I’ve been meaning to visit the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions (Museo Nazionale delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari) for ages and today I did just that. But before we start, let me explain a little bit about EUR. A city within a city, EUR was originally planned as the site of the 1942 World’s Fair, which Mussolini intended to use to celebrate the 20th anniversary of fascism. EUR stands for Esposizione Universale Roma. World War II put paid to these plans and the exhibition never happened. Building was completed after the war and today, EUR is a residential and business complex. It’s interesting and weird (my favourite combo) and I’ll write about it more another time. Suffice it to say that the fascist influence is unmistakable. Mussolini was all about reclaiming the glory of ancient Rome and EUR looks like ancient Rome developed gigantism and threw up all the way down the Via Cristoforo Colombo. Massive great buildings with pillars galore, all done in marble, tufa or limestone, just like in the good old days.
The Museum is all about traditional culture and mostly based on material collected and exhibited in Rome in 1911 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of unification. The exhibit wandered around for a while before finally coming to rest in EUR in 1956. The museum is as huge and be-pillared as everything else in EUR and is one of several museums dedicated to Roman history and culture in the district, including the Museum of Roman Civilization (Museo della Civiltà), which has plaster casts of Roman treasures and a large scale model of Rome at the time of Constantine. Unfortunately, all of the other museums were closed except for the Planetarium and I really don’t care for planets.
The ground floor of the museum was completely deserted and the ticket seller ducked out for a smoke as soon as I entered, only to poke her head back in a moment later to yell at me for taking photos. I was literally the only one there. I heard a lot of music coming from upstairs and for a while I thought that one of the guards had cranked up his iPod thinking that no one was there to disturb. The ground floor features lots of carts from different regions as well as agricultural tools such as ploughs, scythes, spades and the like.
Upstairs was more interesting. I was first confronted with an exhibit of paper maché figures of what appeared to be Asian people doing things like playing hide and seek and making kimchi. It all seemed a bit random until I explored a bit further and discovered that this was a temporary exhibit of stuff made from hanji, traditional handmade paper from Korea. In addition to the figures, there were clothes and boxes and furniture and they were beautiful. I guess this was intended to be some sort of cultural exchange or something.
In the next room, I discovered that what I had taken to be an iPod was actually the Gruppo di Ricerca Popolare practicing for a concert later this afternoon. These guys do research on traditional songs from around Italy and perform them. They sounded great and I listened for a little while before proceeding with my tour.
The rest of the exhibit featured clothes from the different regions. They mostly dated from the 19th and early 20th Centuries and were very colourful. So much for my notion that Italians in days of yore only wore black. There were also masks and votives, furniture, dolls, jewelry, ceramics and paintings. There were also wooden blocks for making religious tattoos, apparently a big thing in Loreto (central Italy) until it was outlawed in the 1870s because people kept getting blood poisoning from dirty needles. All in all, it was pretty fascinating stuff, although I could have done with fewer scythes.
Heading home, I passed by the Colosseum and was struck by the contrast between the massive throngs thronging there, being raucous and having their photos taken with gladiators, and the near emptiness of the nice big museum in EUR. You could do worse than spend a few hours there the next time you’re in Rome.
Museo Nazionale delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari, Piazza Guglielmo Marconi 8, Rome. Tel: (39) 06 5926148 – (39) 06 5910709
Open daily, Tuesday-Sunday, 9 am to 8 pm