Impressions of Fascist Architecture on Modern Rome

Having learned a few things about Fascist architecture before I came to Rome I already had a bit of an understanding of what it consisted of and the importance of it. It was not, however, until getting here that I really started to understand the deeper meaning behind it all. With our site of the Ara Pacis Museum being located in an area surrounding by Fascist buildings constructed and altered by Mussolini it is easy to see the power and presence this type of architecture has. It has also begun increasingly easier to pick out Fascist architecture whenever I am walking around or to question if something looks Fascist or not. The use of classical ideas and forms executed in a modern way help give this style its own character and help it stand out from the layers of history that surround it while creating its own. When you really think about it, it is not surprising that Mussolini wanted to leave behind a legacy or building tradition that would help him be remembered long after he was gone. This is the exact same thing all the ancient Roman emperors would do and he wanted to be just like them.

It will be interesting to see what comes of fascist architecture in the future though. At this point in time there are still people alive from when he was in power and that still like what he did as a leader. There is no doubt that a majority of the things he did during his reign were terrible and because of that it will be interesting to see if that in a few generations buildings constructed by him are torn down just because they were built under Fascism. Italy does pretty well with preserving their history, as well as, making it anew.  The Ara Pacis Museum is a perfect example of a Mussolini building that was torn down in place of another, new building with the same function. The original building was not torn down just because it was built during the Mussolini era, they had an excuse: it was not up to environmental standards and the monument was deteriorating. This is certainly true but given the circumstances surrounding its demolition and the construction of the new museum part of the reason it was torn down was simply because the current mayor of Rome did not like the building. The things Mussolini did while he was the dictator of Italy, for better or for worse have left a profound impact on both cultural and physical landscapes of the country. Actions such as tearing up the area around the Forum and displacing all of those who lived there to construct the Via dei Fori Imperiale were terrible and created massive housing problems and discontent amongst the population but others, like clearing out the area around the Mausoleum of Augustus and removing the theater from the top of it to return the monument to a portion of its original form were arguably more positive. Sure for the most part the bad things he did outweigh the good but sometimes we just have to look at things for what they are worth.

Via Pietro Sterbini

It’s time for a different street of the week. Instead of looking at the urban context surrounding a particular street today we are going to look at the human nature of this street which eight of us live on. I feel like it is the perfect way to wrap up these blog posts by talking about the street with which I have the most experience. I will just cover a standard day living on this street starting from the beginning and going to the end of the day.

In the morning seemingly everything would be ok, you’re laying there sleeping and enjoying a morning when you don’t really have to get up early or do anything important. Suddenly a cacophony of noise arises from outside the window. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it is 8 in the morning, not necessarily early by any kind of normal standard but still a bit early to do what these people do. The list of noisy occurrences is almost endless, there could be a bunch of kids playing kick your best friend’s shoes right outside your window while slamming their faces against the wall or the dog across the street barking as loud as it can at any given time because its owners aren’t kind enough to know how to treat it properly. Recently there has been pretty heavy construction going on either below us or above us; it’s really hard to tell sometimes. The sound of a ship docking outside your window during heavy fog on a Saturday is certainly a great way to start your weekend.

Around noon time, things start to calm down as people settle into their normal daily routines and go about their business away from their homes. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of noise to go around; the dog continues to bark, a what sounds like a herd of cattle stampede across the floor above us. We gather our local news of Rome not from our own televisions or computers but from the gentleman down the street who insists on listening to his TV with the volume as loud as it will go and then falling asleep to it. His musical taste cannot go without mention either, it is truly impeccable, if you like anything from rap to classical he’s got it and will be more than happy to share with you.

At night, I’ll be lying in bed minding my own business when jet planes start taking off or returning to base on our street. I realize conducting nighttime sorties is a standard practice by any nation’s air force but what I failed to realize was that our street was to be used as their designated airfield. This continues throughout the night and when you’re tired enough you can manage to sleep through it. Occasionally the night train will scream down the tracks and send echoing noises up the road without any additional traffic to help dampen it.

Granted not everything is bad here, there are plenty of times that are quiet and peaceful. I also know that we have contributed our fair share of noise to the street because it just wouldn’t be fair to our neighbors and everyone else to not leave our mark and lasting impression on the street that has made experience the life of the everyday Roman like nothing else in this town could. Honestly I’m not bitter, I just find these observations of my home here in Rome too great to not share with everyone.

Via Litoranea

In a departure from the street we normally talk about in this blog, from being in the heart of Rome, today I’m going to talk about Via Litoranea. The only real thing that makes this street so special is that it runs directly parallel to the coast and what is better than that? I was riding my bike with Aaron Pilat to the coast. Getting through the Roman traffic was a little bit difficult but as long as you pay close attention to what is going on around you it is not all that bad. People generally pay more attention to traffic around them then they do in the United States. We took Via Cristoforo Colombo to get out of the city and this took us all the way to the coast. When you initially get to the coast it is visually different from what you would normally see in picturesque postcards of exotic beaches but the beach is the beach and in the relaxing and mild afternoon air nothing is really more pleasant. I mean is there really any better scenery in which to suffer in than that of the coastline? This blog post may not provide any kind of usable information in regards to what the importance of this road is but it is the story of the experience that makes the road special.

