space, especially when no one's around, like at dawn.

Piazza Navona at dawn. Borromini's Sant'Agnese in Agone (see #2, below) is at left. 

But not always. In 2014, we encountered Bernini's lovely fountain while city workers were repairing the stone pavement around it. And the piazza has its sometimes tawdry, commercial side. 

2.         Sant’Agnese in Agone – (church) by Borromini  

            So between #1 and #2 here you get a feel for the great rivalry of architects/sculptors: Bernini  - the sculptor who was an architect - and Borromini, the architect whose architecture is sculpture. You'll have to look up for yourself the apocryphal story that one of Bernini's figures in the 4 Rivers Fountain has his head turned away so as not to see Borromini's church (the statue was erected first).

3.         Embassy of Brazil – often has art shows you just walk into. We like these one-off exhibits that often are open all day, are free, get you inside a classic palazzo, and often are very good - usually contemporary -  art.

4.        Palazzo Braschi – excellent museum (generally Rome, 17th century on), sweet café – easy to walk thru – often free shows on the ground floor – beautiful cortile - - this article says “best museum in Rome you’ve never visited." Re the free shows: it was here we learned about Raffaele di Vico and his extraordinary contributions to Rome's cityscape in the 20th century, and saw a moving photo/quotation exhibit of women trapped in abusive relationships. As noted, the shows are wide-ranging.

5.         Portuguese Institute – We have been to shows here (met the architect Julio Lafuente one evening - we are taken with his buildings), but can’t locate it nor a site for it – walking around Piazza Navona just looking is a pleasure anyway (if you can avoid all the hawkers).

6.        Stadio di Domiziano (Piazza Navona was built over it) - underground archeological site – small and interesting – not sure of opening times; sometimes has exhibits as well. This is a good way to get your ancient history fix, and to learn more about Piazza Navona -

7.         Tre Scalini tartufi – just go and get one of those to split – amazing gelato dessert – make sure you go to this corner and not across the little street to a copy cat. Tre Scalini is the real deal. We wrote about the tartufo war in 2010:

8.        Hotel Raphael – one of the city's best rooftop bars and lobby – interesting political stories about it too – on the way to Santa Maria della Pace and Chiostro Bramante -

The imposing exterior of the Hotel Raphael,
as it was 15 years ago.

9.         Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace – lovely, limited hours

10.      Bramante Chiostro & exhibition space -  Beautiful cloisters and has a café, plus current show is Pistoletto –the contemporary Italian artist famed for his use of mirrors.

Bramante Cloister  - can't recall the
name of the show but fairly
certain those 2 "head" sculptures
are by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa

A work by Pistoletto--this one at the State Department.

11.      Piazza di Pasquino – the original “talking statue” -

Pasquino, right, with his messages relegated to a board next to him.

12.      Cul de Sac – on Piazza di Pasquino – considered one of the best wine bars in Rome – has food – don’t go to the salad place by mistake

13.      Otherwise bookshop – English one, just steps from Piazza di Pasquino  - on via del Governo Vecchio – nice street with boutiques, tho’ getting a bit gentrified

14.      Caravaggio – San Luigi dei Francesi – 3 amazing Caravaggio paintings – the French church in Rome

15.      Caravaggio – Basilica di Sant’Agostino – 1 Caravaggio – and the once Papal library next door is gorgeous – worth just walking up and looking at it (Biblioteca Angelica)

16.      Sant’Ivo – a Borromini masterpiece (church)

17.      Palazzo Napoleonico -  interesting for its French connection - it is NOT Palazzo Altieri – the entrance to Napoleonico is on the Lungotevere.

18.      Baracco museum – ancient sculpture – we think it’s free – we’ve never been in it!


Thursday, September 28, 2023

Life is better with a broomstick: creative solutions to appliance problems in Rome


Italian ingenuity often has to extend to making appliances work.  Here a broom handle is used to keep the oven on.

But it wasn't the only use we found for broom handles.

Below, the only way we found to keep the washing machine door shut:

Needless to say neither the stove (which was in a friend's apartment) nor the washing machine would work without these tricks.

