ROMAN ITINERARIES – MONTI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 4
MONTI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 4
You can begin your Monti District Itinerary 4 leaving the Esquiline Square and, following Via di Santa Maria Maggiore, you can take Via Panisperna, whose straight line clearly shows the ups and downs of the Roman hills.
Via Panisperna – Via dei Serpenti – Via Baccina – Salita del Grillo – Via Alessandrina – Via Magnanapoli – Via IV Novembre – Largo Magnanapoli – Via Nazionale – Via Quattro Fontane – Via del Quirinale – Piazza del Quirinale – Via XXIV Maggio
The toponym of the road is very controversial: according to someone it derives from “Parasperna“, that is “near the separation“, because the road was close to a limit between important properties; according to some others, the friars of St. Lawrence used to distribute bread and ham (in Latin “panis et perna“) to the poors on the feast of the Saint, and considering that the Saint is the protector of innkeepers and tavern-keepers, this custom was certainly the most suitable to celebrate him. Via Panisperna is also remembered for the famous Institute of Physics where a group of scientists led by Enrico Fermi conducted his first experiments.
CHURCH OF ST. LAWRENCE IN PANISPERNA
After the crossroads with Via Cesare Balbo, where the Albani Palace once was, you arrive at the church of St. Lawrence in Panisperna. The oldest name of this church was St. Lawrence in Formoso, derived from Pope Formoso (891-896), who restored it at his time, but in the XII Century it had its present name. According to tradition, the church stands on the place where St. Lawrence, deacon of Spanish origin, was the victim of the persecution of the Emperor Valentinianus. Arrested, brought before the magistrates, pressed by them to hand over the treasures of the still clandestine Roman church, Lawrence pointing to the poors of the city said: “here are the earthly treasures that never diminish and always yield“. Then, forced on the iron grill where he was literally roasted, Lawrence pronounced a touching prayer for the salvation of Rome, so much so that, after Saints Peter and Paul, St Lawrence is the third patron saint of Rome, with no less than 34 churches dedicated to him.
The church is anticipated by a staircase where, in the last step, a medieval marble decorated with a relief with crosses inside stylized racemes is reused. The area on which the church stands (in which Bishop Gioacchino Pecci was consecrated, who was to become Pope Leo XIII) is circumscribed by a tree-lined courtyard overlooked by ancient houses. The façade of 1574 is a work of Francesco da Volterra and is divided into two orders, marked by pilasters and closed by a small tympanum, with an elegant portal and a beautiful Renaissance brick bell tower inspired by medieval models.
The interior has a single nave with side chapels. A beautiful baroque chancel and, in the vault, a fresco by Bicchierai depicting the Glory of St. Lawrence are visible. On the left of the altar you can admire a precious wooden crucifix of the early XVI Century, while the altar of the second chapel on the left consists of a columned sarcophagus with the four geniuses of the seasons and in the centre the door of the underworld half-open (mid III Century A.D.).
The wooden stalls of the choir were originally located in the Church of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber Island, while in the crypt you can visit the so-called oven of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence.
Leaving the church, you will find yourself in front of Cimarra Palace, designed by the architect Ferdinando Fuga in 1736, with an irregular plan to adapt to the pre-existing urban context: it was first the residence of the Portuguese ambassador, then of the Zouaves’ legion until 1870 and later used as a public security barracks.
Still walking along via Panisperna, at number 205 there is Falletti Palace, also from the 18th Century, with a beautiful door decorated with garlands and, in the courtyard, a fountain decorated with two statues.
You reach via Baccina, which still preserves all the features of at least a century ago, although on the right side of the street you can see the modern structure of a covered market, in the forms of Fascist architecture: during the excavations, they found archaeological evidence of buildings of the Augustan age, whose floors had figured mosaics.
CHURCH OF ST. AGATHA OF THE GOTHS
Further ahead is Via di St. Agatha of the Goths, which at the corner with Via Panisperna shows the Church of St. Bernardine of Siena, from the first half of the 17th Century, which housed the Franciscan tertiary nuns who already had their headquarters in the Forum of Trajan, together with the adjacent monastery (now a public school). St. Bernardine of Siena joined the Franciscan order and became very famous for the passionate sermons he held in the various cities in favour of peace between Guelphs and Ghibellines, in the name of Jesus Christ, to whom he had dedicated a coat of arms of his own invention: a radiant sun with the letters IHS inside.
The church appears as a large gabled building, with a facade without any ornament except for the simple portal, and is built on the remains of an ancient Roman building with an elliptical plan. The dome is decorated with frescoes by Bernardino Gagliardi (1609-1660) with the Glory of St. Bernardine.
Crossing via Panisperna you will find the Church of St. Agatha of the Goths, dedicated to the virgin and martyr of the 3rd Century who was born in Catania. Agatha was brought to trial by one of her rejected lovers, the consul Quinziano, who denounced her as a Christian. Tortured, the angels provided to heal her wounds until the consul made her burn alive. The year after her death, the Etna erupted a lot of lava and threatened to destroy Catania: at that point, the inhabitants brought the girl’s white veil in front of the flaming magma and the lava stopped. In truth, the church is evidence of the presence in Rome in the 5th Century of the community of the Goths, of Aryan faith. In the 5th Century the church was adorned with splendid mosaics with the “Christ the Judge” which were then lost in the 16th Century renovations. At the end of the 6th Century, Gregory the Great consecrated it to the Catholic religion and gave it to the Benedictines, while today it is run by Irish monks.
