COLONNA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 11
COLONNA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 11
The Itinerary 11 in the Colonna District will lead you to the discovery of this famous and ancient District, whose name derives, according to tradition, from the majestic Column of Marcus Aurelius that stands majestically in the center of the great Column Square. The name was widespread even before the 12th Century, with the monument that became the symbol of District III: a silvery column on a red field.
The Column was erected by the Roman Senate after the death of the Emperor to commemorate, in the long continuous frieze that wraps around it like a ribbon, the victories he reported on the Sarmati and Marcomanni.
This column, which had to be surely completed in 193 A.D. and which is now surmounted by the statue of the apostle St. Paul placed there by Domenico Fontana at the behest of Sixtus V, was known in the Middle Ages as Columna Antonini, from which derives the error reported in the inscriptions made engraved at the base by the Pontiff, in which it is precisely remembered as a column dedicated to Emperor Antoninus Pius.
THE TWO SECTORS OF THE DISTRICT
The Colonna District is divided into two sectors: a flat one (with the exception of the modest hill of Montecitorio) crossed by today’s Via del Corso, the urban route of the ancient Via Flaminia, and a second sector that climbs towards the slopes of the Pincio (Via di Porta Pinciana and Via Francesco Crispi) on one side and up to the Sallustiana valley (Via del Tritone) on the other.
In the Middle Ages the stretch between St. Mark and Sciarra Square was called Via Lata, while Via Flaminia was the stretch between this square and People’s Square. The name “Corso” was given to this street when Pope Paul II, in 1466, transferred here the races and carnival entertainment that previously took place at the Capitol, Navona Square and Testaccio. The toponym of “Corso” soon extended to the whole street, and to it was added that of “Umberto I” the day after the killing of the king on July 30th 1900.
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MEMORIES OF THE DISTRICT
The first sector of the district began with a monumental arch, the result of the transformation by the Emperor Claudius of an archway of the aqueduct that brought water to the Baths of Agrippa. Not far from this arch there was a second one, which underlined the entrance to the porticoed area, with columns in yellow marble of Numidia, built around the temple of the divine Hadrian of which we can still admire the elegant left side colonnade, incorporated in the Borsa Palace in the Stone Square (“Piazza di Pietra”).
A second porticoed area, located a short distance from the first, had at its center the famous Column of Marcus Aurelius, erected by his son Commodus together with a temple, probably the place where today you can see Wedekind Palace, home of the newspaper “Il Tempo”.
In correspondence of these monuments, but on the other side of Via del Corso, was located the travertine aqueduct that carried the Virgin Water, built by Agrippa in 19 BC and restored by Claudius in 45-46 AD.
Along the Sallustiana valley (corresponding to the via del Tritone) also the Sallustiana Water descended and was conveyed by Agrippa into the “euripus” (i.e. the pipeline) reclaiming so the swamp called “Palus Caprae“. On this side of the District were found remains of paved streets and numerous structures perhaps belonging to an area of multi-storey houses, in brick, with stores on the ground floor and that can be dated to the II-III century AD.
Between the current St. Sylvester’s Square, Via Frattina and Via del Corso was therefore placed the Temple of the Sun, which was built by the Emperor Aurelian in 273 AD on his return from his expedition against the city of Palmyra, dedicated to the cult of the star, which was now fully identified with that of the Emperor himself.
The architecture of the entire complex is known to us from a design by Andrea Palladio and consisted of a double rectangular enclosure: the inner one enclosed a circular temple with the ambulatory supported by sixteen columns of porphyry, a stone symbolically connected to the sun itself.
At the end of the District, in this first sector, at the intersection of Via Frattina and Via del Corso there was a third arch that in the Middle Ages was called Arch of Portugal and that was demolished in 1662. This arch, perhaps built in the 2nd Century A.D. and restored in late antiquity, was decorated with four green marble columns and reliefs from the age of Hadrian (two are now placed to adorn one of the the staircases of the Capitoline Museums).
On the other side of the Via del Corso was the “ustrinum” (i.e. the place where the bodies were cremated) of the imperial family of the Antonini, while in correspondence of the Via degli Uffici del Vicario there was the Column of Antoninus Pius with a smooth granite shaft and placed on a base decorated by the representation of the apotheosis of the Emperor Antonino Pio and his wife Faustina Maggiore assisted by the goddess Rome and the personification of the Campus Martius. This base is now on display in the Vatican Museums. The column, instead, erected by the will of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Vero, was found in the garden of the Fathers of the Mission in 1703 and was used to restore the Obelisk of Augustus.
Immediately north of the current Parliament Square was the great Solar Clock in which the Obelisk of Psammeticus II (6th Century BC) was brought from Heliopolis to Rome by Augustus in 10 BC to serve as a gnomon. The obelisk then, fallen to the ground and restored with the granite of the Antonine Column, was placed in the center of the Montecitorio Square where it still stands today.
