In central Rome, just a stone’s throw from the old city centre, we find one of the most characteristic of the city’s quartieri or boroughs. Actually it is not a quartiere at all, in the true sense of the word; it is, however, a corner of Rome which is most surprising for its bizarre architecture – an amazing hotchpotch of Liberty (or Italian Art Nouveau) and Art Deco works, with Greek, Gothic, Baroque and even Medieval influences.
This is quartiere Coppedè, a complex located between the two streets, Via Salaria and Via Nomentana, consisting in 26 small palazzos and 17 villini or detached buildings.
A tall, elaborately adorned arch joins the two ambassadors’ palaces, or palazzi degli ambasciatori. A large wrought iron lamp adorns the entrance to this complex – constructed between 1913 by 1926 by the eclectic architect, Gino Coppedè, who gave his name to this quartiere.
This early twentieth-century complex of constructions – a splendidly artificial blend of architectural idioms – adjoins piazza Mincio. Adding to all this ‘pomp and circumstance’ is the Fontana delle Rane (frogs fountain), in the middle of piazza Mincio. It is an imposing work, adorned with 12 frogs (it is also famous because the Beatles jumped into its basin, fully clothed, after a concert at the Piper discothèque nearby).
The buildings surrounding the square are variegated in style and size. The two main buildings feature an abundance of amazing adornments, the Palazzina del Ragno (the spider building) harks back to the style of the Assyro-Babylonians, and features a large spider on its facade. The fairies’ building (Villino delle Fate) is noteworthy for its total lack of symmetry, and its arches and Mediaeval friezes combining any number of materials (marble, brick, travertine, terracotta, glass).
The air of fantasy which surrounds this location has attracted a number of film makers. The horror film director, Dario Argento, was enormously impressed by the quartiere Coppedè, and he used it as a set for two of his most famous works “Inferno” (Inferno) and “L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo” (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage). The quartiere also appears in other films, such as “Il profumo della signora in nero” (Perfume of the Lady in Black) by Francesco Barilli, “Ultimo tango a Zagarlo” (Last Tango in Zagarol) by Nando Cicero, and “Audace colpo dei soliti ignoti” (Fiasco in Milan, also known as Hold-up à la milanaise) by Nanni Loy, starring Vittorio Gassman.