ROMAN ITINERARIES – CAMPO MARZIO DISTRICT – ITINERARY 17
CAMPO MARZIO DISTRICT – ITINERARY 17
To start the Itinerary 17 of the Campo Marzio District, go back to People’s Square, in front of the so-called “Trident” consisting of Via del Babuino, Via del Corso and Via di Ripetta, and take the last one.
Via di Ripetta – Piazza Augusto Imperatore – Largo di San Rocco
VIA DI RIPETTA
Via di Ripetta is one of the most important roads of the City Centre of Rome.
In 1518 Pope Leo X restored it leaving, according to tradition, his signature: before the construction of the port on the Tiber, in fact, this street had the name of Leonina. Its main inhabitants were, by necessity, the citizens who lived on the Tiber river and who spent their lives according to this, and therefore it was the road of the boatmen, of the ferrymen, of the unloaders who operated in that small port, called the Port of Posterula, which then became the important Port of Ripetta. The setting given in the 20th Century to the Mausoleum of Augustus and the surrounding monuments has reduced this straight line, from People’s Square to Via della Frezza, to only 350 meters. In reality, Via di Ripetta continues beyond Emperor Augustus’ Square, joining with Via della Scrofa, but its perspective and urbanistic value has been totally altered: this street, in fact, was built to allow Pope Leo X to better connect the People’s Gate with the Vatican.
However, the importance of this axis reached its peak with the construction of the Port of Ripetta in the early 18th Century and, as long as this was active, the Campus Martius District actually had to present a great social-cultural variety, ranging from the lower middle class of workers gathered around the Tiber River to the more evolved artistic and international component gathered around Via del Babuino, creating a dense union that led to an undoubted social growth. Do not be fooled by the current appearance of this street: it was the culmination of a vibrant district, which from the top of the Pincio hill, seat of cardinals and rulers, passed through the lively world of artists, to end up near the river struggling with the proletariat, often full of convicts and outcasts of the most varied nature.
TWO IMPORTANT CHARACTERS
Perhaps, due to the influence of such an environment, Ripetta gave birth to two important protagonists of the social-independent struggles that characterized Italy from the end of the 18th Century to the fateful 1849.
Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel is correctly reminded, at number 17, in the house where she was born: she was an intelligent and very brave protagonist of the Neapolitan Republic of 1799, and above all she constituted a valid example of Italian female emancipation, about a century before the Anglo-Saxon claims.
Just in front of number 248, instead, you can see the house of Angelo Brunetti, better known as “Ciceruacchio“, Italian patriot who fought in 1849 for the Roman Republic, to whose fall he fled with Giuseppe Garibaldi to reach Venice.
THE PORT OF RIPETTA
A document of 1708 quotes literally that the Port of Ripetta “was raised with wise providence from Pope Clemente XI in 1704 along the pleasant shores of the Tiber, for public benefit and ornament, since it serves of asylum to the boats that bring the food to Rome from Umbria and Sabina. The port has very long steps, with some cordonate and two facades, one facing the river and adorned with an inscription, and the other of semicircular shape with marble seats and fountain in the middle. The semicircle is finished by two columns, worked in imitation of the miliary columns of the ancient Romans, designed to highlight the time and height of the floods”.
The design of the Port of Ripetta, so accurately described in the document, is by the architect Alessandro Specchi, who used most of the travertine that belonged to the Colosseum to build it. Of all that is listed in this chronicle coeval to the construction of the port itself, only the two columns and the fountain remain. The construction of this harbour, which replaced the old Port of the Posterula, was imposed by the increasing traffic with the internal portion of the Church State: wood, oil, salt and wine were the peak traffic. The confusion had to be indescribable!
Pope Paul V tried to reorganize the area since 1614, and his interest is easily understandable, considering that his family, the Borghese, had recently finished their Palace, here adjacent. Also thanks to the earthquake of 1703 that made available a lot of material from the Colosseum, which collapsed to the ground, Alessandro Specchi started the work, also managing to use original materials from Ancient Rome, which during the Empire had built a small port of call here.
Over the time the port suffered a rapid degradation and, after 1870 with the annexation of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy, was decreed its demolition to allow the construction of the walls along the Tiber.
