ROMAN ITINERARIES – CAMPITELLI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 39
CAMPITELLI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 39
The Itinerary 39 of the Campitelli District brings you back near the Carcer Tullianum, examined in a previous Itinerary, to start with the Church of Saints Luke and Martina and then lead you, after a long walk through several churches, to surmount the Roman Forum close to the Convent of St. Bonaventure.
Via del Tulliano – Via della Curia – Via della Salara Vecchia – Via in Miranda – Via dei Fori Imperiali – Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana – Piazza del Colosseo – Via Sacra – Via di San Bonaventura
THE CHURCH OF SAINTS LUKE AND MARTINA
Start this itinerary in front of the majestic Church of Saints Luke and Martina which, according to tradition, was founded in the 7th Century A.D. under Pope Honorius I, probably using some rooms of the Forum of Caesar. In its oldest phase, the church had a rectangular plan with apse and probably housed the three reliefs of the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, which today you can admire along the staircase of the Conservators’ Palace, in the middle of the Capitoline Museums Tour.
THE DEDICATION TO MARTINA
The same church was originally dedicated to St. Martina, a noble Roman maiden martyred in the III Century A.D. during the empire of Alexander Severus. Her cult had definitely faded over the centuries, but during the renovation of the church, the relics of the Saint were found. Pope Urban VIII, who was impressed by this discovery, arranged for the veneration of the Saint to return in vogue, writing a hymn in her honor and fixing January 30th as the feast day of the Saint, elevating her to the co-patroness of Rome.
THE DEDICATION TO LUKE
The church was later dedicated also to the evangelist Luke, born in Antioch in Syria and martyred in the East, considered a good painter (according to tradition, he painted the oldest image of the Virgin Mary) and an excellent doctor. He converted after the Resurrection of Christ and is the author of the most rigorously biographical of the four Gospels, written on the basis of the stories about the life of Jesus that he received from the Virgin Mary.
THE PROCESSION OF THE CANDLEMAS
From the ancient church of St. Martina the Procession of the Candlemas started, instituted by Pope Gelasio who was the first to distribute, just from this church, the blessed candles to the people of Rome. Since the 7th Century, indeed, the Catholic Church had placed on February 2nd the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, in which the ritual Purification of Mary was remembered, which, according to Jewish law, had to take place forty days after the childbirth. In this way, the feast of the Purification coincided with the pagan feast dedicated to Juno Februata, and then to the goddess Febris (fever), which had purifying value.
FROM SIXTUS V TO URBAN VIII
Pope Sixtus V granted the church to the famous Academy of St. Luke, which already had its seat on the Esquiline Hill in a church dedicated to the Evangelist, but it was demolished for the accommodation of the Pope’s villa. Sixtus V entrusted the renovation work to the architect Ottaviano Mascherino, but it was thanks to Pope Urban VIII and his nephew Francesco Barberini that, in 1643, the church was renovated with the work of Pietro da Cortona, who restored the crypt at his own expense and placed his own sepulchral chapel there. During the works, as said, the remains of St. Martina and a series of other martyrs (e.g. Concordio and Epifanio) were found.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
The church (which can undoubtedly be considered the architectural masterpiece of Pietro da Cortona, who considered this church as “his beloved daughter“) was totally isolated from the buildings it had close by due to the opening of Via dei Fori Imperiali: its façade, divided into two orders and slightly convex, is framed between pairs of pilasters and enlivened by elegant couples of columns, between which the portal and the upper window open. On the curvilinear tympanum two angels hold the Pontiff’s coat of arms.
On the church stands a mighty dome, surmounted by one of the most elegant “lanterns” of the churches of Rome, nicknamed by the Roman citizens “the trinket of Luke and Martina“.
The majestic interior has the shape of a Greek cross, decorated with columns and pillars. Under the altar there is the statue of St. Martina, by Michele Menghini (1635), surmounted by a pleasant work by Antiveduto Gramatica, representing St. Luke the Evangelist painting the Madonna, copy of a famous work painted by Raffaello.
Then go down to the lower church, to admire the funeral monument of the architect Giovan Battista Soria and then enter an octagonal room where there is an altar with the image of the Dead Christ, sculpted by Alessandro Algardi, and the statues of the Saints Dorothea, Sabina, Theodora and Martina. Next to them, you will find the funeral monument of Pietro da Cortona and then the chapel, designed by the same architect, in honor of St. Martina, with another chapel next to it with a terracotta group with Saints Concordio, Epifanio and Compagno, another work by Alessandro Algardi.
