ROMAN ITINERARIES – CAMPITELLI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 38
CAMPITELLI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 38
The Itinerary 38 of the Campitelli District is located around the Capitoline Square, until you reach St. Mary of Consolation and, after a long walk, the corner with the Circus Maximus.
Piazzale Caffarelli – Via di Monte Tarpeo – Via della Consolazione – Piazza della Consolazione – Vico Jugario – Via dei Fienili – Via dei Foraggi – Via di San Teodoro – Piazza Sant’Anastasia – Via dei Cerchi
THE CAPITOLINE SLOPING STAIRS
Go back to the Capitoline Square and look out over the balustrade, a real panoramic terrace overlooking the city, designed by Michelangelo and built by Giacomo Della Porta.
At the top of the sloping stairs (called “cordonata“) there are the two Dioscuri, coming probably from the temple dedicated to them in the Circus Flaminius. Already considered protectors of Ancient Rome, they seem to find here their paternal function in relation to the city that is traditionally linked to the twins, by blood or de facto: Romulus and Remus, Castor and Pollux and, in a certain sense, St. Peter and St. Paul.
Next to the Dioscuri you will see the so-called “Trophies of Marius“, which are actually military panoplies with the figure of a barbarian prisoner, perhaps from a triumphal arch and in any case taken from the great nymphaeum that Alexander Severus had built as a monumental castle of the Aqueduct Claudius on the Esquiline: it is still visible as a ruin in the center of Victor Emmanuel Il Square. The popular voice believed that they depicted the weapons taken from the Cimbri and Teutons by the Republican general Caius Marius, and here is the explanation of the curious name.
Next to the trophies there are the statue of Constantine on the right and that of his son Constantine II on the left, found on the Quirinal Hill where the Baths of Constantine were located.
Finally, at the extremities, there are two milestone columns coming from the Appian Way, wanted by Vespasian and renovated by Nerva. They replaced two granite columns having above them the bronze sphere of the Vatican Obelisk and that of the bronze statue of Constantine, now kept in the Capitoline Museums.
THE STATUE OF COLA DI RIENZO
Now descend the sloping stairs designed by Michelangelo, noting that some steps were cut at the base for the opening of the current Via di Tor de’ Specchi. On the right you can see a garden arrangement, where there was the famous cage in which a she-wolf, symbol of Rome, was barbarously kept locked up. In the middle of the small garden you can see the bronze statue of Cola di Rienzo, a work by Girolamo Masini inaugurated on September 20th 1877.
THE TWO LIONS
At the base of the sloping stairs there are two Egyptian lions of black granite with red veins found in the area of the Iseo Campense. In 1587, when the Felix Water was transported to the Capitoline Hill, the lions were readapted to fountains with the creation of small pools, designed by Camillo Rusconi. In 1885 the lions were removed and brought to the Capitoline Museums, while the ponds were destroyed; only in 1956, after a careful restoration, the original lions returned to their place throwing water in new ponds.
THE STAIRCASE OF ST. MARY IN ARACOELI
Position yourself now in front of the steep Aracoeli staircase, built in 1348 by Lorenzo di Simone Andreozzi (the inscription on the left of the church door has survived) with marble coming from ancient monuments. It consists of 124 steps and was built at the expense of the people of Rome, as an expression of gratitude to Our Lady for having saved the city from the plague that brought death and destruction throughout Italy (it was also mentioned by Giovanni Boccaccio in his Decameron). The staircase was the only public work executed in Rome during the exile of the Popes in Avignon.
According to a famous popular tradition, if you climb the 124 steps on your knees, while reciting the De Profundis and invoking the Three Kings, you will win at the lotto game. Kneeling up the steps was also fashionable among spinsters looking for a husband, because until the 18th Century a sort of lottery was held on the Capitoline Hill that would have given a large dowry to five Roman spinsters drawn at random among ninety.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY IN ARACOELI
At the top of the staircase stands the Church of St. Mary in Aracoeli, whose name suggests an ancient altar (ara) and a consequent older worship in the Roman age: according to some archaeologists, the church could indeed be a monument built on the ancient Temple of Juno Moneta.
