It is said that in Rome you can't dig a hole even thirty centimetres deep without coming across some archaeological find. And there is a degree of truth in it, as many of the delays in the construction of the new underground stations in the city's metro system are due to what has been unearthed. This doesn't mean, however, that the capital's past should only be seen as an obstacle to the quality of its transport.
This is demonstrated by the new San Giovanni station, which has included in its design various archaeological treasures that were unearthed during its excavation. This makes it Rome's first ever “museum station”. The descent to the platforms, which are about 30 metres below street level, is accompanied by archaeological stratigraphic panels that plot the history and prehistory of this place, all the way back to when it was just a swamp.
All the photos in this article were taken at the San Giovanni metro station in Rome by Luca Petrucci
The project was developed by a team of architects from the La Sapienza University, headed by Andrea Grimaldi and Filippo Lambertucci, and you can read a detailed description of it here
. Now that the station is open and working, we decided to interview a number of regular commuters and other users to find out what they think of it.
Federica, 28, uses the station every day
Have you ever stopped to look at the exhibits in the showcases?
Yes, I stopped to look at them the first few times [I caught the train here, ed.]; the station has changed radically since they installed them. I even stopped to read the info panels.
What was the station like before, compared to how it is now?
Rundown, I would say. Now it looks cleaner and tidier. It's one of the best looked after stations in Rome.
Have you ever used the station at night?
No, usually only between 8 in the morning and 8 in the evening.
In terms of safety, how do you feel when you walk through the station?
Relaxed. The station is monitored quite carefully.
Do you think the lighting system affects this impression of being well looked after?
Yes. In addition to the ceiling lighting, the showcases are lit up too. This helps particularly in the corridor that runs between the C line entrance and the A line.
Are there any problems that weren't solved by the changes made at the station?
No, or at least not any problems linked to the refurbishment. The main problem here is that since the C line connection was opened, the station has always been too overcrowded. But that's an Atac management problem that has to do with the number of trains, not the station itself.
Matteo, 34, not a habitual user
In your experience, does this station stand out from other stations?
The Metro C part is really cool and very stylish!
What do you think of the “museum station” effect?
It looks great, and I did stop to look at the exhibits, but I don't know if many people do. It's not that the panels aren't well-designed or boring, it's that here in Rome, the metro is seen as being purely functional. Your average Roman is likely to think, "OH, THERE ARE PEOPLE DOWN HERE DYING ON THE ESCALATORS AND ALL THEY THINK ABOUT IS A FEW BITS OF MUSEUM POTTERY. I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY’RE SNITCHING MONEY DOWN HERE TOO!" They would probably think the same, though, if you took them to look at Bernini's masterpieces.
Would you say this station is more European than the others?
Yes, definitely. Everything looks cleaner, tidier and well looked after.
Adriano E., 41, not a habitual user
What do you think of the San Giovanni station?
Look, compared to the conditions most stations in Rome are in, it's not bad.
Have you ever stopped to look at the exhibits in the showcases?
Yes, but I'm not sure that I count, as I tend to read anything that is put in front of me.
What do you think is the main difference between this and the other stations in Rome?
It's the only one that feels European, at least in terms of its style. In that sense, it looks like a station in Paris or London and not one in a poor or backward country.
Do you think people just walk through here or do you sometimes see people meeting up or even coming specifically to have a look?
I don't think any goes out of their way to come here, but for a flâneur like me it's a nice surprise.
What problems hasn't this refurbishment solved?
In general, the train service is too slow, unreliable and a disgrace for a city as important as Rome. The C line is better, in that it's automated and high tech, but the seats were designed by a sadist, they’re unbelievably uncomfortable. There's never anyone in the info booths, apart from pot-bellied security staff who never know anything and there are so many delays it's like catching a train to Florence.
The fact that I can't actually remember
the type of illumination used, but I can certainly remember the atmosphere shows how
successful the lighting is.
A. (46), visitor
Did you really come here specifically to visit the station?
Yes, I came here to see the station. I bought a ticket, I walked around, I went down, back up again and then I left without catching a train. I have been through here other times too, and I always look at everything carefully. I've read all the panels and the depth-timeline that shows how the deeper you descend the further back in time you go.
What do you think of the station as a museum?
The new station is still a non-location as it is somewhere that people pass through. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, let's say it's neutral. It can't be an actual museum or meeting place or anything else other than what it is, because I don't think that anyone would think of going to look at the exhibits in a metro station on purpose. It is true that I've just done that, but I was on my own, and when you're on your own you don't get in anyone's way, which wouldn't be true of a school trip, for example. People coming here just to enjoy the cultural heritage would have a negative impact on commuters and irritate them even more than they are already. The depth-timelines on the escalators, however are fun and interesting even if you're in a hurry.
What do you think of the lighting system?
In terms of size, light and spaciousness, the station is a success, perhaps even better than the stations in the Naples metro system. Obviously, the real comparison to make is not with Naples, but with the other metro stations in Rome and there it wins hands-down. I can't remember the details of the lighting but the overall impact was good. There was none of that cold fluorescent tone that the Termini station has, or the dim orange of the other stops on the A line. The lighting is probably the least "metro station" feature in the station, given that the usual advertising hoardings have been replaced by showcases and wall displays that give everything a warmer, more intimate mood. The fact that I can't actually remember the type of illumination used, but I can certainly remember the atmosphere shows how successful the lighting is.