Going upstairs and looking around, you will also meet the funerary memories of other very famous architects, such as Girolamo Rainaldi, Filippo Albacini and Luigi Canina: in perfect connection with the Academy of St. Luke, the church certainly does not lack the memories of the artists.
THE CHURCH OF ST. LAWRENCE IN MIRANDA
Next to the church ran Via Bonella which, after the opening of Via dei Fori Imperiali, changed its name to Via della Curia. Pass by the Curia and turn right, parallel to Via dei Fori Imperiali, looking over the parapet to admire an enchanting view of the Roman Forum.
At the end of it, where today on Via della Salara Vecchia is one of the public entrances to the Roman Forum, approach the back of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, in whose cell the Church of St. Lawrence in Miranda was adapted.
The name of the church could refer to the Spanish family of Miranda, who was supposed to live in the area, while according to others it would be linked to the memory of the pious woman Miranda, who attended the sick here with Christian charity. Most probably, in reality, the name would derive from the possibility of looking (from the Latin “mirare“) at the multitude of admirable ancient monuments that were and still are today around it.
St. Lawrence was the most important among the Roman deacons at the time of Pope Sixtus II. He was of Spanish origin, and was the victim of a fiscal persecution under the emperor Valentinian. Arrested for the purpose of having the treasures given to the Emperor, Lawrence distributed them to the poor and the sick ones of Rome, indicating those men and women as the true treasures of heaven. Then he was taken to martyrdom and burned alive on a grill, which became the symbol of his martyrdom.
THE BROTHERHOOD OF PHARMACISTS
The church, arranged around the 8th Century, was granted in the 15th Century by Pope Martin V to the University of Apothecaries, and still today the rooms adjacent to the church are administered by the Brotherhood of Pharmacists, housing a small museum, with one of the most complete collections in the world of bronze mortars for apothecaries and an archive of recipes, the most important of which are those signed by Raphael Sanzio.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
In 1602 the church was rebuilt on a project by Orazio Torriani, who inserted an elegant and slender façade inside the pronaos of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, creating an emblematic monument as a conjugation between the ancient and the modern.
The interior, with a single nave, preserves on the high altar the altarpiece with the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, a work of 1646 by Pietro da Cortona, while in the first chapel on the left you can find the Madonna and Jesus Child with Saints” painted by Domenichino.
THE CHURCH OF SAINTS COSMAS AND DAMIAN
Continue now along Via dei Fori Imperiali, until you meet on the right the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, built in the 6th Century A.D. by Pope Felix IV inside one of the two libraries of the Forum of Peace and in the small temple that in the 4th Century the Emperor Maxentius had dedicated to his son Romulus. The Temple of the Divine Romulus was actually erected over the remains of the ancient Temple of Jupiter Stator, which was founded, according to the legend, by Romulus and where the Romans, chased by the Sabines, would stop, finally resisting after making a vow to the divinity.
Felice IV, who rose to the papal throne in 526 AD thanks to the support of Theodoric, received from Theodoric’s daughter, Amalasunta, the rooms intended for the construction of the church, and the Pope chose to dedicate it to Saints Cosmas and Damian because they were very venerated in Byzantium. Cosmas and Damian were brothers and were both doctors (in italian, “medici“): according to some scholars, this is why the Medici of Florence took the two saints as protectors of their family and many members of the family gave the name of Cosimo (variant of Cosmas). During Diocletian’s persecution the two brothers were accused of witchcraft: for this reason they were condemned to be stoned and hit by darts, but both stones and arrows bounced back and hit the torturers. At the end they were beheaded and buried together.
The Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian belongs to the Franciscans since 1512, but the main restoration to which it was subjected is the one that took place under Pope Urban VIII between 1632 and 1640, following the project by Orazio Torriani. The original access was from the Roman Forum, while the current one is on one side, introduced by an atrium overlooked by a section of the squared wall of the Library of the Forum of Peace.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior of the church has a single nave and is decorated with a splendid painted and gilded ceiling with the coats of arms of the Pope Urban VIII and the Glory of Saints Cosmas and Damian. The altar of the presbytery is adorned with a Madonna and Child, painted on wood by an anonymous artist of the 13th Century; always datable to the 13th Century are the Cosmatesque candelabrum for the Easter candle and the ciborium decorated with semi-precious stones.
