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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Eurosky: Tall Buildings come to Rome!

Rome and Los Angeles aren't usually understood to be similar.  But in one respect they are: they're both essentially low-rise cities, made up mostly of buildings of less than 5 stories.  Decades ago, Los Angeles made a decision to concentrate the much larger buildings that were needed by hotels, banks, law firms, and some condo folks in a few areas, including downtown (now the site of the tallest building west of the Mississippi), Westwood, Century City and, more recently, parts of Hollywood.

Rome came later to the idea of concentrating its tall buildings.  Its first effort is in the south end of EUR, the mainly Fascist-era suburb to the south of the center.  The second is not far away, near Pier Luigi Nervi's Palazzo dello Sport that essentially marks the southern end of EUR..  This 63 hectare (157 acre) complex is known as Eurosky or, on the company's website, as Business Park Europarco (sounds a bit like a rue de road) or Europarco Business Park.

The rather uninspired sales offices of Eurosky.
Maybe that's why the place feels empty.  



From via Cristoforo Colombo, going south, turn right (east) on viale dell' Oceano Pacifico, then left on viale Avignone.









The first building you'll see, on the right, is occupied by Microsoft.  It's not clear whether it's part of Eurosky, or just adjacent.

And beyond this building, to house those visiting Microsoft execs and others of "i big" ilk, a handsome Novotel in a white skin with some weird angles. Up ahead, there's plenty of space to park.  Let's have a look around.





Microsoft building at right, Novotel at left, soccer field awaiting players in foreground.  
The complex has some of the feel of Parco Leonardo, the newish suburb/shopping center still further out.  Empty and sterile.  Great expanses of what might be called "piazza," but few popoli.  Perhaps the buildings haven't filled up yet.
Those are people down there.  
To the southwest, a big hole in the ground, primed for yet another Eurosky skyscraper, and beyond it, the Euroma2 shopping center, where you'll find an Apple store.
Euroma2 - from the back.
Looking east, a modest effort notable for the cutout, upper left.

Upper left detail
The centerpiece of the development is the Eurosky Tower (Torre Eurosky)--the one with the big angled slabs on top. Probably solar panels. The building is basically a huge apartment complex. Except for few touches--the angled staircase, a vertical cut-out in the center--it's a rather soulless structure.  But it is the tallest building in Rome and one of the largest residential buildings in Italy.
Eurosky Tower, from the parking lot.  Business traveler at left.
Angled stairs, Eurosky Tower
That big square glass structure down the way?  Surprise!  That's the Italian Ministero della Salute (Ministry of  Health).  Its angled doorway aside, it's ordinary, too, though arguably handsome.  In an era when the Italian government needs every cent it can get, we wondered why the ministry needed to be housed in new, and presumably expensive, quarters.
Ministry of Health

And its angled doorway.







Perhaps the most interesting element in all of Eurosky is just steps from the entrance to the Ministero della Salute: a small sculpted monument, commemorating the global elimination of Rinderpest in 2011 under a joint Ministry of Health/FAO program.  (Rinderpest is a German word meaning "cattle plague." The virus likely dates to the 7th century.)  It's a lovely, organic piece of work, lost here amid all the uninspired modernism.  






















More tall buildings and empty piazzas to come! Don't miss our Eurosky updates!

Bill

Bill's ingenious selfie in the reflection of the Rinderpest plaque.  How clever!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Pope's Escape: Castel Sant'Angelo's Secret Passageway

Castel Sant'Angelo from the Passetto - we had to wear the day-glo vests so they didn't lose track of us.
Until November 20 of this year, you can take a tour of Castel Sant'Angelo's secret passageways and rooms.  You can even play Robert Langdon or Vittoria Vetra from Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. I was intrigued; so I signed up, forking over Euro 5 in addition to the Castel's general entrance fee of Euro 10 for Castello Segreto (Secret Castle).

