Monday, June 21, 2004
1931 Changes to the "Centro Storico"
Writing about Regent Street while I was in London, I mentioned a school of thought among planners that since the Urban Removal disasters of the 1960s has said that all large scale planning is disastrous. There is a tendency in this school to think that a place like the historic center of Rome is "organic" planning that we can't duplicate. There are two obvious problems with the theory:
1) The streets were made by humans, not nature.
2) The beautiful streets we see today were consciously and skillfully improved by urban designers and architects working for many Popes over the course of centuries and then again under Mussolini in the 1920s and 30s.
The baroque avenues of Sixtus V are the most famous interventions, but they are only part of the story. When the papacy returned to Rome from Avignon, the city was small and in ruins, and most of the Roman Popes worked not only on St. Peter's and the fortification of the Vatican, but also on the city itself, building bridges and new streets.
Notable is the processional way built from the Scala Regia of the Vatican to S. Giovanni in Laterano. S. Giovanni, not St. Peter's, is the Basilica of Rome, and it is where the Pope's coronation takes place. Once it was established that the Vatican was a better place for the Pope to be — both urbanistically and in terms of security — the processional route in between became very important, and new roads were built and important buildings established along the way. Not surprisingly, they are among the greatest places of Rome.
Mussolini had his own plans for Rome, which included improving the aesthetic experience of the center. The cross-hatching and shading in the plan above shows how some streets were widened and others narrowed to improve the experience of walking the center. Vistas were controlled and better terminated, new facades were made, and new streets cut through. The planners who worked for Mussolini were excellent, but their history was never written because of their association with the Fascists. Funny that the Modernist Giuseppi Terragni, architect of the famous Casa del Fascio as well as an active party member, gets a pass and is a Modernist icon.
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I don't know Rome, so I may be wrong, but looking at the plan this seems to be a more focussed intervention than the sort of large scale clearance popular in the 1960s.
Posted by: Ian at Jun 22, 2004 8:03:28 AM
Here's what I said, "Writing about Regent Street while I was in London, I mentioned a school of thought among planners that since the Urban Removal disasters of the 1960s has said that all large scale planning is disastrous. There is a tendency in this school to think that a place like the historic center of Rome is "organic" planning that we can't duplicate."
I see how the confusion could creep in, but I didn't actually say that the centro storico work was large scale planning. What I meant was that the particular views on large scale work and organic planning are often held by the same people.
The Italian planners did large scale work at the Vatican, around the Forum and in other places.
Posted by: John Massengale at Jun 22, 2004 8:11:58 PM
Just a comment, I think you meant to say that San Giovanni in Laterano is the Cathedral of Rome. St. Peter's Basilica is just that, a basilica.
Posted by: John at Mar 29, 2009 12:40:20 AM