Between the two buildings of the ancient monastery stands the baroque facade erected around 1635 by Domenico Castelli, elegantly rendered by the tympanum and the two airy side volutes. Above the portal is a relief with the image of St. Agatha, an 18th Century work by Francesco Ferrari. This portal leads to a double flight of stairs that introduce to a four-sided portico full of fragments of ancient architecture and sculptures, which gives you the whole feeling of having abandoned the noise and confusion of the modern city.
The church preserves its original structure with three naves divided by sixteen ancient columns.
The apse and the right side of the church with small windows are those of the Romanesque period. In the 16th Century the apse basin collapsed and the beautiful ancient mosaic was lost, replaced by a fresco painted by Paolo Gismondi in 1636, depicting the Glory of St. Agatha. In the right aisle we see the epitaph of the famous Greek humanist Giovanni Lascaris and, at the end, an 18th Century statue of St. Agatha in gilded wood, in the chapel dedicated to her. Splendid is the ciborium of the Cosmatesque school.
THE DEL GRILLO PALACE
Now go back to via Panisperna and head towards via Baccina, where Ettore Petrolini, the great Roman actor and playwright and author of satires and characters similar to Futurist culture, as popular as caricatured, lived at number 32.
The street closes with a miraculous Marian aedicule, with the Virgin Mary who moved her eyes in 1796, and immediately begins the Salita del Grillo, with the characteristic little square of the same name and the small chapel of the Madonna del Buon Consiglio, built by the Sturbinetti family to make an ill-famed alley safer. Here stands the Del Grillo Palace, today called Nicolis di Robilant. The palace stands next to the so-called Del Grillo Tower, in brick with a row of windows framed in marble, once belonged to the Conti family. The 17th Century stucco crowning, which preserves the heraldic motif of the lilies and the eagle, is really elegant, and under it you can read the inscription “Ex Marchione de Grillis“.
Built by Marchione d’Arezzo in 1223, the tower was always linked to the Ghibelline hamlet and the Del Grillo family came into possession of it in the 17th Century, with the Marquis Cosmo who established his residence there in 1675. Joined to the tower by an arched passageway that crosses the street is the palace, that was also owned by the Del Grillo family, and that shows a large baroque door that leads into a vestibule decorated with a few ancient sculptures. The Del Grillo family was very proud of the palace and its hanging garden, which still exists today; inside, the palace preserves a chapel, a splendid gallery decorated with classical white stuccoes, while the garden is adorned with fountains, nymphaea and baroque sculptures. The great Italian painter Renato Guttuso had his studio here for a long time.
However, the palace is known to all the citizens of Rome for having been the home of the famous Marquis Del Grillo, an uncomfortable, irreverent, clever and tremendously witty character in 18th Century Rome. According to tradition, the name of the Marquis would have been Onofrio and it would be the same curious character buried even today in the church of St. John of the Florentines.
THE HOUSE OF THE KNIGHTS OF RHODES
Next to the Del Grillo Palace, there is the entrance to the House of the Knights of Rhodes, formerly the priory of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem (today of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which is its successor). This order, founded in the 11th Century to defend the Holy Sepulchre conquered by the first Crusaders, acquired the goods of the Knights Templar after their order was suppressed by deception, blackmail and violence by Pope Clement V (1307-1314), ally of the King of France Philip the Fair.
The Hospitallers built their house on the ruins of the Forum of Augustus, next to the Basilians who, in the same area in the temple of Mars Ultor, had built the church dedicated to St. Basil and their monastery of the Annunciation. The House of the Knights of Rhodes, built in brick with a large arch in the facade, is very famous for its extraordinary loggia with columns joined by arches, from which you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Imperial Forums: consisting of five arches on columns of bigio marble and granite, with capitals from the Roman period, it has on the walls beautiful landscapes painted in fresco (perhaps painted by the school of Andrea Mantegna) and a long inscription that recalls how the palace was commissioned by Cardinal Barbo, nephew of Pope Paul II.
The hall of honour of the house still preserves the ancient wooden ceiling with the coats of arms of the order of Cardinal Barbo, while some rooms have been obtained from the ancient Roman rooms, such as the Sala della Loggetta, where a section of the frieze of the caryatids that decorated the square of the Forum of Augustus is reconstructed. You can also admire the frescoes from the apse of the nearby church of St. Basil, demolished during the Fascist era to house the Imperial Forums, which caused the loss of one of the oldest abbeys in Rome, whose portal has been preserved and walled up on the outer wall of the Forum of Augustus.
THE FORUM OF AUGUSTUS
It is now time to talk about one of the most spectacular places in Imperial Rome: the Forum of Augustus.
The antiquarium of the Forum of Augustus is now preserved in a specific section of the Museum of the Imperial Forums, inaugurated in 2007 inside the Trajan Markets: you could visit it booking the Museums and Galleries Tour. There are some fragments of the sculptures of the caryatids and shields with Jupiter Ammon, as well as a splendid Corinthian capital decorated with Pegasi (the winged horses of the myth of Bellerophon) and a reconstructive model of the Forum of Augustus.
The architectural part, on the other hand, is still very evident, also thanks to the help of a specific metal walkway that allows the view from the side.
The Forum was erected by the Emperor Augustus to confirm his political role and the glory of his family at the head of Roman society. The Forum is separated from the modern inhabited area, as in ancient times from the Suburra, by a mighty wall made of peperino blocks with some elements of travertine, in order to protect the Forum itself from the fires that often broke out in the popular Suburra and at the same time to ideally separate a noble and official space from an area of chaotic everyday life. The ancient entrances through the wall were two: one with three arches and the other with only one, which in the following centuries was called Arco dei Pantani (Arch of the Marshes), because the waters there easily stagnated.
