Sunday, 2 December 2012

Rome 2012

Rome has so many old, really old and really very ancient buildings that it's a bit of a surprise to find anything new.  Just this year, however,  MAXXI (the Museum of 21st Century Art) opened and it's been a real hit especially with the locals. And let's face it, they must be crying out for a bit of new by now.

You can't photograph the artworks inside but you can photograph the building, at least from the foyer. It's quite dazzling

and from some angles, quite mind bending.

The artworks aren't bad either. Outside was one I could legitimately photograph. That's it in the foreground and it appears to be about cutting down trees. It might even be a comment on the Italian habit of pruning trees with the brutality that you can see from those in the background.

But I wasn't in Rome for the new.  I was there for the old.  In particular, this kind of old.

This is San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane, designed by Francesco Borromini in about 1630.  From the outside, it's a bit grubby but the hallmarks of Borromini's style are all there - the concave and convex curves, the repetition of design from the lower to the upper level and inside, the absolute intricacy but at the same time, simplicity of the stucco work, not even the smudge of a fresco anywhere, and the whole thing bathed in natural light.

Here's a lovely example of what a radical architect Borromini was.  Instead of repeating the pattern of balustrades around the upper level of the cloister as every other architect up until then had done, he decided to turn every second one upside down just to change things a bit and add a bit of his own style.

Another of his masterpieces is St Ivo alla Sapienza, a church you have to hunt to find and then be patient to visit.  It's tucked away behind a big stone wall and only open to the public on Sunday mornings but not while the service is on. It's worth looking for though.

The floor plan is based on overlapping triangles but once you are inside, it's all curves, segments of circles

and right in the centre, a perfect circle (representing God of course) and the whole space flooded with  natural light.

Even the floor pattern appears to be both simple and yet intricate

and back outside, right on top, a spiral directing the faithful to look up to the cross (and God of course). Even for a pagan like me, this place seems sublime.

A less sublime part of Rome is EUR, the area developed in the 1930s to showcase fascist power in a kind of 'world fair' planned for 1941-1942 but which, due to WW2, never eventuated.  The most well known building in EUR is the completely surreal looking Palazzo della Civilta' Italiana but it's being restored and is not open to visitors.

 Right next door is this equally bizarre 'man and horse' statue (perhaps it's 'man overpowering horse')

and down the road, the Palazzo dei Congressi.

From what I saw, the rest of EUR looks like a car-choked Canberra, full of medium height, fairly dull office blocks and people standing around outside, smoking.

While in Rome, I did a day trip up to Tivoli to see the fountains and garden at Villa d'Este. There is so much water flowing in these fountains

that you wonder if they are turned off at night and if not, how the neighbours sleep (and what they dream of).  I did notice a couple of them were having a rest the day I was there

and at least one was turned down a bit (all the better to see the detail perhaps).

This section is called the 'Hundred Fountains'.  I didn't count them to make sure they are all there

but I did wonder who the faces were modelled on.

You used to be able to walk behind and around this fountain and get splashed by the curtain of water

but today, the passage way is blocked off and filled with rubbish. Italy has more rubbish than it knows what to do with (they even export some to The Netherlands for recycling) but to pile it away like this is ridiculous.

The longer you spend wandering around Villa d'Este, looking at the garden

the fountains,

and the villa itself

the more you come to think about the excesses of the period.  It was after all commissioned by a Cardinal, apparently to console himself after the disappointment of not having been elected Pope.  Who knows what he would have done to celebrate, had he been successful?

One thing is for sure, it was designed and built well before Borromini came along to turn things upside down.

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