According to Christian legend, the church would have originated from a miraculous apparition of Our Lady who, in a dazzling light, descended from heaven before the Emperor Augustus carrying the Child Jesus in her arms. A voice from above would said to the Emperor: “This Virgin will give birth to the Saviour of the world“. Another voice echoed her: “This is the altar of the Son of God“. Augustus, then, would have knelt down and worshipped Christ.
At the time of Pope Gregory III, the Monastery of Mary Camellaria and Saints John the Baptist and Evangelist was built here, while in the 10th Century the chronicles speak of a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St. Mary in Capitolio. The orientation of the primitive abbey was similar to that of the present transept, with the high altar positioned where the Chapel of St. Helena is today.
The construction of the new basilica began at the end of the 13th Century, with the façade facing Rome, and was completed as mentioned in 1348 with the construction of the staircase which, according to tradition, was inaugurated by Cola di Rienzo. In 1412 a clock was placed on the left of the façade, and then moved to the center of the façade in 1728 and finally transferred to the Tower of the Senatorial Palace in 1806.
In 1572 the wonderful Thanksgiving Ceiling was built, in gilded and polychrome wood: with it, the Madonna was thanked for the victory obtained by the Christian and Papal ships over the Turks in the naval battle of Lepanto.
At the end of the 18th Century, the French occupying Rome deconsecrated the church and used it as a stable. After this sad parenthesis, the church was active again, remaining with the façade not covered by any kind of stone despite the fact that Cardinal Consalvi had left 60,000 scudi in his last will to decorate the building. The façade is in brick with three portals, and preserves a small part of mosaic decoration with the Dream of Innocent III: it is impossible to know if this is just a part of an older decoration, or if it has been left unfinished.
The construction of the Victorian led to the destruction of the convent, the sacristy and the Chapel of the Holy Child, which is now displayed in another chapel built specifically for this purpose.
THE DECORATIONS OF ST. MARY IN ARACOELI
The interior of the church has three naves, divided by 22 ancient columns of granite and various types of marble, recycled from ancient Roman monuments. Interesting is, in the left row, a granite column on which you can read a Latin inscription that indicates it coming from the Cubicle of the Augusti, but the most interesting element is the hole that runs through it transversally, as if the column were to be used for astronomical observation.
The cosmatesque floor preserves numerous tombstones of the 14th and 15th Centuries.
Entering the church, go and visit the most important chapels, starting with the first on the right, the Bufalini Chapel, frescoed in 1486 by Pinturicchio with the “Stories of St. Bernardino and St. Francis“. In the fifth chapel on the right you will see an altarpiece that could have achieved much greater fame: it is St. Matthew and the Angel, painted by Girolamo Muziano for the Church of St. Louis of the French, where you would have seen it hanging if the genius of Caravaggio with his masterpiece had not interfered.
Always on the right, approaching the ancient entrance facing the Capitoline Square, still accessible today by a staircase, observe the Tomb of Cecchino Bracci, designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1545, and the Tomb of Pietro Manzi, Bishop of Cesena, sculpted by Andrea Sansovino in 1504.
THE TEMPLE OF ST. HELENA
Go now to the transept, dedicating a second of attention to the Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary exposed on it, datable between the 10th and 11th Century. At the bottom of the left transept you will see a small temple from the 19th Century, dedicated to St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine: the small temple covers a medieval altar (visible through a crystal), which according to legend was built on the place where Augustus had his sacred vision. Below it, another altar of the Roman age has recently been found.
Walking along the left aisle, you can see in the ninth chapel the tomb of Felice Fredi, the lucky discoverer of the fragments of the statue of the Laocoon, now preserved in the Vatican Museums; the next chapel, dedicated to St. Margherita from Cortona, is decorated with two beautiful canvases painted by the painter Marco Benefial in 1732, while the fifth chapel was frescoed by Pomarancio with Stories of the Life of St. Paul.
