Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Dorigen Caldwell, Lesley Caldwell (ed.), Rome: Continuing Encounters between Past and Present. Farnham; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011. Pp. 282. ISBN 9781409417620. $119.95.

Reviewed by Genevieve S. Gessert, Hood College (

Version at BMCR home site


"La Terza Roma si dilaterĂ  sopra altri colli lungo le rive del fiume sacro sino alle spiagge del Tirreno." (Inscription on the Palazzo degli Uffici, EUR)

Scholars and tourists alike easily recognize the Ancient and Christian as the First and Second axes of identity for the Eternal City, but what qualifies as the Third? Rome has constantly interacted with and privileged its past, but with multiple phases to choose from, which past is to be embraced or rejected? Mussolini defined his Third Rome as a Fascist revivification and improvement upon the First /Ancient iteration, devoid of the corrupting influence of intervening periods and entities. But in actuality his definition rested upon the Risorgimento claim on the city as a modern secular capital, which Giuseppe Mazzini had also dubbed la Terza Roma.1 Before this formal coining of the term, cartographers and writers had also long sought to depict Rome as an ideal combination of pagan antiquity and Christian hegemony, in the hopes of defining the contemporary era as the next major phase in the city's history. For our own part: what version of Rome are we currently in, or are we perpetually searching for a Third? Should the first two Romes be recognized as closed contexts, as defined archaeological strata in palimpsest, or as co-existent and living membranes still evolving in the eyes of their inhabitants and interpreters? While many recent volumes by single authors have explored these questions of era and relation to the past,2 Rome: Continuing Encounters between Past and Present, edited by Dorigen Caldwell and Lesley Caldwell, makes a profound contribution to this subject, because it combines and juxtaposes innovative contributions on these questions from archaeologists, art historians, film scholars, and historians from the US and Europe.

Many of the essays in the volume deal with the aforementioned issues of compatibility of versions and definition of phases, but also with many other dichotomies, specifically of methodology. While some essays are distinctly archaeological (Goodson, Manacorda), focusing on the vertical exploration of the city and the implications of this technique, the core of the volume is topographical and/or cartographic. The volume includes many large-scale reproductions of maps and aerial photographs, which implement a variety of physical perspectives and technologies that are in themselves representative of particular historical outlooks. Thus Rome is in essence about urban plans, in every sense of the word: both the designs for future improvement and development, as well as the written or artistic representation of the city (past /present, ideal /actual). Another dichotomy may be perceived throughout the volume between personal and communal experiences of the city (the adjacent essays by Benci and Caldwell illustrate this concept well). But as a collection, these varying perspectives coalesce into important meditations on the exploration of identity, both individual and cultural, and on the concept of time as non-linear. For classicists and archaeologists, this volume accordingly provides an important alternate approach to chronology; though the essays are placed in a basic chronological framework beginning with the Middle Ages and continuing to the present, time is constantly "concertinaed" (Stirrup) and "layered" (Benci), or the past "conquered" (Kallis).

Following Dorigen Caldwell's informative introduction, Caroline Goodson presents a revision to the conventional interpretation of early Medieval architecture as a deliberate break with the ancient past. With a close look at several well-known structures around the Forum Romanum, Goodson characterizes this transitional period as one of measured continuity. Late-antique facades were preserved to maintain urban monumentality, and ancient materials were reused, not to efface their pagan function, but to preserve their aesthetic impact. These tactics served both to preserve the loci of formative events, such as martyrdoms, and to allow the ancient edifices to witness cultural change and thus emerge as monuments "intrinsic to early medieval culture" (30) in their own right. This simultaneous collapse and expansion of time is also convincingly explained in Emma Stirrup's essay on the Altar of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (Chapter 3). Here the placement and veneration of Stefano Maderno's statue of the saint not only makes present Cecilia's martyrdom and the history of her cult, but reactivates the process of archaeological discovery and alludes to the promise of future salvation for the faithful.

The essays by Jessica Maier (Chapter 2) and Mario Bevilacqua (Chapter 4) take up the cartographic theme of the core of the volume, examining maps and large-scale images of the city in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries respectively. In both periods cartographers and urban planners grappled with the synchronic depiction of the First and Second Rome alongside the vision for the modern city. Maps created during these periods were a complex combination of archaeological reconstruction and wishful thinking for the future, conveying their ideology through both subtle details and overall effect. For example, Maier observes that several 16th-century maps depicted the city from the orientation of the Vatican, with St. Peter's rendered in detailed perspective or plan in the lower left corner of each. At the same time, the overall impact of these heavily labeled and minutely decorated maps is multi-historical abundance, increasingly framed and parsed by both modern urbanism and cartographic rendering. The plans analyzed in Bevilacqua's chapter resulted from a more modern sense of engineering and demographics. The urban planners of the eighteenth century saw Rome as representative of a hierarchical society and administration, both in its existing features and in their designs for its future, and thus were some of the first to envision "una nuova Roma". Some fruits of these aesthetic and practical projects are still visible as major monuments of Rome today (most notably the Trevi Fountain of 1732). Yet in terms of overall strategies these innovators contended with the same complications that the earlier cartographers and later planners did – the idiosyncratic presence of antiquity and the Church – in addition to a "polycentric topography… of papal nobility and princely aristocracy." (93) Thus, their visions ultimately just contributed to the patchwork.