The guided tour indeed takes you along the above ground passageway that follows the walls of the city up to the territorial line of the Vatican.  I expected more, but it was still exciting to follow along this passageway that Pope Alexander VI used in 1494 to escape the invading CharlesVII.  Some versions have Charles' army shooting at the Pope's white robes as he ran for his life.  And the antagonist in Angels and Demons uses the Passetto to transport the 4 Cardinals he abducts from the Vatican.  They're all escaping from the Vatican to the fortified castle, once the tomb of Emperor Hadrian.  Brown's Langdon and Vetra use the passageway the other direction - as a shortcut to the Vatican.  The Passetto di Borgo, in other words, has a long and storied history; but it is open only every few years.
  The Passetto from the Castle - imagine the Pope running along this walkway
with shots being fired at him.

As our tour guide explained, one can only travel part of the Passetto because at one point one hits the territory of the Vatican, a totally independent jurisdiction, no longer a part of the State of Italy or the city of Rome. Still, cool!



The "secret tour" also includes the Castel's prisons, oil storage room (and those Italians take their oil seriously), and other rooms usually closed to visitors, the nicest of which is Pope Clement VII's bathroom (1523-24), decorated with frescoes by the School of Raphael, and the first running hot and cold water bathroom in the world, we were told.
Clement VII's bathroom.

Now for the disappointment and a suggestion. The English-language guide I had was not up to the task.  Her English was sub-standard.  She had memorized lines about the Popes, Mussolini, and the Vatican, but she couldn't vary from her script, and if you didn't come with a working knowledge of the basics (such as the Popes' self-exile in the Vatican after 1870 and the Conciliation Agreement with Mussolini), you wouldn't be able to understand her.  She did not understand basic questions some of the visitors posed in English, and thus couldn't answer them.  Still, if you read up a bit ahead of time, and you like this kind of history and access to usually closed-off rooms and passageways, then go for it.

Castel Sant'Angelo has 4 of these tours each day through November 20, 2 in Italian (11 am and 5 pm) and 2 in English (10 am and 4 pm), maximum 15 persons each.  I didn't need them the weekday I went, but generally I recommend you buy tickets ahead of time.  The Web site is not very user-friendly but it is (mostly) in English.  Just keep clicking and you'll get to the ticket site with the capability of buying tickets for the secret tour as well.  There's an extra Euro 1 charge for buying online.

Dianne
Instruments of torture in the prison rooms.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Street Artists Transform Nomentana Train Station


This artist has a number of pieces of a similar nature in the underpass.  They're presented in homage to street artist Blu.  The artist may work under the name qwerty.

Most of the "letters to the editor" that appear in the newspaper La Repubblica are from citizens complaining about something: potholes, garbage collection, bus service and the like.  But this one was different.  It was a feel-good story, about a place--an underpass serving the train station at via Nomentana--that had been filthy and a bit intimidating for years, but that had recently been fixed up--by volunteers.  So we went.  We had our doubts that there still was a train station in Nomentana, since we'd never heard of it.  And we knew we'd have trouble finding the underpass.

Wrong on both counts.  There is, indeed, a via Nomentana station, and the underpass was easy to find: on viale Etiopia, just south of the circonvallazione and just east of Piazza Gondar.

One of several by the artist LAC 68.  

Urban scene.  By BOL?

Lots of affection here, but also bla bla bla

Thelma senza (without) Luise (Louise), aqueducts as background.  LAC 68.  The figure at right is a regular feature
of the artist's work, as is the shopping cart (which also appears frequently in Banksy's drawings).  

Dianne with bird, who's been reading
The Jungle Book and appears to be
a commuter
What we found was inspiring.  A group of street artists have decorated hundreds of feet of passageway--the main passage and long side ramps, too.

















Save the whales.  



Animal images--rhinos, Moby Dick, fish, a wolf--- abound,
giving much of the space a playful look.  "Love" is another theme.