THE ST. JAMES’ HOSPITAL
The entire left side of Via di Ripetta, from number 45 to the corner of Via Canova, is part of the well-known St. James’ Hospital which, according to 19th Century chronicles, was nicknamed “in Augusta” (because of its proximity to the Imperial Mausoleum) and “of the Incurables” (because a part of it was dedicated to patients suffering from diseases that were difficult to treat).
THE ORIGINS OF THE HOSPITAL AND ITS RENOVATION
St. James in Augusta, founded by Cardinal Giacomo Colonna in 1389, is in chronological order the third hospital in Rome, after that of the Holy Spirit in Sassia (1204) and that of the Most Holy Savior (1216): unfortunately, after an uninterrupted hospital activity of 670 years, the hospital has been closed definitively in 2008 amidst bitter criticism, just after a long period of restructuring.
What we see today is the result of the renovation made by Cardinal Salviati, who made use of the work of the architect Carlo Maderno (the same who also raised the Church of St. James in Augusta): he lightened the compactness of the façade designed by Francesco da Volterra, with the adoption of Doric and Corinthian pilasters, and the addition of a central balcony with a shell-shaped niche.
The Hospital of St. James, unfortunately characterized by a poor internal functionality, with damp and not very airy rooms, specialized from the beginning in the treatment of syphilis, becoming over the years an “international” reference point for the treatment of this disease, with syphilitic patients coming from all over Italy.
The building in fact does not seem to be a classic hospital, being literally located between two churches, the one on Via del Corso, dedicated to St. James, and the one right along Via di Ripetta, dedicated to St. Mary Porta Paradisi (Heavenly Door).
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF HEAVENLY DOOR
Examining the ancient documents, it is possible to discover that in 1523 Monsignor Burgos had a chapel dedicated to Our Lady, the liberator of the plague, built along Via Leonina, inserting inside it an altar of the Blessed Sacrament destined “to the poor sick”. This ancient building is now enclosed within a second façade, in order to realign the whole with the current trend of the street: this new façade was built in 1646 using the legacy of the doctor Matteo Caccia, who lived in the adjoining house from where he could hear Mass without moving thanks to a small window.
Observe also the curious hole for the alms destined to the poor and incurable, effectively portrayed on an orthopedic wheelchair.
In front of the church of St. Mary of Heavenly Door, you will see an exedra with a neoclassical portal, which for its shape recalls the horseshoe, from which derives the name of the square and the building, wanted by Pope Gregory XVI and built in 1845 by the architect Pietro Camporese the Younger, as recalled also by a plaque. The destination of the building has always been in function of the arts and training of artists, first the Academy of St. Luke and then the Institute for Fine Arts, without excluding curious uses, such as the extraction of the lot right on the terrace overlooking the door of the “Horseshoe“.
On the right of the building, a plaque commemorates some students of the Institute shot at Fosse Ardeatine.
THE EMPEROR AUGUSTUS’ SQUARE
The square you are observing is one of the most controversial places in Rome: the urbanization of this area, and the way in which it has been carried out, has reserved sometimes merciless criticism to this project, still in progress today.
Approach the square by crossing the passage between the Church of St. Rocco and the Church of St. Jerome of the Illyrians or Croats. A beautiful hydrometer from 1821 precedes these two buildings, united by a questionable double arch, which in the intention of the architect Vittorio Morpurgo were to represent the monumental propylaea for an impressive scenography.
Take a look at the graceful Fountain of the Botticella, placed here by the will of Pope Clement XIII in 1774. On the occasion of the renovation of the Hospital of St. Rocco, the Pope donated two ounces of Virgin Water to the Hospital in exchange for the construction of a public fountain. The fountain is the emblem of the porters of the overlooking Port of Ripetta, where were unloaded, in addition to wood for fire, also the barrels of wine coming by river from the upper Lazio. The guild of the University of Winemakers, of which the fountain is a reminder of the popular festivals between innkeepers and boatmen that took place on the site, had its headquarters in the nearby Church of St. Rocco.
Now lift your eyes beyond the arch erected between the churches of St. Rocco and St. Jerome: behind them, you will see the tribune of the Church of Saints Ambrose and Charles, with its two-level apse, the slender dome, the side bell tower, the dark color of the terracotta, the light and powerful harmony of the lines. This is the best perspective to enjoy the architecture of this sacred building.
