Lake exSnia in Rome (ex Cisa Snia factory)

In one of our first newsletters, we told the story about the “Wood in the City“: citizens led by the Italia Nostra Association, were able to safeguard an area of 110 ha and transform it into a public park, a short distance away from the centre of Milan. Luckily, this is not a one-off: we have heard of a similar, successful experience in Rome, in the Pigneto Prenestino district, not far from the Metro C station “Malatesta”.

This emblematic experience is related to the transformation of a disused factory, and it shows how several attempts at using up the land for commercial purposes were defeated by the citizens’ growing awareness for the environment. Now a large part of the area has been transformed into a park, the Parco delle Energie, while some abandoned industrial buildings nearby are hosting a community centre, the CSOA exSnia.

This story starts with the opening of the Cisa Snia Viscosa factory in 1923 and its closing in 1955, after about thirty years. In 1968 the pine grove on the hill next to the factory, was declared a historical landmark and in the official Land Plan of Rome the whole area was marked for public use. In 1990, the Snia estate agency sold the land and the new owner was fraudulently granted a building license for a shopping mall. People’s protests against this illicit operation began to grow steadily, when in 1992 an unforeseen event took place. During the digging for the underground car park, the underground water bearing stratum was reached and water flooded the building site: this formed a lake, and the project had to be abandoned (see photo above).

Answering the people’s demands, in 1997 part of the area was expropriated by Rome City Council and it became a park, the Parco delle Energie. Nowadays, out of a total of 14 ha, six are still private property and they include the former industrial sheds, offices, and the gatekeeper’s lodge.  Even though in 2008 these buildings were declared of historical interest as examples of industrial architecture, the area has been periodically threatened by speculation projects, such as the plan to build a swimming pool for the 2008 World Swimming Championship.

In 2008 the Permanent Territorial Forum of the Parco delle Energie started to meet. It consists of representatives of the local Municipal Council, of members of associations, committees and the local community centre, of simple inhabitants who love the Park and want to make up for the public administration’s partial neglect of this area. The Forum meets once a month to organize activities and events in the Park, in the Casa del Parco, and in the Quadrato, an open space for sport, cultural and musical events.

The Forum has also acted to prevent all projects based on land exploitation. The latest, and hopefully the last one, was in 2013: a plan to build four towers in the area of the lake and of the factory buildings. To stop this devastating project, the Forum organized debates, conferences, and marches. The City Council was asked to include the lake in the Parco delle Energie, since strangely enough, that area had been public property for about ten years, without anyone knowing. This important aim was reached in August 2014.

Now the area of the lake is open every day, guided tours and students’ workshops are organized, thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of several Forum members. The Forum has also requested the Regione Lazio to declare the whole area of the ex Snia factory a Natural Monument, so as to preserve its unique historical, architectural, naturalistic features.

A visit to the Parco delle Energie can be very rewarding. Entering from via Prenestina 175, you can see the historical pine grove and visit the Archivio Storico Viscosa, the former factory’s interesting archive in the Casa del Parco, while from via di Portonaccio, you can reach the lake and its astonishing ecological system, just in the middle of one of Rome’s most crowded districts. The Parco delle Energie and its history are a living testimony to how a constant, collective commitment in favour of public green areas, can be the key factor to ensure soil and landscape preservation.

Text by the Forum Territoriale Permanente del Parco delle Energie