ROMAN ITINERARIES – COLONNA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 12
COLONNA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 12
Let’s start now our Colonna District Itinerary 12, ending the sector on the left of the Via del Corso and then going back to the Column Square, on the right side of which faces the Chigi Palace which is the seat, after the conspicuous interventions of 1959-1961, of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
Piazza Colonna – Via dell’Impresa – Piazza Montecitorio – Via degli Uffici del Vicario – Via di Campo Marzio – Piazza del Parlamento – Via in Lucina – Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina – Via del Corso
THE CHIGI PALACE
The Chigi Palace is located at the corner of Column Square and Via del Corso, which it overlooks for a good part. Originally, these two parts of the building were separated, and it was only with the Chigi Princes that the property was merged into a single palace.
In fact, to a first property of Tedellini on Via del Corso (1575) was added a second one, on Column Square, by Pietro Aldobrandini, who had purchased in 1580 some modest buildings. Between the two properties there were other buildings, which were purchased by Cardinal Aldobrandini in 1618. In 1661 the whole property passed to the Chigi family, who started the works in 1667, under the direction of the architects Della Greca and Contini. The works continued over the years under the direction of several architects (Stern, Valadier, Bianchi, Camporese il Vecchio and Simonetti). The Palace was admired for the valuable collections of its famous library, part of which was dispersed even before the sale of the palace to the State in 1916. After having first been the seat of the Embassy of Austria and Hungary and then of the Ministry of Colonies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chigi Palace is now, as mentioned, the seat of the Presidency of the Council.
Have a look at the palace: on the façade on Column Square you will see, at both ends, the image of the Saviour on the right and a beautiful shrine, on the left, with the “Madonna and Child“. On the ground floor, on the right, is a series of seven windows (four of which are modern) protected by gratings, while the rectangular windows on the second floor have alternating curved and triangular tympanum. Two more rows of windows follow and finally the cornice, decorated with the star and the rake (Aldobrandini family) and the star and the mountains (Chigi family).
At the corner with Via del Corso there is an open balcony, which was previously closed by a compass. In Fascist times, it was nicknamed “the prow of Italy“.
On the façade overlooking Via del Corso, the doorway has a broken tympanum as it was decorated with the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII, then placed in the hallway. Inside the palace is a beautiful courtyard with a portico, adorned with a fountain, with water flowing out of the mouth of a mask placed within a shell.
The rooms of the Chigi Palace are decorated with valuable works by the painters Maratta and Baciccia, in addition to the remarkable stuccoes and marbles and the two refined tapestries of the Alexander the Great series.
At this point take, after a modest climb, Via dell’Impresa where, on January 11th 1793, happened a fact of political chronicle that had great resonance all over Europe. The Roman people assaulted the carriage of the French ambassador Ugo de Basville, who was dragged out of the carriage, beaten and stabbed. This fact contributed to the subsequent arrival in Rome of the French troops of the Republic who, for the first time, put an end to the temporal state of the Church. The great Italian poet Vincenzo Monti wrote on that occasion one of his masterpieces, “La Basvilliana“, in which the soul of the unfortunate ambassador, flying over Paris, witnessed the beheading of Louis XVI. Monti thus denounced the horrors and excesses of the French Revolution.
THE MONTECITORIO SQUARE
Now take a look at Montecitorio Square. It is a slightly uphill square, but it should be noted that this hill is not ancient: it was in fact formed as a result of numerous discharges of earth and debris, and many believe that the name “Mons Acceptorius” derives from the fact that the square “accepted” precisely such discharges.
In 1733 Pope Clement XII, in order to give a more dignified and noble frontal access to the square, had some modest houses demolished and in their place he raised the beautiful palace that still bears, on the main door at number 115, the inscription in memory of this urban arrangement.
In the square there was also a fountain decorated with a pelican, known from an ancient engraving, which had been placed lower than the street level to facilitate the arrival of the Trevi Water.
At the end of the 19th century, the Post Office in Rome was located at the Wedekind Palace, and on the side of Montecitorio Square there was the stagecoach station that went to the Marche, Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. The great composer Giuseppe Verdi went to this office one morning, very punctual at 9.00 a.m. opening time, but he had to wait more than an hour before the clerk opened the counter. Giuseppe Verdi then, extremely annoyed, showed him the clock saying “It’s 10 o’clock!“, and the employee seraphically replied “And let us thank the Lord that we have arrived here…“.
THE MONTECITORIO PALACE
On the Montecitorio Square there is the great Palace that, since 1871, has been the seat of the Chamber of Deputies.
After an innumerable series of changes of ownership, the palace was purchased in 1653 by the Ludovisi family, who commissioned the renovation to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, helped by the architect De Rossi. The work was so long and expensive that the Ludovisi family decided to buy the Peretti Palace as a home, waiting for the Montecitorio Palace to be ready. The palace, however, was not completed due to the death of Prince Nicolò Ludovisi in 1655.
