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The Gallery in the centre of Rome
A shrine to Industry and Commerce: this is how the people of Rome envisaged the Galleria in Piazza Colonna when it was inaugurated in October 1922, with its shops and bank branches therein, completed after years of work. With its majestic presence on via del Corso, Galleria Colonna represented the inauguration of a building of huge dimensions, multifunctional in its purpose since it was intended both for office use and retail purposes, built after an intense debate, which started during the very first years of Rome as capital, and in pursuance of a project of exceptional ambition.It is even due to this that the Galleria can be considered as the last architectural portrayal of a Rome dating back to the first part of the 20th century, under the particular political influence of the so-called Giolitti rule, (Giovanni Giolitti was a Prime Minister of Italy from 1901 to 1914 up until the eve of the First World War).
The Gallery is situated at the centre of Campo Marzio, in front of the column of Marcus Aurelius, facing the square from where it is possible to admire prestigious architectures of the modern Rome, and in particular the 16th century palace which belonged to Agostino Chigi during the 17th century. The area where the Galleria was built had been occupied for centuries by Palazzo Spada and subsequently by the Dukes of Piombino. In 1888, reasons of viability and above all speculation, on a land of exceptional economic and symbolic value, helped to convince the City Council of Rome to order the demolition of the old building and to put on sale the area intended to be newly reconstructed, which would have certainly yielded notable profits to the new capital of Italy.
After a series of excessively creative and highly unrealizable projects, in 1908, the architect from Livorno, Dario Carbone, leading light in the construction of via XX Settembre in Genoa, presented a new and credible proposal, which managed to obtain a high standing in the district’s municipality headed by Ernesto Nathan.
In the guise – unedited, at least on the Roman scene – of architect, real estate entrepreneur and agent, Dario Carbone succeeded with great ability in overcoming the hostilities, economic crisis, artistic controversies and political battles, apart from a World War, giving the city a late eclectic architectural stance, which notwithstanding the long maturation period, presented notable rich characteristics with regards to the installations and decorative apparatus, from the floors to the chandeliers, and which to a large extent can still be appreciated today.
Successor of a tradition which in Italy can be witnessed by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan and the Galleria Umberto I in Naples, even the Galleria in Rome is enlisted in a sequence of civil architectures dedicated to commerce, which transformed many central areas of the European city during the second half of the 19th century. These buildings, including but not limited to those present in Rome, have been considered for decades, not just as an
occasion to attract financial investment and opportunities to improve the real estate scene, but also as an experiment with the codes of eclectic architecture, thanks to the new and unquestionable functional formulas.
Today the Galleria in Piazza Colonna is one of the most renowned and charming places in the city, both due to its central location, as well as due to is prestigious architectural design, without excluding the myth which has always veiled this place.
The Galleria, like Piazza Colonna itself, got its name from the Marcus Aurelius Column (also known as the Antonina column), erected between 176 and 192 A.D. The Piazza was commissioned by Pope Sixtus V on the very central via del Corso and is surrounded by some of the most important historical buildings in Rome: Palazzo Chigi, currently the seat of the Cabinet Office, Palazzo Wedekind, historical home of the newspaper “Il Tempo” and Palazzo Ferrajoli belonging to various aristocratic families such as the Aldobrandini family. The building was construed with many different features compared to other buildings in Rome but it fitted in perfectly with the urban fabric of the Capital and responded well to the needs of the social life of the new bourgeoisie such as family walks, meeting people in cafes and shopping in elegant shops. The building has a rectangular footprint with two rounded sides. Inside there is a central V shaped concourse along which all the shops and retail activities are located. Its point of convergence is directed towards the main entrance opening onto Piazza Colonna with the other two entrances positioned on the opposite side of the building on via di Santa Maria in Via, although some shops also have windows and individual access points along the other two sides. There are six floors above ground plus the roof floor and one below ground and a covered public arcade concourse runs through the ground floor.
The second, third, fourth and fifth floors have been designated as office space since the construction of the building whereas part of the basement, the ground, mezzanine and first floors are all designated for individual retail activities. The façade is part ashlar-work and part marble and travertine friezes. The interior fittings are in chestnut wood and the flooring in parquet and precious multicoloured marbles. With its efficient access points in glass and air curtains, the arcade itself appears to be cut off from the external elements of both noise and climate.
The fine and complex restoration, carried out by the Lamaro Group, which took 3 years and was completed in 2003, returned the complex to its former splendour and vitality, expertly preserving the building’s historical and architectural value and combining it with the necessary innovation and functionality under the scrutiny of the Heritage and Environmental Superintendant’s office.
The shopping arcade that took form is today a large, prestigious, modern and yet historic arcade with features that match those of the best shopping arcades in Europe where people can shop in comfort and safety. Its exceptional location in the heart of Rome with its historical and artistic heritage, its gravitational pull for a wide catchment area, the continual presence of Italian and foreign tourists and its excellent public transport links make the building a privileged place for commercial enterprise. The retail formula employed respects the historic vocation of the original shopping arcade: all the units open onto the pedestrian concourse on the ground floor forming a system of pre-eminent shops and boutiques all in a single location making it the most prestigious showcase in the Capital.
In 2011, Sorgente Group completed the publication of the volume “La Galleria di piazza Colonna”, edited by Allemandi & amp; C. The said publication describes in detail the history surrounding the Gallery, today known as Galleria Alberto Sordi, as well as of the square hosting it with all its architectural inheritance. This book also provides in-depth descriptions of the customs which help to plunge the reader into the past so as to be able to understand better the social and historical dynamics surrounding the construction of the Gallery, also thanks to the scientific contributions of: Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Claudio Strinati, Eugenio La Rocca, Carlo Olmo, Sergio Pace, Francesco Piccolo.
The substantial market target, the continuous presence of tourists, the artistic and historical background of the building, contribute to making the Galleria a privileged place, not only for commercial purposes but also as a location for organizing various exhibitions and cultural events. It is in view of this that Sorgente Group thought of dedicating a part of the internal spaces within the Galleria to photographic exhibitions, on a permanent basis, and in adherence to the Romaexhibit protocol, promoted by the Cultural Policies Office of the Historic Centre of Rome. (www.romaexhibit.it)