Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Rome on Fire

Fires in Rome are relatively rare, or so it seems.  It may just be that, like traffic accidents, fires are numerous but almost always elsewhere, out of one's personal sight.  To our knowledge, there hasn't been a "real" fire in Rome's mountains and rolling hills for decades, even though farmers continue to light small fires to burn trash (or whatever), and it seems logical that the practice would sooner or later produce a conflagration in nearby fields or woods. When I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1950s, it was legal (and widely practiced) to have an open, circular iron contraption to burn stuff at the back of the property.  And sure enough, the adjacent fields caught on fire on a regular basis, blackening an acre or two of open land.

Despite the rarity of Rome fires, we have seen a few over the years.  Nothing major, but interesting nonetheless.  Four years ago, while exploring the somewhat dicey working-class town/suburb of Trullo for the first time, we came across not one but TWO burning trash bins (above and below).  Young punks resisting authority, we supposed.  Not good publicity for Trullo, but since then the town has experienced something of a regeneration through a substantial program of wall art and wall poetry

Then, in the spring of 2017, we happened upon--or in one case, read about--several fires.  In one case, we were on the way to a physician's office in the exclusive quartiere of Coppede'.  There on via Adige was this sad sight.  The owners of the burned automobile at left were there on the sidewalk, grieving and coping, a lot of work ahead of them.  Perhaps more young punk activity; privileged, alienated youth. 

Then, on the return from a hike in the Colli Albani, while passing through Piazza Finocchiaro Aprile, we came upon a more serious blaze along the far side of the railroad track, close to the Tuscolana station.  We parked the scooter and had a look.  This fire was in the papers the next day, but it was apparently put out without consequences.

There were, indeed, consequences to the final fire on our list.  This was a river bank blaze, known by some as the gazometro fire because of its proximity to the iconic Ostiense structure.  We knew this backwater area well, having explored it and observed its inhabitants from afar.  No one was killed, but quite a few "residents" of the river bank--Roma living in huts and tents--were rendered homeless by the blaze. 


Monday, November 13, 2017

How the Elite Played in 1920s Rome: The Cadorin Frescoes on Via Veneto Revisited

The elite of Rome in the mid-1920s, including Mussolini's Jewish mistress, are still on display in a hotel dining room on via Veneto.

The frescoes of Guido Cadorin, a Venetian called to Rome to decorate the large room, have been restored to their original vibrancy and are easy to stop in and see any time--whether or not you are dining or staying in the hotel.  We wrote about these gorgeous paintings 7 years ago, as part of our RST Top 40 (#28).  And, yet, when we went back this year, they were better than ever.  We were fortunate to have the room to ourselves and take good photographs.  (That 2010 post has some additional information not included here.)

The Cadorin Salon/Dining Room - one side.
The style is "Liberty," Italy's version of Art Nouveau merging into Art Deco.  And in the hands of this artist, these beautifully dressed men and women of Fascist Rome come to life.

"Fiammetta and I wanted to pass into immortality in the salon's frescoes," explained the mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, of the painting of her and her daughter.  Although Margherita merited a place on the salon's walls--she was a journalist and art critic--her role as Mussolini's mistress perhaps led to Cadorin portraying her with "denti stretti," as some have said - gritted teeth or a fake smile--and in the background.

Sarfatti and her daughter are the two women in the

Margherita Sarfatti
Other notable figures in the painting include the wife of one of the architects of the hotel, Marcello Piacentini, the most prominent and prolific of Fascist architects, and the painter Felice Carena. The figures on these walls seem oblivious to the Fascist politics from which they were benefiting.  That painted obliviousness had a cost, however.  A few months after the inauguration of the salon paintings, an official statement from the hotel said that there were some who were disturbed by the paintings and that they therefore covered them with draperies; the cover-up lasted until after the end of World War II.  The explanation given now is that the paintings omitted a central figure in Fascism, Mussolini. (There's a different explanation in our 2010 post, also involving Mussolini.)