The masterpieces of the church are undoubtedly the mosaic that adorns the triumphal arch, commissioned in the 7th Century by Pope Sergius I with the representation of the Adoration of the Lamb, and especially the mosaic of the apse, commissioned by Pope Felix IV and depicting the apostles Peter and Paul presenting to Jesus Christ Saints Cosmas and Damian, accompanied by St. Theodore and Pope Felix IV. At the base of the mosaic you can see Jesus as the Mystical Lamb and the twelve lambs converging towards him to represent his disciples and, metaphorically, the twelve tribes of Israel as symbols of all the peoples of the world.
In the old atrium is placed the second jewel of the church, a wonderful Neapolitan crib of the 18th Century, donated to the basilica by Enrico Cataldo and Raffaella Perricelli in 1939. The scene is set in a hypothetical Roman Forum, as it would have been in 18th Century Rome, with the presence of many characters from everyday popular life adorned with authentic miniature jewelry.
THE FORMA URBIS
The façade of the convent annexed to the church was, at the time of the Roman Empire, one of the walls belonging to the buildings of the Forum of Peace, built by Emperor Vespasian. On that wall, at the beginning of the III Century A.D., the Emperor Septimius Severus placed the Forma Urbis, a gigantic map of Rome engraved on marble slabs.
The fragments currently available of the Forma Urbis, found since 1562, represent just a little more than 10% of the total area of this marble map, originally 235 square meters wide, with the buildings of the ancient city reproduced on a scale of about 1:246. Specifically, the Forma Urbis was composed of eleven rows of 151 slabs, thirteen meters high and eighteen meters wide.
The Forma Urbis is by far the most important topographical documentation of Rome, datable between 203 and 211 A.D. and subject of continuous studies and publications: it constitutes, together with the topographical knowledge of archaeological nature, the most important contribution to the knowledge of the Imperial Rome.
THE IMPERIAL MAPS
Leaving the church, continue along Via dei Fori Imperiali towards the Colosseum and, having passed the majestic apse of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, you will meet (once the metro works are completed) four large maps made of black and white marble, depicting the historical path of the territorial expansion of the domains of Republican and Imperial Rome.
You will then see the main steps of the expansion of Ancient Rome, from the Punic Wars to the age of Augustus, until the maximum expansion under the Emperor Trajan. These maps were placed here during the fascist era to decorate the Via dell’Impero: the final reference of these marble maps was undoubtedly that of the colonial wars of fascist Italy, as shown by a fifth marble map, where the conquest of Ethiopia by the fascist regime was highlighted.
With the fall of Fascism at the end of the Second World War, this last map was removed from the wall (it is now in the storerooms of the Museum of Roman Civilization in the EUR District, waiting for a new musealization) and the remaining four maps assume today, even in the exaltation of the empire of Rome, exclusively a documentary historical value.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY NOVA
At the corner with the podium of the Temple of Venus and Rome, take the road that runs along it and reach the Church of St. Mary Nova (“New St. Mary”), better known by the Romans as the Church of St. Francesca Romana.
At this point stood an older and smaller church that Pope Paul I had dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul, where according to legend Simon Mago fell after publicly challenging the two apostles. For this reason, inside the Church of St. Mary Nova are preserved the “apostolic silices“, a stone on which there would be the footprints of St. Peter’s knees, left by the apostle when he knelt there to pray that Simon Mago’s attempt to fly would fail.
Why is the word “Nova” (new) in the name of the church? Indeed, this church was built to replace that of St. Mary Antiqua (“Ancient St. Mary“), which the increasingly frequent flooding of the Tiber and the terrible earthquake that occurred during the pontificate of Leo IV had made impractical, forcing the worshippers to abandon it.
The new church was built on a portion of the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Rome, flanked by a convent run initially by the Congregation of St. Frediano, then by the Lateran monks and finally by the Olivetans. This church, in 1425, was attended by St. Francesca Romana and her first followers, a detail that explains the alternative name by which the Romans know it.
