Rome – Ostiense – an architecture walk through Garbatella

One of the reasons I stayed in Testaccio was so that I could walk around neighbouring Garbatella, a pretty residential area that many Romans call ‘the real Rome’ or ‘Trastevere without the tourists’. Garbatella is a sub-district of the otherwise not very attractive Ostiense neighbourhood, an industrial and working-class residential district on the east bank of the Tiber in the southern part of Rome.

Here’s a map of Ostiense and my map of Rome.

To get there I had to take the underpass through Ostiense station, an unappealing Rationalist building redeemed by some nice Art Deco curves on its platform canopies…

…and a rather lovely signal box.

On the other side of the tracks is the huge Eataly superstore which I would definitely have visited had it not been closed due to the pandemic. Opposite that, there is this circular, seemingly empty, Deco building about which I can find no information.

Just along the road is the Ponte Settimia Spizzichino, a white steel bridge that looks like a strand of DNA.

It’s named in tribute to Settimia Spizzichino, a Roman Jew who survived deportation to Auschwitz.

Fairly soon after this I arrived in leafy Garbatella. Once a public housing district for workers, Garbatella is now, 100 years later, a highly desirable residential area with house price tags to match. Homebuyers love the small, low-rise villas (a maximum of three floors) that characterise the area because they are built around communal gardens, a concept borrowed from the English garden city movement. It has the feeling of being a village within a city.

It’s easy to find your way around as the neighbourhood is divided into lots.

Garbatella began life on the 18th of February 1920 when King Vittorio Emanuele II officially laid the first brick, so many of these buildings date from then. The architects for these first lots, Gustavo Giovannoni and Innocenzo Sabbatini, described their architectural style as Baroque. The decoration and design does often have a medieval flavor although, in the context of public housing, it is less rich, without any marble or stuccos.

Occasionally you might see a feature repeated but otherwise each building is pretty much unique. My favourite is in Piazza Benedetto Brin.

The street corners are often more opulent contstructions.

One of the more famous buildings is the Teatro Palladium at Piazza Bartolomeo Romano.

My chosen lunch spot Al Ristoro degli Angeli is just over the road at 2 Via Luigi Orlando, more of which in the next post.

There are lots of other interesting non-residential buildings around; various churches, schools and commercial buildings.

Down at Piazza Michele da Carbonara, the apartment blocks get a bit bigger.

While around Piazza Biffi the housing complexes start to get very large indeed. The three huge lots near the square (called ‘albergos’, red, yellow and white) mark a drastic change in the urban planning of the district which conincided with the fascist period. The buildings became larger and taller to accommodate increased demand for housing. The green spaces were reduced significantly, although the idea of communal areas such as laundries and nurseries continued. At one time Garbatella had the highest population density of any district in Rome.

The huge red building complex with entrances on Viale Guglielmo Massaia and Piazza Biffi, known as the Albergo Rosso, is one of the largest.

Despite the fascist-era architecture, Garbatella is historically a very left wing area with fierce anti-fascist roots, as the street art, especially around the market area, testifies.

If you enjoyed this post, you should look at this one about the oppulent Stile Liberty architecture in the Coppede district.

A good meal and other nice things in Garbatella next!

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