And finally, maybe not crucial - unless you don't want to put dishes away with one hand while the other holds the cabinet door open - our solution to a sky drain door that wouldn't stay up:

We are fans of the sky drain - Italians way of drying dishes. We wish American kitchen designers would use them, though Americans are addicted to electric dishwashers.

We don't think we're dissing Italian products by saying that often design trumps utility, though these aren't the coolest designs we've seen. Just routine appliances that don't quite work.

  BTW, don't expect the Airbnb host to tell you how to solve these problems - just look for the broomstick in the closet.


Monday, September 11, 2023

A statue of Carabinieri leads to the question: What was the role of this national armed force under Fascism?


La pattuglia nella tempesta.

One of the rabbit holes we went down this year started on the day we flew into Rome and wandered into the park across from Palazzo del Quirinale while waiting for the time on our timed tickets for the Scuderie exhibition (more on that exhibition in a future post). The park's center has a statue of Carlo Alberto, father of Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of a united Italy in the 1860s. But that's a traditional equestrian statue. We gravitated instead to a statue of two figures, on the back side of the park, and seemingly "lost" on the park grounds. Italians no doubt recognize the flowing capes and (what I now know are called) bicorn hats, but we didn't. After much Google sleuthing, we discovered these figures represent Carabinieri from 1814, when they were formed as the King's police. The statue - from 2014 - celebrates the national police force's bicentennial. 

By Florentine sculptor Antonio Berti (1904-1990), the statue is, in our minds, a gem. It's titled "La pattuglia nella tempesta" - "The patrol in the storm," and is designed to show the Carabinieri - off their horses (or these days, out of their cars), in any weather, helping their countrymen and women. I love those flowing capes. There's something about the work that reminds me of Rodin's Balzac, though I'm probably getting carried away here.

   Outside the museum. The tourists
don't even look at it.

And now the rabbit hole. In trying to find the subject and name of the statue, I ran across an article titled "Italian policemen and fascist ideology," by Dr. Jonathan Dunnage of Swansea University in the UK. Many Italians look at the Carabinieri and Fascists this way: they were the King's police force. The King was a Fascist; the Carabinieri supported the King. When the King separated himself from Mussolini, so did they. Kind of "just doing their job." 

Dunnage is more critical. In a summary of his article, he states, "There is little doubt that, without undergoing dramatic transformations, the Italian Interior Ministry police and Carabinieri played key roles in the enforcement of the fascist dictatorship."  This summary focuses on the police, rather than on the Carabinieri, and, arguably, the Carabinieri were more independent. I contacted Dunnage, who was kind enough to exchange emails with me. In a response to me, he contends, "On the other hand, both police organizations would have been grateful for a government which claimed to restore respect for the law (and for the institutions of law and order) following the 'humiliations' of the 'Red Two Years' (1919-1920)." [Elaboration by Dunnage on this theme is at the end of this post.]

The statue, Dunnage's comments, and a lunch with two Roman friends convinced us to return to the Carabinieri Museum (Museo storico dell'Arma dei Carabinieri) in Piazza del Risorgimento (where most folks are heading in droves to the Vatican). We had been there previously, for a press conference announcing the recovery of stolen art works (the Carabinieri have an art recovery section). Our lunch companions told us the museum had been reorganized and modernized (it needed it; all material was only in Italian, for starters), and that a relative of one of them, a retired Carabiniere, had designed the new exhibition. We couldn't wait to go back.

We found the first floor, in particular, much better organized, and with all placards in both Italian and English. Paintings, more than photographs, illustrated the Carabinieris' bravery. 

The Carabiniere at left was serving in the Barmash (Albania) Carabinieri Station when it was attacked "On December 28, overwhelming enemy forces, which he resisted heartily. Once the ammunition ran out, he did not give up, but with hand grenades faced the enemy together with [another Carabiniere], who fell with him." Note, no mention of who the enemy is.

Looking at the historical panorama that covers the Fascist ventennio (20+ years), one can see a sort of amnesia:

The dates are, left to right, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1942. The painting above 1942 is the painting above in this post of the Carabiniere in Albania.