There is not much located on this road, it is primarily used as a connection along the coast to connect towns situated on the shore line. The road runs almost dead straight and basically completely flat with a few bends here and there while the continuous view of the coast is momentarily interrupted with stints through the vegetation of the Riserva Naturale di Decima Malafede, also a very nice area to ride through full of lush greenery. Via Litoranea runs basically unaltered into Anzio and Nettuno, the name does change to Via Ardeatina when it meets with Viale San Lorenzo at Marina di Ardea-Tor San Lorenzo but other than that it continues to roll gently along the coast line. This coastline road is basically left barren except for the occasion town you roll through or the various restaurants that line the road along the entrances to the public beach areas. Nevertheless, there is much along the road that is part of what makes it so special to either ride of drive along for a leisurely weekend spin. More than the sums of its parts this road is about that experience of being on the road with the top down and then wind in your hair that makes it special. Enjoying the scenery either alone or with another person is something that is unforgettable and definitely worth the time. to do. ImageImage

The Tiburtino and The Garbatella

The other day, as a class, we visited the Tiburtino and Garbatella neighborhoods. Unfortunately for us it was raining as usual, but by this point it is something we have all grown accustomed to despite everyone saying that Rome is usually very sunny. It did not help that just a couple of days earlier I learned that it had been the rainiest March for Rome in the last 50 years. Anyways, back to the matter at hand. Our little adventure began by taking the bus to the Tiburtina train station and then getting on the metro and taking that a couple of stops where we finally arrived at the Tiburtino neighborhood. Through reading a few articles and attending Stephanie’s lecture the day before I knew, to a certain extent what to expect from the neighborhood. The neighborhood does not immediately jump out at you but once inside it you get a sense of the space and it begins to feel more like a planned community than a random assortment of buildings that just happened to be built close to one another. Although the layout of the neighborhood is a little bit strange,  one can still read the overall plan as being interconnected to everything else because of the orientation of buildings and the layout of the streets. There was a sense of the center of the neighborhood and use of green space but compared to the Garbatella later it just seemed to fall short.

After our walk through the Tiburtino was finished we got back on the metro and took it until we arrived at the Garbatella stop which, was located right on the edge of the neighborhood. Immediately after arriving the Garbatella instantly felt larger and more open. The layout of the plan is similar to the Tiburtino in the way that the roads are laid out and the way in which the buildings are oriented. There appeared to be more green space overall and the aura of the neighborhood gave off a feeling more akin to Tuscan villas. The look as a whole was more traditional and looked pretty different from everything else that can be found in Rome. The Garbatella was planned using the design principles of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City[i] and after walking through the neighborhood I was able to pick up on some of the motifs. The designers did a good job of incorporating the green space into the neighborhood in a way that made you forget you were still in Rome. The design made the whole area feel a little more special. The Garbatella seemed nicer as it has been able to retain the atmosphere and quality that had originally been built into the neighborhood. The Tiburtino, in conrtast, seemed as though it were something that had been lost and forgotten about.

In the end both of the neighborhoods provided me with interesting experiences of what Roman designers were trying to do in response to the housing crisis that has plagued Rome throughout the twentieth-century. Even though both of the neighborhoods were approached in different ways and by different designers and architects one can still see the similarities between them and you begin to understand why it was that architects were trying to do what they did and how attitudes in design changed during and after Fascism.

[i] Antonella De Michelis, The garden suburb of the Garbatella, 1920–1929: defining community and

identity through planning in post-war Rome, The Garbatella as Garden City

Via Nazionale

Like every other street in the city of Rome, Via Nazionale is busy with constant traffic from pedestrians, motorists and other forms of public transportation. The business is to be expected considering it is one of the more important streets in the city and is in very close proximity to the Termini train station, the main thoroughfare in and out of the city. Nazionale runs between the “Wedding Cake,” like so many other streets, to the southwest and the Piazza del Repubblica to the northeast. Other than those two main landmarks there is the Palazzo dell’Esposizioni, which houses exhibitions and the church Santi Vitale e Compangni Martiri in Fovea which is actually set down below street level and is accessed from a large, main staircase in front of it. Other than those few sights there are not too many other sights on the street besides the abundance of shops and restaurants, similar to the Via del Corso.

