Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Garbatella: The "Garden City" and its Community

When I visited the Garbatella I was struck by the way that the residents of this “Garden City” came together in a thriving community. The people of the Garbatella have a distinctive identity that they derive from their neighborhood.

The Garbatella, once called La Borgata Giardino Concordia, was constructed as an answer to Rome’s lack of affordable housing. The Istituto Case Populari (ICP), which funds public housing in Italy, designated the area between Porta San Paolo and Porta San Sebastiano as the site for this new community. The foundation stone of Borgata Giardino was laid by King Vittorio Emanuele III on February 18, 1920. This foundation stone was placed at Via Ostiense because there, the residents would have access to public transportation necessary to commute back and forth from work. Only one entranceway was built leading into the community, which was reminiscent of the small walled villages that many of the residents came from (

The Entranceway into Garbatella (

Soon after construction was completed in Borgata Giardino, locals changed the name of the community to Garbatella. In Italian, garbato means “courteous, friendly”. The suffix –ella gives the word a warm, feminine connotation. It is a common belief that Garbatella refers to “Lady Garbatella”, a women who once owned a tavern near Via delle Sette Chiese. As legend has it, “Lady Garbatella” was very hospitable to the pilgrims and workers who built Garbatella. She even provided them with wine, bread, and other refreshments. During the Fascist regime, there was a movement to change the name Garbatella to Remuria, a name that would honor Remus, whose brother Romulus founded Rome. However, the residents strongly protested this name change and in the end were able to keep the name Garbatella for their community (

Garbatella was built in an area marked by hills and meadows crossed by Via delle Sette Chiese. Via delle Sette Chiese provided a link for the pilgrims to travel between San Paolo fuori le mura and San Sebastiano. It was organized by blocks, called Italian Lotto, by multiple architects for a period of about 20 years. The main architectural layout for the Garbatella was set out by Gustavo Giovannoni and Massimo Piacentini (Grundmann, 304).

The original plan of Garbatella (

The Garbatella was modeled after the British Garden Cities. The Garbatella, like the British Garden Cities, was designed to be a self-contained community with greenspace, residences, and local business. The concept of the “Garden City” is built upon “the ideal of living in the country as a counterbalance to the unordered anonymous life of the city was expressed architecturally by using few classical building types and an historicizing formal language” (Grundmann, 304). Giovannoni and Piacentini were proponents of ambientismo (environmentalism); they focused on maintaining the picturesque attributes of the Roman city. The architects adapted the architecture of the farms and villages of Campagna to the Garbatella constructions. They also avoided the use of uniform building structures that was popular in Europe at the time and later characterized the landscape of EUR (Andreotti, 121).

Examples of the Garbatella’s variety of building styles (

Instead, the architects linked historical motifs to details from the different periods of Italian architectural history in a technique called barocchetto. The contributions of multiple architects over such a long period of time gave the Garbatella a diverse set of building styles. The buildings are decorated with many interesting sculptures and include patterns from the Baroque, Renaissance, and Medieval time periods. The picturesque building exteriors were representative of the historical change and organic development of Rome over time. Since this combination of different building styles was very common in Rome and its surrounding villages, people felt very comfortable and welcomed by the Garbatella’s architecture.

The variety of decorations in Garbatella (

In phase two of construction in Garbatella, the architect Innocenzo Sabbatini built homeless family hostels between the years 1927 and 1929. There were very few of these facilities for the homeless in Rome during the 1920s. In the 20s, many Italians had the idea that homelessness was caused by some intrinsic fault within homeless people. Hence, little social welfare provisions were made for the homeless. Sabbatini’s choice of Garbatella for the site of homeless family hostels is indicative of his belief in the acceptance and toleration of people in the Garbatella community.

Il Albergo Rosso: a hostel built by Sabitini (

The homeless family hostels were built in a fascinating ground plan that alternated between courtyards and residential buildings. The tripartite buildings had terraces and enlarged facades. The courtyards were placed between the wings of the buildings. The polygonal bays of the courtyards helped to outline public spaces amidst the changing spatial orientations of the hostel buildings. The street junction was transformed into open roundels by the inward-curving of the hostels. Sabbatini’s project clearly highlights the dynamic relationship between the contour of the buildings in Garbatella and the exterior space of the neighborhood.

In contrast to phase one of construction in the Garbatella, there is a decreased use of design motifs. Sabbatini’s buildings have less heterogeneous exteriors. They are only divided by heavy cord cornices and rows of windows. However, Sabbatini’s buildings were still not as homogenous as the buildings being constructed in other parts of Rome at this time. During the Fascist regime, a rationalist method of architecture took hold in the rest of Rome, particularly in the EUR district. Fascist architecture was supposed to evoke the glory of ancient Rome by constructing buildings that portrayed ancient monuments such as the Colosseo Quadrato that had a similar architecture to the Colosseum. These buildings in EUR are very large, white, and sociofugal. Instead of drawing people in to celebrate the Roman identity, these buildings create a cold atmosphere that discourages socialization ( Sabbatini prevented this cold monotony in his buildings by using stepped floors to loosen the cubical formation of the buildings. The stepped floors included roof-gardens for private use and promoted a feeling of comfort in the living space. His terraced design also added variety to the shape of the buildings (Grundmann, 305).

The Garbatella, once predominately a low-income community, now includes people of mixed socio-economic backgrounds. The people of Garbatella are left leaning and have a strong sense of community. They unite over local events, sports teams, and political issues. The structure of the neighborhood fosters socialization and community spirit.

A political mural and a mural supporting the A.S. Roma soccer team

With its combination of elements from both the city and the countryside, I think that the Garbatella has the best of both worlds. The center and periphery of the complex were composed of multi-story buildings, some of which had public facilities. I feel that the courtyard gardens between the apartment buildings are good mediators between public and private space. The gardens are positioned so that they are sociopetal and provide a good secondary territory for the residents of the Garbatella. After work, I saw people gather in the gardens to discuss their day and socialize with one another. The gardens also allow children play together while their parents can easily watch them outside of the apartments’ windows.

A Garbatella Courtyard (

Another meeting point that I observed on my trip to Garbatella, was the Carlotta fountain, the fountain of love. The Carlotta fountain is a strong part of the history of the Garbatella. According to tradition, the fountain has witnessed the beginning and end of many romantic relationships. It is also a symbol of the love that people of the Garbatella have for their community. In 1993, when the Carlotta fountain was in disrepair, the community came together and petitioned for the fountain to be restored. As a result of all their efforts, the fountain was finally restored in 1998. The fountain then won the Premio Fantasia Award for Garbatella in 2002 (

Carlotta Fountain Before Restoration
( Carlotta Fountain After Restoration

If I ever moved to Rome permanently, I would definitely consider living in Garbatella. This “Garden City” has charming architecture as well as welcoming people. I would like to live in a place where there such a strong sense of belonging and pride in the community.

Andreotti, Libero. Journal of Architectural Education (1984-). Vol.47. No.2
(Nov. 1993). Pp. 120-122.
Grundmann, Stefan. The Architecture of Rome. Axel Menges: London. 1998.


  1. This is perfect because that garden reminded me the garden I have which was made for a man who took Viagra, the final result of the garden was incredible.