For the christian philosopher Giordano Bruno the highest and the lowest, good and bad, love and hate, all the opposites coincide in God, thus in the whole creation. In a much smaller scale, the prosaic world of science and the heaviness of the metal, coincide with the lightness of the spirit and the heavenly world of the angel in Pio IX train, the oldest train remained in the controversial and funny Italy. We can still admire this perfect balance, between the perfection of technique and the beauty of art, at Centrale Montemarini Museum in Rome.
Mr Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti become Pope on the 16th of June 1846 under the name of Pio IX. He was the longest-reigning elected pope in the history of the Catholic Church, and the last to rule as the Sovereign of the Papal States before it fell to the Italian Army in 1870. After that year, except for the territory of the present days Vatican State, all the lands ruled by the Pope were incorporated into the newly born Kingdom of Italy.
Railways were still a novelty at the time of Pio IX. The idea to use railway in order to transport heavy loads date back to ancient time, but was only in 1804, in the wet, northern landscape of United Kingdom that the first railway steam locomotive was built by Mr. Richard Trevithick, son of a mining captain, bad student when young, and brilliant engineer once adult.
The world’s first steam-powered railway journey in the world took place on 21 February 1804, when the Trevithick’s steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway of the Penydarren ironworks in South Wales. The whole world was fully aware of the important role that railways were about to play in the future. The Pope made no exception. His mind, normally devoted to problems concerning the eternal life, planned an earthly project, a project gray of smoke and hard as iron.
1846 was a very special year: on the 19th of September de Virgin Mary appeared to two young shepherds at La Salette (France) making of a small town a huge pilgrimage site; on the 19th of June NY Nines defeat Knickerbockers 23 – 1 at Hoboken, New Jersey, in the first officially recognized baseball game; in the sunny, southern landscape of Italy, Pio IX ordered the construction of few railway tracks to connect the main cities of the Vatican State.
Once the railway were finished, the Pope started to meditate about a train, a special train, a train that could measure up to the holiness of the chieftain of the catholic church. Efficiency must go hand in hand with holiness and beauty. The construction of the Pio IX train was thus entrusted to the Delettrez Company in Paris. It had all the features a Pope could need: a nice flat, a throne, and a consecrated chapel to say mass.
The first Pio IX train voyage took place on 3 July 1859. It was a short trip from Rome to Cecchina, a small village nearby. The Train departed, traveled and arrived down the shouting and clapping of thousands of curious.
Unfortunately, for the Pope, in 1870 Rome was captured by the Italian Army and the Pio IX’s Train was taken away. Pio IX train was forgotten in a depot of Roma Termini Central Station. Later on it was moved into different locations till it began to be considered an important heritage. Finally it found home in Centrale Montemartini, an old powerhouse converted into a Museum. The train is now showcased in what originally was the room nr. 2 of the boilers.
The first wagon was a sort of balcony used as a loggia for the papal blessing. It has three balustrades with golden spiral columns on the outside; the top is decorated with a frieze and a frame of oak and laurel leaves, topped by copper garlands of flowers with the papal arms in the center. The interior is decorated with gilt and velvet, the ceiling is embellished with a painted curtain sprinkled with stars.
The second wagon, connected to the first by a small platform with railings and gates made of wrought iron, consists of a throne room with a small adjoining flat (for the private use of the pontiff) covered with purple clothes. From the balcony the Pope entered the throne room through a double door decorated with crystals. The interior is dominated by the papal colors of white and golden yellow. The walls, the upholstery of the big sofa, the throne, and the curtains, are covered by fabrics made of gold and silver threads.
The third wagon is a consecrated chapel where the Pope could say Mass during his trips. It was built in Paris and designed by Emile Trelat, professor at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts and produced by the “Compagnie Générale de matériels of Chemis de Fer Paris” in a factory in Clichy. The outer decoration consists of a silver and gold-plated copper coating and sculptures and reliefs with three angels on each side, that represent the theological virtues – Faith, Hope and Charity – and four griffins at the corners. The interior was richly adorned by artists such as Gerome Cambon and others renowned craftsmen. The total cost of this wagon, including transportation by water, was fairly high for its time (about 140,000 francs).
As I entered the room I was captivated by the beauty of the machine, the elegance of the decoration and the flavor of the beauty of an older time. I wander around the wagon listening to the noise of the engine, the smell of coal and incense, and the crowd shouting their enthusiasm: how impressive was such technology for that time? The world was about to move with a speed never experienced before. Trains, cars, air planes were about to change the perception of distances and traveling. The reality was getting smaller… or wider?
Reach the museum is easy. It is located 5 minutes walking from the metro station Garbatella (line B). This is the link to the official website of the city hall where you can find updated information to plan your visit
An original video recording the first voyage of Pio IX train in 1858, courtesy of “Istituto Luce”.