Last week I took a new route to see a student in northern Rome. I was wandering around the streets close to Viale Regina Margherita when suddenly I was faced with a huge building that made me feel like I had crossed into an enchanted world. Turrets and towers soared into the air, angels and gargoyles covered the walls and a fancy chandelier hung under a large archway.
Later I discovered that I had stumbled on the Quartiere Coppedè, an architectural project started by Gino Coppedè in 1915, consisting of a group of mansions and smaller buildings decorated with mythical motifs. Its style is partly Art-Nouveau, mixed with eclectic influences. It’s an unusual find in Rome, bearing in mind that a lot of contemporary architecture would have been built in the rational and simple Fascist style. Due to its surreal atmosphere, it has been used as the setting for several films, including Giovanni Pastrone’s 1914 silent movie Cabiria.
Moving nearer to the building, I took some time to observe the different patterns and subjects around the windows and arches. I spotted angels, cherubs, bees, gargoyles and theatrical masks. I read later that a lot of Coppedè’s inspiration had come from Ancient Rome, seen in the use of themes from classic mythology and elements styled on Roman temples, such as the columns framing the windows.
I walked through the huge archway, under the chandelier, towards Piazza Mincio, where I saw more unusual mansions in the distance.
I wandered all the way down to the central square, where I saw the “Fountain of the Frogs”, decorated by little frogs jutting water from their mouths. Apparently The Beatles jumped in here with their clothes on one night after playing a gig at the nearby Piper Club.
Behind this was an ornately decorated complex of buildings, which I later discovered to be the “Villini delle Fate” or Fairy Cottages. The walls were decorated with pretty frescoes depicting scenes from Florentine and Venetian life.
The gargoyles above its windows were especially interesting.