There are pictures and stories of the Italian African campaign, in which the Carabinieri figured prominently, and of battles raged against "brigands" in Sicily and elsewhere. Nothing about Fascists, Mussolini, or fighting for the State against partisans in Italy. The second floor is laid out similarly, although the English translators haven't yet made it to that floor. There, under 1928, is an illustration of the Carabinieri fighting Sicilian brigands; under 1936, a battle in Somalia. 

Above, one of the more interesting paintings, of the Battle of Culqualber, which lasted from August to November 1941 in Ethiopia ("Italian East Africa"), and is considered the end of the the war in East Africa for the Italians. Carabinieri and colonial forces fought the British Commonwealth forces there.

The only place we saw any reference to Mussolini or Fascism was in the collection of annual calendars, and even then the one with Mussolini on the cover was high up on the wall and difficult to photograph; one has to recognize his profile - which any Italian would:
All of the calendars in the Fascist era use the Fascist
numbering system. Mussolini is on the cover second from
left, middle row, year 1939, XVII E.F. (17, Fascist Era,
i.e., 17 years after the 1922 March on Rome).
The online site for the museum is filled with information. And if one searches for Mussolini or Fascism, there are many citations. Among them is the intriguingly titled "I Carabinieri nel novecento italiano - la fine delle illusioni" ("The Carabinieri in 1900s Italy: the end of illusions"). The post has a good summary of Italy at the end of the Fascist era, but nothing about the Carabinieri in that period. And so it goes with the other entries in which Fascism is mentioned.

With the year 1943, the panels change dramatically to the Carabinieri fighting against the Nazis as part of the Resistance. 

Right, a Carabiniere in Greece, 
trampling the Nazi flag and 
raising the Italian one.

There's no doubt many Carabinieri were significant in the Resistance to the Nazis, after the King abandoned Mussolini.

Some were shot by the Germans, and 12 were murdered in the massacre at the Fosse Ardeatine outside Rome (on an itinerary in our first book on Rome, Rome the Second Time). A monument to the 12 is in the museum:

The exhibitions bring the Carabinieri into the 1970s and 1980s, with their efforts to combat the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse), who assassinated politician and statesman Aldo Moro. In the panels below, his portrait is labeled "'78" - the year he was killed. "'83" is a painting depicting the Carabinieri, led by Mario D'Aleo, who were ambushed and killed in Sicily by the Mafia that year.

There are also some "fun facts" in the museum, including posters of movies featuring Carabinieri.

Right, the beloved "Pane, Amore e Fantasia" 
(In English, "Bread, Love and Dreams"), 
starring Vittorio De Sica and Gina Lollobrigida.

And our museum tour ended where it began, with our rabbit hole. An entire corner and display is devoted to the statue of La pattuglia nella tempesta, which is popular enough that one can buy small replicas of it, as in, Exit through the Gift Shop.

Dianne [see more from Jonathan Dunnage below the photo]

Here is Jonathan Dunnage's more complete response (in an email to me) to the argument that the Carabinieri weren't at heart Fascists:

It has been argued that the Carabinieri were less complicit with the fascist regime because of their loyalty to the monarchy, as a result of which Mussolini decided to entrust policing and surveillance first and foremost to the Interior Ministry police. However, if you consider that the Carabinieri were answerable to the Interior Ministry for matters of policing, and if you look at daily policing activities on the ground, it is obvious that the Carabinieri were complicit, even if their position was secondary to that of the Interior Ministry police. Despite formal adhesion to the regime, as evident in public ceremonies, it has been suggested that the Carabinieri managed to maintain a degree of aloofness. On the other hand, both police organizations would have been grateful for a government which claimed to restore respect for the law (and for the institutions of law and order) following the 'humiliations' of the 'Red Two Years' (1919-1920). Members of the police and the Carabinieri, whether or not they were staunch fascists, had historically been accustomed to seeing the forces of the Left as dangerous for public order, and one can imagine that many saw the fascist regime as enabling them to do their job of 'protecting' Italian society from anarchists, socialists and communists, when the preceding Liberal governments had appeared hesitant (i.e. for fear of infringing citizens' democratic rights).