Some of the art is not up to "international" standards, in our opinion, but some of it very good, indeed.  We especially enjoyed the broad brushwork and humor of LAC 68, and the evocative stick figures of the artist we identified (perhaps incorrectly) as qwerty.












We talked briefly with two artists who were working on one of the few unfinished sections before moving on to another town (Pavona, if we remember correctly).

All the artists were brought in through the efforts of a retired railroad worker, Francesco Galvano, who, as one article stated, created this as an homage to the station in which he spent his working life. The overall project is to decorate 120 stations, under the heading Arte in stazione e citta' a colori - Art in stations and cities in color, coordinated by the group Nucleo Sicurezza Ambientale (perhaps the best translation - Secure or Healthy Environment Group), of which Galvano is the Roma Nord head.  More pics below.

Bill




Side ramp


Another side ramp

There are things to read, too
Mermaid with red hair.  LAC 68

Northern entrance.  No longer intimidating.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rome is Degraded. Can't wait to Return



A personal favorite.  No orange fencing or yellow tape here, probably because this project, intended to protect
pedestrians and vehicles from the collapsing wall at left, was initiated years ago--perhaps decades ago--before
orange fencing was invented.  Maybe before plastic was invented.  The road is via di Porta San Pancrazio, on the Gianicolo, below the steps leading from Acqua Paola.  Via Garibaldi is ahead. 
Because we're in Rome only once each year (though for an extended period), we see both less--and more--than year-around residents.  We miss many of the day-to-day details of the city's governance.  But our absence also provides a greater sense of change, of how today's Rome differs from last year's Rome. 

The picture isn't entirely bleak.  On the positive side, the efforts of Tevereterna and other organizations are beginning to reshape Romans' relationship to the Tevere, a relationship damaged, we once thought permanently, by the enormous walls erected in the late-19th century to control flooding.  The enormous and powerful William Kentridge mural on the west bank may mark a turning point in this regard.  Incredibly, Romans are beginning (but just beginning) to pick up after their dogs.  So, too, the turn to private sources of funding to restore Rome's public monuments and buildings holds promise for cleaning up and repairing Rome's cultural heritage.  More on this in a future post. 

In some ways, however, the city and environs appear to be more degraded (degrado is the Italian word) than ever. 

1) The pothole problem.  The Romans refers to the holes in their streets as "buchi"--that is, holes.  And they are, we believe, rightfully concerned that their streets are becoming more hazardous year by year.  Our perspective on this derives from the 700 miles we put on the scooter each time we visit, over roads in every section of the city.  Hitting a pothole or a rough patch of road can be dangerous, but avoiding potholes is dangerous too, especially when the streets are wet, but any time.  Pothole avoidance inevitably distracts the driver from other problems on the road, and may take the scooter into the path of another, faster-moving vehicle, approaching from behind.

The worst Rome road by far is a quagmire of potholes, bumps and gravel leading to a sports facility on the north end of the city; simply scary.  Of the major consular roads, via Salaria may be the worst; as one exits Rome proper and moves onto the narrow, 2-lane, fast-moving "highway" north of the city, the right 2/3 of both lanes is simply undriveable on a scooter.  The left 1/3 is fine, but it positions the scooter perilously close to oncoming traffic.  In the city, most streets are worse than they were last year, in our opinion.  I was too busy dodging potholes to photograph them.

The Bernini "bee fountain" on via Veneto, nicely framed by
orange fencing
2) The orange fencing problem.  Whoever has the orange fencing contract for Rome is doing very well, indeed.  It's everywhere.  Its purpose is to fence off projects while they're being worked on.











Useless fencing on the Lungotevere







That's noble, except that one seldom sees anyone working in or around the orange-fenced areas, and it's rare that a project gets done and the fencing removed. 




Collapsed fountain, Flaminio, rear of
Tree Bar




Put another way, the city appears to be adept at installing the orange fencing, yet rather inefficient at getting the required work done and the fencing removed.  Hence the impression--and it's really just that--that the orange fencing is accumulating, year after year. 


