Last night, I had the pleasure of attending Anthony Majanlahti’s presentation of his book, The Families Who Made Rome: A History and a Guide, in the Throne Room of the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj just behind Piazza Venezia sponsored by the Canadian Women’s Association of Rome, the Canadian Embassy to the Holy See and kindly hosted by the Doria Pamphilj family. He was witty and told lots of interesting stories, about the noble and papal families who built Rome between the 13th to the 18th century, both literally through what they built and socially through why they chose to build what they did and how.
The Families Who Made Rome – a book with a theme that often pops up in my blog as I look at Italian culture today – families and their particular nature in Italy. The book delves back eight centuries to look at how these families were and follows them up to the 18th century.
There was violence – like today, they regularly commit murder among themselves, there was greed and power, sometimes lots of power when the family had a pope to call its own, and an amazing dose of self-esteem or arrogance that drove their lives and family dynasties. They enjoyed a good show and making a spectacle -- one prince even blew up a few building instead of quietly tearing them down to make space for a piazza by his palazzo, he simply liked the idea of homemade fireworks lighting up the sky, a good show indeed, until the debris descended. They formed family style corporations and, as one line died out, intermarried to ensure future generations. Family as a business – not much has changed on this side as well.
They were concerned with how they presented themselves and used the family “griffe” to impose their personal style on the city through palazzi, churches, fountains and gardens. They even lived in clusters, all the family in one block of palazzo or quite close by – staking out their corner of the city.
The book is a good read, a combination of history and a guide book that leads you around the city by family, what they built and why, instead of by street names. It also provides insight into some characteristics of today’s Italians – how they came to be the way they are, the families that formed and passed on through generations, an Italian style of thinking, being and doing.