Under the two entrances descended two stairs, flanked by the podium of the Temple of Mars Ultor, which ended under two honorary arches dedicated one to Drusus Minor and the other to Germanicus, sons of Drusus Major, brother of the Emperor Tiberius, the first successor of Augustus.
The Forum was gigantic in size (125 metres long and 118 metres wide), but today it is incomplete because the front half lies under the modern Via dei Fori Imperiali. In the centre on the back side you can still see the podium of the temple. The facade and sides of the temple each had eight columns, of which today the three on the left side are still standing, while a part of other columns was raised on the front of the temple: these columns were 17.70 metres high, fluted in Carrara marble, and supported large Corinthian capitals.
The interior of the cell had long colonnaded sides with capitals decorated by Pegasi (visible in the Museum) and the cell ended in an apsidal wall, where there were probably statues of Mars, bearded and armed, and Venus wearing a light chiton and accompanied by Eros and Julius Caesar. The presence of the god Mars, venerated here as Ultor (“avenger“), celebrated the revenge that Augustus had done for Caesar’s death by defeating his assassins. At the same time, however, the god Mars remembered his legendary paternity of the founders Romulus and Remus, whose mother was descended from Aeneas and therefore from Venus. The goddess Venus underlined the connection of the Julia family, descendants of Aeneas, to the mythical twins founders of Rome. In short, in this temple the legendary origins of the city and the role of Augustus’ executioner found their official sacralization.
Behind the statues, Augustus had the insignia that the Parthians had taken away from the Romans defeated in the Battle of Carre in Asia Minor and that Augustus, with a skillful diplomatic operation, had regained. This arrangement reminded the Romans that Augustus implemented a policy of pacification towards the enemies of the empire to guarantee security and peace to the empire itself.
The Forum Square had a portico with cipollino columns on three sides, probably on two floors, decorated on the top with a caryatid attic, with shields bearing the head of Jupiter Ammon and other gods in the middle. The portico’s long sides opened into two other large exedras containing a series of niches with gilded bronze statues dedicated to the heroes of the Trojan cycle, first of all Aeneas and those of the history of Rome, from the period of the kings to the Greats of the Republic, with whom Augustus implicitly connected.
In the centre of the Forum, the axial place of all symbolic coordinates, was the statue of Augustus on the triumphal chariot. Finally, at the end of the left portico in a square room, there was a gigantic (about 14 metres high) marble statue of Augustus, whose fragments are now on display at the Museum of the Imperial Forums. On the sides of it there were two large marble frames containing two paintings by the great painter Apelle: the first depicted Alexander the Great accompanied by the Dioscuri and the personification of Victory, and the second the Macedonian king on the triumphal chariot with the personification of war in chains. The iconographic identification between Alexander and Augustus was then fully confessed by the Emperor Claudius, his third successor, when he gave the order to replace in these two paintings the Alexander’s head with that of Augustus himself.
THE FORUM OF PEACE
The Julio-Claudian dynasty, which ended with the tragic death of Nero, was succeeded, after a brief period of power struggles, by the Flavians (Vespasian, Titus and Domitian). The founder of this second dynasty, Vespasian, began the construction of a great Forum of which today we have very few remains: this monumental square was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in ancient Rome and the dominant presence in it of the Temple of Peace transmitted the same name to the entire architectural complex.
The Forum of Peace was built in the shape of a very large square overlooking the temple itself and the historian Pliny recalls it as one of the most beautiful monuments in the world. The square was surrounded, on four sides, by splendid porticoes supported by large columns of African marble. The six central columns of the portico sustained the pediment of the temple, so that it did not appear isolated in the square, with a remarkable monumental unity. In the temple were exhibited numerous works of art and kept the trophies of war that Titus had brought back from Jerusalem after the victorious Jewish Campaign and that can be seen depicted in the reliefs of his Arch in the Roman Forum: the seven-armed candelabrum and the silver trumpets.
THE FORUM OF NERVA
Domitian, the last of the Flavians, as part of the project to deify himself in order to strengthen his role as leader of the empire, had his own Forum built in the still free space between the Templum Pacis, the Forum of Augustus, the Forum of Caesar and the north-eastern side of the Roman Forum.
It’s a long and narrow square adorned on its sides by columns forming a pseudo-portico and supporting reliefs among which we still have a section with the figure of Minerva (or perhaps one of the Imperial Provinces) and scenes of female works, including the legend of Arachne transformed into a spider by Minerva. Of the architectural complex, in correspondence with the reliefs mentioned above, there remain two columns that the Roman citizens call “le colonnacce” (the ugly columns).
In the background stands the temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva, on a podium with a staircase, built for Domitian’s devotion to the goddess, who inspired political wisdom, inner virtue and military strength. The columns and marbles of what remained of this temple were then used by Pope Paul V in 1606 to embellish the Fountain of Acqua Paola on the Janiculum Hill. In the Forum of Domitian, connected to the Suburra by a large apse with a pillar portico, large equestrian statues were placed, but the emperor could not see this work completed because he was killed in 96 AD, before it was completed. In fact, it was finished by a transitional emperor, Nerva, as well as of transit and connection with the previous holes was the square, so that it was called the Forum of Nerva or Transitory.
THE FORUM OF TRAJAN
Nerva was succeeded by Trajan, whose territorial conquests in Eastern Europe affirmed the increasing role of the army as guarantor of the empire’s security and underlined the divine status of the emperor. In order to monumentalize the political values of his government, Trajan, with the help of the great architect Apollodorus of Damascus, started the grandiose project of the construction of his Forum, which was to be added to the others, and also of the contiguous “Markets of Trajan“. The Forum, the last to be built, was built between 107 and 113 AD by using the area between the Velia, the Suburra, the valley of the Roman Forum and the Quirinal, of which the part, called the Sella, that joined it to the Capitol, was cut.