Terry Kirk (Chapter 5) and Aristotle Kallis (Chapter 6) focus on the architecture and urban planning of the period between the unification of Italy and World War II, the period in which the question of the Third Rome and its identifying topography came most explicitly to the fore. In many ways Kirk's chapter links back with Goodson's and the concept of early medieval 'facadism,' since Rome as the capital of the newly unified Italy was portrayed as undergoing a cultural change similar to that of the early Christian city. In the first decades of the republic, facades and montages were used to transform existing structures into emblems of the new regime; these ephemeral projects tested a new fusion of ancient and modern that would find permanent form in structures such as the Vittoriano and the Palazzo di Giustizia on Piazza Cavour. Kallis explores a similar yet more starkly strategic relationship with the past in his chapter on Via della Conciliazione. Though many contemporaries criticized Il Duce for his concessions to the Vatican in the Lateran Pacts of 1929, this architectural project overseen by Marcello Piacentini can actually be understood as a conquest of papal space, a conduit of Fascist-style antiquity into the heart of the Second Rome. The singular drawback of Rome is the absence of illustrations in Kallis' fascinating essay; the numerous maps and aerial views in the other chapters invite comparison with the conquest and idealization of space in Fascist plans. 3

Modern views of Rome, particularly through the filmmaker's lens, are the major theme of the chapters by Jacopo Benci (Chapter 7) and Lesley Caldwell (Chapter 8). Benci meticulously analyzes the connections between the actual places Pier Paolo Pasolini inhabited, from Monteverde Vecchio to EUR, and Pasolini's depiction of the city in prose, poetry, and film. Benci's description of Pasolini's methodology has the distinct echo of an archaeological survey: "The process of walking, of exploring urban margins step by step, of engaging 'on site' with its diverse, contradictory aspects, was the essence of Pasolini's understanding of Rome." (178) This connection with archaeology and its embrace of the past is all the more fascinating for the fact that Pasolini consistently "turned his back" on ancient Rome in his creation of a "wholly modern" city. (156) Significantly, Benci also makes use of archival aerial photographs to illustrate the neighborhoods of Pasolini's lifetime, which provides a notable technological juxtaposition with the earlier cartographic chapters. Lesley Caldwell focuses her chapter on the cinematic characterization of an iconic Roman monument with multiple associations: the Piazza Vittorio. In her examination of four post-war films by Italian directors, Caldwell points to the crux of the matter for any artist or scholar working on Rome: the city itself is a protagonist, with certain expected qualities. "[A] city's extra-diegetic status is a conditioning aspect of any narrative that depends upon its diegetic use, precisely because its actuality makes its diegetic use an already highly inflected one." (203) In creating Rome, a filmmaker must take into account all subjectivities to recreate a Rome that is recognizable to the contemporary audience, even at the cost of subordinating its concurrent use and meaning.

The volume closes with a valuable essay by Daniele Manacorda on the many practical issues facing a historical city. Summarizing the history of urban archaeology and planning in Rome since antiquity, Manacorda underscores the basic challenges facing tourists, scholars, and cultural administrators alike. In the end, the motivation in studying and preserving Rome should be "the desire to know and understand the whole of history," (217) including its creation in the present.

Rome: Continuing Encounters between Past and Present ultimately recalls the folk story of the seven blind men and the elephant:4 each author uses his/her particular experience and skills to create a metaphorical understanding of an essential and defining component of the whole. While the components standing alone might not provide a complete and accurate picture of the beast that is Rome, each essay reveals a level of nuance and texture impossible in a volume by a single author. Caldwell and Caldwell's assembling of these interdisciplinary interpretations of the city creates a rich and layered collage that is tantalizing and necessarily incomplete. Though we may recognize Rome for what it is – a city of many versions coexistent and ever-interacting – we remain blind men, using our scholarly perceptions to recognize and reveal one nuance at a time even as they shift beneath our fingers. This volume both gives comprehensive form to many significant details of the city and illuminates the path for further exploration.


1.   F. Chabod, Italian Foreign Policy: The Statecraft of the Founders. Trans. William McCuaig. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996) et al.
2.   Most notably R. Krauthimer, Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980); C. Hibbert, Rome: The Biography of a City. (London: Viking, 1985); C. Edwards, Roman Presences: Receptions of Rome in European Culture 1789-1945. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999); B. Painter, Mussolini's Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); see also D. Caldwell's introduction for additional bibliography.
3.   See I. Insolera, Roma fascista: Nelle fotografie dell'Istituto Luce (Rome: Editori Riuniti and Istituto Luce, 2001) for photographs of the project, and M. Piacentini and A. Spaccarelli, "Dal Ponte Elio a S. Pietro," Capitolium 12.1 (1937) 5-26 for plans.
4.   Among the many versions of the story are "The Elephant in the Dark" by Rumi, "The Blind Men and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe, and Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young (Scholastic, 1992).

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