Forty years later, Pope Innocent XII bought it out of hunger the seat of the civil and criminal courts and the Innocentian Curia (General Directorate of Police), entrusting the architect Carlo Fontana with the task of completing it.
The palace is in brick and is surmounted by a bell tower with a clock underneath, while a splendid winged hourglass, to symbolize the time that “flies”, adorns the top and also indicates the direction of the wind. On the façade, marked by pilaster strips, a monumental entrance door opens under a large balcony: in the 18th Century, from the balcony took place, as is also remembered by Giuseppe Gioachino Belli in a famous sonnet, the drawing of the Lottery game, with the numbers extracted from a blindfolded orphan, chosen among those housed in the nearby Church of St. Mary in Aquiro.
Above the minor entrances there are two roundels with the representations of “Charity” (on the left) by the sculptor Mari and “Justice” (on the right) by Antonio Raggi.
The Palace was heavily restored when it became the seat of the Chamber of Deputies: it was in fact equipped with bad acoustics, and it was freezing in winter and hot in summer. The work was entrusted to the architect Ernesto Basile and went on from 1902 to 1918, when the building was finally inaugurated. Remarkable are the frescoes in the Parliamentary Hall, realized by Aristide Sartorio, depicting Italian civilization and the virtues of the Italian people, which embellish the hall together with the bronze bas-relief depicting the apotheosis of the Savoy family.
Also noteworthy are the famous room called the Transatlantic, the Room of the She-wolf, the Yellow Room (decorated with the representation of the “Wedding at Cana” of the school of Veronese) and some important archaeological collections and collections of works of art by contemporary artists.
THE COLUMN OF ANTONINUS PIUS
In the middle of this square remained, before his move to the Courtyard of the Armours in the Vatican, the support base of the granite column of Emperor Antoninus Pius. Later, Pope Pius VI commissioned the architect Antinori to place the obelisk of Psammetico II (594-589 B.C.), which Augustus had placed as a gnomon to his solar clock, in the center of the square. On the basis of the obelisk you can read the inscriptions of Augustus and Pope Pius VI respectively.
The column, which had been known since 1555, was almost entirely buried in the garden of a Roman citizen named Cecchini: the location of the base was unknown, however, and it came to light only in 1703 when it was decided, by the will of Pope Innocent XII, to carry out excavations in order to place the column in front of the Innocentian Curia. The Column of Antoninus Pius, in granite, was 14.75 meters high (without the base), was surmounted by a Tuscanic capital and had engraved in the lower part an inscription, thanks to which we know that it was worked when Dioscuro was the Prefect of Egypt (between 105 and 106 AD).
The splendid basement, initially located in Montecitorio Square, was moved to the Vatican by Pius VI between 1789 and 1792, where today you can admire it in the center of the Courtyard of the Armours. The base (2.47 meters by 3.38 meters) has on the main side a dedicatory inscription placed by Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Vero (adopted sons of Antoninus Pius) in honor of their divinized father. On the opposite side is depicted the seated Goddess Rome, witnessing the apotheosis of the imperial couple, Antonino Pio and his wife Faustina Maggiore, carried by an eagle flanked by the Genius of Eternity, while at the bottom the personification of the Campus Martius observes the scene with the obelisk next to it. The other two faces of the base are decorated by the relief of a decursio (a sort of military parade) of knights, with soldiers in the center.
If you want to have a detailed look at it, please join the Vatican Museums Tour, organized by the Association Rome Guides.
THE OBELISK OF PSAMMETICO II
The vicissitudes of the column were instead much more suffered. It was hit by a fire in 1759, until it was almost forgotten on the spot: when Pius VI had the base moved to the Vatican, the Pope decided to erect the Obelisk of Psammetico II (594-589 BC), which Augustus had placed as a gnomon to his Solar Clock, ordering the fragments of Antoninus Pius’ column to be sawn into slabs so as to use the material in the restoration of the obelisk.
In reality, this obelisk, surmounted by a bronze pierced ball decorated with the Pope’s coat of arms, was also intended to serve as a gnomon: the rays of the sun, in fact, passing through the hole of the ball would indicate the time of day on the specially prepared floor.
THE CHURCH OF ST. LAWRENCE IN LUCINA
It is an ancient titulus born from a Domus Ecclesiae created inside the house of the matron Lucina. The most ancient evidences related to this church date back to the 4th Century, when in a document of 384 AD it is remembered the election of Pope Damaso, which took place in 366 AD “in lucinis“.
It is highly probable that the construction of the first church took place with Pope Sixtus III (432-440), because in the frescoes that adorned the apse was also placed the one depicting “the matron Lucina with the model of the church in her hands“. Numerous other interventions followed, among which the one that took place under the pontificate of Pope Paschal II (1099-1118): it consisted in the construction of the portico supported by granite columns surmounted by Ionic capitals (while Corinthian style capitals surmounted the corner pillars), of the high bell tower with the three last floors opened by mullioned windows and adorned with red porphyry discs, in the arrangement of the Episcopal Chair inside and a pair of lions stylophorous on the outside. The antipope Anacleto II, in 1130, consecrated the church, but this consecration had to be repeated precisely because it was made by an antipope: Pope Celestine III, in 1196, solved the problem with a second consecration.