One can also note some unusual figures in the paintings, including dark-skinned men in exotic costumes and the woman smoking, looking aggressively outward with her cigarette hanging out of her mouth (see Bill's review of "Fumo: Italy's Love Affair with the Cigarette.").  The architectonic details in the paintings are by Cadorin's brother-in-law Brenno Dal Giudice.  Between the two painters, the paintings flow around the doorways and windows of the salon (see the bottom photo).

For the first time we were able to find a written explanation of the frescoes, and identification of some of the people.  Ask at the front desk.  They don't have extra copies, and it's in Italian, but it's worthwhile to consult this several page explanation while you look at the paintings.
Smoking woman.

Exotic figure.
We included the Cadorin Salon in our first book, Rome the Second Time, as part of Itinerary 5: The Nazis and Fascists in Central Rome.  The salon is even more accessible now, with the paintings easier to see.  Don't miss this gem at #70 Via Veneto, now the Grand Hotel Palace.

More photos below.


Having the room to ourselves.

Figures painted around the door opening.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lazio/Roma: Anne Frank takes the field at Olympic Stadium

In a recent post about an afternoon spent in Val Melaina and Serpentara, I included the above photograph, of a piece of graffiti by a supporter of the Lazio soccer team linking Roma fans with Jews.  At the time, I thought it was just another example--and a simplistic one at that--of the anti-Semitism that appears regularly on Rome's walls.  I was wrong--wrong to see it as simple.

The posting coincided with a widely-reported story (featured in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and of course in the Italian and European press): During a recent soccer game in Olympic Stadium--where the Roma and Lazio teams play on alternate Sundays--Lazio fans left
postcard-size stickers displaying an iconic image of Anne Frank, but  wearing a Roma jersey (above right).  Like the Serpentara graffiti I published, the idea behind the stickers was to associate the Roma club and its fans with Jews, suggesting a mutual insult.
From there things get more complex.  It seems that the city's Jewish community has historically leaned toward support of the A.S. Roma team.  In fact, as a Roman friend wrote us about the Val Malaina post, "Roman wealthy Jews in 1927 were part of the founders and initial supporters of the new team."  But it is also true that A.S. Roma's fans have at times taken an anti-Semitic stance, writing "Anne Frank roots for Lazio" on city walls, according to the New York Times.  Even so, that's a false equivalency.  In one infamous display at a game against Roma 2001, Lazio fans displayed a banner reading, "Auschwitz is your homeland/The Ovens are Your Homes." 

It didn't take long for soccer officialdom to speak out against the Anne Frank postcards.  The Lazio

club president, Claudio Lotito, laid a wreath of white and blue flowers (the team's colors) at the Rome synagogue on the Tiber (the city's chief Rabbi called it a "publicity stunt"; the wreath was soon seen
floating in the river).  Lazio players (above) showed up for practice wearing shirts with Anne Frank's picture and below, the words "No all' antisemitismo."  New Anna Frank stickers appeared, this time with the words "Siamo Tutti Anna Frank" (we are all Anne Frank). Around the league, team captains held copies of Primo Levi's holocaust memoir while others listened to readings from Frank's diary. 

There are all sorts of conclusions to be drawn.  I have only two thoughts.  First, this won't be the last time that Anne Frank plays a part in a soccer drama.  Second, a simple piece of graffiti may have a complex context.


Links to RST posts dealing with anti-Semitism--in soccer and on the walls of Rome:
WWII writer Czeslaw Milosz.
On the "myth of the good Italian."
Rome walls and neo-Fascist iconography.
Death of Gabriele Sandri, a Lazio fan.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Martin Luther: an Itinerary in Rome for the 500th anniversary of his "95 Theses"

On this the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his rebuke to Catholicism, his "Ninety-five Theses" (October 31, 1517), we recommend an itinerary reflecting Luther's visit to Rome, 6 or 7 years earlier.

