Postcard from Rome, Italy: Afflicted by a case of leo-mania

I give up. I can’t locate a word for it. Leo-mania? Highly contagious for camera lenses, particularly when held in the hand of a Leo.

Whatever the appropriate label might be, Romans through the centuries appear obsessed by lions. Ancient art, classical art, papal art, Renaissance art and even contemporary art continually focus on the lion. Lions are everywhere.

The lion is considered a symbol of strength. A powerful hunter devouring animals. An opponent for gladiators. A way to dispose of Christians, although not employed as often as numerous other methods of torturing them to death. By the time Romans felt the need to dispose of Christians, lions were becoming rather scarce in what we now know as Italy. They had to be imported for sporting events from Greece and, more often, from Africa.

But even when behaving savagely, as with a severed human head under-paw, the lions found along the streets of Rome and in her palaces and churches generally appear gentle. As lovable as the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. Pet-able. The stylized Egyptian lions in the fountain surrounding the obelisk at the center of Piazza del Popolo rarely are permitted a moment’s rest from children eagerly climbing atop their backs.


Postcard from Rome, Italy: Coppede spun a magical web entangling architectural styles

There appears no name for it, the architectural jumble of styles combined in every building for several blocks surrounding a plaza with a frog fountain at its center. The Mister’s research unearthed this unexpected neighborhood for us in the upscale Parioli section of Rome.

Entrance into Quartiere Coppede is through a weighty arch, a massive wrought-iron chandelier at its center, linking two distinctive palatial towers. The frog-fountained Piazza Mincio is bounded by a cluster of structures combining elements of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Baroque, Greco-Roman and Tuscan architecture, to name a view, along with frescos, mosaics, tile and sculptural details based on themes drawn from mythology, views of Florence, fairy tales, the animal kingdom and a fantasy land of gargoyles, again, to name a view.

Florence-born architect Gino Coppede (1866-1927) received a dream commission from a building association to design a planned community with a mixture of palaces and apartments that would appeal to professionals on the eve of World War I. The neighborhood was his architectural playground from 1913 until his death in 1927, and he let his imagination and love of fine craftsmanship intermarry with few defined restrictions.

Which led to his creation of residences earning monikers such as the Palace of the Fairies and the Palace of the Spider. His work must have appeared an outright assault against the stern, stark dictates for design taking root in Italy along with the post-war rise of fascism.

Well respected in his lifetime, Coppede taught architecture at several universities in Italy. The young proteges he influenced must have chafed to work within the fascist confines demanded for construction, rules that would prevent others from copying his work.

Although the “nouveau” Coppede neighborhood still commands high rents in Rome, the impact of his design was minimalized by waves of political storms. The distinctive decorative style appears to have remained his alone, ending with his death.