You could enter the forum, 300 metres long and 185 metres wide, through a large honorary arch on which stood the statue of Trajan on the triumphal chariot flanked by victories with trophies. On the arch itself were then placed the shields with the portraits of the generals who had followed him in the Dacian campaigns. In the centre of the square stood the gigantic equestrian statue of Trajan, while on the porticoed sides of the forum there were statues of captive Dacians (some are now on the Arch of Constantine). As in the Forum of Augustus, on the two long sides of the square opened two exedras, in which were placed large statues of emperors and their families from Augustus to Trajan himself. At the bottom of the square stood the enormous Basilica Ulpia, named after Emperor Marcus Ulpius Trajan.
Over the basilica there was another monumental quadriga with Trajan and, on the façade of the basilica, there were the insignia of the legions that had followed the emperor in his military expeditions, with the names of the legions engraved on the architrave. The attic was then adorned by a large high-relief frieze, which showed Trajan’s departure for war and decisive moments of battles where the emperor and his cavalry stood out: this frieze was then divided into four parts and removed from its original location, to be used again to decorate the Arch of Constantine.
After the death of Trajan, his successor Hadrian built a grandiose temple which, placed beyond the libraries and the column, monumentally concluded the entire forum.
THE TRAJAN’S COLUMN
Beyond the basilica two parallel libraries were built.
Between the two libraries stood, and it still stands there majestically, the Trajan’s historiated cochlide column, with its base almost 40 metres high, made of large lunar marble rocks with a square base adorned with reliefs with weapons of vanquished dacians and with eagles at the corners holding festoons. On the Column, for a length of about 200 metres, there is a bas-relief narrating the Dacian campaigns that were fought from 107 to 113 AD. Each sculpted figure was realistically painted and the characters often held in their hands weapons or objects reproduced in miniature.
Already in the 12th Century the Trajan Column was among the very first monuments in Rome to receive the attention and protection of the Popes. The Trajan’s Column served as a model for 15th Century historical sculpture thanks to drawings of its scenes, which several artists had copied and disseminated in Italy and Europe. In reality, the first drawings did not go beyond the sixth round of the reliefs, which represented the limit of their excellent visibility by the human eye, but it was the painter Jacopo Ripanda who lowered himself into a basket along the column and patiently reproduced it.
On the base of the column is the inscription that recalls that it is as high as the pre-existing hill, which was cut during the excavation for the arrangement of the Forum. Inside the base there is a small funeral chamber that held Trajan’s ashes, enclosed in a golden urn: Trajan exhumed so an ancient tradition of being buried at the base of his honorary column.
The relief celebrated, as mentioned, his Dacian campaigns starting with the representation of the encampments and the Roman army crossing the Danube river on a bridge of boats, then the scenes continue with the emperor speaking to the troops, the construction of camps, the sacrifices and religious ceremonies at the front, the war councils, the capture of enemy spies, the army on the march, the clashes, the embassies, the attacks against the camps, the charges of the Roman cavalry against the enemy, the submission of the defeated, the wounded treated, the beheading of prisoners, Romans captured and tortured, the first submission of Decebalus, king of the Dacians, to Trajan, the Victory that writes on a shield the end of the first campaign.
The second campaign starts with scenes of the army passing over a bridge built by Apollodoro, the siege of the enemy capital Sarmizegetusa and the Dacians burning it so as not to hand it over to the Romans. Then the self poisoning of the Dacian chiefs, the capture of the enemy treasure, the escape of Decebalus and his suicide, the head of Decebalus brought to Trajan and last, at the top, where, under the last lap of the relief, a section of the fluted column appears, the deportation of the Dacian prisoners.
At the top of the Column was then placed a statue of Trajan which was lost in the Middle Ages (probably melted down) and that was replaced by another bronze statue of St. Peter by Tommaso della Porta and Leonardo Sormani. The replacement was desired by Pope Sixtus V who, with a particular ceremony, exorcised the column itself.
Leave now the Forum of Trajan and, after passing by the 19th Century Gallo in Roccagiovine Palace, take via Magnanapoli, whose name derives from the way the area was called in the 13th Century (“mons balnei Napolis“).
Past the staircase you can see Ceva Palace on Via IV Novembre, a date reminiscent of the famous communication of Diaz announcing the victory of Vittorio Veneto and therefore the end for Italy of the First World War. Further ahead is the entrance to the so-called Trajan’s Markets (now home to the Imperial Forums Museum), built by Apollodorus of Damascus, who placed them along the cut he made of the Quirinal Hill. The current entrance for the visitors, however, is not the ancient one, which was located at the level of one of the exedras of the Forum of Trajan. Here was the main front of the intricate architectural structure, consisting of a large exedra concentric to that of the Forum and connected to it by a basalt road. At the end are two apsidal halls lit by large windows. In the exedra there are tabernae (shops) and doors with stairs leading to the upper floors. The upper part consisted of a terrace on which other tabernae opened and internally ran a still well preserved road, called “Biberatica” in the Middle Ages. The presence of many tabernae led to the conclusion that it was a large commercial complex, but it is more appropriate to define it as a financial structure and business office.