A last great building that was located in ancient times in this area of the Colonna District was the famous Ara Pacis Augustae, the great altar that was voted by the Roman Senate on July 4th 13 BC to celebrate the pacification of Rome and the empire and dedicated on January 30th 9 BC.
This large altar, surrounded by an almost square-shaped enclosure (m 10.62 x 11.63), was decorated, in the upper external part, with the representation of the imperial family, in ceremonial procession, in memory of the procession of priests, magistrates, vestals that every year went to the altar for the solemn sacrifice. It was found, several times, in 1568 under the Palazzo Fiano Almagià and finally excavated in 1938 by Giuseppe Moretti, when all the removable parts were recovered and reassembled inside a pavilion at the mausoleum of Augustus between the Via di Ripetta and the Lungotevere in Augusta, where it can still be admired.
FROM THE MIDDLE AGES TO THE MODERN TIMES
The other sector of the district, on the slopes of the Collis Hortulorum, crossed by the urban stretch of the Salaria Vetus called Vicus Minervii, was instead occupied by the tombs of illustrious people, and by the complex of the great Horti Luculliani, the villa that the famous Licinio Lucullo, general and politician, had built over a vast area.
During the Middle Ages the area around the Via del Corso continued to be inhabited, although not intensely: small towers were raised, but the area must have been almost uninhabited, if you think of names like that of St. Andrew of the “Fratte“, from the name of the hedges that enclosed the gardens that were located here or the Square of Monte d’Oro (the “Gold Mountain“) that before being so called, from the sign of a tavern that had been planted here in the mid-16th Century, was called “ortaccio” (“ugly garden“). Many churches, today destroyed or disappeared, were built: one of the few still existing is the ancient Church of St. Sylvester in Capite, built on the ruins of the Temple of the Sun.
An increase in building activity in the neighborhood took place during the pontificate of the last popes of the 16th Century, Gregory XIII and Sixtus V who, in addition to continuing the road layout of the area of the Roman center, which connected the city gates, basilicas and key points of the city, laid the foundations for the future urban planning. Other important buildings were then built: Ferraioli, Sciarra, Aldobrandini, Peretti and Giustiniani. The Column Square was improved first with the construction of the large fountain from the marble basin of Chio, called “portasanta” (because of this marble are the jambs of the Holy Door of the St. Peter’s Basilica) and then after 1659 with the destruction of a last remaining nucleus of houses that made possible the enlargement.
Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) finally completed the embellishment of the square by having the Post Office Palace (today Wedekind Palace) built, as a majestic setting, with the porch adorned with sixteen elegant white marble columns with Ionic style capitals from Veio.
The new master plan of Rome, the capital of Italy, of 1873, finally tried to solve the problem of widening the Via del Corso in the stretch that runs through our district and from 1880 to 1915 was a succession of interventions, ranging from the layout of the Via del Tritone to the arrangement of the adjacent road system, the construction of the new warehouse Bocconi (later called by the poet D’Annunzio “La Rinascente”) and the enlargement of St. Sylvester’s Square.
Piazza Sciarra – piazza Colonna – via della Colonna Antonina – piazza di Pietra – via de’ Pastini – via della Guglia – piazza Capranica – vicolo della Spada di Orlando – via delle Colonnette – piazza della Maddalena – via del Pantheon – piazza della Rotonda – via del Seminario – piazza di San Macuto – piazza Sant’Ignazio – via de’ Burrò – piazza di Pietra – via del Corso
THE SAVINGS BANK PALACE
The Itinerary 11 in the Colonna District from the Savings Bank Palace, which overlooks Via del Corso at number 320, in front of the Sciarra Palace (which is instead included in the Pigna District, that we’ll examine later) and which we see in its neo-Renaissance architectural lines wanted by the architect Antonio Cipolla. The construction of the palace lasted from 1867 to 1874, and inside today you can admire above all the beautiful Council Hall and the Marble Hall, decorated by the sculptor Oreste Garofali and the painters Natali and Bruschi, with the latter who painted the valuable canvas that adorns the ceiling of the Council Hall with the “Representation of Savings, Abundance and Peace“. The beautiful bronze door, made around 1933 and depicting in the panels the “civic and domestic virtues“, which inspired the official ideology of the Fascist regime, allows access to the Via del Corso.
The building, with ashlar in the lower part and six windows on the mezzanine floor and seven on the second floor, decorated with a curved tympanum, has a beautiful travertine balcony with a decorated railing.
In 1562, in the excavation carried out between the Sciarra Palace and the Fabi Palace, the remains of the arch of Emperor Claudius came to light, which was erected between 51 and 52 AD to commemorate the emperor’s successful expedition to Britain. This arch, whose reliefs are preserved in the Capitoline Museums, had a very short life and already, in the precious medieval document “Itinerary of Einsiedeln“, it is no longer remembered.
