“Collective memory has a natural, if disembodied, tenacious power, thrusting suggestions in the minds of those who (…) believe in the often non-trivial and transitory value of what has happened. Even a sports club, such as the Foreign Affairs, can be a place of memory if one considers the history of which it has been part, the human relationships that it encircles, the populace of life and the spirit of solidarity derived from it, the devouring of ideas and shared initiatives aimed at promoting its many activities, and the common debt of gratitude to those who, over the years, have guided its fate, enhancing its heritage”.
Taken from Antonio Ciarrapico’s “Se il tempo é memoria” by il Circolo del Ministero degli Affari Esteri. Gangemi Publisher, Rome, 2008.
The Foreign Affairs Club, like the other clubs that have arose along the Tiber’s banks in the early decades of the twentieth century, is part of the context of Rome’s profound relationship with its river; the Tiber was particularly suitable for bathing and sports activities due to its wide riverbed, gentle flow, and unpolluted waters. Rowing was one of the most popular sports in Rome at that time, and collective swimming competitions were held frequently in the Tiber.
The Foreign Affairs Club was chosen against this backdrop, the creation of which is due to an idea that had been gestating since the 1930s, but whose specific realisation must essentially be attributed to Galezzo Ciano, who gave a decisive impulse to the approval of the project and the execution of the works from the time he took office at Palazzo Chigi in July 1936. The club opened on May 30th, 1937, with two tennis courts and a swimming pool, in addition to the building and deck. From a social standpoint, it represented an interesting distinction in that it highlighted the Ministry’s other side when compared to Palazzo Chigi: in contrast to the latter’s muffled and harsh tones, the club provided a cheerful and friendly atmosphere that was both understated and elegant at the time. The following decade, which was marked by wartime events, saw a gradual reduction in activity until it came to a halt during the German occupation of the capital. As a result of the war, the Club’s headquarters were requisitioned for two years in 1944. Only towards the end of 1946 it was definitively returned to the Ministry, and activities resumed and rapidly flourished once again.
The Foreign Affairs Club entered the water polo A series at the end of the 1940s, the swimming section was sold to A.S. Roma shortly after. The available area was expanded in the 1950s with the purchase of adjoining Ministry of Agriculture land, and the facilities were considerably improved. Beginning of the club’s “glamourous” era, which lasted approximately a decade. The role Rome took as the “dolce vita”, the capital of cinema but also a great centre of high society, had an impact on the life of the Club, which, due to its charm and class, drew great attention even among the movie people who were in Rome to shoot films or who made their home there, such as Audrey Hepburn, who married Andrea Dotti, a member of the Club. Nicola Petrangeli, who was at the peak of his career at the time, used to train on our courts.
The Foreign Ministry relocated to the new Farnesina building at the end of the 1950s. Given its closer proximity to the club’s headquarters, it was used for official purposes, both as an affordable alternative to the Villa Madama and for members’ private ceremonies. The increase in representational activities in the 1960s and 1970s favoured the beginning of an evolutionary path that would culminate in an extraordinary further enrichment of the Club from an aesthetic and artistic standpoint, as well as from a practical and functional perspective.
In the latter part of the twentieth century, the construction of sports facilities in Rome escalated, as did competition among existing clubs, each of which sought to improve its image and prestige. Membership in a club has developed into a status symbol. In the midst of the general rush to renovate, the Foreign Affairs Club was able to create a lively and appealing environment, offering its members a varied range of sporting and cultural activities as well as various forms of social entertainment while maintaining the same identity profile of elegance and sobriety to this day. Major work was done to expand the headquarters’ premises, refurbish the sports facilities, and restore and transform the interior of the historical building. The club was enriched by the display of a prestigious art collection, making it “unprecedented” in the panorama of Roman clubs.