Italy! The name alone sparks fantasies of drinking wine in green vineyards while enjoying beautiful gardens, and architecture. It has been mentioned by a countless number of authors, and shown on the big screen in a more than a number of feature films. The influence of these mediums has reached far and wide, to the point that Italy has become romanticized in the minds of most the population. People flock to Rome, Venice, Florence, or even the Tuscan countryside in search of Italy’s enticing beauty, and many find it when they come to visit. These people are not wrong in doing so either, Italy is a truly beautiful country, only the reality of life in Italy is far different than what is shown through the lenses of cameras and paintings.
When I first arrived in Rome, I was quite surprised to find that most of the walls, doors, and even a few windows were covered in graffiti. Trash and other unpleasant objects littered the ground, and I quickly learned to pay careful attention to where I was stepping. Tourist were crammed into the most widely known corners of the city; my romanticized expectations of Rome were instantly shattered. I didn’t begin to piece together a new picture of Italy until I began exploring places that one wouldn’t find on any tourist map.
I took a visit to the neighborhood of Tiburtino, located just outside of central Rome. The neighborhood was built during the housing crisis that follow the Second World War, and it was here that I began to understand exactly what it is that makes Italy beautiful. Tiburtino wasn’t the grandiose and elaborate Italian neighborhood I had originally anticipated, it was instead quite humble. The designers of the neighborhood were seeking to create an architectural vocabulary that acknowledged Italy’s long history, all while avoiding the country’s more recent connections to the fascist party. While the neighborhood itself may not appear to be much on the surface, closer inspection reveals a methodically planned out system that integrates architecture from a portion of Rome’s past commonly overlooked: the medieval era.
Each block of Tiburtino had been planned to emulate the organic building style that was formed from human necessity during the medieval era, while simultaneously integrating the comforts of modern living. It was a functional housing block that managed to go beyond the copy and paste architecture so commonly seen in America. I was also shocked to find a place that appeared completely humble on the surface, yet had been carefully and meticulously planned and detailed. But it was the effort the designers had made to connect to a particular portion of their history that impressed me the most.
Throughout my time in Rome I have visited a handful of other neighborhoods, each with their own architectural vernacular that tied them to a specific region or place in time. I realized that it wasn’t the romanticized version of Italy that is so commonly seen that makes it great. Despite the trash, graffiti, and occasional shady environments, it is the continuing desire of the Italian people to connect their buildings to a particular place or time that make Italy truly beautiful.