Luther confronting the Catholic hierarchy

     That four-week visit to Rome was crucial to Luther's observations of the excesses of Catholicism.  For a brief summary of his trip, see the the write-up of scholars Ron and Abby Johnson, St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Springfield, VA.  While this was a seminal period for Luther, the details of his visit remain sketchy, even the dates, as the Johnsons point out. Nonetheless, we think the following itinerary will satisfy those interested in this figure critical to modern religious thought. 

Luther's first view of Rome could have been from this spot on Monte Mario.
St. Peter's dome would not yet have been constructed.

Monte Mario:  Luther described his first sight of Rome as being from the "mountain" outside the city walls.  He is supposed to have said on his first look, "Holy Rome, I salute thee."  Of course, years later he said, "If there is a hell, Rome is built over it."

The city looked very different in the early 1500s than it did even at the end of that century, and of course very different from today, although the views would have been stupendous, as they still are.  Rome in the early 1500s was in the midst of an enormous church building spree.  The city was coming out of its "irrelevance" during the Middle Ages.  The population had grown to over 50,000 from a low of about 12,000, after being almost one million during the Roman Empire.  
The via Francigena on Monte Mario.  Where we encounter 4 British pilgrims
on their way from Orvieto to St. Peter's.
Luther would have seen the beginning of the Renaissance, though not its flowering.  Construction of the modern St. Peter's began in 1506.  In 1508 Michelangelo began painting the Sistine Chapel.  And Luther came before the 1527 Sack of Rome.  We've always found Monte Mario great 'trekking' and recommend it as a starting point for an itinerary for those who can handle the moderate heights and walking.  It's 1.2 miles from Ponte Milvio on the north bank of the Tiber to the entrance to the walk up Monte Mario, and less than a mile (and about 400 vertical feet) up to the top of Monte Mario (Lo Zodiaco).

Via Flaminia: From Monte Mario, it appears Luther came back down to via Flaminia, rather than approach St. Peter's, as do today's pilgrims on the via Francigena (St. Francis's way).  All pilgrims from the north would have walked along via Flaminia, which crosses into Rome over Ponte Milvio.  While we find the modern via Flaminia interesting (much of it is on one of our itineraries in Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler), it has little left of the medieval city.

Ponte Milvio:  Luther would have crossed the Tiber at Ponte Milvio, where on October 28, 312 Constantine, who later converted to Christianity, the first Roman Emperor to do so, defeated his rival Maxentius.  The bridge retains its medieval style, though it's mostly known now for lovers who put padlocks on its rails. Once across the bridge, it's about a two-mile walk to the northernmost entrance to the city, Porta del Popolo, and the church for which it's named. 
Ponte Milvio.  Part of the 14th century toretta (little tower), which Luther would have seen, is still standing.
Porta del Popolo: Today's highly decorated, enormous "porta"--city gate--is vastly remodeled from the smaller porta Luther came through.  The porta had been built in the 1400s, as had the renovated church (1477), but on a smaller scale than they would have once rebuilt and remodeled.
The porta is on the far left; the church of Santa Maria del Popolo to the right of it.  Luther came through a smaller porta and was at the church. No cars and scooters in Luther's day.  Nor was the obelisk in the piazza.  Though brought
 to Rome in 10 BC, the obelisk was lost, then discovered in 1587 (in the photo the base is covered for restoration).
Inside Santa Maria del Popolo today - with crowds viewing the Carravagio
Santa Maria del Popolo.  Luther no doubt next went to Santa Maria del Popolo, the small church on the piazza, now famous mostly for its 17th-century Caravaggio paintings of Saints Paul and Peter.  Even in the 1500s the church was a favorite of the Popes and had been substantially enlarged and remodeled from earlier versions.  

There is some debate over whether Luther stayed in the rooms adjacent to the church.  They would have been the only lodging in Rome belonging to an Augustinian order.  There is agreement that he either stayed at or visited Santa Maria del Popolo - so we've kept it on the itinerary.  Luther's journey was connected to disputes between the Observant and Conventional monasteries of the Augustinian Order.  Luther belonged to the Germanic Observant group, and Santa Maria del Popolo belonged to an order of Observant Augustinians as well, although Luther seems to have rejected the lavish meals he was served at whatever monastery at which he lodged. 