THE SERVIAN WALLS
In the centre of the flower-bed in the small square of Largo Magnanapoli and inside the building at number 158 you can see the remains of the ancient Servian Walls. The remains of walls made of tuff blocks belong to the walls that, according to legend, were built by Servio Tullio, but in reality built after the Gallic fire of 390 BC. Here the Sanqualis Gate was opened, named in honour of the Sabine god Semo Sancus venerated on the Quirinal Hill and guarantor of the observance of oaths. Near the Sanqualis Gate, in Roman times, there was the temple of this god erected, according to legend, by Tarquinius the Superb and in which was placed a bronze statue of the king’s wife, Tanaquil, together with a spindle and a distaff, symbols of the domestic virtues of the women of Rome.
TOWER OF THE MILITIA
Among the ruins of Trajan’s markets, in what remains of the gardens of the nuns of St. Catherine, stands the mighty Tower of the Militia, erected at the beginning of the thirteenth century by the family of Archons, and then passed to the Hannibalds and Caetani and serve as the extreme bulwark of Rome against Arrigo VII of Luxembourg. In the fourteenth century the Caetani placed it under the protection of Charles of Anjou, but when it reached the Counts in the fourteenth century, the terrible earthquake of 1348 deprived it of the highest part. The family then sold it to Sister Vittoria Massimi, founder of the monastery of Santa Caterina da Siena, which stood next door with the church.
The tower is about 50 meters high in brick, with buttresses and battlements. It rests on Trajan’s ruins with a base of tuff blocks removed from the Servian Walls.
THE CHURCH OF ST. CATHERINE
Go again on Largo Magnanapoli and now look at the Church of St. Catherine. Once this church was annexed to a monastery held by Dominican nuns and built thanks to the munificence of Porzia Massimi, who had joined the monastic order under the name of Sister Maria Vittoria. The present church replaces a larger one and was built around 1630 according to a design by Giovanni Battista Soria (1581-1651). The convent, however, was partly demolished under the pontificate of Sixtus V, who wanted to bring to light the Roman ruins below, and was finally completely demolished in 1924 for the final arrangement of Trajan’s Markets.
The facade has a three-arched portico at the bottom, a beautiful central window in the upper order and is closed by a tympanum. Under the portico there are stucco statues, including that of St. Catherine, by Francesco De Rossi. The interior has a single nave and is rich in a refined decoration made of marble, friezes, stuccoes, paintings and angels, with the vault painted with the Glory of St. Catherine. Beautiful is the high altar with crowning angels and columns of ancient black marble, in which is the Ecstasy of St. Catherine, by Melchiorre Caffà (1635-1667). Equally beautiful is the ciborium in lapis lazuli, agates and bronzes, 18th Century work by Carlo Marchionni.
THE CHURCH OF ST. DOMINIC AND SIXTUS
Across the street, you can see the Church of Saints Dominic and Sixtus, next to which today there is the seat of the Angelicum College, an athenaeum ruled by the Dominicans, under which the temple of Diana built in 55 B.C. by Cneo Plancio was identified.
St. Dominic, a great enemy of heresy, as Dante Alighieri recalls, fought for a long time against the Cathars and founded the order of preachers. An example of rare asceticism (he walked barefoot, slept on the ground, fasted and scourged himself), he suffered several attacks on his life. St. Sixtus instead, whose dedication was added to the church in the 18th Century, is the Pope of the 3rd Century, called the Pope of the Catacombs, who died as a martyr, being beheaded.
The church of Saints Dominic and Sixtus is a creation of the beginning of 1577 by Giacomo Della Porta, followed by the architects Carlo Maderno, Orazio Torriani and, finally, Felice Della Greca who finished the façade in 1665. To reach the level of the church you have to climb a staircase that opens in two ramps, ending in an elliptical terrace. This scenic solution gives the church a greater majesty. The interior has a single nave, with the Glory of St. Dominic on the vault, but the real masterpiece of the church is in the first chapel on the right, designed by Bernini and decorated with the splendid sculpture of his pupil Raggi representing the “Noli me tangere“, placed here as a lesson for the nuns of the convent because it wanted to recall an episode in the Roman chronicle that had caused a lot of scandal.
On the third altar on the left is a very important fragmentary fresco depicting the “Madonna and Child with St. Paul” by Benozzo Gozzoli (1460). In the AngeIicum it is possible to admire a “Crucifixion” by Giovanni Lanfranco (1646), the 14th Century tabernacle and a 13th Century Crucifix from the church of St. Aurea in Via Giulia.
Largo Magnanapoli is also dominated by the large wall of what remains of Villa Aldobrandini, which was deprived of much of its garden, especially on the side facing the Quirinale. The Aldobrandini family owned the villa from 1600 to 1929 and assembled an important collection of art that is now lost.
Inside the villa you can still see the remains of a nymphaeum adorned with statues, with the pathway decorated with Roman marble fragments: inside the garden, a real quiet and cool island in the centre of Rome, the famous Roman actor and playwright Checco Durante played for many years with his theatre company.
In addition to it, in the garden there is the small palace erected by Carlo Lambardi for the Aldobrandini family, adorned with a balcony and statues, which preserves inside a fresco depicting the same building in its oldest form.
Now take Via Nazionale, until the last Century the perfect symbolic connection between the old city centre and Termini Railway Station, which at the end of the 19th Century was Rome’s gateway to the modern world. Via Nazionale, so called in honour of the young nation of Italy, was wide and tree-lined, crossed by horse-drawn carriages and trams next to Villa Aldobrandini, the Palace of the Bank of Italy by the architect Koch, the Exhibition Palace, the church of St. Paul within the walls, the Quirinale Hotel up to the arcades of Piazza dell’Esedra with the Fountain of the Naiads in front of the church of St. Mary of the Angels.
