A tour along the river’s shores to rediscover the soul of this city and its connection with the Tiber River
Through the symbols of the industrial archeology
If we take the bicycle, leave the chaotic and noisy boulevards running along the Tiber River, and descend along its banks, a completely different town will disclose in front of us. As we proceed downstream, along the bike path, past Porta Portese (one of the city gates of the Aurelian walls, walls which from the third century up to the modern era have set the city boundaries) we immediately get the feeling of being out of town. The dense vegetation hides most of the buildings from view, there, alone, stands the Gazometro (i.e. Gasometer), one of the most evocative symbols of the industrial archeology of Rome. An iron giant almost 90 meters high (295 feet), nicknamed the “Industrial Colosseum”, was used in 1961 by Pier Paolo Pasolini (an Italian poet and filmmaker) as the backdrop for his famous film Accattone (his first movie). The structure of the Gazometro, today one of the most recognizable elements of the city skyline, is located in the center of the area where, at the end of the 19th century when Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946), the first industrial settlements began to arise.
The transition from the Papal city into the capital of a modern state
To understand the revolution Rome underwent in the first fifty years of its history as the capital of Italy, we must step back to when it was still the capital of the Papal State. Still confined inside the Aurelian walls, this city was nothing more than a large village where the remaining of the City of the Emperors merged with the large and old noble palaces and the extremely poor houses of the peasants, where thousands of people survived on their wits and charity. Though large, it didn’t look like a capital at all. Certainly not if compared with Paris, Vienna, Barcelona, and all the other European capitals in the 1800s. Those had
already stepped into modern times, the city of the Popes, instead, stood still, frozen, anchored in its prestigious past, unable to adapt to the changing times. Once Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, the city had to quickly equip itself with public offices, ministries, homes for executive staff and ministerial officials, and services suitable for a modern city. In just a few years, the look of the city changed radically: where the parks and vineyards of the suburban villas once stood, now new residential neighborhoods arose, while on the opposite side, to the east, far and separated from the city, the structures needed for the life of the metropolis were being built.
Testaccio and Ostiense Areas with an industrial vocation
The Mattatio, the old slaughterhouse of Rome
The area around Mount Testaccio (an artificial mound made entirely of discarded amphora shards from the time of the Roman Empire) will be destined for the construction of the new workers’ residences, for this reason, here they will build the first industrial building in the capital, the Mattatoio ( i.e. slaughterhouse). In 1891 the construction of the building was completed, and it was used till 1975 when it will be replaced by a new structure. Since then, the building complex, one of the fundamental pieces of the city’s industrial archeology, has undergone various renovations. Today it is a cultural center and has also taken on new permanent functions within the old pavilions.
The industrial district of Ostiense and the old power plant of Rome, “Centrale Montemartini”
From 1907 the industrial area will expand beyond the city walls, between via Ostiense and the river, where the new River Port will be built for the landing of boats used for the transport of raw materials. Along with the private industrial factories, such as the General Warehouses for goods storage, dairy, pasta, and glass factories the municipal structures were built like the General Markets, the Gas Plant, with the 1936 large gasometer, and the Centrale Montemartini, the first public power plant, today is an extraordinary example of conversion into a museum.
“The Machines and the Gods “, a real game of contrasts inside the Centrale Montemartini Museum
In October 1997, two opposed worlds, archeology and industrial archeology will be brought together to give life to a temporary exhibition entitled “The Machines and the Gods”, thanks to its success, since 2001 what began as a temporary experiment will become a permanent museum, The Centrale Montemartini Museum. The museum today houses a collection of sculptures of classical antiquity, which came to light during the excavations for the works carried out in Rome between the end of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century.