Any off-piste architectural exploration of Rome has to include the weird and whimsical neighbourhood which centres on Piazza Mincio, out past Villa Borghese. Though not really a quarter at all, more a sort of residential compound, it’s known as Quartiere Coppedè after architect, sculptor and decorator Gino Coppedè who planned it in 1915. All 45 buildings, mainly blocks of apartments and detached houses and no two the same, bear witness to Coppedè‘s singular, eclectic, fantastic style, further complicated by a subsequent request from the city planning committee to add an Imperial Roman character to the structures!
On a fundamentally art nouveau canvas, Coppedè painted a profusion of towers, cornices, galleries and columns, human and animal figures, clocks and crests, frescoes and inscriptions: every decorative element in the book and then some. He did it with travertine stone and brick, marble, terracotta, wood, glass and wrought iron. Art nouveau met not only art déco in this hidden nook of Rome, but Byzantine, baroque and even gothic too, so much so that Dario Argento set at least a couple of his horror films here.
Interiors – so I’m told, because I don’t think any are actually open to the public – have a modern layout and more fine decoration, custom-designed in many cases, with caisson ceilings, marble in the kitchens and mosaics in the bathrooms. The main entrance is emblematic: a wide arch connecting two buildings on Via Tagliamento, intricately and assymetrically decorated and sporting two balconies and a huge wrought-iron chandelier. It takes you right onto Piazza Mincio and brings you up short in front of a wonderful two-tiered fountain decorated with frogs, known, not surprisingly, as Fontana delle Rane.