Tag: Italy (page 1 of 2)

Green Parking Lot

Green parking lot

This past Saturday I went to the outskirts of Rome to check out IKEA. Just as interesting to see the inner city of Rome, are the contemporary suburban areas. The store is located just outside the A90 ring road near Anagnina, the last stop on the Metro A line, so it took a while to get there. A number of bus lines run from the metro station to the shopping center where IKEA is. The store was about what I expected it to be (after all, they in America) but I did enjoy seeing a European big box store.

I especially liked the parking lot, which had natural “green” parking spaces instead of pavement. While the driving areas were still asphalt, the actual spaces were left as turf. A plastic honeycomb shaped structure is laid down and filled with gravel and topsoil, permitting short turf to grow. This reduces storm water runoff, partially filters water as it permeates into the ground, and is much more attractive. It also allows trees to be planted between spaces without needing large landscape islands.

I haven’t looked into cost comparisons between this system and all-pavement. While I imagine these systems require some degree of regular maintenance, it seems like they’d be much more sustainable (lifetime and environmentally) than all asphalt, which gets cracked and uneven quickly, needing to be entirely repaved after 10 years. Alternatively I’ve also seen parking lots here with the spaces paved in brick or pavers, to control settling from the weight of vehicles in addition to some permeability.

A City for the Dead


On Friday I went to the Cimitero del Verona (Verona Cemetery), when I was close by on a visit to my studio site at Porta Maggiore. It is the primary municipal cemetery in Rome and opened in 1812. It covers an immense area (see map) and is organized in a grid layout. Toward the front of the cemetery the blocks were filled with various smaller monuments and family tombs. Further in, entire blocks are occupied by large mausoleum buildings, two or three stories high. Built at different times, there are a variety of different styles. The newer ones are pretty plane, resembling a typical contemporary building in Rome. Inside are levels of individual tombs accessed by staircases. I was intrigued by how many of these, essentially buildings, have been built solely for burials. It is literally a city for the dead. The cemetery was very peaceful to walk through on a sunny day. I occasionally saw a grounds keeper or another visitor, but otherwise there were not very many people there. See photos here.

Siena in Tuscany

Piazz del Campo

We had a four day weekend in Rome for Easter, so a friend and I decided to take a short trip to Siena Friday through Saturday (April 2-3). Siena is a small city in the Tuscany region, about 250 km north of Rome. It was a very relaxing trip and the weather cooperated nicely. We spent a lot of time sitting in Piazza del Campo, the major square in the old town and famous for the twice-annual horse race held there. The irregular semicircular piazza (photo below) slopes down to one point so people gather there and sit and lay down, unlike most piazzas that are flat and have few places to sit. There were hundreds of people there during the day enjoying the sun, but at night activity is mostly limited to the perimeter restaurants, bars and cafes.

On the piazza is the Palazzo Publico, originally a town hall built in around 1300, with the Torre del Mangia campanile. We went up the tower for great views of Siena and the Tuscan countryside in all directions. The Palazzo is now a museum, which we went through too. Most interesting was a temporary exhibit on Bauhaus architecture which included several drawings by Walter Gropius and other Bauhaus and modernist architects, plus a number of architectural models of their works.


We stayed at a campground located outside the old city, which rented small trailer cabins. It was actually quite new and nice – and inexpensive. It was a pretty nice campground with its own restaurant and bar. Two bus routes ran between the city and the campground, but on Saturday we decided to walk back into the city instead. We happened upon Basilica dell’Osservanza, a modest brick church and monastery standing alone in the countryside. Originally built around 1490, it was rebuilt after being almost entirely destroyed in World War II. The exterior brickwork was attractive on its own, with the cupola (roof tip of bell tower) entirely in brick as well. Inside was small and minimal, and still regularly in use. It was refreshing to see. A few other churches we saw in Siena also had more modest interiors.

Architecturally almost all of Siena’s old buildings have brick facades, instead of stucco like in Rome. This was much more attractive, without crumbling, dirty stucco covering the real walls. In more contemporary areas surrounding the old city, the buildings are pretty similar to those in Rome and other cities in Italy. Overall Siena is a very attractive, pleasant city. The surrounding Tuscany landscape was the most beautiful scenery I have seen so far in Italy (though the weather and time of season probably had something to do with it). I really enjoyed walking through the countryside and getting to explore the small, charming city as well. It was a great short break from school and Rome. See all photos here.

Museo di Roma in Trastevere

Yesterday I went to the Museum of Rome in Trastevere, one of several museums in the Museum System of the Municipality of Rome. Located in a former monastery hidden in the dense streets of Trastevere, this museum’s permanent collection focuses on daily life in Rome in the 18th and 19th century. A lot of scenes in paintings were right around the neighborhood so we recognized many.