OTHER BUILDINGS AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL MEMORIES
Proceeding along the Via del Corso, you will find the Palace of the Counts of Montecatino, native of Ferrara, who under the pontificate of Sixtus V received the noble title. The palace, between whose windows there is a small sacred shrine depicting the Virgin Mary, is from the late 17th Century.
Still in the 16th Century it was possible to see, between Via dei Montecatini and Via di Pietra, the remains of an arch built by Emperor Antoninus Pius for his predecessor Hadrian, now divinized. The arch was the monumental entrance to the square that surrounded the great Temple of Hadrian.
Beyond Via di Pietra there is a beautiful Art Nouveau palace with an elegant facade animated by balconies supported by corbels, adorned with female faces and satyrs. The doors are also in Art Nouveau style and are decorated with the motif of pairs of harpies. On the first floor of the palace, at number 341, opened the historical store of Cravanzola, silversmith and merchant of decorations and medals, supplier of the royal house.
THE COLUMN SQUARE – DEL BUFALO FERRAJOLI PALACE
Continuing the walk along Via del Corso you will arrive at the corner with Column Square, where stands out Del Bufalo-Niccolini-Ferrajoli Palace, with a brick facade marked by rusticated bands and a large door with the doors adorned with pairs of harpies. The heraldic coat of arms of the Ferraioli family recurs on the cornice supported by corbels and decorated with rosettes and also appears in the fountain located in the courtyard of the palace. The Del Bufalo family was one of the families of ancient Roman nobility, now extinct. The palace, restored by the architect Giacomo Della Porta, had a subsequent intervention in the early 17th Century by Peparelli. Passed to the Niccolini of Florence in 1728, it was purchased in the 19th Century by the Ferrajoli family.
THE COLUMN SQUARE – ST. BARTHOLOMEW OF THE BERGAMASKS
Continuing around the block, you can reach the Church of St. Bartholomew of the Bergamasks, initially built as the church of the Hospital of St. Mary of Piety. When, in 1725, the hospital was transferred to the Lungara, the church passed to the Confraternity of the Bergamasks and was dedicated to Saints Bartholomew and Alexander, patron saints of the city of Bergamo.
The renovation works carried out by the architect De Dominicis soon began and, between 1729 and 1731, the façade of the church was rebuilt with a graceful columned portal with a broken tympanum that has the representation of the “Pietà” in high relief in the medallion above, while cherubs’ heads decorate the architrave. The building was then renovated by the architect Valvassori, who left unchanged the layout of the church, with a single nave, with on the high altar the “Virgin of the Piety“, a copy of a work by Guido Reni. The most important painting is by Milani and depicts the “Beheading of the Baptist“, while in the nearby oratory there is the “Madonna and Child appearing to Saints Bartholomew and Alexander” by Alberti. To the side of the church is the House of the Bergamasks whose baroque portal, in travertine, comes from the demolitions carried out, in via Ripetta, for the construction of the walls on the Lungotevere.
THE COLUMN SQUARE – WEDEKIND PALACE
Turn now to look at the majestic Wedekind Palace, which closes one side of the Column Square and stands where, in the 16th Century, there were several houses and a small church dedicated to St. John.
In 1659, all these buildings were demolished during the works of arrangement of the square and were replaced by a single building, donated by Pope Innocent XII to the Apostolic Hospice of St. Michael. The ground floor and the second floor were respectively assigned to the offices of the four Notaries of the Chamber and the Urban Archives and to the Vicegerent of the Vicariate of Rome.
In 1814 Pius VI arranged for the General Direction of the Pontifical Post Office to be located there, and in 1838 the works were completed, which saw the arrangement, in front of the facade of the building, of a portico (designed by Giuseppe Valadier and erected by the architect Camporese the Younger) supported by sixteen fluted columns in Lunense marble with Ionic style capitals that had been found in Veio during the excavations conducted between 1812 and 1817: in 1847, however, one of the columns was replaced by a copy and transported to Trastevere, in front of the Church of St. Francis in Ripa. The four columns that are located inside the main door come instead from the Basilica of St. Paul, and survived the famous fire that destroyed a large part of the Basilica in 1823.
In 1876 the banker Wedekind bought the palace, which was renovated by the architect Giovenale, who placed a large clock in the center of the facade, flanked by caryatids and winged goats. After various destinations, Wedekind Palace now houses the printing house and offices of the Roman newspaper “Il Tempo”, founded in 1948.
THE COLUMN SQUARE – THE FOUNTAIN
In the center of the square, in front of the Column, stands the large Fountain of Virgin Water built in Chios marble, commonly known as the “portasanta“, interspersed with white marble bands adorned at the top with lion heads.
