Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Too sexy for my square: the "Fontana delle Naiadi"

Right now this charming fountain in the middle of Piazza della Repubblica must cope with the mercilessness of time that ruined its bronze figures, but back in the days of its inauguration it was considered sexy enough to cause a scandal.
The square was built over the exedra of the close-by Baths of Diocletian, outlining its shape.
The beautiful portico that embraces the square is a tribute to the original location, as it wants to mimic its scenographic majesty. It was designed by Gaetano Koch around 1888.
The sculpted groups that you can spot on the frontons of the buildings, dated 1898, represent the Olympic Gods as allegories: "Labor" ("Work") featuring Minerva and Ceres, "Voluntas" ("Will") with Mercury and Vulcan and "Patria" ("Motherland") with the personifications of Amor Patrio and History--

--I talked already about the attempt to redesign the quartiere Esquilino in the XIX century to make it attractive to the middle class when I dealt with the Acquario Romano.
The Fountain of the Naiads is part of the same project: an old, boring fountain had to be made modern and frisky, and the Sicilian sculptor Mario Rutelli was commissioned with it.
Rutelli resumed the characters of the "Naiads", the nymphs of sweet water, from ancient mithology, and made them in delightful bronze, to visualize the charm of times:
The beautiful nymphs were accompanied by a marine animal to evoke their roles: a swan for the naiad of lakes, a monstruous fish for the naiad of rivers, a horse for the naiad of oceans (a nereid, then?!) and finally a dragon for the underground waters.

The decorated fountain was inaugurated in 1901, and sure the poor sculptor wasn't expecting his tribute to classicity to be considered scandalous.
In fact, what Romans saw in the middle of the square over 100 years ago, was nothing but four naked women in naughty poses, clustered to some beasts of sort.
The Catholics of the time, still bothered by the unification of Italy and the fall of the Papal States, saw it as an insult to the Pope and the public decency, as all the young boys from the other quartieri gathered around to look at the "naked chicks" to whistle and dream.
The fountain was covered up at first, then a fence was added to keep the visitors far from it, but in the end, despite the harsh critics and the opposition, the fine work of Rutelli was recognized, and the Naiads were finally free to shine under the Roman sun.

Touched by this controversy, though, the artist had to face another challenge, where he was motivated to prove his worth and show off all of his skills to silence those caustic Romans once for all.
The fountain still looked a bit "empty", so Rutelli started to work on a sculpted group to decorate its center; he came up with the idea of humankind fighting against the primitive forces: a group of three tritons fighting against marine creatures, to make pendant with the theme of the Naiads.
The model for the sculpted group was placed on the fountain in 1911, and people promptly made fun of it, nicknaming it "fritto misto" (a variety of battered and fried fishes, a very popular dish).
Rutelli didn't take it very well, the group was removed and a simpler statue was put in its place in 1914, a man fighting against a fish, representing Glaucus:
Romans still managed to make fun of it: a popular satire of the times talked about "a big fountain" in the square, where you can see "four naked, doggie style women and a man in the middle, acting as their husband", who's so very handsome as he "sprays on their butts from his fish"--
In case you're curious, in the middle of Piazza Vittorio, you can still spot the original "fritto misto", as it was placed there in 1913:
--It does look like a fritto misto!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Street Art in Rome: a walk around Quadraro

You probably remember my post about the Street Art that you could find in quartiere Ostiense, right? Yesterday I profitted of some business to attend around Tuscolana to take a peek to another project dedicated to the appreciation of Rome's suburbs, the M.U.Ro., which is the fitting acronym ("Muro" means "Wall" in Italian) for Museo Urbano di Roma ("Urban Museum of Rome"): the idea is that of enriching the walls of the quartiere Quadraro with contributions of street artists from all over the world, counting on the willingness of the citizen (the most of the walls belong to the houses of private citizens who "present" them to the artists) and their very own experience (some residents turn into actual "stars", is the case of the barber of the quartiere, and many shops and bars are part of the "sponsors" of the project).
Long story short, I embarked myself into this trip by underground to reach the Porta Furba - Quadraro stop, where my adventure began and MURo is located.
It's a short walk to the entrance of the quartiere, when I'm immediately greated by the joyful "Art pollinates Quadraro" by Diav├╣, street artist and promoter of the M.U.Ro. project. It's just a matter of fact that the first work that decorates the quartiere is his:

