Instructor: Mirka Benes
Rome was indeed not built in a day, but is a city of layerings and hybrid structures and landscapes across more than 2,000 years. A great part of Rome’s delight and meaning for residents and fascination for visitors lies in its many dualities: past and present, urban and rural, building and ruination, spoliation and reuse, etc. This seminar focuses on the intertwined physical and social histories of the city of Rome from antiquity to today, as seen through the specific lens of “hybrid landscapes.” By “landscapes,” I mean the physical setting of Rome over time, its geological structure, its buildings and ruins, its urban design, and its landscapes and gardens. By “hybrid,” I mean the intersection, mingling, and fusion of urban and landscape, architecture and garden, architecture and urban form, ruins and new construction, and the social and the physical, among others. While my other seminar, “Hybridity in Landscape/Architecture,” addresses the issue of hybridity globally and thematically, this seminar on Rome focuses on one place over time. Because the city is so rich across time and the material so vast, we will focus on selected sites, periods, and themes from the macro-scale of urban piazzas and large buildings to the micro-scale of the incrustation of ornament on architecture over time and the small plots of urban agriculture that characterized Rome’s landcapes and the city over centuries.
Whereas the first half of the course will treat urban and architectural situations of Rome above all, the second half will focus on its landscapes and gardens, ranging from vernacular kitchen-gardens to elite aristocratic villa gardens. These were the two categories of land property that were key components of the landscape surrounding the urban core of Rome in the early modern period: villa and vigna (or vineyard-orchard-kitchen-garden), both of them hybrids in many ways. They take us back in time to Rome’s ancient and medieval past. At the height of the Empire, Rome was a city of about 800,000 inhabitants surrounded by the 12 miles of the Aurelian Walls. Within two centuries, however, the empire was collapsing and Rome was repeatedly sacked, its inhabitants fled into the countryside or died, and the inhabited area shrank dramatically within this boundary. By 1500, Rome had about 30,000 inhabitants concentrated around the ancient Campus Martius and the bend in the Tiber River. Most of the land within the walls and outside was empty, uninhabited. Gradually, this area, which in antiquity had been filled with buildings and estates, was abandoned and covered with soil and huge masses of broken masonry. It is on this terrain that Rome’s great urban development between 1500 and 1900 took place. As landscape, the area also became fragmented and subdivided in hundreds of small properties used for agriculture to secure the city's food and wine supply. Some of these were joined to form the elite Renaissance villas. Hundreds of others lasted till Rome’s modern expansion from about 1900. It is this peri-urban ring of properties around Rome’s core that will be the focus of our study in the second half of the course.