The oval-shaped basin was sculpted between 1576 and 1577 by the stonemason Rocco de Rossi on a design by Giacomo Della Porta, who thought, in a first project, to decorate it with the statue of “Marforio“: it is one of the famous Roman “talking statues” that was then abandoned in the area of the Roman Forum and that now is in exposition in the Capitoline Museums. However, this project was abandoned and a simpler one was preferred. The star of the Albani coat of arms, which Pope Clement XI had added in 1702, was removed as well as the four pyramids that were placed on the two ends of the basin. This time, however, they were replaced by Achille Stocchi with as many dolphins that can still be seen with their tails intertwined against the valva of an open shell. In 1866 was finally removed a water trough for horses that was next to it.
THE COLUMN SQUARE – THE SHRINE FOR THE VIRGIN MARY
Now look out onto Via della Colonna Antonina and go to number 43: under a beautiful sacred shrine with the effigy of the Virgin Mary with her head girded by a halo of stars and adorned with a coral red necklace, opens the historic store of the Carmignani, for more than a century supplier of politicians and culture, as well as a meeting place for smokers and pipe collectors.
THE COLUMN OF MARCUS AURELIUS
To remember the victories reported by Marcus Aurelius against the Sarmati and the Marcomanni, the Senate and the Roman people decided to raise, at the death of the emperor in 180 AD. an Honorary Column. The column, which was surely completed in 193 A.D., was probably raised in the center of a porticoed area, open on Via Lata through an access arch. In front of the column, where is now Wedekind Palace, there was probably the temple dedicated to the deified Marcus Aurelius.
In the immediate vicinity of the Column there was the house of the procurator Adrasto, in charge of the surveillance of the column, who in 193 A.D. had asked and obtained to build his house there in order to better fulfill his duty as a guard. In this sense, it is clear that in that year the column must have been completed.
The shaft of the column is one hundred Roman feet high (29.60 meters) and consists of seventeen parts (rocks), with a diameter of 3.80 meters at the base and 3.66 meters at the top. Inside a spiral staircase of 203 steps was dug, which takes light from 56 narrow openings, and which was accessed through a small door.
In a more schematic and less expressive style compared to that of the representations of the Trajan’s Column, but in any case with a documentation rich in details about clothes, armor and buildings (which allows you to get a lot of information about the various populations depicted), the frieze along the column narrates the episodes of the two military campaigns of Marcus Aurelius, the first against the Quadi (from 172 to 173) and the other starting from 173 against the Marcomanni and later against the Jazigi, population of southern Russia with whom Marcus Aurelius concluded the peace in 175, in order to tame the new rebellion of the Quadi.
In the 10th Century the Column of Marcus Aurelius was still included, along with other distinguished monuments, among the properties of the nearby monastery of San Sylvester. In the 16th Century, however, Pope Sixtus V commissioned the architect Domenico Fontana of a series of drastic interventions that saw, in a year, the installation of new slabs on the base and the elimination of what remained of the frieze with commemorative inscriptions. The architects Matteo from Città di Castello and Silla from Viggiù restored the reliefs of the spiral integrating the ruined parts in marble. Tommaso Della Porta was instead in charge of the design of the statue of St. Paul which, cast in bronze by the sculptor Torrigiani, replaced the gilded bronze one of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at the top of the Column, now lost.
THE HADRIAN’S TEMPLE
Leaving the Column Square, now take Via dei Bergamaschi to go towards the Stone Square, remembered with this name already in the 15th Century. In this square, around the second half of the 17th Century, it was decided to move the market with stalls for the sale of bread, fish and vegetables and salted pork that previously took place in the nearby Round Square.
On the left side of the square are preserved the remains of the Temple of Hadrian, built in 145 by Antoninus Pius in honor of the divinized predecessor Hadrian. The temple, partly occupied by the current building of the Chamber of Commerce, still has eleven of the thirteen fluted white marble columns on the right side, with the architrave (partly modern) decorated with lion heads and palmettes. Behind the columns is preserved the wall of the room made of peperino and travertine blocks, which was to be covered with marble. The temple, peripteral octagonal and Corinthian style, was at the center of a large porticoed square with columns in ancient yellow that had access to the Via Lata marked by a triumphal arch.
The walls of the cell were inside decorated with reliefs with the personifications of the provinces of the empire, dressed in robes and bearing the attributes useful for their identification flags: these reliefs, which are alternated with others with the representation of armor, are now in the Conservators’ Palace in the Capitol and were found in the 16th Century, during excavations in and around the Stone Square, along with fragments of the temple’s cornice.If you want to see them, please book the Museums and Galleries Tour of Rome Guides, choosing the Capitoline Museums.
The architect Carlo Fontana, on behalf of Pope Innocent XII, transformed the remains of the Hadrianeum into the building that would house the goods that arrived in Rome by land (land customs): the proceeds of taxation would go to the Apostolic Hospice.
In 1873 the Chamber of Commerce of Rome bought the building to make it its headquarters and the renovation works were assigned to the architect Vespignani, who eliminated the baroque structures of the building which was inaugurated in 1882.
