The Embattled Pincio

After six years of a three-way tug-of-war between speculators, politicians and ordinary citizens, the Giardino del Pincio, formerly one of Rome’s most beautiful gardens, is a shadow of its former self. One corner is occupied by a fenced-off area containing abandoned building materials. Another corner is fenced off around the Casina Valadier. A third corner, overlooking the Muro Torto, is occupied by park service buildings.

It all started in 2001 when the bridge connecting the Pincio to Villa Borghese was “restored” in spite of exhibiting no signs of needing it. The bridge’s road surface was torn up, material below it was removed and replaced by massive reinforced concrete beams, then it was resurfaced to look the same as it did before. No explanation was given for this work, though years later it became clear that the Pincio project started with this strengthening of the bridge: heavy trucks laden with earth could now cross it safely.

In Spring 2003 cores were drilled in the Pincio terrace (Piazza Napoleone I) to find out what lay below the surface. Upon being asked the purpose of this work, the engineer in charge blandly replied that the city was finding out how deep the earth fill was behind the Valadier terrace.

In late August of 2004, excavations began on the terrace of the Pincio. Efforts by this author to photograph the results (obviously ancient remains) were rebuffed by the archeologists in charge, and an opaque fence was built around the site. Nonetheless photographs were taken and published on this website. On October 4th, after just five weeks, the excavation was rapidly filled in and the terrace resurfaced. The mayor issued a statement saying that no archeological remains had been revealed by the excavation (“I sondaggi non hanno trovato preesistenze archeologiche”).

In 2006 plans were announced for the hollowing out of the Pincio under the gardens in order to build a seven storey underground parking garage. The project was sponsored by ATAC, Rome’s transportation company. When newspapers published some of the 2004 excavation photos from the Studium Urbis website, Italia Nostra took up the question, holding a series of press conferences at two of which this author discussed the presence of an ancient Roman structure, probably a villa, on the site. The city government asserted that the parking garage was needed to clear the “tridente” of parked cars. This in spite of the presence of the adjacent underground parking garage of the Galoppatoio (in Villa Borghese) which is always more than half empty.

At a press conference in 2007, the assessore Morassut insisted that the Pincio parking was necessary and repeated the city’s decision to go ahead with the project. The area was fenced off with an opaque fence enclosing half the gardens and extending with a long lane across the bridge and into Villa Borghese. The Roman ruins were excavated again, while nearby, two meters of earth were removed from a large part of the gardens and trucked away (across the bridge).

In 2008 a new mayor was elected from the opposing party. One of his first moves was to stop the project started by his predecessor. In 2009 the earth was trucked back in to fill the large area which had already been hollowed out. In early 2010 a heavy steel beam cap was placed over part of the ruins, topped by reinforced concrete. In March part of the fence was removed and gravel and planted areas were inaugurated on the site of the filled in excavation. Part of the green fence still encloses the northern part of the park. This area contains nothing but leftover building materials and no activity of any sort takes place within it.

Clearly, much remains to be done to return the Giardino del Pincio to its former shape so that it can be enjoyed once more by the citizens of Rome.