Currently on exhibit were the works of contemporary American painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and photographer Stephen Shore. Shore’s exhibit Biographical Landscape was a collection of photos of ordinary and familiar scenes of the American landscape in the 70s, that one normally doesn’t stop to notice. It was a neat exhibit and very interesting to see, especially in Rome. I wondered what the Italians think of these scenes that are so typical in America.

The museum was relatively small and easy to get through in a little over an hour. Each exhibit only had a few signs with background information and let the art speak for itself. (Image from brochure)

Italy Weekend

It was a pretty good weekend in and around Rome. Friday night 18 of us took part in a special one-time cooking class with a guy Rob, who teaches some semesters for the COD Rome Program, and his companion Sabrina. A food connoisseur and self-described prostitute [not really] and pseudo intellectual, Rob showed us how to make a full course Italian dinner and talked about the importance of food in Italian culture. It was held at Palazzo Cenci, the floor above our studio space in an apartment of one of our professors. With an extremely small kitchen it was a pretty impressive undertaking. I think usually they try to be more hands on but there simply was not enough room. On the bright site we got a fantastic full course dinner for 35 euro and got to see it all being prepared.

The dinner started out with antipasta with an onion omelet, followed by a small salad topped with a small slice of a complex loaf-like combination of potato and goat cheese (don’t recall the actual name). The pasta was spinach ricotta ravioli made from scratch, followed by fried potatoes and chicken with a pear sauce. For a dessert was a creamy pudding dish with cocoa powder and a lemon liquor. All in all it took a little over five hours. Interesting to see, and some great food.


Saturday two others and I went to Tivoli, a small city not far from Rome. To get there we took the Metro line B from Termini and caught a suburban bus line from a further out station. In Tivoli we visited Villa d’Este, a 16th century Renaissance villa built on the steep terrain. It was a gorgeous day to walk around the gardens and see some countryside. After the villa we walked around the city center a little bit before catching the bus back to Rome. (Photos here.)

Sunday I went with two other friends to Ostia Antica, an enormous archeological site of the harbor city for ancient Rome. Originally at the mouth of the Tiber River, it is now a few kilometers from the sea due because of sediment build up over the centuries and change in sea level. It was fun to walk through the well preserved remains and see various mosaics and frescoes. The weather was not quite as nice this day and was quite windy. Overall a pretty active weekend.

Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese

Today (Wednesday) was a beautiful day outside (in the 60s) and I had the afternoon free so I spent sometime exploring Villa Borghese, a large public park in Rome, formerly a private villa for the Borghese family. It is the second largest public park in the city, following Villa Doria Pamphili, which I wandered upon this past Sunday. I had a great time just walking around and enjoying the weather. It was a nice retreat from the dense and busy city and made me think of a lot of other retreat parks in urban areas in the US, as well as large city parks that include many different civic and cultural attractions such as zoos and museums.

While Villa Borghese was originally a private suburban party villa for Scipione Borghese, it is now public and includes the Bioparco (zoo), National Gallery of Modern Art, and other smaller villas from the 1911 world exposition here. Relatable examples in the US would be Forest Park in St. Louis, City Park in Denver, and of course the great lakefront parks in Chicago. Closer to home I was reminded of Bever Park and Ellis Park in Cedar Rapids that were originally suburban parks to provide a public retreat from the city. Bever Park also includes a zoo that at one time had a pretty impressive collection of animals.

I spent about two hours strolling around Villa Borghese and then walked back along Via Vittorio Veneto, a street I went down on the bus ride there. It is a very attractive, well-kept (and expensive) area that feels more Parisian than Roman. Wide clean sidewalks, separated from the street by grass medians and flowerbeds, accommodate several permanent pavilions for restaurant dining areas.

It was a very nice afternoon. I look forward to spending more time outside in Rome as the weather continues to get nicer as we head into spring. See photos from today here.

Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice


It was a delightful sunny Saturday afternoon in Rome, following a bit of a dreary, but relatively warm morning. After lunch my friend Jenna and I decided to enjoy the nice weather with gelato in a park. We went to one of my favorite parks I’ve seen so far, Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice in the Testaccio neighborhood just across the river to the south of Trastevere. The neighborhood is relatively small, sandwiched between the Tiber to the west, the Aventine Hill to the east and Monte Testaccio (Rome’s ancient Mount Trashmore) and old industry to the south. The area was sparsely populated with poor rural settlements before the mid to late 19th century when it was developed for worker housing for the industries nearby. It is one of the few cases of planned urbanization in Rome.

Laid out in a grid system, the neighborhood has a sense of continuation within and with the rest of the city, despite actually being somewhat tucked away. The regular streets disguise the neighborhood’s small size, giving a sense it could continue endlessly. It is characterized mostly by 6-8 story apartment buildings with sidewalk level shops, a market building, one large early 20th century church Santa Maria Liberatrice, and of course its associated piazza.

Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice is really more of a park compared to a typical Rome piazza. It is two blocks long and triangular shaped with a large playground at the wide end and a large open plaza in the center that flows into a brick pathway lined with benches leading to the narrow end near the church. The entire piazza is filled with trees and areas of green. The few actual grassy areas are separated by small grade changes with brick retaining walls and benches, discouraging walking there, so they have actually been maintained pretty well compared to most places with grass in the city. The abundance of trees and breaking up the piazza with different elements create several smaller spaces instead of one single open space which is more typical of Roman piazzas. This makes the piazza much more versatile and useful for more and different people. The scale and aesthetic of the buildings surrounding the piazza provide a well defined edge around the urban space.

After we got our gelato from a place at the corner, we took a bench in a nook between the playground and the larger central plaza. The playground was very active today with several children and their parents out enjoying the nice weather. Across from us three old men were sitting and shooting the breeze over a smoke. Soon several of the local pigeons congregated around us as we were finishing our cones. I laid a few crumbs down near me to see how close they would come. One little guy in particular was trying to get closer but kept beating around the bush. A small lonely sparrow came out from his hiding spot under a bush so I threw him (or her) a piece.

Later on a few boys started of a game of soccer in the central plaza space – the biggest kid as the goalie. Meanwhile the old men went on their way and a new crew took their place. The mini world cup was a fierce match but all in good fun. When the ball went astray there was plenty of help getting it back. A middle aged man sitting on the bench next to us tossed it back first. Then a young father passing through with his daughter in an all-terrain stroller kicked it back to them. The next foul ball went high into the air right towards the new group of old guys. I can only imagine the brief terror those kids experienced as the ball went hurling through the air towards them. But the men shrugged it off and all was well. It was a captivating game that got everyone involved.

The interaction of different people, different generations, and different creatures makes visiting this park a wonderful experience. It is a park that encourage and facilities an endless number of activities through its design and amenities like the playground and ample sittable space. The different spaces within it are at a human scale, making them inviting and comfortable to be in. The buildings and church that frame the park give it context and a sense of place, making it special and unique to that community. Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice is everything a great urban neighborhood park should be – and a great place to enjoy the day with some gelato.

Umbria Trip

Hillside dwellings

Last weekend was full of travel. Last Thursday to Friday (Feb 4-5) we had a short overnight class trip to Perugia, Umbria, followed by a three day weekend for travel on our own. I headed up to Norway with three others and it was a blast, but I’ll talk about that in my next post.

We left Rome around 8am on Thursday aboard a double decker charter bus, which was kind of fun. It was my first time out of the city since arriving about a month ago, so I was looking forward to seeing the countryside and just somewhere else besides Rome.

Palazzo Farnese in CaprarolaOn the way to Perugia we made a few side stops along the way. First in the small hill town of Bagnaia to visit Villa Lanta (16th century) with an elaborate formal garden with fountain and water features flowing down the hill above the town. We stayed there for a little over an hour to explore and do some sketching. Our second stop was at Palazzo Farnese (photo to left), an enormous 16th century mansion in a very rural town Caprarola. Similar to Villa Lanta, it sat above overlooking much of the small town. On the short walk from the bus we had majestic views of the deep valleys and hillside dwellings (photo at top). We only went through one floor of the Palazzo, which were all elaborately decorated with frescos painted on just about every wall and ceiling surface. Then we made a quick stop nearby for food tasting of a few different local foods, wines, and naturally carbonated water.

The next leg of the bus trip was longer, going through very hilly and forested areas. The road had very sharp turns, switching back and forth up and down terrain. The countryside was beautiful and a nice change of scenery from the dense grittiness of Rome. Despite winter, much of the ground was still mostly green.

_DSC0123.JPGWe arrived in Perugia around 5:30pm, just as it was getting dark. Outside of town there were occasional small industrial buildings along the highway. Entering the city was actually quite sudden. I was surprised by the size and modernity of the newer areas, with more towers, glass and steel than can be found in Rome. But this certainly did not characterize all of Perugia, which originated as a medieval fortress atop a hill. The old historic center remains a vibrant place, connected to the newer city below by MiniMetro, an automated people mover system, as well as an extensive escalator corridor going up the hill.

A wide pedestrian street Corso Vannucci at the top is flanked by several tiny “streets” that crawl up and down the terrain, winding around agglomerations of buildings. Unlike most of the medieval streets in Rome, the majority of these were completely inaccessible except on foot, many only a meter or so wide. A lot were also built over, either partially or completely, making the typical meaning of street even more inapplicable. They were very foreign, especially since they are all still functioning, providing access to operating businesses and residences. The multidimensional, multilayered urbanism here simply cannot be found in America.

