…so little time. On our site director’s recommendation I went to visit the Centrale Montemartini, a former power station converted into a museum that contains artifacts from several Roman sites. The idea is brilliant, and I had a blast, aided by the presence of dozens of high school art and design students who were working in groups analyzing the designs in front of them.
- I took no pictures, mostly because there were always hordes of those students around and I’m not interested in violating Italian privacy laws, so I am pulling a couple from the google.
- The contrast between the industrial machinery (and what was required to produce it) and the estates of wealthy Romans made me think about the ways that contemporary archaeological cycles are receding rapidly in the amount of time it takes for them to become ruins. This plant was commissioned in 1912 – to what I’m sure was a lot of hoopla – and yet it was worthless by 1963. The ruins that are planted in the space that come from republican and imperial Rome span hundreds of years, a time that saw very little change in technology. A sign of modernity and progress becomes just another relic, and the cycle from innovative technique to ruin happens increasingly quickly.
- And of course the fifty year cycle is no more, as the compelling archives at the Learning Games Initiative in Tucson demonstrate. Fifty years ago in computer history has us still using vacuum tubes and punch cards…
- The museum added Pope Pius IX’s funeral train in 2006, a beautiful contrast or update to the Roman funeral markers present.
- The train, much as the power plant itself, is a marker of a very specific time, one that starts shortly before WWI and encompasses the technological horrors of WWII (as well as the beginning of the Cold War). The oddity seemed particularly clear in some of the added showy touches, ones that feel in direct contrast to the Roman practicality of depicting hunts and showing piety to the gods.
- It also struck me how unconcerned the Romans seemed to be (which may be pure bravado) about the nearness of chaos. There are satyrs fighting sea dragons next to men and dogs hunting huge boards, and the two seemed juxtaposed with little concern for the differences in space and time.
- On the other hand, the power plant is full of ways to prevent chaos, at least in the form of an explosion. Dials and gauges are everywhere, and even the location is designed to mitigate damage as it was placed outside the walls, outside even Testacchio, which was (and still is, mostly) blue-collar.
- There is no searching for the origin point for the Romans – they live it. It’s only us relatively moderns who desperately try to find out where we came from.