Rome Diaries - Week 24

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 18, 2007

Richard Meier’s new building for the Ara Pacis (9 B.C.), a commemorative altar celebrating the military victories of Augustus, is supposed to fit into the “historic center” of Rome, but most think it does not. The severe lines recall Fascism and fight with nearby Baroque churches. You begin to doubt that modern architecture can deliver in Rome. Then, after a long Metro-tram-bus trip, I visit Meier’s Church of Sails (Dives Padre Misericordioso), a parish church commissioned by Pope John Paul II for the Jubilee Year 2000. To the surrounding neighborhood, it seems a large, white ship in the middle of a modern apartment complex. The “sails” of the church are in Meier’s trademark white but were made with a new cement created by Italcementi Group, not only does the cement clean itself but it was recently discovered that the titanium oxide coating cleans the air of pollution. Upon entering the building, you have the concave sails on one side and, on the other side a glass ceiling lets in the bright blue sky. You feel, at once protected by the sails and on board a moving vessel, an embodiment of the ancient image for the Church, “the barque of the St. Peter.”


June 24, 2007

I get a glimpse of Villa Sciarra while riding the 44 bus. Its position, just inside the 17th century defensive walls of the Janiculum Hill, has a commanding view of Rome. It was built by the Barberini family, but when they died out, was in danger of being sold for housing lots. Americans George Wurts and Henriette Tower saved it from that fate in 1886. Mrs. Tower Wurts famously left the estate to Mussolini (as Il Duce of Italy) in 1928. A dedicatory plaque shows his name has been chiseled off. The villa is now an institute for the study of German culture and the grounds, once filled with exotic plants, is now a quiet public park.

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