THE CHAPEL OF THE NATIVITY
However, the religiously most important chapel of the church is the second on the left: it is the Chapel of the Nativity, where the miraculous Child of Aracoeli is placed. It is a small sculpture of the Child Jesus, 60 centimeters high, which was carved in the 15th Century by a Franciscan friar from Jerusalem with the wood of an olive tree from the Garden of Gethsemane. The sculptor friar had many doubts about how to color the statuette: one night, kneeling at the foot of his bed, he prayed to Jesus to help him choose the colors. When he opened his eyes, the next morning, the small statue was entirely painted. The friar left immediately for Rome, taking with him the miraculous Baby Jesus, but the ship was shipwrecked: in spite of this, the friar woke up on the beach with the miraculous statue next to him, which was transported to safety in the Aracoeli convent.
The small statuette has always been the object of veneration by pilgrims and Roman citizens, who literally covered it with gifts and votive offerings, to the point that in 1798 French soldiers looted the church only to collect this precious treasure. The small statue, unfortunately, has been stolen by unknown criminals in 1994 and has not been found since then: in its place, today, there is a copy, also covered with votive offerings.
THE OLD ARACOELI CONVENT
Going out sideways from the church, you will see the staircase on top of which there is a column with Corinthian capital and cross, in memory of the earthquake of 1703, which fortunately caused a great scare but little damage. Observe also the small porch decorated with the lilies of Pope Paul III, made by Pietro da Melide and decorated with frescoes depicting Stories of St. Francis: this porch connected the church with the Aracoeli Convent, destroyed for the construction of the Victorian. Inside of the convent there were a porticoed cloister on which opened the cells of the friars, a library (the texts were transferred to the National Central Library of Rome) and a completely frescoed refectory.
THE CAFFARELLI PALACE
Go up now up the sloping stairs until you reach the balustrade on top, and turn right along Via delle Tre Pile, which takes its name from the three piñatas of the Pignatelli family coat of arms that is depicted on the small monument that celebrates the opening of this road in 1692 thanks to Pope Innocent XII, a member of this family.
Along the side flowerbeds note the numerous architectural fragments of marble that come from the ancient buildings on the Capitol. Go past the Conservators’ Palace and the Clementine Palace, which houses some offices of the Capitoline Administration, and pass under the large portal that represented the entrance to the luxurious Caffarelli Villa: the name comes from the Caffarelli family, who owned here a large portion of land with villa and palace, thanks to an ancient donation that was confirmed by the Emperor Charles V too.
The architect of the palace was Gregorio Canonico, a pupil of Vignola, but the original building, completed in 1610, has been so renovated over the centuries that it is now almost unrecognizable: some of the frescoes that decorated the interior rooms are now in the Museum of Rome, in the Braschi Palace. The Caffarelli family lived there until 1854, when for economic reasons the palace was sold to Prussia: in 1899 the Emperor William II ordered its restoration and had it decorated with canvases painted in tempera by Hermann Prell, depicting Nordic sagas and stories of Germany. At the news of the victory in the Vittorio Veneto battle, however, a crowd of interventionists stormed the building and sacked it; a few years later a wing of the building was demolished so that excavations could begin in search of the remains of the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, that you can admire in the Capitoline Museums, joining the Museums and Galleries Tour by Rome Guides.
In 1921 Prell’s canvases returned to Berlin, and in 1925 the City of Rome put the so-called Mussolini Museum in the Caffarelli Palace.
Now take Via di Villa Caffarelli, finding immediately on your left the large portal of access to the Villa, coming from the vineyard of Monsignor Girolamo Della Rovere on Via Salaria: looking through the gate grates, you can admire part of the garden with the fountain of the kneeling satyr and the remains of the charioteer’s tomb with circus reliefs coming from the People’s Gate.