The route of Via Nazionale is roughly the same as that of the ancient Vicus Longus, who passed through the ancient Baths of Constantine. In the 19th Century, the same route passed through a large number of vegetable gardens and vineyards: all this greenery was bought by the famous Monsignor Francesco Saverio de Merode who, with various purchase transactions and donations, obtained permission to build in the area in absolute freedom.
THE BANK OF ITALY
Walk now in front of the Bank of Italy between via del Mazzarino, named after the cardinal who had his palace on the Quirinale, and via dei Serpenti (“road of the Snakes”), which probably takes its name from the graffito of the Laocoonte on the façade of Palazzetto Cerasola. The Palace of the Bank of Italy, built by Gaetano Koch in 1892, is in Renaissance academic style, in travertine with ashlar on the lower floor and beautiful series of monumental windows, decorated with marble rostrums.
Continuing on, you pass the opening of the Traforo, a long tunnel built in 1902 and once entirely covered with Ginori ceramic tiles. This tunnel, built by Pio Piacentini and Marcello Podesti, made it easier for traffic coming from Termini Station to head towards the centre. During the Second World War, the tunnel was readapted to a shantytown of refugees.
THE PALACE OF EXHIBITIONS
Next comes the Palace of Exhibitions by Pio Piacentini, inaugurated not without some controversy in 1883. It stands on a wide staircase and has an entrance in the centre marked by a large triumphal arch. It is decorated with statues of the greatest Italian artists and some reliefs, such as the one depicting the transport of the statue of the Laocoon. At the top is the group of the “Glory reserved for artists“.
THE CHURCH OF ST. VITALE
A little further on, on the left sidewalk, going up, you will find a steep staircase that descends to the level of the ancient Church of St. Vitale. This Saint, famous for the church dedicated to him in Ravenna, the city of which he is the protector, was the husband of St. Valeria and father of Saints Gervasio and Protasio. A real holy family! Vitale, a Roman soldier, was condemned to be buried alive.
From its ancient name, Titulus Vestinae, we can guess that it was built by a converted Roman matron, named Vestina, but its consecration took place during the pontificate of Innocent I (401-417). The church had a three naves, but it was reduced to a single nave by the renovation commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV for the Holy Year of 1475. After Clement VIII had given it to the Jesuits in 1598, they connected it to the nearby church of St. Andrew at the Quirinal with a splendid garden, now destroyed, whose vegetation was ordered according to a symbolic, allegorical path of the Jesuit’s path to martyrdom.
The façade of San Vitale is gabled, and on the portal you can see the coat of arms of Sixtus IV, while from the wooden doors the 17th Century the relief panels with scenes of the martyrdom of the titular saints (Vitale, Valeria, Gervasio and Protasio) have been removed and placed in a safer place. Inside, surmounted by a lacunar ceiling, pairs of columns divide the frescoed panels on the walls with scenes of martyrdom and figures of prophets painted in 1603 by Tarquinio Ligustri and Andrea Commodi. On the right are the martyrs of St. Andrew, St. Panunzio, Saints Peter and Marcellin and Ignatius of Antioch. In the transept those of St. Vitale, in the apse the calvary and martyrdom of Saints Protasius and Gervasius. On the left wall are still depicted the martyrdoms of Saints Gennaro and Saturnian and a sadistic depiction of a soldier anointed with honey and exposed to insects.
VIA DELLE QUATTRO FONTANE
Going up the stairs, you reach the intersection of Via Nazionale and Via delle Quattro Fontane (so called for the four fountains at the top of the climb).
Cross the street and take via Depretis, politician and statesman of the young Italian state. After a pseudo-medieval style building remains the deconsecrated church of St. Paul the Hermit, built around 1785 to a project by Clemente Orlandi. The concave facade includes a short prothyrum on which stand a lion and a raven, symbols of the saint who once faced each other on the sides of a palm tree and today, in front of the old central window, support the coat of arms of the Savoy family.
Continuing on the right side of Via Depretis is the grandiose Palace of the Ministry of the Interior, also called Palace of the Viminale, preceded by a double staircase with access ramp for cars and a beautiful fountain at street level. The work, carried out by Manfredo Manfredi in 1920, led to the demolition of part of the convent of St. Paul and the church of St. Mary of Health.
Now go back on Via Nazionale and take Via delle Quattro Fontane (Road of the Four Fountains), going up to the crossroads with Via XX Settembre, whose name preserves the memory of the historic Breccia di Porta Pia of September 20th 1870, when Rome was reunited with Italy and became its capital. Here we are at the corner of the Church of St. Charles, but right in the corner itself in a niche is located one of the four fountains of the intersection, the only one included in the Monti District. This one, supplied by the Acqua Felice water with a short curvilinear basin, is adorned with a statue of the Tiber river half lying down. The personification of the river, bearded and covered on its sides by a classical drapery, rests on a vase from which water flows and with his left hand holds a cornucopia, symbol of abundance. Behind him are a rich vegetation and stalactites of a cave where the she-wolf of Rome with the twins appears.The fountain is the work of Muzio Mattei and Giacomo Tridenzoni and was built at the behest of Sixtus V in 1588, probably with peperino blocks from Septizodium of Septimius Severus.
Turn now for via del Quirinale, but first, if the traffic allows it, go to the center of the intersection and admire the distant perspectives of the two straight lines that converge here. At the end of Via XX Settembre you will see the Michelangelo’s back façade of Porta Pia, then the Esquiline Obelisk of St. Mary Major and the bell tower of the Basilica, while on the side of Via Sistina you will see the Obelisk of Trinità dei Monti and then, at the end of Via del Quirinale, the Obelisk of the Quirinale.