THE CHURCH OF ST. ROCCO
The Church of St. Rocco can be defined “the church of the fiumaroli“, i.e. that part of the population that spent their days in contact with the Tiber.
The Confraternity of hosts and boatmen erected it in 1499, at the time of Pope Alexander VI. Being Rocco a wandering saint, a sort of non-stop pilgrim, he represented the perfect saint for this Brotherhood, in which the boatmen represented the wandering spirit and the innkeepers were obviously the preferred stop for a break and rest.
Evidently the faithful of St. Rocco were nevertheless always sailors, and therefore well aware of the consequences of their activity; for this reason, after having built their church, in 1500 they also built a hospital near it, always dedicated to St. Rocco. The hospital had a very special feature: women close to giving birth could come to the hospital regardless of whether they were married or not, without revealing their name and even with their faces covered. At that point they would be entered in the hospital records only by a progressive number, and they could give birth without being recognized, judged or harassed. It was decided to also build two back doors in the hospital, so that at the time of exit these women could leave the building mixing with the crowd, without being seen. Statistics at hand, between 1831 and 1840, 1658 women were hospitalized and only 8 died, with an incidence of less than 0.5%.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
The present church is the result of numerous subsequent interventions. In 1654 the architect Giovanni Antonio de Rossi restored the sacristy and enlarged the dome; in 1660 the painter Baciccia restored all the pre-existing decorations, while Giacinto Brandi placed on the high altar a beautiful painting of St. Rocco in glory (1674); the façade was instead realized in neoclassical style by the architect Giuseppe Valadier in 1832, with double columns with Corinthian capitals supporting a large tympanum.
THE CHURCH OF ST. JEROME
The Church of St. Jerome of the Slaves (better known as the Church of Illyrians or Croats) was built in 1588 under Pope Sixtus V. The church has this somewhat curious name because, in the 16th Century, the area had become the residence of Balkan refugees, mostly Albanians and Serbs, who had fled from the Turks since the 14th Century.
The architect Martino Longhi the Elder built it by stealing, with the permission of the Pope, the marble from the Septisodium, one of the last buildings of Ancient Rome that remained partially intact on the Palatine Hill. The façade is in late Renaissance style, in travertine with two orders, with a portal flanked by two pairs of large niches.
Inside, the most interesting decoration is the fake dome painted by Andrea Lilio (1555-1610), which recalls the much more imposing false dome painted by Andrea Pozzo in the Church of St. Ignatius.
THE MAUSOLEUM OF AUGUSTUS
Go now to the center of the square, to examine, half-submerged by a street level that has grown over the millennia, the tomb of Caesar Octavian Augustus, who remains the true “master” of the square.
The mausoleum, whose construction began in 28 B.C., represented the tomb for the emperors and their relatives even after Hadrian built the other much more imposing mausoleum, since Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus, boasting an origin linked to the gens Julius Claudius, asked and obtained to be buried here.
In front of the entrance there were two pillars with bronze plates that collected the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, a sort of testamentary list of the greatest imperial feats, whose copy, engraved on the Temple of Augustus and Rome in Ankara, has come down to us.
Its bulk, with 87 meters in diameter, its earthy mound once at least 44 meters high and its two obelisks (the Quirinal and the Esquiline ones) had made it a real bastion, strategically placed on the bank of the Tiber. This allowed the Colonna family to make it a sort of “bridgehead” in a territory traditionally belonging to their rival family, the Orsini.
THE TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE MAUSOLEUM
In the following centuries the construction was, like many other ancient monuments, exploited in the most diverse ways: as a quarry for travertine and other ornaments, as a vineyard, as an arena for bullfights, as a theater and as an auditorium, called Augusteo. Since 1936, the monument has regained that peace and solemnity that it deserves, and in recent years it has been the subject of a complex project of enhancement and renovation, partly slowed down by the usual bureaucratic hindrances.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE ARA PACIS’ FRAGMENTS
In Renaissance and Baroque times, Rome was the hunting ground for anomalous but extremely valuable prey. Everyone, from kings to nobles, wanted to grab ancient objects underground in the city, in an unbridled competition to see who could possess more.