Unfortunately, even the artworks of MURo can't escape the wild needs of the "random pissers" the we meet on every bloody road of the world.
It's a risk implied by drawing on a wall, but it's quite saddening how senselessly ugly people can be when moved by envy and stupidity.
The murales following on Via Lentuli, works of the already cited Diav├╣, but even Zelda Bomba and Malo Marfan, were compromised by some idiot of sort.
Same goes for "Scacco al Re", by Camilla Falsini, that is now only partially appreciable (here's the detail of "The Knight"):
Childish insults of sort to the project can be found around the place. It's saddening and disheartening, but this is how the world goes.
In my opinion, this would be a great spot for a new murales:
I hope that it'll get covered up soon.
On the other side, it's endearing how the most of the people living there support and patrocinate the activities of MuRo.

...I continued with my walk.
Somehow I reached Via dei Posoni, with the stunning contributions of Ron English, Beau Stanton and Jim Avignon.


The public park of Giardino dei Ciliegi is another spot decorated with cute murales by various artists: the children of the quartiere themselves told the artists what they wanted to see drawn on the walls:


Then, when I tried to get back to Via dei Lentuli, I stumbled over this little spot decorated by Alessandro Sardella, where I got my first surprise:

--That's the site of MURo itself?! I peeked inside but I found it empty, suddenly someone got out to call me out, offering me a map XD
When there I got to know that there are some other murales that are not reported on the map and that Fin DAC, an Irish artist, is taking care of a new wall around Via dei Quintili.
Motivated and extra-excited, I resume my walk with the new informations.

I reach the underpass of Via dei Lentuli, where I checked the fun pieces of Gio Pistone and Mr. Thoms:



Next is the disturbing piece of Gary Baseman, dedicated to Q44, when 900 citizens of Quadraro where deported into Nazi camps.

Entering Via del Monte Grano I found my favourite piece, "Nest of Wasps" by Lucamaleonte. I enjoyed the pieces of this artist over Ostiense too, it was very nice to find him again ♥


On the wall in front of it I found these pieces too:

I didn't find them on the list of artworks of Project MURo, but I included them into this post 'cause I believe that they are indeed worth a mention, if just photographic.

Following the road, I stumbled over the majestic piece of Nicola Alessandrini:





Walking around the park Giardino del Monte del Grano, I found another anonymous piece:
It looks unfinished, as a tribute to the nearby open market!

I finally reached Via dei Quintili, where is one of the newest interventions, the piece of Veks Van Hillik:


As promised, on a side street, I found Fin DAC who was working on his piece, supported by Giorgio.
I consider myself lucky, I had the chance to take some pictures of the work in progress:



Unfortunately I could stay only for a limited time, so I couldn't see the finished work.
In case you're curious, here's a picture, retrived from the Facebook account of MURo (keep an eye on it if you want to keep yourself on the activities of the guys):
And so ends my walk and this tiny report on this quartiere full of stories and history...See you again, Free Quadraro!
In case you're willing to support or take part into the activities organized by MuRo, I suggest you to take a peek to their website, where you can buy artworks of the involved artists, and the already mentioned Facebook account, where you can keep updated on the events, meetings and street art actions.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Stalking Augustus: a walk to celebrate the bimillenary anniversary of the death of the First Emperor of Rome

"August", the eight month of the year, takes its name from the first Emperor of Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, better known as Augustus.
When offered to rename a month of the Roman calendar (after Julius Caesar, his stepfather, started the trend with "July") instead of picking the month when he was was born (September) he went with the month when he was elected consul in 43 BC.
Curiously, August was the month when Augustus would meet in death, on 14 AC.

As you may expect, the celebrations for the bimillenary anniversary of Augustus' death, falling on August 19 of this year, met lots of anticipation, more or less met by the touristic organization of the city, so I decided to tribute this important figure in Roman, Italian and -why not, even European and Worldwide culture.
The past month, in fact, I decided to take a walk around the center of Rome, taking a peek to the places and monuments dedicated to the Divi Princeps, to celebrate his memory, his tasks and get to know him better.
Go here for the link to the Google Map, that I compiled for your very practical use.