ST. CHARLES AT THE FOUR FOUNTAINS
Continuing on, here is the Church of St. Charles at the Four Fountains, affectionately called by the Romans “San Carlino” (“Little St. Charles“), because of the small internal proportions of the building: according to the tradition, the church occupies an area equal to that of a pillar of St. Peter’s Dome.
The church is dedicated to the bishop of Milan Charles Borromeo (it is the first church built in his name after his canonization), who became cardinal at the age of twenty-two, a scholar and an active participant in the Council of Trent. Voted to a life of asceticism and penance, he intervened severely to discipline convents, so much so that a friar even fired an arquebus shot at him. He offered all of himself to the cause of the plague victims in 1576 and did not back down in persecuting heretics. He died when he was only 46.
In truth, the church is also dedicated to the Holy Trinity and its construction took a long time, so much so that on the death of the great architect Francesco Borromini it was finished by his nephew Bernardo. The exterior is a masterpiece of apparent baroque fantasy, but in reality everything is symmetrically joined by the geometric centres and diagonals. The façade has two orders, with the full prominence of the columns supporting the overhangs and the recesses of the cornices. In the niches, you can see the statues of St. John De Mata, who dedicated himself to the liberation of the Christian slaves of the Muslims and founded the Order of the Trinitarians, and St. Felix of Valois, co-founder of the same Order, while in the centre you can see the statue of St. Charles Borromeo, by Antonio Raggi.
Above it, two angels support a large oval frame in which the fresco of the Trinity was once clearly visible. The elliptical dome, with large windows, holds a lantern where the columns separate concave segments.
Next to the façade stands the small bell tower, also by Borromini, resting on pairs of columns and a pagoda cusp. Borromini remained famous, in this as in his other architectural works, for the direct collaboration that he gave manually to all the workers: from the mason to the plasterer, from the carpenter to the stonemason and the blacksmith.
THE INTERIOR OF THE CHURCH
The interior renews the sense of Borromini’s ingenious architectural invention with a great effect underlined by the verticality concluded by the elliptical dome adorned with hexagonal and octagonal lacunars, including others in the form of the Trinitarian cross. The whole plan of the building is the result of the intersection of an ellipse with a rhombus, in whose nodal points the columns are placed or altars and niches are opened.
On the high altar stands the 17th Century painting by Pierre Mignard, depicting St. Charles Borromeo, St. Felix of Valois and St. John De Mata adoring the Trinity. The tabernacle and the confessionals were also designed by Borromini.
Equally beautiful is the original cloister with its elongated octagonal shape, with an elegant well in the centre, always octagonal. The convent, entrusted to the Spanish Trinitarians, has a façade with blind windows and portholes, and a portal with a 17th Century mosaic depicting Christ between two freed slaves. According to tradition, the first public concerts in Rome were held in this convent.
Before returning to Via del Quirinale, take a look at the small Church of Saints Anne and Joachim, built in the 16th Century by Paolo Maruscelli and now run by the Belgian Ecclesiastical College. The church is dedicated to the parents of Our Lady, to whom Grace bestows eternal youth. The interior is in the shape of a Greek cross with a dome without a drum and the Belgian zouaves of the papal army found burial there.
CHURCH OF ST. ANDREW AT THE QUIRINALE
Now take via del Quirinale, passing by a public garden with a fountain adorned with Roman marble, and admire the Church of St. Andrew at the Quirinale, a masterpiece by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The church is dedicated to St. Andrew, who according to tradition died a martyr in Patras, crucified not like Jesus nor like his brother Peter, but on an X-shaped cross. His name was shouted in the Holy Land by the Crusaders of Goffredo di Buglione who threw themselves on the assault.
St. Stanislaus Kostka, a Jesuit novice of great faith, died on August 14th 1567 in a house attached to the church. In 1653 it was thought to build a new church of St. Andrew whose project was offered to Borromini, but Pope Innocent X did not approve the idea, which was instead favored by his successor Alexander VII, who entrusted it to Bernini. This is one of the many episodes related to the rivalry between the two artists who, when they went to the Quirinal Hill to work in the respective factories of the churches of St. Andrew and St. Charles, deliberately took two different paths, on the way there and back, to avoid to meet each other.
Unfortunately, Bernini was forced to move the church back so as not to loom with it on the “Manica Lunga” facing the Quirinale Palace, respecting a good margin of space from what was then called the Strada Pia. The expenses for the church were paid by Camillo Pamphilj and his wife Olimpia Aldobrandini: to marry her, he had to abandon the cardinal’s purple. Bernini completed the task in thirteen years.
An elegant curved staircase is at the base of the façade which, supported by pairs of high pilasters, is crowned by a large tympanum, decorated with the Pamphilj coat of arms. On either side of the church there are two short curved wings, which have the function of ideally circumscribing the space in front of the church. The church has an elliptical plan, with the drum of the dome lit by eight windows. The dome is completed by a refined lantern decorated with columns.
THE INTERIOR OF THE CHURCH
The stucco decoration with figures of fishermen, cherubs and St. Andrew was designed by Bernini and executed by the pupils Raggi and Rinaldi. In the first chapel on the right there are three paintings by Giovan Battista Gaulli, known as Baciccio, with Stories of St. Francis Xavier, the daring missionary in India, Japan and China. Then admire Bernini’s high altar, in lapis lazuli and gilded bronzes, on which stands a canvas depicting the Martyrdom of St. Andrew by Borgognone (1668).
Then visit the Chapel of St. Stanislaus Kostka, which contains the body of the Saint in an urn of lapis lazuli and gilded bronzes, while on the altar is the Apparition of the Virgin to St. Stanislaus by Carlo Maratta (1625-1713).
