ROMAN ITINERARIES – PARIONE DISTRICT – ITINERARY 24
PARIONE DISTRICT – ITINERARY 24
The Itinerary 24 of the Parione District starts from the New Church Square, in front of the church of the same name also called St. Mary in Vallicella, because here there was a small depression, later flattened, which was believed to correspond to the Tarentum, a sort of cave from which fumes came out and which was believed to be the entrance to the Underworld, an ancient place of worship dedicated to the infernal gods Dite and Hecate.
Piazza della Chiesa Nuova – Via della Chiesa Nuova – Via dei Cappellari – Vicolo Cellini – Via dei Banchi Vecchi – Via dei Cartari – Via del Pellegrino – Via Sora – Vicolo Savelli – Vicolo del Bollo – Via del Pellegrino – Arco di Santa Margherita – Piazza della Cancelleria – Piazza San Damaso – Piazza del Teatro di Pompeo – Via di Grottapinta – Piazza Pollarola – Vicolo dei Bovari – Piazza del Paradiso – Via del Biscione – Passetto del Biscione – Largo del Pallaro – Via dei Chiavari – Piazza dei Satiri – Via dei Giubbonari – Campo dei Fiori – Via dei Cappellari
ST. PHILIP NERI
The history of the Parione District is linked to the multiple activities of St. Philip Neri, who was sympathetically called “Pippo bono” (“the Good Pippo“) by the Romans.
Born in Florence in 1515 into a wealthy family, Philip Neri was trained as a merchant, but soon felt his true vocation for works of piety. When he arrived in Rome, at the age of 19, he saw a city devastated by the Sack of the Lansquenets, and began to devote himself to the sick ones and to the prayers. According to tradition, while praying during Pentecost 1544, “the globe of fire of the Holy Spirit enlarged his heart and bent two ribs“. Philip decided to sell all his books, giving the income to the poor ones, dedicated himself to the lay apostolate and finally, in 1551, took holy orders in the church of St. Thomas in Parione.
Philip Neri was a man appreciated by nobles and plebeians, popes and cardinals, rich and poor, young and old ones. He was the apostle of Rome par excellence and his work of religious renewal in all social classes was remarkable. He took care of the hospitality of pilgrims who came to Rome and did not find asylum, created oratories to sing sacred lauds, and organized trips to the countryside for young people. He was always cheerful and addressed the children with great carefreeness, telling them: “Be good, if you can” and added: “But I already know that you can’t“. Because of his prankster character, he was also called the “jester of God“.
He is remembered, especially in Rome, for having instituted (on Shrove Thursday 1552, in open opposition to the pagan celebrations of Carnival) the so-called Tour of the Seven Churches, a pilgrimage on foot to the seven main churches of the city, still practiced by the faithful.
THE “NEW CHURCH”
The New Church Square was included in the quarter of the White Well, whose name derives from a well to which was connected a white marble sarcophagus, once used as a drinking trough and now placed under the Tasso’s oak tree at the Janiculum. The quarter of the White Well was a place infamous for being inhabited by Spanish prostitutes, many of whom converted Jews nicknamed “marrane“.
THE HISTORY OF THE “NEW CHURCH”
It was here that St. Philip Neri chose to build his church, to spread his apostolic action in favor of many corrupted women, dishonest merchants and greedy bankers.
The primitive church, probably founded by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), preserved the miraculous image of the Virgin and Child that was once placed on a wall of a public bathroom (stove) and bled for being hit with a stone by a thug. While the church was being demolished, the Virgin performed a second miracle, supporting a part of the roof that was about to collapse on the worshippers who were attending Holy Mass.
In 1575 the Church of St. Mary in Vallicella was entrusted to St. Philip Neri, who commissioned the architects Matteo Bartolini and Martino Longhi the Elder to draw up the project of a completely renovated church, which for this reason was called New Church.
In reality, several architects followed one another during the long and complex construction works: the façade was designed in 1605 by Fausto Rughesi, while Giacomo Della Porta broke through the side chapels, Pietro da Cortona built the dome in 1650 and Camillo Arcucci added the bell tower in 1666.