StreetHilltop Perugia was very posh with several stylish outlets along Corso Vannucci. It was very clean compared to Rome and the small side streets were very well lit. The paving material was also a lighter stone and brick compared to the standard dark gray cobblestone used most everywhere in Rome.

Our hotel (Hotel Priori) was just off Corso Vannucci on one of these side streets. That evening we had a group dinner with all students and professors at All Mangiar bene (translates: “All Eating Well”) located down one of the side vias. It was a multi course Italian dinner with two appetizers, soup, spaghetti, salad, turkey dish, pork chops and sausage; followed by dessert, coffee, and a lemon liquor. Needless to say, it was intense and very filling. A brick arched ceiling characterized the dinning room, with only a few small windows at one end, giving it a very medieval, almost dungeon-like vibe.

The following day on Friday was left for exploration and sketching. I walked down the hill first to find the train station with a few friends who needed to catch a bus there later to get to their own weekend travels. I then wandered around the modern city around and took the MiniMetro back up to the top. It was drizzly, gloomy and cold that day so everyone was pretty much ready to leave when we the bus came back around 3pm. The bus trip back to Rome was pretty uneventful with one quick stop at an AutoGrill truck stop. Back in Rome it was pouring rain, not making for a fun way back to the apartment. We were dropped back off at the Piramide Metro station where we had met the bus on Thursday, despite driving right by the apartment where the majority of us live. Waiting ten minutes in the pouring rain for a local bus to come was no fun at all, but hey, its Rome.

Perugia was a nice short trip outside of Rome and neat to see a smaller Italian city. See photos here.

General Update + Weekend

It’s been a week since my last post about Rome – nothing too significant has happened. Last Wednesday for Arch 528 (Italian design) we visited Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis Museum which currently has an exhibit on Italian industrial design. In lecture beforehand we discussed how many everyday consumer products came about through integrating designers into production. Quite interesting.

Friday in the morning was the weekly urban history walk – we stayed fairly close to studio in the Field of Mars area and visited the Crypta Balbi Museum. Our professor / guide Linda emphasized how this area in Rome has essentially been continuously inhabited since the beginning, contrary to common belief that Rome was near deserted during the middle ages. Rome did lose political significance in the Roman Empire with Constantine making a new capital Constantinople (Istanbul), but the city itself still remained largely intact.

Saturday I did a little bit of shopping on Via del Corso before the national saldi (sale) ends. On Sunday Jamin and I went to church and met more interesting folks during coffee following the service. We talked to Peter and Carmella from Australia, a friendly older couple that work on organizing Bible fellowships. Peter asked me how big my church was at home, having heard of the large new churches we have in America. Afterwards Jamin and I went out for lunch with Sooba at his favorite Chinese restaurant. It was quite good and inexpensive too.

This week now is a bit of a transition point in the semester. The Italian language course concluded today with a final exam, and Monday was our last former drawing session. Today we had an introduction to studio and a tour of the Jewish Ghetto area (our neighborhood by studio) with a guide from the Jewish Museum of Rome, located at the synagog. This area has an incredible and dynamic history from ancient Rome up through the 20th century. We have already learned much about this area from urban history (Jan’s lectures) as well as the Italian design course. For studio we are doing four short week-long projects, focusing on this area through the four elements (earth, wind, fire, water), to be followed by a larger final project.

On Thursday and Friday we have a class trip to Perugia, followed by a three day weekend. I am going with three others up to Norway. We are flying to Oslo early Saturday morning, taking “the best train ride in Europe” to Bergen on Sunday, flying back to Oslo Monday morning, and back to Rome Monday night. It should be a fun week of traveling – I’m looking forward to seeing more of Italy outside of Rome and especially excited for Norway.

Rain in Rome

Trajan's Market story board sketch

The past couple of days have been pretty rainy in Rome, making plans to sketch outside for class difficult. Monday we walked in the rain to the Pantheon, about a 5-10 minute walk from studio to sketch for about half hour before the profs decided to return. Today my studio went to Trajan’s Market to draw (inside) quick “story board sketches” with a series of vignettes showing movement through the space. I rather enjoyed this exercise, but would be more valuable outside to illustrate movement through a particular urban space. Tomorrow we meet at Termini Station in the afternoon to draw people in motion.

This afternoon we had the last of three lectures from historian Jan Gadeyne about the development and redevelopment of Rome. It is interesting to realize that Rome today is not what it has always been – most places have been built over older structures or modified from them. Only recently (past century or so) has preservation become so strict, arguably turning the city in to a museum. My friend Jamin is working on a guest post that will go into more detail. In the meantime, check out Jan’s appearance on the History Channel documentary ROME Engineering an Empire.

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