Taking a small staircase from the sacristy you can visit the rooms of St. Stanislaus, which in truth are only a modern reconstruction of the original ones, where the Saint died. Here you can see some personal objects of the Saint and twelve watercolours with “Stories from his life” by Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709). The statue of Pierre Legros (1666-1719), depicting St. Stanislaus dying, is really impressive in its polychrome marble: alabaster, carrara, black basalt and antique yellow is also splendid.
VIA DEL QUIRINALE
Next to the Church of St. Andrew there were two other small churches, dedicated to St. Clare and St. Mary Magdalene, which were demolished in 1888 to create new gardens whose opening was decided to celebrate the visit to Rome of the Kaiser of Germany William II. At the centre of the gardens is a beautiful bronze equestrian monument to King Charles Albert, the work of Raffaele Romanelli (1900), a noble figure who bends his head slightly while the horse is pawing.
On this part of the Quirinal Hill stood the Baths built by Constantine in 315, between Alta Semita and Vicus Longus. To build them, a large space had to be terraced in the direction of today’s Via Nazionale, thus burying many private houses that resurfaced in the building works of the 19th Century. The Baths of Constantine are well documented thanks to drawings, reliefs and engravings by Palladio and Serlio. Fallen into neglect, the baths became a cheap brick quarry, as well as providing statues for the private collections and embellishment of Rome. For example, the two large statues of the Dioscuri today located next to the Quirinal obelisk and the statue of Constantine, placed in the portico of St. John in Lateran, come from these Baths.
THE PALACE OF THE CONSULTA
Arrive at this point up to Piazza del Quirinale (Quirinal Square), which the Romans called Monte Cavallo (Horse Mountain) for centuries, and admire on one side the impressive Palace of the Consulta, wanted by Pope Clement XII (1730-1740) and intended for the court of the Holy Consulta, which dealt with civil, criminal and mixed cases (i.e. those involving both lay and religious). The architect of the palace was Ferdinando Fuga, who installed it over part of the Baths of Constantine. The financing of the work was guaranteed by the profits from the lottery, which Clement XII had restored, after his predecessor Benedict XIII had suppressed it. It also housed two companies of cavalrymen and one of “armors”, foot soldiers: these two military corps, after the Napoleonic period, gave birth to the Guardia Nobile Pontifìcia. In the following decades, the Palace of the Consulta first became the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then that of the Colonies and today of the Constitutional Court.
The façade on the Quirinal Square is decorated with pilasters and elegant windows, and on the beautiful central portal there are statues of “Justice” and “Religion”, while on the secondary doors there are military trophies related to the armed corpses that originally resided there.
On the top of the building dominates between two angels the coat of arms of Clement XII.
THE PALLAVICINI ROSPIGLIOSI PALACE
Now go past the Mazzarino Alley and reach the boundary wall of the Pallavicini Rospigliosi Palace, in via XXIV Maggio. The palace, also built on part of the Baths of Constantine, was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and the architects Flaminio Ponzio and Carlo Maderno worked there, while the construction of the garden, built on three sloping terraces, was entrusted to the Flemish architect Vasanzio.
On the first terrace is still the Casino dell’Aurora, a symbol of the awakening of the human soul. On the second is a large fountain in a semicircle called the “Theatre“, with a Casino frescoed by Orazio Gentileschi and Agostino Tassi, symbol of the part that man plays in the comedy of life. The third terrace, now lost, with a Casino frescoed with the Stories of Psyche, was a symbol of the struggle of the soul to reach God.
Before the palace was finished the Borghese sold it to the Altemps. Then it passed to the Bentivoglio, Lante, Mazzarino, Mancini and finally in 1704 to the Rospigliosi Pallavicini, who divided it between the two branches of the family.
THE DIFFERENTS SECTIONS OF THE PALACE
The palace, enclosed by a high wall, opens its large main portal on Via XXIV Maggio, a date that recalls Italy’s entry into the First World War. Just inside, on the left is the Casino dell’Aurora, decorated on the outside with Roman marble fragments. Inside is the famous “Aurora” frescoed in the vault of the central hall by Guido Reni in 1616: you can see Apollo driving the chariot of the Sun pulled by four ragweed horses, with the Aurora in front of him spreading flowers on the sea below. They follow the chariot and the Hours that hold hands as if dancing, while a winged hero with a torch pulls away the shadows of the night. In the Casino are other paintings by Tempesta, Baglione, Passignano and Paul Brill.
At the end of the garden is the palace characterized by two advanced lateral bodies and surmounted by a beautiful altana. Countless are the frescoes that adorn it, including a loggia frescoed with cherubs by Guido Reni or scenes depicting the Fire of Troy and the Death of Cleopatra.
Behind the palace is the nymphaeum known as the “Theatre“, with statues of the Po and the Tiber rivers and the Muses’ Loggia, decorated with frescoes by Orazio Gentileschi’s Concert, in Caravaggesque style.
In the private apartments of the palace there is the Pallavicini art collection, which includes 540 paintings including works by Guercino, Iacopo Bassano, Ludovico Carracci, Pomarancio, Sebastiano Conca, Luca Giordano, Lorenzo Lotto, Carlo Maratta, Palma il Giovane, Nicola Poussin, Rubens, Luca Signorelli, Jacopo Tintoretto, Velasquez, Domenichino and Botticelli, just to mention some of the most important ones.
Leaving the palace, descend via XXIV Maggio until you come out again on Largo Magnanapoli where the itinerary of what can be considered one of the richest districts of Rome, in terms of history and art, ends.