The façade, crowned by a triangular tympanum, shows a beautiful portal with a festoon in the architrave and the coat of arms of Angelo and Pier Donato Cesi (a tree on a six-peaked mountain), who bore the expenses for the construction. Above the broken tympanum there is a plaque with the inscription DEIPARAE VIRGINI [et] S. GREGORIO MAGNO (to the Virgin Mother of God and to St. Gregory the Great). On the tympanum above the inscription is inserted the “Virgin and Child between two angels“.
In the center of the second order of the façade there is a window with balustrade, and on the sides two niches with the statues of St. Gregory the Great and St. Jerome. At the top, you can still see the coat of arms of the Cesi family.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE “NEW CHURCH”
The interior decoration offers a great wealth of friezes, stuccoes, paintings and sculptures. The vault, the dome and the apse, initially left only whitewashed at the behest of St. Philip Neri himself, were later frescoed by Pietro da Cortona between 1647 and 1666: on the vault you can admire the fresco depicting the Madonna and St. Philip Neri (the famous episode of the Virgin holding up a dangerous beam of the church), while the apse depicts the Assumption between Angels and Saints and on the dome the Triumph of the Trinity, surrounded by the biblical prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel.
Now approach the high altar, on which you can admire the absolute masterpiece of the New Church. Originally, an altarpiece with the “Nativity” was to be placed on the altar, but it was never realized by the painter Federico Barocci. In 1608, however, it was decided to display the miraculous image of the so-called Virgin Mary of the Vallicella above the altar, which was placed inside a slate altarpiece painted by the great Flemish painter Pieter Paul Rubens, with a “Vortex of adoring angels and cherubs“, arranged around the sacred image. The most astonishing detail of the work is that Rubens also painted a copper plate depicting the Madonna and Child blessing, which can be lifted, by means of a system of ropes and pulleys, to reveal the miraculous image below.
On the side walls of the presbytery there are two other paintings by Rubens, still made on slate slabs, which represent on the left wall the Saints Gregory the Great, Papia and Mauro and on the right wall the Saints Domitilla, Nereo and Achilleo.
Among the side chapels, all decorated with works of extraordinary interest (especially the fourth chapel on the left, decorated with the altarpiece of the Visitation by Federico Barocci and frescoed by the Venetian painter Carlo Saraceni), go in front of the second chapel on the right. You will see in front of you a copy, made by the painter Michele Koeck and not particularly successful, of one of the absolute masterpieces of Italian art, the Deposition of Christ painted by Caravaggio. The painting, which was removed by the French in 1797, was kept after being returned in the Vatican Museums Picture Gallery, which you could visit with Rome Guides choosing the Extended Tour of St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums, organized by our Association.
THE ORATORY OF THE PHILIPPINE FATHERS
Next to the New Church stands the Oratory of the Philippine Fathers (the religious order founded by St. Philip Neri), which has its main façade on the New Church Square with a slight concavity of the wings, almost to signify the embrace of the Philippine Fathers to the devotees. The builder himself called the oratory “a human body with open arms, as if embracing everyone who enters“.
The building is a true architectural genius of Francesco Borromini who, with his creativity, suggested solutions typical of Baroque architecture that will be taken up by other architects. Inaugurated in 1640, the Oratory of the Philippine Fathers immediately appealed for its monumentality and refinement, for the brick façade with two orders of pilasters that divide it into five sections, for the rich balcony with window enclosed within a niche, for the beautiful portal with columns, for the windows with accurate ornaments, for the slender mixed tympanum, for that game of restless lines that denounces the break with the past style and the powerful and imperious affirmation of the Baroque.
The interior has a typical Borrominian shape, rectangular with rounded corners, with two loggias on the short sides, the Singers’ Loggia and the Cardinals’ Loggia. Even the rooms of the actual convent were built and furnished according to Borromini’s design, with an absolutely disruptive brightness: today they house the Roman Emeroteca, the Capitoline Archives and the wonderful Vallicelliana Library, designed between 1642 and 1644.
The complex is articulated around three courtyards. Around the second of them (called “Orange Courtyard” due to the fact that there are still plants of orange trees) were placed several rooms, including the Refectory with an elliptical plan, where there was the pulpit made by Borromini and visible today in the New Church.