On the other side of the square, at number 39, there is a beautiful sacred aedicule with a very damaged representation of the Virgin Mary with an ampulla in her hands from which a lily comes out.
THE FERRINI CINI PALACE
Leave the Stone Square and take Via de’ Pastini, so called because the egg pasta stores opened there until the 19th Century, admiring the beautiful Ferrini Palace, begun (but not completed) by the architect Martino Longhi and passed in 1628, at the death of Ferrini, to the Augustinian Nuns to whom it remained until the 18th Century.
Later it became the property of Count Cini, whose name still remains on the large doorway, while both on the shelves at the sides of the doorway and in the lacunars of the sumptuous cornice are preserved the heraldic motifs of the Ferrini family: the angel with the sword and the star, on one side, and the dove on an ear of corn, on the other. Inside the hallway, a series of iron paracars reminds us that in ancient times carriages passed through it, while at the bottom there is a small fountain decorated with an ancient capital and a modern statue of a faun.
A nice anecdote is connected to this palace: in 1836 the famous writer Stendhal, then 53 years old, was hopelessly in love with Lady Giulia, wife of Filippo Cini, and had made the habit of going every day to the palace to court her. One evening, during a theatrical performance, Stendhal declared with great determination to Filippo Cini “I love your wife”. Cini answered imperturbably: “Of course, she is a wonderful woman. Will you come to dinner with us tonight?”. Humiliated by the answer, Stendhal surrendered without looking out the door of the Cini Palace: the beautiful Lady Giulia could have inspired the writer to the character of Countess Sandra in the “Life of Henry Brulard“.
Incorporated in the rear part of the Ferrini Palace there was a house (corresponding today to numbers 59-61 of Via della Guglia) with a famous façade painted by Polidoro da Caravaggio and Maturino da Firenze with the representation of the Theological Virtues. The subject of the paintings is known to us not only from a drawing, now in the Cabinet of the Prints, but also from an engraving by De Cavalleris of 1581.
Still on the Via de’ Pastini, at the corner with Via della Guglia (which takes its name from the Obelisk of Montecitorio considering that the obelisks were then called “spires”), was located the building that housed orphans, whose education and initiation into a profession were entrusted to prelates and gentlemen. Later, in 1541, this association was raised to the Archconfraternity of St. Mary of the Visitation of Orphans. The building was enlarged in 1591 by Cardinal Salviati, who gave his name to a College, which was always administered by the Archconfraternity until 1826.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY IN AQUIRO
Take now via in Aquiro and reach Capranica Square which overlooks the beautiful and important Church of St. Mary in Aquiro. According to some people, the name “Aquiro” with which the church is called originates from the term “Equirria” or “Equiria“, which was given to some games, also remembered by the Latin poet Horace, which took place in the area of the Field of Mars. According to another interpretation, the name would derive from the word “aqua” because it was believed that the aqueduct of the Virgin Water ran in the vicinity of the church.
In fact, the church is currently also called St. Mary of the Visitation: here in fact the rite of the Visitation of Mary to St. Elizabeth was celebrated, instituted by decree of April 8th 1389 by Urban VI to bring unity to the Church in a tremendous period of division.
The church, which was probably built after the Council of Ephesus and was always dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was rebuilt and enlarged during the pontificate of Gregory III (731-742) until it took the basilical form and soon became a cardinal’s diaconia, a title it has maintained until today. In 1295, Pope Boniface VIII consecrated an altar to St. Nicholas. The importance of this church is attested by the fact that it continued to be officiated during the Avignonese Captivity (1305-1375) along with a few other Roman churches.
In 1504 the management of the church was entrusted by Pope Julius II to the Congregation of Secular Priests, who were engaged in works of charity. This Congregation, which had as its sign a red cross with four S (Sacro Sancta Sacerdotum Societas), was nicknamed the Confraternity of the Four S. In 1540, it was united to the Confraternity of Orphans which had been created in 1537 by Cardinal Gian Domenico De Cupis. In 1571, then, this parish also reunited the Church of St. Stephen of Trullo, which was located in Stone Square and was demolished during the pontificate of Alexander VII, and of which a fresco depicting the “Madonna with Child and St. Stephen” is preserved in St. Mary in Aquiro.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF ST. MARY IN AQUIRO
The Church of St. Mary in Aquiro is inseparably linked to Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati, who had the church rebuilt in its present form, entrusting the work to the architect Francesco da Volterra. When the cardinal died in 1602, however, the construction of the church was limited to the perimeter walls, the ceiling and the dome and only three chapels (the Ferrari Chapel, the Chapel of St. Jerome and the Chapel of the Pietà) had been completed with precious marble coverings and several paintings.
