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Rome, the Eternal City. From the Coliseum to… Flying Donkey

Rome, the Eternal City. From the Coliseum to… Flying Donkey

With Franziska and Suzana from Maputo, I went for a walk in Rome to show them its many layers, as it is very rare to find an old building, or a group of old buildings, that remains identical to what it was originally.

Maria Spina, an architect who taught at the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at UEM, spoke to us of a “palimpsest”: the city and its territory are like parchment, transformed by the action of nature and man, and endowed over the centuries with different meanings in relation to the societies that modify them without, however, erasing the signs of time, both natural and anthropic.

The layers that today seem to be superimposed on the urban fabric and its territories represent a heritage for our society that should not be erased, but rather known and valued. The “re-use” of buildings, with their adaptation to other functional and aesthetic needs, is responsible for the survival and stratification of the urban landscape over the centuries.

The Theatre of Marcello is a typical case of “stratification”. Built in 23 BC, it was used for a long time for performances. In medieval times it became a fortified residence and still functions as housing today.

The House of Sallustio (1st century BC) is now the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce. Offices were erected on top of the ancient structure. In turn, the Temple of Hadrian (1st century AD) is today a conference space. Over time, the Aurelian walls were also used with different criteria. In 1740-48, the architect Filippo Raguzzini (1690-1771) created a villa for a noble family at the point where the walls intersect a Roman aqueduct.

But there are also ordinary buildings that use bastions as foundation elements. The sacred place too is involved in a layered process where “the various epochs are all present and superimposed on each other”. The Temple of Emperor Antoninus and Faustina, built in 141 AD and dedicated to pagan cults, arose on a site consecrated to the cult of the dead dating back to the 10th century BC. In the 7th century AD, the temple was transformed into a church, known as São Lourenço em Miranda, which in 1602 had a new reconstruction.

The spaces of pre-existing buildings were not always “re-used”. Over time, it also happened that the Popes demolished important works to obtain only building materials. Thus, the Coliseum became an important travertine marble quarry with which, in the 16th century, the residences of noblemen and public works were built. The thermal buildings also suffered the same fate because of the rich marbles that decorated them.

Recently, the restoration of the Mausoleum of Augustus (28 BC) was completed. It is an interesting case of overlapping intended uses: it was an orchard garden, became a bullfight arena, and until 1930 it was a theatre.

In Rome, the “re-use” of historic buildings in terms of social housing reveals complex issues. The only attempt, in the 1970s, involved only a small row of houses (publicly owned) incorporating traces of medieval, Renaissance and “other” periods. The small houses are attached to the medieval tower “Torre di Nona”. The rehabilitation of the facades involved the destruction of the murals. Only “the Flying Donkey” remained, a symbol of the forced abandonment of the historic center by the resident population.

Thanks to this part of the “eternal” city, we can get to know the stories that have been interwoven over the millennia in Rome.  But Professor Maria finishes by saying: “It has not given us any information on how to protect it, improve it or manage it. As happens with many historical centers in the world, including those in Mozambique”.

The Basilica of St Clement (12th century) is a complex of great importance located on ancient underground buildings three levels deep, the oldest of which dates back to the 1st century AD. The three levels are, from the top: the present medieval basilica; the ancient basilica, in a building that was formerly the residence of a Roman patrician; and a group of Roman buildings from the post-Nero era.

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, begun in 1562 by Michelangelo Buonarroti in the space of the frigidarium of Diocletian’s Baths (3rd century AD), has passed through the hands of many architects. The grandiose arched vaults and the thermal windows are the only remains of the former imperial building.

Índico Magazine


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