Nazionale is a wide, cobbled street with sidewalks on either side that are around 15’ wide each. The street goes through a pretty wide change in elevation rising from the southwest end to the northeast and when standing at the northeast end it provides nice views down the street and towards the “Wedding Cake.”  Even with the entire street, including the sidewalks, being pretty wide the street still maintains a level of intimacy about it due to the fact that the buildings that flank both sides of the street are tall, rising between six and seven stories, and create solid boundaries for the road. Even though the weather was not so great and it was cloudy, the amount of traffic both on the road and on the sidewalk was still high and as the day progresses the amount of traffic seems to increase. At night, though, Piazza del Repubblica is a nice and interesting place to be because when the sun goes down the building that encloses about half of the piazza lights up, providing nice views that compliment the piazza space and give the building a certain regal quality to it. Bottom line, if you are out shopping and you cannot find a store on the Via del Corso chances are that you can probably find it on Via Nazionale. It is definitely a street worth visiting just as so many other streets in the city of Rome are as well.

The EUR as a Political Landscape

I went for a ride through the EUR about a month ago and thought it was a pretty cool place. The monumentality of the buildings and the streetscape definitely gave the entire area a very important feeling and based on the reasons why it was built in the first place it is easy to understand where that feeling comes from. The whitewashed walls, monolithic structures, grand thoroughfare of a road, and the ever important obelisk denoting some sort of Roman conquest or pillage give an aura that is felt in similar other places throughout Rome, such as the Palatine Hill and the area surrounding the Mausoleum of Augustus.

It was not until after reading Adam T. Smith’s The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities that I learned how to coin these particular locations. Smith explains how such “political landscapes” are set up by rulers to display importance and power. He examines how rulers at various points in history have used their power to shape the landscape of the territories they control. This can occur in a multitude of different ways and for different reasons. Why do rulers define the landscapes in particular ways? What is their reasoning? Some wish to impose their ideas, methodologies and agendas onto the population while other less power hungry rulers merely wish to leave behind some sort of lasting legacy after they have passed on. Both reasons share many of the same fundamental characteristics but the reasons for each landscape are drastically different.  Smith uses the examples of Queen Puabi and Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair series. A staging of the Queen’s death pit reflects what she left behind when she died and how she prepared herself for where she was “going.”  Andy Warhol portrayed a more modern political landscape during the time in which he created his silkscreens of an electric chair.[i] Examples of these “political landscapes” can be clearly seen in Rome from what the ancient Romans built up to what Mussolini constructed during the 1930’s and 40’s.

This brings me back to the EUR; nothing stands out clearer in my mind as a more perfect example of a “political landscape” than the EUR, from its design and the size of the buildings that were constructed to the procession down Via Cristoforo Colombo. The entire reason the EUR was constructed in the first place tells us it is a “political landscape.” In order to celebrate twenty years of Fascism an entirely new section of the city was constructed to display the wealth, progress and power that the Fascist party was able to develop even if the results are a mere illusion of what was actually happening. It’s all about propaganda my friends, it is the ultimate way to control the minds of people as skilled, intelligent or fortunate as you and through it you can make people believe whatever you want. The common theme of Fascist architecture is carried out through the entire area and the whole time I was riding through it I never forgot where I was. The white-washed walls and monumental buildings create a scale that reeks of propaganda and government control. The atmosphere is much different from Central Rome. Instead of the closeness and condensed nature of buildings, everything in the EUR is spread apart and large so that everything can be viewed at once and all together. “Political landscapes” can be found all over the world built by various leaders to display their wealth and power; the ancient Romans did it and Mussolini continued it, probably in an attempt to restore the lost tradition and history which he claimed was his goal.

[i] The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities, Adam T. Smith

Via del Corso

A brisk morning stroll down the Corso makes for a pleasant way to begin ones day. Running north and south from Piazzo del Popolo to the base of the Capitoline Hill, respectively, the Via del Corso forms a perfect axial relationship between two of the city’s key features in the heart of Rome. The Corso is typically a major tourist destination due to the abundance of shopping and hotels in combination with its close proximity to, more or less, all of the primary points of interests in Rome.  Despite the crowds that fill its sidewalks throughout the day, the Corso makes for an excellent place to walk around to get yourself a coffee and enjoy the morning before all of the stores open and the tourists awaken from their jetlag slumber.  Although the street is still busy in the morning with people getting to work and opening their shops the street does not feel crowded because of the large width of the street and sidewalks, especially compared to the typical Roman street. Due to the high number of pedestrians and endless locations to shop the north section of the road is closed to vehicular traffic. Shopping is not the only thing the Corso has to offer. Various churches line the road for those who live and work in the area, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj provides a quiet area with gallery space to escape from the hustle and bustle of the street. Galleria Alberto Sordi sits across the street from the column of Marcus Aurelius and is a shopping arcade constructed in the Art Nouveau style. Also, if you want to pay the Italian president a visit, he lives in the same piazza as the column. The Via del Corso gives you an excellent opportunity to spend both time and money in the city center to Rome.