So off we marched to visit The Garbatella in Rome and take a few photos. My husband was born in this neighborhood and took me there last Summer for the first time - and I was blown away!
It was built in the 1920s and was based on the model of the British social housing of that time - blocks of housing surrounding communal gardens. The original inhabitants were laborers from rural villages so they tried to incorporate rustic, medieval architectural features into the housing blocks or "lottos" as they were called. The combination of the "modern", social aesthetic with the old, rustic one creates one of the most unusual neighbourhoods I've ever seen. The other element that adds to the "film set" quality of the housing is the general state of disrepair. Most of the walls are grey, showing barely a trace of the original paintwork, graffiti (largely political) is everywhere, rusting air conditioning units hang under ornate balconies. It appears to be a lost world of low-rise houses amidst a typical urban sprawl of high-rise apartments. It's still inhabited by blue-collar Romans who've passed the leases down through generations. Washing still hangs from every building but gentrification is also evident in the odd carefully stripped door and strategically placed Bougainvillea. Some of the houses have already been renovated with a charmless, yellow stucco but I imagine that over the next few years the whole thing is going to be transformed - not necessarily for the best. As unshaved men in wife-beater vests hang out of netted windows smoking (yes - really. I'm not making this up), Prada-wearing iphone-users amble beneath the magnolia branches. I'd love to buy a property there but it's already way out of our reach!