The Grand Duke of Tuscany, in particular, entrusted this specific task to Cardinal Ricci, who was lucky enough to secure nine large marble fragments, depicting on one side of the festoons, and on the other side of the figures, including the “Tellus” (the representation of Mother Earth that feeds her children thanks to its fertility) and a procession with the Flamines and a Pontiff Maximus. These marble slabs came from work carried out between 1568 and 1569 in the foundations of the Peretti in Lucina Palace.
Nobody, at that time, thought that it could be the discovery of the decoration of the Ara Pacis built by Augustus, and so Cardinal Ricci, to better send the pieces to Florence, even had them cut.
In the meantime, however, other artifacts were found, and were gradually scattered in various places, from the Aldobrandini Palace to the Ottoboni Palace, from the Vatican to the Louvre Museum.
The situation had an unexpected development in 1859, when other works were necessary at the Peretti in Lucina Palace, now called Fiano Palace. During the excavations came to light the base to support the building, parts of the relief related to the “Sacrifice of Aeneas to the Penates” and a head of “Mars” (which ended in Wien). It will be necessary to wait until 1879 for the great archaeologist Ennio Quirino Visconti to start drawing his conclusions: it was a real puzzle, which needed further investigations to be completed.
In 1903, then, he started again to rummage in the bowels of the Peretti-Fiano Palace: many other fragments were extracted, including the figure of “Aeneas“ and a part of the “Lupercale“. The archaeological scoop is beginning to assume enormous dimensions. In 1937, it was finally possible to carry out a complete excavation, while managing to save the palace above; at the same time, the pieces preserved in Florence, the Louvre and also the head of Mars in Wien were brought back. The puzzle was finally solved!
THE ARA PACIS AUGUSTAE
The Ara Pacis Augustae, Augustus’ Altar of Peace, celebrated the peacemaking in the Mediterranean area carried out by the emperor after the victorious campaigns of Gaul and Spain. The monument was commissioned by the Senate in 13 BC and was solemnly inaugurated four years later, on January 30th 9 BC.
The Ara Pacis is based on a rectangular marble enclosure, raised on a small podium and with two doors on the longer sides: inside this enclosure there is the altar on which the sacrifices were celebrated.
If you want to visit the Ara Pacis Museum, please choose the Museums and Galleries Tour of Rome Guides.
The most important part of the monument, however, is the exterior decoration. The fence is in fact divided into two decorative registers: the lower one is vegetal with acanthus spirals, the upper one with four marble paintings depicting mythological and allegorical scenes at the sides of the two doors.
The first panel represents the “Lupercale“, the cave where the legendary she-wolf would have suckled the twins Romulus and Remus, but very few fragments remain of the scene.
The second panel, much better preserved, shows Aeneas in the act of sacrificing the sow from the thirty little pigs to the temple of the Penates.
On the opposite side, at the sides of the other door, you can see on the left the Tellus, depicted as a flourishing woman with two children, flanked by an ox, a sheep, marsh plants, flowers and two half-naked female figures, one sitting above a sea monster, the other above a swan (symbolizing Water and Air respectively).
The fourth panel, almost completely lost, represented the Goddess Rome.
On the other two sides you can admire the representation of the procession that took place on the occasion of the inauguration of the monument, in which Augustus, his family and the most important imperial priests and senators are represented. This is one of the most important examples of Roman portraiture.
THE PROTECTIVE CASE
As said, the place where you see the Ara Pacis today is not the original one. It was Mussolini who decided to place this symbolic monument near the Mausoleum of Augustus, commissioning in 1938 to the architect Vittorio Morpurgo the creation of the protective case, made of glass, cement and fake porphyry.
Exhaust fumes, smog, vibrations and humidity soon revealed that the case was insufficient to protect the Ara Pacis, and in 1995 the Municipality of Rome decided to replace the case, entrusting the project to the famous American architect Richard Meier.
Meier used the most advanced technologies and quality materials: travertine, a special self-cleaning plaster, tempered glass (which guarantees thermal and acoustic insulation) and an air conditioning system designed to offer a high level of protection for the Ara Pacis.
A specific portion of the Ara Pacis Museum is often used to display temporay exhibitions, as you can see checking the website of the Museum.