On the death of Francesco da Volterra, the works were entrusted to Filippo Breccioli, under the direction of Carlo Maderno, and continued with the construction of the lower part of the façade, completed only in 1774 by Pietro Camporese the Elder. Inside, the high altar, completely in marble, was built in 1681 by the Patriarch of Constantinople Monsignor Stefano Ugolini, who also wanted the covering of the apse walls to be made of marble: in the altar were placed the relics of the martyrs Emiliano, Felicissimo and Fortunato, as mentioned in the inscription placed in counterfaçade above the entrance door.
THE DECORATIONS OF ST. MARY IN AQUIRO
On the altar, in a precious aedicule, stands out the precious image of the “Virgin with Child and St. Stephen“, a fragment of a 13th Century fresco by a Roman artist follower of Pietro Cavallini and originally preserved, as mentioned, in the nearby church, later demolished, of St. Stephen of Trullo.
The church, entrusted by Pope Leo XII to the Somaschi Fathers (who still administer it today), has three naves with three chapels on each side. Inside the dome are depicted the Evangelists, while in the corners you can see the angels holding in their hands scrolls in which are reported some Gospel passages related to the “Life of the Virgin“; also the nave is entirely decorated with stories from the life of the Virgin Mary.
The third chapel on the right, also known as the Ferrari Chapel, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is certainly the most precious of the church, enriched with precious marbles and golden friezes. The oil paintings on the wall were made by the Venetian painter Carlo Saraceni (1585-1625) and have as their subject episodes of the “Life of Mary“, with depictions of Saints under the arch and allegorical figures on the sides of the window.
Of particular interest is also the Chapel, located in the right arm of the transept, dedicated to St. Joseph Labre who, when he was alive, used to go to this church and pray in this chapel (as mentioned on the inscription on the balustrade surrounding the altar). The Saint is depicted on his deathbed in a canvas by the painter Pietro Gagliardi; the altarpiece with St. Joseph Labre, the Virgin and the Holy Trinity is by Vincenzo Pasqualoni.
Another chapel of great artistic interest is the one that opens in the center of the right aisle, dedicated to the “Passion of Christ“, which still preserves intact the decoration of the 17th Century. The “Deposition“, placed above the altar in the center with the “Flagellation” and the “Crowning of Thorns” at the sides, has been attributed to the Flemish Caravaggesque painter Gherardo delle Notti.
The church also preserves numerous funerary monuments often overlooked by visitors. Those of the 19th Century set in a late neoclassical style are typical, here as in other Roman churches, of the last phase of art in the Papal States, which welcomed romantic verism on condition that it was calligraphic in the drawing and in the plastic rendering of the figures. Admire, for example, the funerary monument of Nìcolò Modetti, noticing the almost virtuous realism of the sculptor Stefano Galletti in the figure of the kneeling widow reading a prayer book in front of her late husband’s grave.
THE “SWORD OF ORLANDO”
To the right of the Church of St. Mary in Aquiro opens, slightly downhill, the Alley of the Sword of Orlando: legend has it that it was the paladin Orlando, with a slash of his Durlindana sword, to open the large crack that crosses the fragment of marble column that can be seen on the right.
THE CAPRANICA PALACE
Look now at the Capranica Palace and College, a splendid example of architectural structure of the early Renaissance, wanted by Cardinal Domenico Capranica who bought some buildings in the square. The palace was completed in 1451 and Cardinal Capranica, at his death, gave disposition that his brother Angelo could live in the palace, but with the clause that the College that had been instituted in 1456 would be welcomed there. He had then built, next to it, another building to welcome the College keeping the first one to the House, which was confirmed by Sixtus IV in 1478.
The college, with two floors and an internal courtyard, was largely rearranged in 1955 and preserves, walled to the outside, some marble tables: the most valuable is divided into two levels, with the representation of the bust of the “Savior” placed above a table between candlesticks, in the upper part, and two figures kneeling (brothers) with candles in hand in the lower part. The purpose of the College was to educate young people to the ecclesiastical career through seven years of teaching and the achievement of a degree in theology and canon law.
Of great interest is, inside the Chapel of the College, the panel by Antoniazzo Romano depicting the “Madonna and Child between Saints and Cardinals of the Capranica family“. Governed by a rector elected by the same students, the college was closed in 1798 and reopened in 1807.
The Palace, with the massive quadrangular tower that overlooks it on the left side, has on one side a series of marble mullioned windows with the coat of arms in the center of Cardinal Domenico and, on the other, elegant cross windows. Two doors with marble architrave give access, respectively on the left to the College (Collegium Capranicense) and on the right to the Palace and are each decorated with coats of arms today chiselled.
FROM THE THEATRE TO THE MOVIE THEATRE
From 1922 to 2000, the Palace housed the Cinema Capranica, while today it is used as a small conference center. In fact, as early as 1678 the two Capranica brothers, Pompeo and Federico, had a private room in two apartments of the Palace, where they started to celebrate the Carnival Festival the following year. In 1695 a real theater was built, with an elegant hall and 27 stages arranged on six orders. In 1698, however, the theater had to be closed by the will of Pope Innocent XII, who with an edict had prohibited the representation of theatrical performances.
