Shopping malls or, as they are known in Italy, ‘centri commerciali’ are often accused of closing down the individual shops which traditionally dominated our high streets. With their car-parks, protection from inclement weather, their one-stop shopping possibilities and their faciities such as bars, restaurants and movie theatres it is small wonder that the ‘centri commerciali’ have taken so much trade away from old-style street-lining shops. I’ve discussed the very serious problem that is afflicting Bagni di Lucca’s shop-keepers in my post at https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/whats-eating-bagni-di-lucca/ .
Let’s not blame America for the rapid proliferation of shopping centres in Europe and Italy. London’s Brent Cross, Westfield and Dartford’s Bluewater all have European origins. Bluewater’s architecture, in particular, I found stunning enough to merit a poem :
Blue water lap me under zodiac’s dome,
enring me within the sphere of my sign
encompass eyes below crests of whitest cliffs;
inside your silvered pavilions cover
my being with bright tellurian riches,
join me in dances on coralline floors,
interpret inscriptions on the vast frieze
raising hearts to thoughts greater than they know,
breathe the argentine trellis of roses,
run your fingers down deep eastern forests
while pacific pines shade estuary suns;
make me forget this is just another
bloody shopping mall, stuck in a quarry
and I cannot pay off my MasterCard…
(Bluewater Shopping Centre, Dartford Kent)
Before the modern malls there were the Victorian covered markets. No visit to London would be complete without a window-shopping stroll down Burlington arcade
or Leadenhall market, and there’s nothing to beat Milan’s extraordinary example of architectural eclecticism, its stunning Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, otherwise known as the ‘Salotto’, or salon, of Milanese society. Here is the galleria on my visit to it in 2009.
But let us go further back in time and enter a shopping mall that was built almost two thousand years ago and which still has its shops intact, though now no longer a functioning ‘Centro Commerciale’ but a magnificent example of Imperial Roman architecture at its most imposing.
Trajan’s semi-circular market is just part of the grandest of all the imperial fora. Funny things may have happened on the way to the old Roman forum but, with the passing away of republican Rome and the heralding of the age of the imperial city, the old forum became, frankly, too small.
(The original Roman Forum)
Successive emperors build new fora, not only to add to public meeting spaces but to mark their place in history, Of these the most distinctive are those of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva and, most superlative and extensive of all, Trajan’s Forum, designed by Apollodorus of Damascus around 100 A.D. and celebrating the emperor’s conquest of Dacia, modern day Romania,
In its glory days the forum looked something like this:
The complex comprised a public square, a basilica, a temple to the deified emperor, the famous column with spiralling reliefs of the conquest of the Dacians and the world’s first ‘Centro Commerciale’ or shopping mall.
The market museum (opened in 2007 and beautifully set out) gives one of the best ideas of what everyday life in imperial Rome must have been like. Trajan’s mall would have made a welcome change from the narrow canyon-like streets that characterised most of ancient Rome and exist to this day:
The new market would also have provided easier access for the delivery of goods and foodstuffs.
There’s so much to take one’s breath away here: from marble floors, to amazing concrete and brick vaulting, the library and a balcony from which one can enjoy some of the best views of Rome. All I missed were the ancient Roman themselves and the multifarious smells of market goods. What a wonderful place to, at the very least, have held a Christmas market. After all, this beautiful shopping mall was built during the birth of a new religion, Christianity.
But let my photos show something of the atmosphere of this Roman ‘Brent-Cross’ shopping centre:
Who knows? On-line shopping could clearly make even the shopping mall a relic of the past, After all, why even bother to lift yourself from the comfort of your armchair when you can peruse all your big shops and compare prices at the drop of a digit.
Merry Christmas – Buon Natale!