Wednesday, April 30, 2008

1001 Buildings: A Post Office

Last Christmas some friends gave me a book titled 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die: The World's Finest Architectural Masterpieces, edited by Mark Irving. (2007, Universe Publishing, a division of Rizzoli International, New York)

One of the buildings in this book was the big Post Office, 3 km from our apartment. I had always noticed it as a "nice" building, but after reading about it in the book I now pay particular attention every time I pass it on the bus. Adalberto Libera and Mario DeRenzi's design was the winner of a competition for a post office at the foot of the Aventine Hill, across the street from the 1st Century BC Pyramid of Cestius and the medieval Porta San Paolo,

This post office is one of the many buildings from the Fascist era in Rome. It is a travertine U-shaped building, housing three floors of offices with an enclosed oval space in the middle. This attractive stainless steel, marble and glass public hall is a form like the nearby Circus Maximus and the familiar Piazza Navona. Instead of people gathering here for races and games, people wait for postal services. I find particularly interesting the lattice-like walls of the building's side wings, the strong horizontal of the long front porch, and the view from the street of the upper level of the public hall.

Here are some pictures of a 1929 fire station across the street from the Post Office. It was built just four years before the Post Office!

"San Carlino" by Borromini

The church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and to St. Charles Borromeo.

Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) came to Rome when he was 20 years old to work at St. Peter’s for his architect uncle, Carlo Maderno, and Bernini. Borromini did not get his own architectural commission until he was 35, when the Order of the Holy Trinity asked him to build a monastery and then a church for their property on the Quirinale Hill.

The Order of the Holy Trinity in Rome (Trinitari Scalzi or Barefoot Trinitarians) was a reformed Spanish branch of an order whose founding intention was the ransom of Christians held captive by Moors during the Crusades. As their website says, from the beginning they were “dedicated to the service of redemption and unarmed, with no other weapon beside mercy, and with the only purpose of returning hope to the brothers in the faith who suffer under the yoke of captivity.” Today the order is made up of men and women throughout the world working with refugees and the oppressed, as well as education and pastoral work.

It is difficult for me to put into words a short description of either the interior or the exterior of San Carlo alle Quttro Fontane. I hope these pictures and quotes will allow you to enjoy “San Carlino.”

One of the most subtle and original buildings of the Roman Baroque, and a source of endless pleasure for anyone who enjoys the play of space, light and texture in architecture. A masterpiece by one of Italy’s most unusual designers and a work so skillfully integrated into a given piece of Rome’s monumental townscape. John Wilton-Ely (Art historian, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London, and Royal Society of Arts)

This is a complete work of sculpture masquerading as a building. The contrapuntal rhythm of its curves and the complete inversion of interior and exterior space is breathtaking. The building shows that the distinction among painting, sculpture and architecture disappear in the work of a great artist. Waltar Chatham (Architect, New York City)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The "B" in Rome

My daughter Emily often refers to me as "the B." Many times our correspondence and birthday cards to each other have illustrations of bees.

When you wander through Rome you discover that this city is filled with bees!
Here I am behind the Palazzo Barberini with a crest featuring three bees.

The bee is the symbol of the Barberini family, including Pope Urban VIII, 1623-44. Urban VIII was the pope when Berninini created so many of his baroque masterpieces in Rome, from the interior of St. Peter's Basilica to the fountain in Piazza Navona. Urban VIII oversaw many other building and restoration projects in Rome and today the city is swarming with Barberini bees marking all of these projects.

Here are pictures of some of Rome's Barberini bees.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Field Trip to the Colosseum

In the 5th grade we are continuing our study of Ancient Rome. Here are some pictures of our visit to the Flavian Amphitheater on Thursday.

Rice Krispy Treats, a Soup Tureen and Turtles

Last Sunday I made Rice Krispy Treats to take to church for the refreshment time after Mass. They were a big hit. For many it was a first experience of this American sweet. One Irish nun came up to me saying she had to leave. If she stayed longer she would eat even more. She felt guilty that she had eaten four!

After Mass we made our way to La Fontana Terrina in the piazza in front of Santa Maria in Vallicella, known as the Chiesa Nuova. We enjoyed a lunch of falafel and kebabs sitting near the fountain in front of this 16th century church, part of the complex built by St. Philip Neri.

La Fontana Terrina (because it is shaped like a soup tureen) was built around 1590 by Giacomo della Porta for the Campo de’ Fiori. In 1622 Pope Gregory XV had it covered, apparently to protect it from garbage being thrown in by the sellers in the market of Campo de’ Fiore. At the beginning of the 20th Century this fountain was moved to its present location.

After lunch we wandered through the Sant’ Angelo neighborhood, an area commonly referred to as Rome’s Jewish Ghetto.
After a coffee we went to Piazza Mattei to see the small Fontana della Tartarughe or Turtle Fountain, one of my favorite fountains in Rome.

Fontana della Tartarughe (1581-84) was designed by Giacomo della Porta. The turtles were not part of the original fountain. They are attributed to Bernini and added during a restortion of the fountain in 1658. A modern restoration was done in the 1973 by Sergio Angelucci. Before his death, Sergio also completed the study for a second modern restoration that was just completed a year ago.

Note: In 1979 one of the turtles was stolen, so today all of the turtles on the fountain are copies of the originals. (Where do they store Bernini turtles for safe keeping?)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Elections are over… I thought

Italians recently went to the polls and voted for Selvio Berlusconi to be the new prime minister. However, elections are not over. Next week Romans are voting for mayor. (It is a holiday weekend so the voter turnout may be low.) It has been interesting to see the election posters all over town.

The normal advertising spaces were insufficient for the volume of campaign posters that political parties wanted to use to get there messages and candidates in front of the voters. Temporary walls were set up along streets and sidewalks to display even more posters. The temporary wall outside of our apartment sometimes got three or four different sets of posters in one day.

Workers were going around pasting their candidate’s posters on top of the posters of opponents.

Here are a couple of my favorite campaign posters that appeared in our neighborhood.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back to Mt. Vesuvius

I have climbed Mt. Vesuvius again... this time with my own class. You can follow our adventures at the class field trip blog...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


This week I am a chaperone for one of the 5th grade classes at my school. We are staying two nights in Sorrento and visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum. Next week I will be bringing my own class on this trip.
Here I am with the other teachers at the top of Mt. Vesuvius.

If you want to see what we have been doing you can check our trip blog postings at

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Piazza Oderico da Pordenone

On Wednesday night the city of Rome
planted a 100 year-old olive tree
in the center of Piazza Oderico da Pordenone.

It is quite a grand old tree!
This is looking at our building
Number 1 on Piazza Oderico da Pordenone.

This is looking out at the "new" tree from the gate of our building. The piazza is really more of a traffic circle than a park. To give you a sense of Piazza Oderico da Pordenone here are some pictures of what the tree sees.

The Via di Villa Belardi ends at the piazza.

This is Viale Guglielmo Massaia,  named after a 19th Century missionary in East Africa.

This is looking toward Via Rosa Raimondi Garibaldi, named after the mother of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the leader of Italian unification. Our apartment faces this street.

To the left of the tall building is Via Giovanni Genocchi, named after a missionary to South America.

This is the Via della Sette Chiese, the street of the Seven Churches, as it leads to the Basilica of San Paolo.

This is looking at the Via della Sette Chiese as it goes to the Basilica of San Sebastiano.