We recommend a two-part itinerary, and you can end part one at Piazza del Popolo.  You can make a very un-Luther like stop at the famous cafe Canova, where Director Federico Fellini had his morning coffee.

Scala Santa: Even though his 95 Theses rejected the concept of indulgences, Luther, on his trip to Rome, "was as eager to rack them up as anyone," according to one scholar.  "He even regretted that his parents were not still alive so he could earn a few for them."  (For more on what indulgences meant to Catholics, and Luther in particular, see Tom Browning's piece.)  Luther earned indulgences for ascending these steps on his knees, an act you can still see pilgrims performing.  One story states that Luther said, "Who knows whether this is true?" when he got to either the top of the stairs, or possibly when he quit half-way through.  Again, the details of his trip are sketchy, but it is clear his doubt was developing.  The Scala Santa, supposedly the stairs Jesus climbed on his way to his trial with Pilate and that were later transferred to Rome, are across a road (now) from San Giovanni in Laterano.  If you are doing the seven churches, described below, you can add these to your itinerary when you visit San Giovanni.

San Giovanni in Laterano, rebuilt after Luther was there.
The Seven Churches:  Another way to earn indulgences was--and is--to walk to the seven churches of Rome (see suggested itinerary below).  Luther surely did that.  They are worth a visit, even without an indulgence at stake.  Besides Saint Peter's and San Giovanni in Laterano, the historical seven are three outside the city walls--San Paolo fuori le mura ("St. Paul's without the walls"), San Sebastiano, San Lorenzo fuori le mura--and two more within: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and Santa Maria Maggiore.  The street by the name "Sette Chiese" ("7 churches") still runs between San Paolo fuori le mura on via Ostiense and San Sebastiano on the via Appia Antica.  
Luther would have seen the 7th century mosaics
of St. John the Baptist at the San Giovanni baptistery

While you are at San Giovanni in Laterano, don't miss the Lateran Baptistry behind it, which Luther must have visited  It is one of the oldest buildings in Rome, dating to the 4th century, although substantially remodeled over the years, including by Borromini (post-Luther).  Luther would have seen an exterior much like the one today, however, and much of the same interior, since Borromini kept most of the existing building.  And it's one of my favorites in Rome.

Here's a suggested route for the seven churches: Start with Santa Maria Maggiore, the most central of the seven churches.  Walk 1.6 miles to San Lorenzo (outside the walls).  From San Lorenzo, walk 1.2 miles to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (which is inside, and abutting the walls); then .9 miles to San Giovanni in Laterano (again, abutting the walls - you'll walk along the inside of the walls for this stretch; it was part of one of RST's wall walks--there's a google map here to guide you on that walk); then 2.6 miles to San Paolo fuori le mura; and from there, the walk along via Sette Chiese to San Sebastiano (again, outside the walls), 2-plus miles due east.  To add St. Peter's to the walk, begin with St. Peter's and then walk to Santa Maria Maggiore, 2.3 miles. Total: about 10.5 miles.  
San Sebastiano. 1610 facade.

More specific directions and a slightly different order of churches are available here.  Some suggest a modern version that substitutes the sanctuary Divino Amore, 9 miles from San Giovanni, for San Lorenzo.  I'm a San Lorenzo fan and, of course, Divino Amore would not have been on Luther's route.  And, if you go to Divino Amore, take a bus.