So, I started my walk from the Roman Forum.
It's always intriguing to check on some ruins, even if they can be quite difficult to read and appreciate, the most of time.

My first stop was the Arch of Augustus, which ruins can be found between Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Temple of Divus Julius, by the Temple of Vesta.
This arch is nicknamed "Parthian Arch", as it celebrated the return of the Parthian standards. It was built around 20 BC. Originally it sported three passageways and it replaced a previous arch, the "Actian Arch", that celebrated the victory of Actium on 30 BC.


The capital that can be spot on the top of the ruin comes from one of the columns that decorated it.
We can only imagine its original look, as the only evidences about it can be found on ancient coins, released in that period.

Next are the ruins of the Temple of Augustus, that can be found behind the Basilica Julia, next to the church of Santa Maria Antiqua.
The temple was built after the Emperor's death as a mean for his deification. The contruction was started by his stepson Tiberius, but the work was concluded only on 37 AC by Tiberius' successor, his son Caligula.

Very little is known about the look of this temple, and again, the only evidence of its looks comes from a coin where Emperor Antonius Pius celebrated its last restoration on 158 AD. From this reproduction we got to know that the temple featured also a statue of Livia, Augustus' third wife.
Chronicles of the time reminded us about a famous painting, a portrait of Hyacintus, that Tiberius placed in the temple as a decoration.
Together with the temple, Tiberius built a huge library that has been destroyed by the building of the church, known as "Bibliotheca Templi Augusti".

After this first walk, up I went as I tried to reach the Palatine Hill.
That was one hell of a walk (*cough* because I got distracted by the huge Domus Augustana, the residence of Emperor Dominitian *cough*), but I finally found some reassuring indications, as I caught sight of the roof of the domus--


--Unfortunately when I got there I realized that the spot was closed, as it's open only in the morning and early afternoon. NUOOO D':
That was really disappointing, but I spent my time looking around anyway, as the place is quite important itself.
Augustus was the first to build his home residence over Palatine Hill, as it hosted the original location of the city of Rome, identified with the house of Romulus and the ancient Sanctuary of Victoria and Magna Mater, making it one of the holiest locations in Ancient Rome.
The fact that Augustus picked the Palatine as the place for his residential quarters was a way to make sure that his role as protector of the Roman civilization, culture and religion was absolute.
Over there he built a Temple of Apollus, his tutelar deity, to remark the divine origin of his family, even if through adoption.
Later on, all the emperors of Rome would build their residences on the Palatine; the modern concept of "palace" has its roots from there. Literaly.

As I sighed at the idea of building my very own thermae on top of the attic of my palace with a view on Circus Maximus, I got out of the Roman forum to reach the Imperial Fora, and take a peek at the Forum of Augustus (of course)--
I took my walk on a Sunday, so I could enjoy Via dei Fori Imperiali as a pedestrial street. Aaah, I love it∼

This modern bronze copy of Augustus signs the site of the very center of his political and social influence, the Forum of Augustus.


The focal point of the forum is the Temple of Mars Ultor ("Mars the Avenger"), that Augustus promised to build once the death of Julius Caesar was avenged through a war against his killers, the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC.

The building was concluded only on 2 BC, showing us the difficulties of building something in Rome aren't just a modern issue.
As the Roman Forum lost its importance for public discussions of political and law issues due to its overcrowding, the most of the celebrations moved to the Forum of Augustus.
It's said that the location was richly decorated with coloured marbles coming from all over the empire, but that the enclosing walls were made of local Roman stone, as to suggest that the identity of Rome was there to protect and balance the diversity of the empire.

Now, we'll skip through Roman age to Middle age for a fun, interesting story concerning Augustus.

First of all, we have to reach the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, that we can find tucked between the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II and the Capitol Hill.
This lovely Gothic church was built by predating the marbles of the Palatine and Fora around. For example, the huge stairs at its entrance were made with the marble of the Imperial Forum.
By entering inside you can see that the columns decorating the church are of blatant ancient Roman origin, but among the others, you can see that the third one from the entrance sports a different look and a curious inscription:

The incription says, "A cubiculo Augustorum" which means "From the Bedroom of Augustus".
But why a Catholic church would decide to host a column coming from the bedroom of a Roman Emperor and boast about it?