THE TERRINE FOUNTAIN
Since 1925, in the square in front of it you can see the so-called “Terrina“, a small fountain that in the 16th Century was located in the Campo dei Fiori square, in the center of the crowded market. However, since it was always cluttered with garbage, in 1622 a massive travertine lid was superimposed on the basin, engraved with the motto: “Love God and do not fail, do good and let it be said“. In 1889 the fountain was dismantled to make room for the monument to Giordano Bruno in the center of the square.
THE STATUE OF METASTASIO
Not far away, on a high pedestal, you can see the marble statue made in 1882 by Emilio Gallori and representing a character in 18th Century dresses: it is the famous poet and writer Pietro Trapassi, better known under the pseudonym of Metastasio (1698 – 1782), who lived not far from here. The base is adorned with a garland of laurel leaves woven with the symbols of melodrama (a mask and a lyre) on the front and the Capitoline she-wolf within a shield on the back.
Now cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and take Vicolo Cellini, so called in memory of the great goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, born in Florence on November 10, 1500. Cellini always led an unregulated life, because of a proud and easy to anger personality, which led him several times to be sentenced to prison. He was protected by Pope Clement VII, for whom he fought in 1527 from the St. Angel’s Castle against the Lansquenets, but then he fell into disgrace towards the Pope himself, for having killed (probably in this street, or in the immediate surroundings) the Milanese goldsmith Pompeo de Capitaneis.
According to tradition, it was Benvenuto Cellini who decorated the house at number 31 with graffiti depicting war scenes and friezes with leaves and masks.
VIA DEI BANCHI VECCHI
At the end of the alley cross Via dei Banchi Vecchi, which is divided between the Regola, Ponte and Parione Districts: in reality, only a small part of the street, the one from number 137 to number 147, belongs to the last district.
On the left you will see Via dei Cartari (from the paper sellers’ stores) overlooked by an 18th Century house with windows decorated with festoons, shells, heads, scrolls and eight-beam stars. A little further on, at number 145, you can see set in the wall a memorial stone of the “pomerium“, from the time of Emperor Claudius (half of the first century AD) which, through the long Latin inscription still legible, indicated the division between urbs and ager publicus after the enlargement of the borders of the empire.
Cross now the Via Larga, so called because, when it was opened in 1627 by the Philippine Fathers, it was the widest in the area: although it was under the patronage of St. Philip Neri, the road had for a long time the gloomy reputation of being home to evil spirits, because in it you could hear screams and strange noises of squeaking chains. After a few years, the police discovered that, in an attic at number 28, an old woman no longer in full mental health had been chained by her relatives. Along the street, look at number 12 the Cerri Palace, designed in the 17th Century by the architect Francesco Peparelli, decorated with festoons and masks; on the cornice there are leaves, stars, bees and the uprooted tree that constitutes the Cerri family coat of arms. In addition to the coat of arms of the Cerri family we see the Savoy one, because here was hosted the State Council.
VIA DEL PELLEGRINO
Take now Via del Pellegrino, which goes from Via dei Banchi Vecchi to Campo dei Fiori and belongs to the Regola District too. The road has this name because it was continuously traveled by pilgrims who went to the St. Peter’s Basilica. Opened by Pope Sixtus IV and enlarged by Pope Alexander VI in the 15th Century, it does not offer particularly monumental churches or palaces, because the nobles did not like to live in a popular street always travelled by humble people who went on foot to St. Peter’s. Therefore, excluding the Chancellery Palace, which overlooks the street with its less conspicuous side, the two sides of the street are mainly composed of small houses dating back to the period between the 16th and the 18th Century.
Walking for a short distance, you reach Vicolo dei Savelli, which took its name from the turreted palace of this noble family, which was first used as a Papal Infantry barracks in 1831 and then cut off by the construction of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, becoming today the seat of the Technical Institute Gioberti.
At number 58 of Via del Pellegrino you will walk along the 15th Century house where Cesare Borgia, the talented military leader son of Pope Alexander VI, was born. The property was then purchased by the Peretti family, because in the frame of the windows you can see the lion with a pear branch (family coat of arms).