Reopened in 1711, the theater saw the performance of the “Pamela” by Carlo Goldoni, who then wrote the opera “La Pamela maritata” in the Capranica Theater. During the operas, many famous set designers (such as Juvarra and Galli Bibiena) worked in this theater. In 1751 the theater was expanded to 28 stages, but even after numerous renovations, no architect was able to solve the problem of security of the building, which in 1881 had to end its artistic activity (which resumed, however, as mentioned, in 1922 as a cinema, after the transformation made by the architect Waldis).
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY MAGDALENE
Leave Capranica Square and take Via delle Colonnette where, immediately on the right corner, you will see a sacred shrine with the representation of the “Madonna and Jesus Child between Saints Peter and Paul“. The name of this street derives from the presence of the “colonnette” (small columns), precisely placed at the sides of the street as paracarri: two of these, in cipollino marble, are still located at the sides of the side door of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.
You will reach the Magdalene Square, on the border with the District VIII ( St. Eustace) and at the corner you will see the short steps of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, already remembered in 1320 as a small hospital chapel at the Confraternity of the Disciplined. Later joined by Innocent VIII in 1486 to the Confraternity of the Gonfalone, the chapel and the adjoining hospital became in 1586 the seat of the Ministers of the Infirm, founded by Camillo de Lellis in 1582. In 1621, the Camillians obtained it with the opinion of Pope Gregory XV, and were also authorized by his successor Urban VIII to make space in front of the chapel, thus building the small square.
Starting in 1630, work began on the extension of the chapel with a succession of architects, from Giacomo Mola to Giovan Francesco Grimaldi and Carlo Fontana, who was the author of the polygonal dome surmounted by the lantern. The work continued with De Rossi and his successor Giulio Carlo Quadri. The works were endless: the interior of the church was completed in 1669, but the church was consecrated only in 1727. To have the present facade it was necessary to wait until 1735, when it was completed by Giuseppe Sardi. Concave and on two orders, it is rich of broken frames and stucco ornaments, often excessive, so much to be ironically nicknamed by the Romans “the church of sugar“. The lower part, marked by columns and pillars, houses within the niches the statues of St. Camillus de Lellis and St. Philip Neri, works by Paolo Campana, while in the upper part, at the sides of a large central window, you can see St. Mary Magdalene and St. Martha, by Canard.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
The door, at the top of a short staircase, is surmounted by the inscription: “O crux / ave / spes unica / piis adauge / gratiam“, surrounded by the heads of angels while angels still support the Cross of the Camillian Fathers.
The interior has an elliptical nave with rich baroque decoration and has some statues in the niches, personifications of the predispositions for a good confession: the statues and the purpose of the church were in fact to emphasize and affirm the value of the Sacrament of Confession (paenitentia) to acquire the salvation of the soul and the kingdom of heaven, in clear polemical reference against Protestantism that abolished the reality and form of many of the sacraments. The Church of St. Mary Magdalene is therefore, still today, an important testimony of the theological battle that fought the Catholic Church against Protestantism.
In the vault of the church stands out the representation of “St. Camillus in glory who adores the Cross” by Sebastiano Conca. The most important place of the church is paradoxically the sacristy, considered among the most beautiful in Rome for its architecture and decoration of the 18th Century.
The history of the nearby convent is also marked by the intervention of numerous architects: of particular interest are the refectory, decorated with some paintings by Sebastiano Conca, and the chapel, where St. Camillus de Lellis died on July 14th 1614, adorned with works that recall episodes from the life of the Saint and with the relics of the Saint preserved in precious reliquaries.
Continue along via del Pantheon, which marks the boundary between District III (Colonna) and District VIII (St. Eustace).
The Rotonda Square, one of the most beautiful Roman squares, is a real symbolic crossroads of the city: it is in fact located at the intersection of the districts III, VIII and IX, and is dominated by the majesty of the Pantheon, which, however, is nominally part of district IX (Pigna).
In the square, at numbers 61 and 64, opened the famous Albergo del Sole (“Hotel of the Sun”), which hosted illustrious guests such as the poet Ludovico Ariosto (in 1513) and the musician Pietro Mascagni (in 1890). The hotel, already mentioned in 1467 and once called “Albergo del Montone” (“Hotel of the Mutton”), still preserves in original only the right side with rectangular windows, arranged on two floors, while the third floor was completed by a loggia, which today has been replaced by windows.
Although it seems incredible, the square was paved in 1906 with wood taken from the trees of the forests of Argentina (Quebracho) donated in order to “surround with religious silence the venerated tombs of the first Kings of Italy” and in memory of this event (what remains of it is now covered) and was placed by the City of Rome a plaque, which you can read at number 68.
