Rome Diaries - Week 23

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist

church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the

historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this

travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

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June 7, 2007

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an enormous complex in the Trestevere neighborhood, San Michele a Ripa. It looked official and forbidding, as most things here do at first. Now I find it is the headquarters for Rome’s cultural bureaucracy and includes an exhibition space. The building’s history is compelling. In the mid-1600’s, a local priest began an orphanage next to a hospital and sparked a Cardinal’s interest. Later when Cardinal Benedetto Odescalchi became Pope Innocent XI, a huge building project went on here for the next 150 years. Using the most scientific approaches of the day, four classes of people were to be assisted: “poor old men,” “poor young men,” “miserable old women,” and “poor orphan spinsters.” They were trained to be artisans. The tapestries produced in their workshop were often sent as papal gifts of state. By the 1860’s, the youth detention area -- Carlo Fontana’s magnificently proportioned open space lined with cells on three levels -- was holding Pope Pius IX’s political opponents. After Italy’s unification, in 1870, the property became part of the new secular bureaucracy.


June 16, 2007

Contractors building a garage have ripped a 10-foot gash in the ancient aqueduct serving the Trevi fountain. The city water company reported that Aqua Virgo, one of the few aqueducts to survive the barbarian invasions intact, “has been destroyed by their descendents.” Word is that, from somewhere, water will be redirected to keep the fountain up and running for the tourists. The Commune di Roma maintains the Trevi Fountain on a regular schedule. Coins in the fountain average $5000 per day, depending on the time of year; in 365 days, that’s over $1.8 million. The city collects all the coins every night gives the money to a Catholic charity which distributes food to the poor. Years ago, I passed by the Trevi on the day Marcello Mastroianni died. It had been drained and a huge picture of the star, who had immortalized the fountain in a scene with Anita Ekberg from La Dolce Vita, hung above the god Neptune.

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