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Urban palimpsest

Whispering City: Rome and its histories R.J.B. Bosworth

YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 358PP, £25 ■Tablet bookshop price £22.50 Tel 01420 592974

Gaddafi to Rome in 2009 as “a great and wise leader of the Libyan people”. Gaddafi replied that Italy should be given a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, i.e. be granted Great Power status. Adding more layers of complexity, Gaddafi told the Italian Parliament that he, too, was a Roman of some kind: the linear heir of Septimus Severus, who ruled the Roman Empire from 193-211 AD and was known as “the African Emperor”, possibly of Phoenician origin, and probably born in Leptis Magna. Richard Bosworth cites this as evidence of the differing strands and narratives inevitable in studying a city which has always been a cockpit of competing forces attempting to claim it for themselves against all comers. Although making references to its more remote past, Bosworth’s main area of study is the last 200 years, from the Revolutionary era which saw three guillotines installed and the Golden Book of the Nobels burnt, to the present day “post-fascist” sleaze of Berlusconi. Bosworth has an advantage over many historians of Rome in that he knows the city intimately, having explored it on foot in 1967 when he was a Cambridge PhD student, as well as being a fluent Italian speaker: this gives his book personal authenticity and small-scale detail. His method is to take the spaces and buildings of the city and explore their meanings in terms of the various culture wars and political struggles which have taken place around them – the Vatican, St Peter’s Basilica, the Victor Emmanuel


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24 | THE TABLET | 18 June 2011

n words he probably now regrets, Silvio Berlusconi welcomed Mu’ammer

Fountain of the Naiads, Piazza della Repubblica, Rome

monument, the statue of Giordano Bruno, etc. as well as the historical personalities who have dominated events – Garibaldi, Pius XII, Mussolini and Berlusconi. At the start of each chapter there is a map of the area of the city he is dealing with so you know where you are. A combination of multiculturalism and

geographical and monumental particularism, this is a strikingly original approach and as such gives a picture many who think they know the place well will be surprised by. Central are the challenges the Church has faced – from the papacy being driven out by the French Revolutionary armies, reinstated at the post-1815 settlement, and gradually driven back, to the Pope becoming almost a prisoner inside the Vatican under assaults from the secularist Liberal nationalists of the post-Risorgimento era. About the erection of the statue of Giordano Bruno, condemned and burnt as a heretic in 1600, Bosworth goes into detail. Put up in 1889 in the Campo dei Fiori, with lunettes dedicated to fellow heretics John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, with a ceremony attended by thousands, this was an exercise in Italian state anti-clerical propaganda, directed squarely against the papacy. Leo XIII let it be known that he spent the day of inauguration, 9 June, Pentecost Sunday,

Indian Milton Keynes

Chandigarh 1956: Le Corbusier and the promotion of architectural

modernity Ernst Scheidegger

SCHEIDEGGER & SPIESS, 272PP, £48.50 ■Tablet bookshop price £43.70

Scheidegger travelled to the eastern edge of the Indian state of Punjab to photograph the construction of its astonishing new capital city of Chandigarh, designed for 150,000 inhabitants. The mastermind behind the design was Le Corbusier, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret was its somewhat

I Tel 01420 592974

n the early and mid 1950s the Swiss Magnum photographer Ernst

“prostrate in prayer and fasting before an image of St Peter”. He also closed the gates of the Vatican, doubled the Swiss Guard, and brought in stocks of food – the Vatican under siege. Furthermore, he proposed the next day, at a consistory court, that if the Italian state became any more radical he would move the papacy abroad, perhaps to Malta, Salzburg or Spain. As Malta was a British colony at the time, this meant the Church was actually considering moving its headquarters to a polity ruled by the head of a rival Church, viz. the Anglican. Garibaldi, no less radical, proposed that the Tiber be drained, paved over and used as a parade ground for triumphalist celebrations. Yet the nationalist regime fell, as did its successor the fascist state, and the papacy regained strength. Bosworth is surely correct to see the reign

of Pope John Paul II as marking a change of emphasis. A truly international Pope, he was ceaselessly on the move, deeply engaged in the struggle for human rights and the developing quest for freedom in Eastern Europe. Stalin asked cynically, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” but Karol Wojtyla demonstrated that moral force can be stronger than any number of divisions. The Church was “on the right side of history” in the struggles of Solidarity in Poland; Rome, through the papacy, became a centre of international progressive political change, relegating the struggles with successively failing Italian secularist states to a relatively parochial past. The dreams of Cavour, Garibaldi and Mussolini all failed, their grandiose Roman monuments ironic evidence of hollow secular pomps. Now multicultural and multiracial, as diverse as it was at the height of the Roman Empire, the Eternal City continues to fascinate and exasperate, sacred and profane cheek by jowl as they always have been. Fair-minded and well researched, this is a very readable, jargon-free history which I found both instructive and informative. Robert Carver

harried executive architect, and the British modernists (and husband and wife) Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew designed many of its smaller buildings. Unlike the more consciously artistic work of Le Corbusier’s favourite photographer Lucien Hervé, Scheidegger’s pictures capture the contrast between the heroic scale of these vast concrete megastructures, looming over an empty plain, and the pre-industrial methods used to construct them. Informative texts accompany the photographs, describing both the architecture and its imagery in their historical contexts. Although (as van Moos puts it) the vast and nearly empty city evokes “the sinking ship of modernity”, one cannot but be impressed by the epic scale of a project designed to take many centuries to mature. Timothy Brittain-Catlin

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