Piazza Martin Lutero:  In a nod to ecumenism, a piazza in Rome recently was renamed for Luther.  It took 6 years to get the piazza named for Luther, and the delay meant it did not get renamed in time for the 500th anniversary of his 1510 (if that's the date) trip to Rome. The Vatican went along with the re-naming, even though Luther was excommunicated in 1521. This piazza seems an appropriate end point for the itinerary.  The piazza is in a park, away from streets and therefore unlikely to be paved over anytime soon.  It's near the Coliseum, with a large Fascist-era fountain (1928-29 by Raffaele De Vico, for trivia lovers), trees, and views.  It's on the southeastern side of Colle Oppio, not too far from the Domus Aurea and above via Labicana.  The piazza is less than 1/2 mile from San Giovanni in Laterano, in the direction of St. Peter's.  You will note Luther's first name is not converted to Italian (that would be Martino), and his last name is.  But not even "Luther" was his name at birth; he chose it.  See the Johnsons again.  The sign erected in the piazza in 2015 describes Luther ("Lutero") simply as a "German Reform Theologian."  


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Val Melaina, Serpentara: Can Rome's outer burbs Entertain?

Dianne was skeptical.  Bill had suggested a trip to Val Melaina and Serpentara, contiguous suburbs to the northwest of the city center, not far south of the GRA (the beltway).  He was sure that the area's curving streets would yield some modern architectural treasures.  Even the name "Serpentara" sounded mysterious, possibly dangerous.  Dianne reluctantly agreed to participate.

We began our journey at Junio, the last stop on the new B1 Metro line, which connects to the B line at Piazza Bologna.  Our first site was an apartment complex, seen here from the Junio Metro exit.

A long block up to the right (north), then a left turn and--lo and behold--an historical marker:

    In Questa Palazzina il Maestro
                     Vittorio De Sica
               nel 1948 Girava il film
                   "Ladri di Biciclette"

  De Sica directed parts of "The
    Bicycle Thief" (American title)
    in and around this apartment

Wow!  Here we were at the building where the master of Italian Neorealism crafted one of the most important films ever made.  How cool is Val Melaina!  And now we know these buildings
are mid-1940s at the latest.

We continued on a broad and, to be honest, uninspiring thoroughfare lined with undistinguished apartment buildings.

A shopping center, more like a strip mall, built for the automobile, across the street (right).

But then: an open-air market, hundreds of yards long.  We liked the sign that said, "A prezzi
fissi   Perfavor...non Perditempo"  (Fixed prices. Please don't waste my time [bargaining])

Another sign, advertising some product that makes bruschetta "facile" (easy).

At the far end of the market, a circular ramp led to an underground garage.  Bill admires anything
that's circular.

Ahead, now in Serpentara, a rather forlorn arcade-style market.  Not much traffic--but it was afternoon, and Italians were eating lunch.  Via Vergilio Talli.

Further on, a circular building that held out some hope of being engaging.

Inside the circular apartment building.  If you
want to visit, the name is Largo Fernando
de Lucia.  It looks very cool on a map.  Today, at this hour, not exactly a hive of activity.

And a wine bar--miraculous!  Unfortunately, it wasn't cocktail hour.

And a not-bad stairway.  The Italians lead the world in designing stairways, imho.

As we left the complex, a Lazio fan depicted fans of the Roma team as Jews ("Romanista ebreo"). Clever!

On our return, along viale Lina Cavalieri, we passed by this monumental church in the c. 1970 brutalist style.  What a marvel! How many tons of concrete!  Might make a good bomb shelter.

And this handsome modernist structure (left), straight out of the 1930s, or so it seemed.  Perhaps it owes something to Buffalo's grain silos, which were very influential for modernist architects.

Some wall writing whose meaning wasn't clear, to us anyway:  "Valerio Combatte Communista" (complete with hammer and sickle).

Stopped at this cafe for a Coca Lite--at a table outside.  Really a bathroom break.  Though Dianne does need a regular Coca Lite fix. The tavola calda ('hot plate' lunch) looked good.

A nice piece of found art--one of Bill's hobbies.  At home
in Buffalo, Bill printed this on his Epson 3880 at 13 X 19 inches.  Looks fantastic.  Think 1920s Russian constructivism.

Back at the Jonio stop, several hours later.  They could have done better with this building.
Evaluating the walk: Thumbs up?  (Bill)  Thumbs down? (Dianne). In any event, we "burned some Cs."