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The Architecture of Rome.

Edited by Stefan Grundmann, Stuttgart: Edition Axel Menges. 1998. DM68 ([pounds]28)

This, the latest product of the long German love affair with Rome, revealingly carries an epigraph from Goethe's wonderful Italian Journey: 'No one who has not been here can have any conception of what an education Rome is'. If you cannot go to Rome, this book will help take you there in the imagination. But your mental trip will be highly organized, and sometimes rather difficult. The 400 buildings described are rigorously listed chronologically, starting with the Forum Romanum and ending with the Nuovo Stadio Olimpico (finished in 1990). History is divided into epochs: Antiquity, Middle Ages and so on, with a useful historical introduction to set the scene for each section.

But there are problems with this approach, in that if you don't know the sites, it is difficult to relate adjacent pieces of cityscape in the mind: for instance SS Trinita dei Monti and the Spanish Steps are described in quite different places (the church being a century and a half before the steps). So one of the most dramatic and picturesque moments in the whole city has been carved up in space and time and made, I suspect, incomprehensible to people who have never seen the splendid sequence from the Piazza di Spagna with its Bernini boat-fountain to the twin-towered French church on the top of the hill. In some cases, buildings are pulled to bits: S. Maria Maggiore, for instance, has at least four separate entries scattered through the book.

The descriptions of individual buildings by a distinguished team of scholars are thorough, thoughtful and usually illustrated. All the great buildings are there - for instance buildings as different as the Pantheon, Bramante's Tempietto, Borromini's S. Carlo alle Quatro Fontane, and that heroic icon of '50s Modernism, the railway station are explained with sympathy and copious factual analysis: historical, structural and aesthetic. Occasionally there are judgements to quarrel with - how on earth can Grundmann suggest that Hadrian's Villa 'is not eclectic at all' when it was created with themes from all over the Empire to remind the ruler of his favourite far-flung places?

As the inclusion of the Villa indicates, the geographical range is as wide as the historical one. From Ancient times, Ostia, the old port, is there - as is the temple of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, much to the east of the city. All the famous Renaissance villas, to which the aristocracy retreated when the city became too hot in summer, are visited.

The book may have problems, but surely no-one who loves architecture will want to be without it when next visiting the eternal city.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Davey, Peter
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1999
Words:443
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