Along the street you will encounter a neoclassical building, designed in the 19th Century by the German architect Paul Laspeires and decorated with medallions with portraits of the great German lovers and scholars of Greek-Latin culture, including that of the great scholar and archaeologist Winckelmann.
After an arched passage the road leads to Via del Tempio di Giove where, on the left, there is the ancient Teutonic Hospital facing the Tiber with a façade with overlapping loggias, the work of Johan Knapp, who at number 12 erected the so-called Tarpea House, an elegant neoclassical building with a beautiful terracotta relief that adorns the pediment, in the center of which you can see the personification of Rome between Tarpea and the Tiber, shaped by Emilio Wolff in 1837. Here the circle of the Hyperborean Friends met: they were German scholars of antiquity who gave life to the Institute of Archaeological Correspondence, publishing their studies in Italian. The curious name of the house comes from the fact that this is the highest place of the Capitol, what for the ancients was Mons Tarpeus, where they believed the tragic story of Tarpea took place.
Now enjoy your stroll, with breathtaking views of the Roman Forum, until you reach the Tower of Boniface IX, on the corner with the Senatorial Palace.
THE ACADEMY OF THE NUDE
In your stroll you walked along a block of buildings, on the first floor of which Pope Benedict XIV authorized the opening of the Academy of the Nude. Here many young and old people came to pose nude for artists, but they could not find female models to portray in this Academy: the study of female nudity was forbidden, and in the Papal State the female models were not allowed to pose nude. The artists therefore went to the Academy of France where the French, as always more liberal on certain matters, had models available to pose nude. When the Academy of the Nude was moved, the building was first transformed into a medical clinic and then into the Municipal Lawyers’ Library.
THE PORCH BY VIGNOLA
Now walk along the short stretch of Via del Campidoglio, pass the small arched passageway in the form of a serliana, built in 1911, and reach again the square, to find yourself in front of the Porch by Vignola. The staircase that leads to the portico was completely recomposed in the 19th Century, so that the steps are no longer coordinated with the doors of the medieval guilds’ headquarters on the left side: going up, you can see the seat of the Universities of Hoteliers (the door is transformed into a window), Masons (with the symbolic frieze of team and compass, trowel and hammer), Merchants, Bakers (on the door you can see a crown of ears of corn, two doughnuts and four loaves) and finally the University of Tailors (with the patron Saints Peter and Paul and a pair of scissors).
At the top of the staircase you can admire the Porch by Vignola, made with the shape of a loggia with three arches, similar to the oldest one visible on the other side of the square. On the arches of the loggia you can still see the coats of arms of Pope Julius III (1550-1555), who entrusted the realization of the work to the stonemason Benedetto from Florence.
VIA DELLA CONSOLAZIONE
Now go back and go down Via di Monte Tarpeo to its access to Via della Consolazione. At the time of the Ancient Rome, the area was called “Aequimelium“, because here stood the house of Spurio Melio, who was razed to the ground because he had tried to seize power: the place was left completely empty, without other buildings, so that everyone could remember the fate that would affect the enemies of republican freedoms.
THE ANCIENT VICUS IUGARIUS
Please, walk along the short stretch of road, reaching the intersection with Via del Teatro di Marcello, keeping on the left the Church of St. Omobono and the adjacent archaeological area. The ancient name of this street, which traces the oldest one, was Vicus Iugarius and derives from an altar dedicated to Iuno Iuga, that can be translated with Juno who guaranteed the marriage bond. From this part of the Capitoline Hill came the staircase that went up to the Capitol, called Centum Gradum, on which there was the arch, called Fornix Calpurnius, near which Tiberio Gracco was killed. The Vicus Iugarius started from the Carmentalis Gate, which recalled the oracular place of the nymph Carmenta and, passing under the Capitol, reached the Roman Forum.
At the end of the Vicus Iugarius you can see a small portico of the end of the Republic, consisting of pillars arranged in two parallel rows: archaeologists believe that it could be a part of the Porticus Triumphalis, that is the monumental stretch that the triumphal processions followed going from the Circus Flaminius to the so-called Triumphal Gate.
