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A road of Pirelli rubber to protect Raphael at the Farnesina

The Farnesina, the headquarters of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, is a suburban villa owned by the Farnese family from 1579 but originally built by the architect Baldassarre Peruzzi in the early sixteenth century on commission from Alessandro Chigi. The building is known for its stunning frescoes, which were commissioned by the wealthy Sienese banker from some of the greatest masters of the Italian Renaissance: Raphael, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as Sodoma, and Peruzzi himself.

Some fragments of the cornice of the Farnesina fell to the ground in late 1953, fortunately without harm to any passers-by or visitors. A number of cracks appeared in the walls of the villa and small pieces of the frescoes also became detached during those years. The blame was placed on the intense traffic along the streets at the sides of the building and in particular to the flow along the Lungotevere. As Pirelli magazine also pointed out in 1956, the task of ascertaining the real causes of these incidents was entrusted to the Società Applicazioni Gomma Antivibranti (S.A.G.A.), a subsidiary of Pirelli, and to the physics laboratories of the parent company, which offered their assistance as a way of thanking the Farnesina for hosting the International Rubber Conference. Tests to analyse the vibrations caused by the traffic were directed by the engineer Boschi di Stefano, the managing director of  S.A.G.A., and by the engineers Bassi and Prosdocimi. A picture from the time shows him in the gallery with Raphael’s Galatea while he runs and examines the data from the machines used for the surveys. The measurements led to the conclusion that the vibrations from the road on the Tiber side might seriously threaten the survival of the frescoes. It was therefore decided to intervene by building a “floating rubber road“, which was completed in the early 1970s. This involved suspending the Lungotevere road on more than 2,000 elastic anti-vibration blocks made using the most advanced Pirelli technology.