During our time in Rome I often passed by the remnants of what appeared to have once been a thriving health spa in the heart of the city near to the main railway station. On several of those passbys I took pictures and often wondered what the story was behind the neglected facade. Last week I came across a file of those photos and thought I’d do a bit of investigation.
We marvel now at the elaborate lounge services available in major airports throughout the world however they are really nothing new. Back in 1917 the Ministry of Public Works in Rome expressed the urgent need for a fully-serviced day hotel for travellers arriving at Termini Station. In 1920 La Casa del passagero (Traveller’s House) was built at the conflux of Via del Viminale and Via delle Terme di Diocleziano on the site of the original Baths of Diocletian. Architect Oriolo Frezzotti favoured buildings in the Roman Baroque style, an Italianate Art Deco that was to become his signature throughout Lazio for the next fifty years. The Casa is one of the few examples within the walls of Rome.
Only steps away from the original Termini Station – which had been built in 1868 during the dying days of the Papal States – CASPAS offered day rooms, toilets, luggage storage, a hairdressing salon, a barber shop, manicures, pedicures, massages, and a full Roman sauna. Shortly after it opened a “business centre” was added with stenographers, typists and later fax and photocopying services. As international travel boomed translation services were also offered and English signs were added to the facade.
But the services were not exclusively for travellers as many residents used what was on offer at the CASPAS. As with most European, and many American, cities communal baths were a tradition from the beginning of time until just after the Second World War. Apartments in the Castro Pretorio neighbourhood did not always have fully equipped bathrooms and finding a moment of relaxation among the vapours of a hot bath was considered a “luxury”. The Casa offered them that luxury.
The sinuous line of the glass and steel canopy could almost pass for Arte Nouveau but the lines of the columns, niches and the cartouches are Deco – if with a Roman turn to their embellishments.
The four bronze cartouches – now much in need of restoration – follow the tradition of beautiful women personifying the pleasures to be found within. Refreshment, Rooms, Raiment, and Relaxation are all on offer. The “raiment” is perhaps a bit confusing but may simply mean a quick press for a pair of pants or a travel wrinkled dress.
As with the cartouches that betray a trace of the Arte Nouveau the column fluting, conch playing putti and lion securing the wrought iron grill show the influence of the Baroque that predominates the grand churches and palazzi of Rome.
The changing times and habits of travellers along with the growing presence of big hotels offering many of the same services led to a decline in business and neglect of the building and facilities. In June 1967 a fire broke out in the basement of the adjoining railway station and the operation to contain and extinguish it destroyed much of the lower level of the Casa. It was closed and has fallen into a sorry state of neglect.
There have been several attempts to save the structure but they appear to have gone nowhere. It is currently surround by steel caging to stop vandals from causing any more damage. Though it is new relative to much around it the Casa del passeggero is a piece of Roman history that, if for only its architectural value is worth preserving and restoring.
The word for March 2nd is:
Conflux /ˈkänˌfləks/: [noun]
Another term for confluence
1. The junction of two rivers, especially rivers of approximately equal width.
Early 17th century: from late Latin confluxus, from con- ‘together’ + fluxus – ‘to flow’.
Yes I know Via del Viminale and Via delle Terme di Diocleziano aren’t rivers but I may never get a chance to use that word again!