It's all because the Middle Ages legend of Augustus and the Tiburtine Sybil.
There are various versions of the story, that goes like this: the Romans wanted to make a deity out of Augustus, but the Emperor was a bit worried about it, so he asked the sybil if it was the case.
The sybil replied that a "Real God" was about to be born in the Empire. While doing so, she pointed to the sky, where Augustus spotted the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus in her arms.
Shocked and moved by the vision, Augustus ordered the building of an altar to the "Unknown God", an altar that later would become known as "Altar of the Sky", Ara Coeli, in fact.

The Ara Coeli is still treasured in the church, even if a bit hidden.
You can find it under the little temple dedicated to Saint Helena. On the top decoration you can spot Augustus kneeling down and the Virgin Mary and Jesus of the vision:



That was a fun deviation from my walk, that proceeded along Via del Corso.
It's time to check two obelisks that Augustus brought to Rome from Heliopolis in 10 BC.
The first one is now located in Piazza Monte Citorio and is nicknamed as Campense, as it was part of a sundial originally located in Campus Martius.


The inscription on the base of the obelisk tells us its origin and whereabouts.
We got to know that Augustus brought this obelisk from Egypt as a gift to the Roman people, that it originally belonged to King Sesostridis (in reality it was built by Psamtik II), was used as part of a sundial and that Benedict XIV first found it but it was Pius VI who cleaned it up and put it back to its original splendour, placing it on its actual location in 1792.
The obelisk was fixed and erected by the architect Giovanni Antinori.

The second obelisk is now placed in Piazza del Popolo.
It's known as Flaminio, as it's located in front of Porta Flaminia:

Again, you can get all the required informations from the basement of the column, where Pope Sistus V made sure to tell us that he found this obelisk destroyed by the Goths, and that he restored and put it in its original place on 1589.
This obelisk was originally placed as the spina of the Circus Maximus. Probably it was originally built by Ramses II.

Now we walk back to close our tour by paying our homages to the memory of the Emperor by visiting his resting place.
We reach Piazza Augusto Imperatore where we can try to spot the ruins of the Mausoleum of Augustus, the monumental tomb that he erected on 28 BC for himself and his relatives.
The monument is now closed to the public, but one can still try to take a peek from the outside.
The square is an example of the attempt during Fascism to give visibility to the historical locations, unfortunately even by using some very rough methods.
One of them was the restyling of the square, and the moving of the Ara Pacis from its original location to the current one, closer to the mausoleum.

The actual Museum of Ara Pacis is the work of the American architect Richard Meier and his sign. It was completed on April 2006.
The Ara Pacis was built on 13 BC and dedicated by the Roman Senate to Augustus, who was coming back victorious from his missions in Spain and France.
As the name suggests, it celebrated the peace restored by Augustus thanks to his military task that gave stability to the empire as never before.


Inside the museum you can find some interesting researches about the monument, and a scale model of the original look of the place, together with the original allocation of the Ara and the look of the sundial of Campus Martius:

As the map is quite detailed, I tried to identify the locations on my own map of the city and decided to go back to the area of Monte Citorio to see if I could find some hints.

According to my researches, the sundial was placed on what is now occupied by the parliament, so I went to investigate over Piazza del Parlamento.
On the square is a building where you can find this inscription:
It says that Pope Benedict XIV found the destroyed obelisk in this place and decided to restore it for the "benefit of knowledge", but as it was destined to be destroyed again by time, he left this inscription as a memento.
It's said that part of the "stone pavement set with brazen rules for observing the sun's shadows" is still preserved under the actual building, and it could be visited by making a reservation... It's interesting, next time I'll try to do that!

The search for the location of the sundial was very exciting, but the location of the Ara Pacis left me a bit bitter-- In the original place by Via in Lucina, in fact, I couldn't find anything pinpointing the original location of the Ara... How disheartening!
But sure it was an interesting walk, filled with some interesting discoveries, and I hope that you enjoyed it too.

Look forward to the next posts concerning our Emperor, 'cause I'm definitely going to write more about him before this important year is over∼!