Almost an art work.  For patrons of bar, right.
 However
appropriate it might be in protecting citizens from say, walking into a hole, it's also bright, ugly, and, as a sign that not much is getting done, all too obvious. On this trip alone,  we took a dozen photos of orange fencing, and could have taken dozens more.  We're sharing just a few.
Protecting peds from fallen tree.  Looks like it
didn't fall yesterday.

3) The yellow tape problem.  Yellow tape is sometimes used for the same purpose as orange fencing: to mark a potential hazard.  Here's a good example: a large portion of a tree has fallen on the sidewalk, and the danger is set off with yellow plastic tape.  The same tape is used for crowd and automobile management, for example to mark areas where parking is prohibited during a soccer match.  As letters to the editor in the local papers reveal, the authorities often fail to remove this "control" tape when as event is over.  So it remains in place, sometimes for weeks.

4. The trash problem.  Not exactly man bites dog.  Everyone--literally, not figuratively--knows that Rome has a trash problem.  Trash is--figuratively, not literally--everywhere. 
Piazza Mancini, Flaminio
Every neighborhood,  almost every sidewalk.  On one street after another, garbage bags, boxes, mattresses, construction debris--you name it--sits on the street next to overflowing trash bins.

Why?  No one seems to know. Too few bins?  Infrequent pickups?  Lazy garbage workers?  Obstructionist unions?  Tight budgets?  Romans who don't care?  If Virginia Raggi, the newly-elected mayor, can find a solution and clean up the city, she's a cinch to get re-elected. Good luck.

Building collapse



6.  Projects that never end--or don't even begin.  We witnessed one of these on our last trip, staying in a building on the Lungotevere at Piazza Gentile da Fabriano.  In February of this year (2016), long before we arrived, several floors of an identical building on the other side of the piazza collapsed, producing tons of rubble that had to be removed from the sidewalk and streets below.  The city moved the debris from the sidewalk but did not remove it, opting to deposit it in a huge mound across the two outbound lanes of the Lungotevere, one of the busiest streets in Rome.  Four months later, when we moved in, the mound was still there, still blocking the outbound Lungotevere, and forcing every vehicle taking that route to turn into the piazza, go around it (passing three major streets), and negotiate a stoplight before moving on.

Rubble storage site: the Lungotevere.  In three weeks at this location, we never saw anyone working here.  Still,
someone dropped off the dumpster.  Progress?
Oh, yes: we can't wait to return.  After all, it's Rome.

Bill
 
"Sorry for the inconvenience.  We're working to improve our city."  Working, maybe.  But not here.



 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Walls of Rome: 4 Hours in the Life of a Poster

Not all posters dealing with immigration are negative.  This one, found
in the immigrant-heavy (mostly Bangladeshi) suburb of Torpignattara, is critical of the
local government for its failure to make documents available to immigrants.
It's no secret that many Italians are concerned about immigration; under EU rules, the country where an immigrant first makes land must make provision for that immigrant.  There is no plan for dividing up immigrants equally.  This is a particular problem for Italy, which has a long and vulnerable coastline and is a short (but often deadly) boat ride from troubled Tunisia. As elsewhere in Europe, there are those in Italy who identify immigration with terrorism--and, those who don't.

These issues were brought home forcefully on the day we "landed" in Monteverde Vecchio, an upper-middle-class neighborhood on the hill above what is commonly thought of as Trastevere.  Here's the poster we found:

Stop Terrorism, Stop Immigration..  Not sure what "Fdl" is.
 There is an anti-immigration Facebook group known as Patria e Liberta
Four hours later, when we passed that way again, the poster looked like this:


  In the weeks that followed, we found other posters dealing with immigration:

This political poster was part of the 2016 mayoral election.  "Let's Stop
the Alien Invasion
CasaPound's poster, in Casal Bertone: Defend Rome/Enough Immigration, Enough "Welcoming"