A second and final entry on Rome before we move on to other things. I might squeeze one out at a later date on Italian urban planning more generally, but for now I think this is enough.
Hipster boyfriend long had a quest in mind to track down the abbey which produces the only Italian trappiste beer. He mentioned it a few years back, and we found it online, via a webshop called Holy Art selling among other things priest robes and statues of Mary. We dabbled with the idea of placing an order, but the shipping costs were extortionate, and we felt it would be overly decadent to have them ship from Italy a few bottles of beer since we can easily buy perfectly good Belgian or English trappistes within a 3 mile radius of our house.
When we decided that we must go to Rome, it dawned on us that we could visit the abbey, Tre Fontane, and buy the beer from their shop to bring home. Luckily for us, Tre Fontane is well-connected to Rome city and located close to the blue metro line (Linea B). To get there, we simply had to jump on the metro at Termini and then pass through the EUR district on foot.
We got off the metro at EUR Fermi, the third of the three EUR metro stops (EUR Palasport and EUR Magliana the other two). It was a fairly long walk around administrative buildings, post office and bank headquarters that seem to characterise EUR Fermi, around a somewhat creepy near-deserted funfair, uphill through a surprisingly luscious and verdant park (given it was wedged between dual carriageways) and then back down toward the road. We crossed the busy dual carriageway, and then noticed a brown sign directing us to Tre Fontane behind a high wall. The moment we entered the gates, we found a long, tree-lined avenue leading to the abbey. Although the dual carriageway was right alongside us, the high stone wall and the trees prove surprisingly effective at blocking out traffic noise and it felt strangely still and quiet.
We entered the abbey grounds and the feeling of calm and tranquillity prevailed. The monastery consisted quite simply of a church and crypt, a chapel, and not one but two shops (clearly these monks have their house in order) arranged around a courtyard. Inside one of the shops was a room for chocolate tasting, as well as a small café-bakery and an impressively stocked bar. We succeeded in buying our trappistes, a eucalyptus-flavoured one and a selection of others. After debating whether or not to buy chocolate too (we decided against it as it was already hot outside and we didn’t fancy carrying a dripping bag of melted chocolate around), we boxed up our haul of trappistes and left the calm little oasis to head back up the hill to EUR.
What is EUR?
The architecture of EUR is quite striking, I have to say. It feels imposing, somewhat Orwellian (to use a stereotypically British adjective) and I would imagine it would be the perfect backdrop for a re-make of the film adaptation of 1984.
EUR itself is a rather odd suburb of Rome city. The acronymn EUR stands for Esposizione Universale Roma, and its construction was originally intended for a special Expo in 1940 (in the same vein as the World Expos still taking place now, such as Dubai Expo 2020 and Milan Expo 2015). Obviously, as Italy entered World War II in 1942, this did not turn out as planned and the exhibition never took place.
The concept of the suburb was concocted by Mussolini to celebrate 20 years of fascism. The suburb itself is the biggest example of urban planning and architecture from the fascist period in Italy ,and it is as austere and pompous as one might expect from a projection of fascist vision. The style is highly rationalist, all straight lines, colonnades, marble, and travertine cladding and the idea underpinning the design was to heavily draw upon classical Roman city planning. Piazza Guglielmo Marconi for example is centred around an obelisk typical of the Roman ones you find dotted around the squares of Rome historical city centre. The chief architect and urban planner for EUR was Marcello Piacentini, the official architect of the fascist regime in the typical stripped-down neoclassical style which was also prevalent in Nazi Germany.
The Palace of Italian Civilisation (pictured above), or Squared Colosseum (or as L called it, the Fascist Colosseum) is the marble centrepiece of the district and looks like a mash-up of Roman temples and various administrative buildings from the Roman age. Designed by three architects of the fascist era, Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano, it was supposed to represent Italian history from Roman times and, in true fascist style, connecting this with the superiority of the Italian race. L explained that the inscription at the top was taken from a speech by Mussolini, and referred to Italy as a nation of thinkers, poets, artists, scientists, heroes, and so on. The sculptures on podiums around the structure itself represent these qualities, cared from Carrara marble.
Knowing very little about the period of fascism in Italy beyond the basics, I was unsure whether Mussolini drew upon myths of origin as the Nazi Party used as the basis of their disgusting and scary race laws. L explained that there was a weird picking-and-choosing of elements drawn from Roman history, and weaving in elements of Roman culture to justify or strengthen their horrible fascist beliefs. The symbolism and iconography around EUR was in many ways a reflection of this.
The Palace of Civilisation itself I found horrifying and fascinating in equal measure. It was so unbelievably stark, placed atop a hill overlooking the entire district. The white marble juxtaposes sharply with the green treelined avenues and parks dotted around EUR, which despite the austere rationalist architecture, leaves a weirdly pleasant feeling of coolness and airiness in a city that gets extraordinarily hot and humid in summer.
EURPalas was also architecturally intriguing. The Palasport is a stadium that was completed later, in 1960 for the Rome Olympics. It has a pleasingly 1960s style aesthetic, spaceship-like and a bit Buckminster Fuller-esque. Although it underwent major renovations in the early 2000s and is nowadays still used as a basketball arena and concert venue, it still retains the typical 1960s form. The artificial lake, also constructed for the 1960 Olympics, is still intact.
In general, the EUR district was a surprising contrast to the historical city centre of Rome. We went there on a Thursday morning, and the area was extremely quiet so we had plenty of time and space to wander around the district. Definitely worth doing, if only to enjoy the contrast with the rest of the city which is absolutely stuffed full of ancient Roman ruins.