There are several curiosities about the Rotonda Square, some more cheerful, others more macabre. Among the most bloody ones, we remember how in 1638 Pope Urban VIII condemned to be “mazzolati, sgozzati e riquartati” (beaten, slit and quartered) some pork butchers who made sausages by adding to the pork meat that of men and women murdered by them: it seems that the horrible sausages, before they knew what was in them, were sold like hotcakes!
Before leaving the square you can’t help but enjoy a cup of coffee (or maybe a coffee slush) at the “Tazza d’Oro“, a cafeteria that every good Roman knows and from where you can see men and women coming out smelling with pleasure the packages of freshly ground coffee.
THE SERLUPI CRESCENZI PALACE
Now take Via del Seminario where, above number 100, you will see a sacred shrine with the representation of the Madonna with a book in her hands.
After a few more steps, at number 113, you will see the Serlupi Crescenzi Palace, built in 1585 on a project by architect Giacomo Della Porta, one of the most important examples of 16th Century civil architecture. The large architraved door with corbels adorned with heraldic elements is flanked by a series of windows also architraved, which on the second floor have, alternately, curved and triangular tympanums, while on the second floor the curved tympanums are decorated with heraldic elements.
Inside the Palace, having the most important rooms decorated with frescoes, has a large and airy courtyard with a double porch (the upper one closed by stained glass windows) decorated with frieze that also here bears motifs derived from the Crescenzi coat of arms; in the courtyard, observe the valuable sarcophagus (3rd Century A.D.) with the personifications of the seasons on the sides and with the representation of the deceased in the center with the volumen in hand, above two intertwined cornucopias.
THE GABRIELLI BORROMEO PALACE
Going on along Via del Seminario, past Via delle Paste, you will find the 16th Century Gabrielli Palace, built by Girolamo Gabrielli who, however, died without male heirs and left it in his will to the nearby Church of St. Macuto to host the Roman Seminary. The Roman Seminary, which was established in 1565 with a decree issued during the Council of Trent, had already had several seats, but it remained here until 1772 when, having been entrusted to the direction of the Jesuits, it was closed as part of the measures against the Society of Jesus.
Sold two years later to the “Monte di Pietà” (Pawnshop), the palace was rented by Cardinal Vitaliano Borromeo, who restored it to the point of having it renamed the Borromeo Palace. Here, once the reconstructed Roman Seminary was transferred to the Germanic-Hungarian College, Pope Leo XII placed there the College of Nobles, entrusting it to the Jesuits, who were expelled in 1848, during the Roman Republic, so that Giuseppe Mazzini could stay in the palace.
In 1873, the Borromeo Palace became the seat of the Roman College, restored with the name of Pontifical Gregorian University. However, when (as we have already seen in a previous paragraph) the Gregorian University was moved to the Pilotta Square, the Palace became the seat of the Bellarmino College of the Roman Province of the Society of Jesus.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MACUTO
Next to the Borromeo Palace stands the Church of St. Macuto, mentioned for the first time in 1192. The building was first given in 1538 to the Brotherhood of the Bergamasks, changing its name to that of Saints Bartholomew and Alexander, and then in 1726 to the Jesuits, who joined it to the College of Nobles.
The church still preserves the elegant brick façade of the 16th Century, designed by Francesco da Volterra, marked by travertine pilasters that flank a portal surmounted by a tympanum. Inside there are still some paintings by the 17th Century painter Cerruti, while the other works that adorned it have been transported to the Gabrielli Palace and the Church of St. Bartholomew of the Bergamasks.
Before leaving the small square of St. Macuto, it is necessary to remember that here was raised a small obelisk that, probably coming from the excavations for the construction of the nearby Church of St. Mary over Minerva, formerly occupied by the Campense Iseo, was called “macuteo”. The small obelisk of Ramesse II (1292-1225 B.C.) remained on the small square until 1711 and was then carried by Pope Clement XI to the Rotonda Square to decorate the 16th century fountain, designed by Filippo Barigioni.
THE ST. IGNATIUS’ SQUARE
A little further on stands St. Ignatius’ Square, whose arrangement, imposed by Benedict XIII, was the work of the Jesuits. They commissioned it to the brilliant architect Filippo Raguzzini, who designed a plan articulated by buildings arranged as a theatrical scene, made of brick according to what they imposed the canons of architecture in the economy of those years. In the central building today is the headquarters of the Carabinieri Command of the Artistic Heritage Nucleus.
Leave St. Ignatius Square, neglecting the church of the same name for the moment, and turn right into via de’ Burrò. The toponym, which names all the interweaving of the streets between the Raguzzini’s palaces, derives from that of the French administration offices (Bureau), which were located here during the Napoleonic occupation and which the Roman citizens “italianized” in a more dialectal form, unable to write it in correct French.