As you can imagine, the Vicus Iugarius was one of the most important streets of archaic Rome, as it conveyed several other roads towards the Tiber, where next to the Tiber Island it was easier to cross the river; in addition to that, under the modern Via della Consolazione passes one of the most ancient sewers of Rome, which joins the Velabro with the Cloaca Massima, the biggest sewer of the Ancient Rome.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF CONSOLATION
Now go back to the Consolation Square, dominated by the monumental Church of St. Mary of Consolation, which recalls the cult of a miraculous image of Mary on the apse under a canopy, painted by Nicola Berrettoni immediately after the terrible plague of 1656.
Our Lady of Consolation was actually venerated in this place since 1470, in a small church built by the Confraternity of St. Mary of Grace. This small church was enriched with chapels and, at the beginning of the 17th Century, it was replaced by the present church, larger and more majestic, designed by Martino Longhi the Elder, although the façade was completed only in 1827 by Pasquale Belli.
The façade is indeed original only in the lower part, divided into five sections with elegant late Renaissance portals. The upper part is however very well interconnected, shaped like the front of a temple with an elegant window in the center. On the intermediate balustrade are the statues of the four prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior of the church is divided into three naves by pillars and has many chapels adorned with valuable decorations, made by high level artists such as Pomarancio and Antoniazzo Romano.
The masterpiece of the church is however housed in the first chapel on the right, connected to the Mattei family and decorated in 1556 by Taddeo Zuccari, with the Crucifixion between the two Prophets and Sibyls (altar wall), the Flagellation (right wall), the Ecce Homo (left wall) and the Scenes of the Passion and Evangelists (vault). Taddeo Zuccari was considered a very pure talent, the real artistic successor of Raphael Sanzio, but he died at just 37 years old: he is now buried in the Pantheon, right next to Raphael, to indicate his evident artistic appeal.
THE CONSOLATION HOSPITAL
Next to the Church of St. Mary of Consolation stood the famous Consolation Hospital, whose genesis is particularly curious.
In 1385, before being executed, a man named Giordanello Alberini drew up a testament in which he wrote his last will: to paint on a wall under the Capitoline Hill an image of the Virgin Mary, which would be of consolation for all the condemned and dying ones. Giordanello’s will was executed by his son Giacomo, where the barns belonging to the Mattei family were located. Here a small church was built, obviously dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and next to it a hospital was built too, already mentioned in documents of the 15th Century. While the church continued to perform its functions until 1876, when it was demolished and the sacred furnishings were moved to St. Mary of Consolation, the adjacent hospital grew larger and larger, until it acquired three different minor hospitals in Rome, taking the final name of Consolation Hospital.
Today the building of the Consolation Hospital serves as a police station, but in the 16th Century the building provided fifty beds for men and ten for women. In the 17th Century an apothecary’s shop and a health school were added, with an anatomical theater for dissections on corpses.
The hospital, despite the constant increase in beds and a good reputation for its school of surgery, was closed in 1936. Among the people who attended it, often to assist the hospitalized patients, there were St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Joseph Calasanzio and St. Camillus de Lellis, in addition to Pope Clement XII, who used to come in person to distribute cookies and plums to the sick people. Here he died in 1591, at the age of 23, St. Louis Gonzaga, struck by the plague after having worked so hard for the afflicted ones that one evening he had loaded one on his shoulders to take him to the hospital, as remembered by an inscription on the side of the wall. Another plaque recalls the decree of Pope Alexander VII, who forbade the transit on the road during the night in order not to disturb the sleep of the patients.
THE CHURCH OF ST. THEODORE
Now take Via dei Foraggi, bypassing one of the secondary entrances to the Roman Forum, at the back of the Basilica Iulia. A little further on the left, at the foot of the Palatine, you will see the Church of St. Theodore.
