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Unexpected Architecture: The Quartiere Coppedè

Unexpected Architecture: The Quartiere Coppedè

Tucked into the residential neighborhoods on the northern reaches of Rome between the Quartiere Trieste and the Quartiere Salario, an architectural delight awaits the unsuspecting wanderer. The Quartiere Coppedè encompasses an eclectic group of buildings designed by architect Gino Coppedè and constructed at the beginning of the 20th century to house the burgeoning middle class in this already white collar quarter of the city.

Passing under the Arcone, an imposing arch which connects Via Tagliamento to the heart of the neighborhood, Piazza Mincio, your eyes will inevitably be drawn upwards as you take in the elaborate and whimsical decorative elements covering the archway. If you look closely, you may spot Gino Coppedè himself, sculpted into one of the supporting columns.

On the other side of the arch, you will find you have passed into a fanciful parallel world, the brainchild of Coppedè. As you walk along the Palazzo degli Ambasciatori, the tinkling of water from the numerous stone frogs decorating the central fountain in Piazza Mincio block out the sounds of bustling modern Rome beyond these walls and you will find yourself in one of the city's most peaceful corners to pause and relax or read for awhile.

The call of Piazza Mincio's frogs seems to have had a magnetic effect on the Beatles, as well, as they once took a dip in this very fountain after performing at the nearby famous club, Piper.

Aside from being a peaceful respite from the city, Piazza Mincio is also the best vantage point to take in the entirety of the Coppedè quarter. Notice in particular the fabulously decorated Villino delle Fate, the Palazzo del Ragno, and the Palazzo degli Ambasciatori mentioned above.

Coppedè's Otherworld

This is the Rome that visitors rarely see and never expect, an Liberty-period "otherworld" encompassing a handful of streets lined with 15 buildings of varying sizes, heights, and decorative styles. Indeed, many Romans have never seen this residential masterpiece on the outskirts of their bustling capital. When Coppedè began his project in 1915, the native of Florence was new to Rome and unprepared for the negative outpouring of criticism his admittedly offbeat style would unleash.

According to legend, the architect took his own life as a result of the criticism he received after unveiling his creation. He had been working in Genoa for a British client after building his professional reputation in Milan, where the Liberty decorative style was in fashion. In Italy's capital city, however, the Rationalist architectural movement was the most predominant, with its theatrical and monumental style. I learned all this from local guide Carla Ciccozzi, resident of Coppedè who leads organized day and evening tours of the neighborhood.

The World Inside Rosafuria

As I admired the fantastical complex recently, Italian actress Margherita Buy passed by, snapping me out of my turn-of-the-century reverie and I turned my thoughts to the less esoteric delights of shopping. On nearby Via Tagliamento I stopped in at Rosafuria, which specializes in clothing and home accessories with a retro and design twist. Labels like St. Martins, Nümph, Cream, Kaffe, Anonyme crowd the clothing racks, kitchen and house knick-knacks the shelves, and in the main room of the shop kids (including my own) brandish colored markers as they create masterpieces during afternoon art workshops.

France, Shoes, and Gelato

For a taste of France, VA SA NO sells high-end French goodies and organizes tastings of vin every Thursday. With our pain au chocolat as sustenance, we wandered down Viale Regina Margherita to admire the gorgeous window display of Stenlio Malori, where the shoes are both beautiful and affordable. As we felt we needed a bit more sugar, we stopped in at sinful Duranti up the street for one of the their famous millefoglie pastries, and then nearby Gelateria dei Gracchi, considered one of the best gelato purveyors in Rome.

The English Garden at Villa Torlonia

If you haven't had your fill of Liberty design at Coppedè, you can also visit Villa Torlonia in the same neighborhood, which is one of the most modern of elegant Roman villas (and was Mussolini's official residence from 1925 to 1943) and known for its charming English garden. If you're lucky, you'll be able to fit in a visit to the Casina delle Civette, a pretty Liberty-style mansion located in the Villa Torlonia park. To get there, take Viale Gorizia, stopping in first at the lovely bookshop-cafè Tra le Righe. But be forewarned: will be hard-pressed to leave once you get settled in at this lovely local spot.

The Highlights of Via Chiana

As our favorite neighborhood shoe shop Stenlio Malori (see above) was out of my size, we headed for the tiny boutique on Via Chiana which carries the Melissa Vivienne Westwood line. This under-the-radar shop doesn't advertise (you can't even find it on the web) and closes at 6:00 pm, but the hunt is worth it as the entire length of Via Chiana is lined with eclectic shops and boutiques to hold your interest, from the Emporio Polli, specializing in designer home accessories, to Susina Bistrot, with organic goodies served in a hip space hosting temporary art shows. If you're looking for a good, simple meal to break up your shopping, Osteria Chiana is a good choice, though you may have to make reservations.

I glanced at my watch and realized that I had lost track of time and was late to pick up my little ones who had been left to their Pollock-esque creations at Rosafuria. The style was Liberty in this quarter...but my afternoon of liberty was over. It was time to leave the past (and the shopping) behind and head back to 2014!

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