AAR April Walks and Talks 2: Rome’s Foro Italico

1930s-era electrical power controls from the Piscina Coperta, Foro Italico

On Wednesday 14 April Academy Fellows and Visiting Artists and Scholars explored the monumental area of Rome’s Foro Italico, originally planned (starting in 1927) and executed as Foro Mussolini by the architect Enrico Del Debbio, with important contributions by Constantino Constantini and (especially) the crucial figure of Luigi Moretti. The visit was a timely one, given that Moretti is soon to be the subject of a major exhibition in Rome to inaugurate the new MAXXI space.

Paolo Pedinelli, historian of the Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano (CONI), accompanied the AAR group in its visit to some of the most significant aspects of the area, including the Obelisk, the Stadio Olimpico, the Piscina Coperta (with its ex-Palestra of Mussolini, designed by Moretti), the Stadio dei Marmi, and the ex-Accademia di Educazione Fisica (with the Salone d’Onore del CONI). The group then made its way to see the exterior of Moretti’s rapidly deteriorating masterpiece, the Casa delle Armi (= Fencing School), and Del Debbio’s wonderfully preserved Foresteria Sud (1931-1937),  now Rome’s last remaining youth hostel.

The importance of the site and the pressing preservation mandate were apparent at every turn. For a glimpse of the sad state of Moretti’s Casa delle Armi—just the most egregious of the many endangered aspects of the area—see the recent videos collected here.

The Foro Italico’s extensive mosaics of the Piazzale dell’Impero, explicated by Paolo Pedinelli

Despite the fact that the area is one of the most public in Rome—it hosts the home field of the city’s two principal soccer teams—it still continues to bring surprises. In just the past two years, two monumental statues of the mid-30s (the “Venus” and “Hunter”) that were quite obviously integral to the original plan of the Foro have come to light, intact on their original bases on the slopes of Monte Mario but mostly obscured by vegetation.

Top: Sandro Bari, co-discoverer of “The Hunter” (1936) points toward the statue that came to light in fall 2009; middle, “The Hunter” in its current state; bottom, the recently-discovered “Venus” in (apparently) what was the uncompleted girls’ dance area of the Foro

Top: Paolo Pedinelli (CONI) at Foro Italico with AAR group at Stadio Olimpico, and (middle, bottom) at the Piscina Coperta

Above: scenes from Paolo Pedinelli’s tour for AAR group of Luigi Moretti’s ex-Palestra of Mussolini

Above: from the AAR tour of the ex-Accademia di Educazione Fisica (E. Del Debbio, 1928-1932)

For making this visit possible, the Academy warmly thanks Paolo Pedinelli (CONI), and also especially Sandro Bari (Voce Romana), Giusi Faustini (AIG Ostello Foro Italico A. F. Pessina), and dott.ssa Vanna Mannucci (vice president, Italia Nostra—sezione Roma).

Above: Del Debbio’s Farnesina with Stadio dei Marmi; below, one of the 59 ‘Marmi’ of the Stadio

From the Foresteria Sud: top, AAR Mellon Professor Corey Brennan; bottom, view of Moretti’s landmark Casa delle Armi (1936) in its current state

The Foresteria Sud of Del Debbio as it stood (top) painted in “Pompeian Red” in 1933, and (bottom) newly faced in marble in 1936, after Moretti’s intervention to harmonize it with his neighboring Casa delle Armi. Images courtesy of Sandro Bari

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