According to tradition, it was built on the site of the ancient Lupercale, the cave where the she-wolf nursed the twins Romulus and Remus. The church, known in this place since the VI Century, was dedicated to St. Theodore, a bishop born in the modern Turkey. He was one of the most famous Christian soldiers martyrs of the East, venerated also in Rome, Venice and Ferrara, often invoked as patron saint against storms. The Christian tradition tells that he was brought to court with the accusation of having set fire to a pagan temple for fanaticism; in front of the judges he affirmed his faith in Christ, to die among atrocious tortures during Maximian’s empire.
The church, with a curious circular plan and preceded by a brick prothyrum, has in front of it a large churchyard that with two stairs connects everything to the Via di San Teodoro. The dome that covers the church is attributed to the architect Bernardo Rossellino (1454) and is the first example in Rome of a “ribbed” dome; the same architect restored the entire building.
Below this church, the archaeologists have discovered the remains of the oldest one, connected with the apse decorated with a mosaic of the VI Century (heavily remodeled by later interventions), depicting Christ sitting on a globe, flanked by Peter and Paul and the martyrs Theodore and Cleonicus: above Christ, among multicolored clouds, the hand of God places the crown of martyrdom on his head.
In 2004 Pope John Paul II granted the use of the church to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Greek Orthodox community of Rome, which still has the administration of the church today.
THE CHURCH OF ST. ANASTASIA
Walk along the fence wall of the Palatine area, where through the gate at number 71 you can see the remains of medieval fortified buildings belonging to the Frangipane family, while on the right you can see the Church of St. George at the Velabro and, not far away, the four-sided Arch of Janus.
Then you arrive in St. Anastasia Square, where you can see the church dedicated to this Saint, venerated in Rome since the V Century. She died a martyr in Sirmium, today in Serbia, and her relics were taken to Constantinople: she is considered the protector of weavers and her attribute is the pyre on which she was burned.
The church was built by dignitaries of the Byzantine Empire who resided in the imperial palaces on the Palatine Hill and who had elected the Church of St. Anastasia as their official temple. As you can easily imagine looking at the sacred building, the church was renovated several times and the current façade is the one wanted by the Pope Urban VIII in 1636 after the previous one was destroyed by a terrible cyclone.
The present façade, with two brick orders marked by pilasters with frames and capitals in travertine, is characterized by two elegant lateral bell towers and a series of flaming marble candelabra placed above the central tympanum at the sides of the cross. In the center of the tympanum you can see the coat of arms of Pope Urban VIII, decorated with festoons.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior is divided into three naves by marble and granite columns, recycled from ancient pagan monuments. Go close to the high altar, to admire the statue of St. Anastasia lying, sculpted by Ercole Ferrata in 1667, strongly inspired by the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, visible in the Itinerary of Trastevere.
In the altar to the left of the transept is the tomb of Cardinal Angelo Maj, the prefect of the Vatican Library who rediscovered Cicero’s “De Republica“. The church also preserves a large number of paintings by Lazzaro Baldi and a splendid painting by Francesco Trevisani depicting St. Turibius.
VIA DEI CERCHI
Leaving the church, turn left into Via dei Cerchi. This toponym derives from the corruption of the word “circus“, which is obviously connected to the nearby Circus Maximus along which the road runs parallel. According to tradition, the circles (“cerchi“) would have been the arches of the circus now reduced to ruins.
THE HAND OF CICERO
Walking along the street, you will pass in front of one of the most curious façades of Rome. It is a bizarre building, decorated with stucco framed windows with Farnese lilies and a series of oculi, which make its façade one of the most peculiar in Rome. On it was also placed an ex voto in the shape of a hand, nicknamed by the Roman people “the hand of Cicero“, which today has been replaced by a copy. At the time of Pope Sixtus V it was said that the hand, with the index finger raised, indicated the price for a glass of wine in the taverns below: exactly one coin named “baiocco”.
Via dei Cerchi, unfortunately, is not only famous for this funny and playful note. It was for decades, indeed, the place of justice for the Papal State: here the same guillotine today kept in the Criminological Museum in Via Giulia was erected.