The history of the Zoological Garden of Rome Zoo is illustrious. It was founded in 1908 by a group of financiers with the objective of creating an attraction and entertainment, through its exotic wildlife collection. At that time, the concept of a zoo was quite different from today. The primary purpose was the amusement of the public. The zoo, on a 12 hectare grounds north of Villa Borghese, was inaugurated with great success on 5 January 1911. The Zoo was built entirely by Carl Hagenbeck, a passionate animal dealer, Lehmann and Eggenschwyler who had recently made the famous Zoo of Stellingen (in Hamburg). The lay-out was, therefore, quite modern for its time. The zoo in fact, was built according Hagenbeck’s revolutionary concept in which animals and public were not separated by bars and cages but by moats. For this reason, it became quickly one of Europe’s most beautiful zoos, even surpassing those of Paris and Berlin, which were built according to the old ideas.
Unfortunately, the zoo has not been able to keep this top level ranking. Mainly due to the fact that they were not able to acquire enough exotic animals to replace the animals that died. As during those days husbandry systems were not that well developed as nowadays. Furthermore housing of additional animals to entertain people was impossible due to lack of space. In 1933 the architect Raffaele De Vico designed a 5 acres extension which was officially opened in 1935, with buildings and their environment in harmony with each other. The two flagships of the new area were the large aviary and the reptile house. But after De Vico architecture was abandoned, so it seems.
The financial situation of the zoo became very weak after WWII, and its decay became increasingly evident. This eventually led for instance to the closure of the reptile house in 1970. They managed to raise enough money for a new enclosure, but the completion of the redevelopment project lasted nine years, after which the new structure was inaugurated in 1983.
However, new ideas to modernise the zoo were explored for the first time in 1998. But it was well accepted that zoo design today means something different than a century ago. A lot of constraints have to be taken into account, especially when space is limited, to develop a new and modern exhibit. Constraints like square meters available, the landscape it has to fit in to, and the zoo’s purpose. The final outcome should be the perfect symbiosis between the space created, animal welfare and the public’s perception.
(Source: website Rome zoo)
My visit in September 2008 convinced me that they are on the right track, but still have a long way to go.