In the Church of St. Mary Nova, which as stated by the inscription on the façade is dedicated to both the Virgin Mary and St. Francesca Romana, the great artist Gentile from Fabriano painted a highly appreciated fresco, now lost as well as lost is the tomb of the artist himself, who was buried here.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
The current façade of the church, made of travertine, is a work by Carlo Lambardi (1615) and consists of an airy portico on the first floor from which pairs of pilasters rise, connecting it to the upper order and to the tympanum. In the upper part of the façade there are four statues, among which of course you could see St. Francesca Romana, while at the top of the church there is the statue of the Virgin Mary.
Next to the church you can admire the wonderful Romanesque bell tower of the 12th Century, with five levels, of which the last three are adorned with pairs of twin lancet windows and at the top there is a Marian shrine decorated with a pair of small columns. The entire bell tower is decorated with large discs and crosses of porphyry, green serpentine and other polychrome marble and large colorful majolicas.
The interior of the church preserves, on the floor restored in 1952, the remains of the previous cosmatesque floor. Examine the vault of the first chapel on the right, with the ruined 15th Century fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, and then go to the sacristy to admire two valuable paintings: the Miracle of St. Benedict, painted in the 18th Century by Pierre Subleyras, and the Trinity with Bernardo Tolomei and Angels, painted by Giacinto Brandi in 1665.
CHURCH OF ST. SEBASTIAN ON THE PALATINE
From the Church of St. Francesca Romana go down in front of the Colosseum, at the foot of the Temple of Venus and Rome, and go up immediately on the right, for the short stretch of road that still preserves the ancient stones of the Via Sacra, in the direction of the Arch of Titus. Here, on the left, just before one of the entrances to the Roman Forum, is Via di San Bonaventura, which climbs to the top of the Palatine Hill.
THE CARTULARIA TOWER
Here, in the Middle Ages, the Cartularia Tower was built, so called because next to it was the Cartularium, the Byzantine imperial archives that later came into possession of the Church of Rome: the tower remained standing until the early 19th Century, when it was demolished by the architect Giuseppe Valadier in order to give space to the Arch of Titus.
THE ANCIENT TEMPLE OF ELAGABALUS
Going up Via di San Bonaventura, you will see on your left the so-called Barberini Vineyard, inside which you can see the Church of St. Sebastian on the Palatine Hill, built on a giant artificial terrace of the Palatine Hill, where, according to tradition, St. Sebastian was martyred. In this area there was certainly a temple that was identified as that of the Emperor Elagabalus, who arrived to identify himself with the Sun god, thus turning towards an intellectualistic form of monotheism that had its own reflection in the political person of the emperor. To this purpose, Elagabalus had brought together in his temple the most sacred objects of the tradition and religion of Rome: the stone of Cybele, the fire of Vesta, the shields of Mars and the Palladium.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
The simple façade of the church was designed in 1630 by Luigi Arrigucci: have a look at the beautiful portal decorated with a seraphim and the bees of the Barberini family that are also in the large marble coat of arms at the top. The interior has a single nave with apse and preserves frescos of the X Century, while the transept is adorned with frescos of the XVII Century by Bernardino Gagliardi representing St. Sebastian healed by Irene.
THE CHURCH OF ST. BONAVENTURE
Continuing along Via di San Bonaventura, at a certain point you will find a suggestive Way of the Cross, made of groups of painted terracotta inside kiosks closed by grates. The terracottas were modelled by Giovanni Franchi and painted by the priest Father Corrado, replacing the now deteriorated paintings made by Antonio Bicchierai in 1772. This Way of the Cross, created by the will of the friars of St. Bonaventure, replaced the much more scenic one placed in 1714 around the arena of the Colosseum, which was removed by Pope Benedict XIV to prevent it from becoming the target of vandalism by the bandits who often stayed in the area of the ancient amphitheater.
After a few dozen of meters, you will arrive in front of the Church of St. Bonaventure on the Palatine, built on the remains of an ancient Roman cistern connected with the Claudius Aqueduct, to which a Franciscan convent was annexed. The simple façade, with a double slope, presents next to the portal the last two aedicules of the Way of the Cross and above it a niche with the statue of St. Bonaventure.
The interior of the church has a single nave and preserves (in addition to the body of St. Leonardo from Porto Maurizio in the high altar) the tomb of the painter Francesco Mancini, who died in 1758: inside the church you can admire the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and St. Michael defeating the rebellious angels, works by the baroque painter Giovanni Battista Benaschi.