Around the middle of the 17th Century, the church underwent the most substantial restoration, entrusted to the architect Cosimo Fanzago, who decided to build side chapels in place of the aisles: Gian Lorenzo Bernini was to arrange the Fonseca’s one, while many gifts were made by the titular cardinals.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
The interior has a single nave, with a gilded coffered ceiling with a painting by the painter Roberto Bompiani depicting “the Ascension among Saints Lawrence, Damaso, Lucina and Francis Caracciolo“. Among the chapels, the most interesting is the already mentioned Chapel of the Fonseca family, built by Bernini between 1660 and 1664 for the Portuguese Fonseca and decorated with family busts, made by Bernini and his school. Among the other chapels, admire the Marescotti Chapel, rich in frescoes and stuccoes, and the Chapel dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, with valuable paintings by the Venetian painter Carlo Saraceni.
The high altar is the true masterpiece of the church: decorated with four columns and two semi-columns in black marble, it is decorated with one of the most celebrated masterpieces of the Bolognese painter Guido Reni, “The Crucifixion“, which has become one of the most idolized paintings of the seventeenth century Italian. In front of it, even the splendid episcopal chair of Pope Paschal II seems to lose importance.
In the church is also visible the tomb of one of the most famous French painters, Nicolas Poussin, designed by Vaudoyer and decorated with the artist’s herm, sculpted by the sculptor Lemoyne.
In the sacristy there is a precious reliquary, containing the chains of the martyr Lawrence, while in the first chapel on the right there is the urn containing the grill on which St. Lawrence suffered martyrdom.
Peretti Fiano Almagià Palace
Leave the church and go in front of another important Roman building, the Peretti Fiano Almagià Palace, now located where once were some houses of the cardinals who owned the Church of St. Lawrence in Lucina. The first news about this palace dates back to around the middle of 1440, when it is remembered that it was built by the English cardinal Ugone Atratus of Evesham around 1300. There is therefore news (reported also in an inscription in Latin hexameters placed in the nearby church) of a restoration of the palace and the church, by now reduced to ruin and dangerous, by Cardinal De La Roche Taislée in the first decades of 1400.
In 1624 Prince Peretti bought it and arranged its arrangement aligning it with the Rucellai Ruspoli Palace. The Peretti’s palace was then sold to the Pamphilj family and from them to the Duke of Fiano, Marco Ottoboni, nephew of Pope Alexander VIII. Thanks to the finances of the Ottoboni family, in 1888 the palace had its current façades, the one on the square and the one on the Via in Lucina, built by the architect Settimi.
The name Almagià derives from the sale of the palace in 1898 to Edoardo Almagià, who collected there, in addition to the works of art that were already contained in it, other collections such as the Sciarra and the Fiano ones. In the hall of the noble floor you can admire the frescoes by Benedetto Croce, with mythological scenes and wonderful landscapes.
The Palace is, however, much better known for the fact that it was built above the famous Ara Pacis Augustae which, progressively excavated on the occasion of the bi-millennium of Augustus, was reassembled in 1938 on the Lungotevere in Augusta. Not all the slabs, however, could be recovered: some can still be found today in the Louvre Museum and Villa Medici, while the slab that was owned by the Vatican was, in 1950, donated to the Italian State.
Around 1800, the cellars of the palace housed the famous Fiano Theater, where puppet shows were performed and where music and dances were held.It was in this theater that the famous Cassandrino mask remembered by Belli, Dickens and Stendhal was re-proposed.
Leave the Peretti Fiano Almagià Palace and take Via del Corso, going back towards Venice Square to examine the buildings on the right side of the street.
The two most important buildings on this side are adjacent to each other.
The first is the Theodoli Palace, which in the 16th Century was improperly called “Palazzo dei Calici” (Palace of the Goblets), from the erroneous interpretation of the fact that Monsignor Theodoli was Bishop of Cadiz. In the palace lived the English poet Percy Shelley, who wrote here in 1819 the “Prometheus” and “The Cenci”, as you can read on the plaque on the façade.
Next to it is the Verospi Palace, named after Fernando de Verospe, who bought the building in 1565. The palace, restored first by Alessandro Specchi and then by Carlo Rainaldi, was purchased in the early 19th Century by the Torlonia family and, in 1902, became the property of the Italian Credit. Its façade is dominated by the imposing central doorway, flanked by columns and with a balcony above.
Inside the Palace were preserved precious works of art, among which the marble statue depicting Jupiter (the so-called “Jupiter Verospi” which has been in the Vatican Museums since 1771) and the famous frescoes by the painter Francesco Albani, depicting “Apollo and the other gods of Olympus“, which were located in an elegant loggia and of which some fragments remain detached and placed on the second floor.