Travel to Italy: Rome
Rome under Mussolini tried a version of modernity, but two thousand years after Augustus Caesar Roman architects still labored under the weight of past glories. The city's success today depends not on modern construction but on preservation of the old--a formula that succeeds all too well.
Rome began growing rapidly in the 19th century. Streets of the time were neatly gridded, like this one. It's near the Vatican and reaches straight to the Tiber from Via Ottaviano. The buildings are far more old-fashioned, dressed like budget Renaissance palaces.
In the late 1920s, architects moved swiftly toward modernism. Still, they could not escape the aura of classical Rome. A good example is the city's central railway station, built on the site of a neoclassical predecessor from the late 1850s.
One exception to the dominating influence of classical architecture: we're atop the Palatine and overlooking the Circus Maximus. The building in the background, despite the crane, dates to 1938, when it was built to house the Ministry of African Colonies. Since 1951, the building has served as the headquarters of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. To its left, and standing out against the trees, is the Stele of Axum, taken from Ethiopia in 1937.
The stele, up closer. It was carved about 300 A.D.
Closer still. After decades of promising in 1947 to return it to Ethiopia, the authorities finally took action. As of May, 2004, the stele had been taken down and packed in three boxes sitting at Fiumicino airport. Vittorio Sgarbi, an art critic and deputy minister for culture in the Berlusconi government explained to a reporter that "Ethiopia was part of Italy at the time, so the obelisk can't have been stolen, can it?" Then why return it? His reply: "we are only giving it back to them because they are pathetic paupers." (April, 2005: the stele, cut into three segments so it could be airfreighted, arrived at Axum. From the BBC on the 19th: "I am excited, overjoyed and delighted," said Ethiopian Culture Minister Teshome Toga. This is a very historical moment for us, we have waited so long to have the obelisk back," he said. Abebe Alenayehu, 81, watched Italian troops seize the obelisk from Axum, but never expected to be alive to witness its return. "The memory still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth," he told the Associated Press news agency. "Every day for the last 67 years I have thought about the obelisk.")
The height of modernism in Rome lies three miles south of the Colosseum: it's the Esposizione Universale di Roma, EUR for short, designed by Marcello Piacentini for the abortive world's fair of 1942. Here: the state archives.
The massive colonnade of the Museum of Roman Civilization.
Inside: reminders of past glory.
There's a model of classical Rome, with the Circus Maximus here, the Colosseum, and the fora to its left.
In a corner and reduced to selling clothes and computer bits: Augustus Vendor.
Perhaps the most famous building in the neighborhood: the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana (1938-42), now the Pallazzo della Civilta del Lavoro.
A people of many talents.
Modernism has run its course in Rome, as elsewhere. The economy depends now on images of the past, some grand but others simple, like this one of shutters near the Piazza Navona (Via de Tre Archi).
A house on the Piazza del Gesu, off Corso Vittorio Emmanuel.
The courtyard of the Museo Canonica, in the gardens of the Villa Borghese.
A street near the Spanish Steps.
The Via della Croce, with the north end of the Piazza di Spagna and, in the distance, St. Peters. The roof gardens are typical.
The same strip of gardens, seen from the north end of the Piazza di Spagna.
Not everything is so verdant: this is the courtyard of the same building that appears in the previous picture.
More roof gardens, here Via Teodoro, seen from the Palatine Hill.
And yet again, here for apartments at EUR.
Tourist Central: the Spanish Steps descend from the church of the Trinita dei Monti. The steps were built in the 1720s at the expense, ironically, of the French ambassador. The name comes from the Spanish embassy, which has been nearby since the 17th century. Once Lord Byron was its neighbor; now the neighbors are American Express and Hugo Boss.
Looking down, toward the stylish Via Condotti.
Crowds at the Trevi Fountain.
Exit to the Vatican Museum. Seems quiet, but looks can be deceiving.
Not what you expected? The exit was quiet because the museum had not yet opened; a few minutes later it did, and the escalator at the entrance was immediately loaded.
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