At the corner with Via dell’Arco di St. Margherita (from the little church of the same name that disappeared) you can admire the splendid 18th Century tabernacle in stucco, typical of Roman rococo, erected in this picturesque maze of alleys, at the behest of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who probably availed himself of the work of Francesco Moderati (1716). Under a crown of fine workmanship, surmounted by a globe with a cross, the dove hovers in flight between rays that emerge from the volutes of the tympanum flanked by two cherubs. In the niche the Virgin Mary observes the passers-by, holding in her arms the Child who stretches out his hands almost to bless. Two winged heads frame the group that rests on the base of the aedicule supported by two biceps eagles (heraldic element of the Ottoboni) between which you can see the face of “St. Philip Neri in ecstasy“.
In the last section of Via del Pellegrino, at the corner with Campo dei Fiori, there is the 15th Century house where Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary, winner of the Turks and ally of Pope Pius II, one of the most brilliant figures of the Renaissance, protector of classical letters and arts, lived. On the building the painter Andrea Mantegna painted his portrait on horseback (now disappeared), and you can still see on the edge the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VI with the inscription that recalls his work of widening the narrow streets of the city.
THE CHANCELLERY PALACE
Walking along the last stretch of Via del Pellegrino you have skirted the side of a palace with beautiful balconies, with Renaissance parapets full of decorations. At the end, you arrive in front of the Chancellery Square, unworthy to welcome the wonderful palace that overlooks here: without a fountain and scenic backdrops, the square is enriched only by the Church of St. Lawrence in Damaso, which however fails to increase the importance and monumentality of the place.
The Chancellery Palace owes its name to the Latin phrase “cancelli fori” (court gates) and to the “cancellarii” (the ushers who stood at the gates that separated the public from the place where the judges sat); add to what in Latin “cancel” means “to put behind a gridiron“, because to cancel a writing, horizontal and vertical lines similar to a gridiron or a gate were made on it.
The palace was erected in 1484 by the cardinal Raffaele Riario after the demolition of the cardinal palace adjacent to the Church of St. Lawrence in Damaso, which was incorporated in the palace. According to a consolidated gossip, the funds for the construction were obtained thanks to a resounding win at the game (60,000 scudi) obtained by the same Raffaele Riario to the detriment of Franceschetto Cybo, natural son of Pope Innocent VIII. In 1495 the main façade was completed, but the rest of the exterior and the internal decorations took a much longer time.
In 1513 the palace was seized by Pope Leo X, who moved there the offices of the Apostolic Chancellery, previously located in the nearby Old Chancellery Palace, located on Via dei Banchi Vecchi and owned by Pope Alexander VI. In 1527 prelates and nobles brought all their precious belongings to the Riario Palace, trusting in the influence that the family could have on the Lansquenets, but everything was useless, and the palace was burned and looted. Many eminent people were taken as hostages by the soldiers who imposed the ransom, but they were saved by the cardinal Pompeo Colonna who got the German soldiers drunk and allowed a daring escape through a chimney: among the men who were saved there was Giovanni Ciocchi del Monte, who some years later became Pope with the name of Julius III.
During the Second Roman Republic of 1849, for a short period the Roman Parliament assembled here; then, after the signing of the Lateran Pacts in 1929, the Chancellery Palace began to enjoy the condition of extraterritoriality, like other buildings linked to the Holy See.
During the consolidation and restoration works, carried out between 1937 and 1945, a section of the Euripo canal, the tomb of the Consul Aulus Hirtius of 43 B.C. and a series of reliefs of the Flavian Age, as well as a mithraeum, were discovered.
THE CHANCELLERY PALACE
The name of the architect who designed and built the Chancellery Palace remains unknown, although experts are inclined to identify it with Andrea Bregno or his brother Antonio da Montecavallo, Bregno’s brother. The main façade on the square is in pink travertine (taken from the nearby ruins of the Pompey’s Theater), while the others are in brick curtain walls with travertine inserts. The overall composition is elegant and harmonious, with very graceful lines, with the length of the façade broken by the two lateral foreparts of little jutting. The first floor has arched windows, while the upper ones are framed and decorated with the Riario family rose.
The main portal is a successive decoration of almost a century, since it was inserted here only in 1589 by the architect Domenico Fontana: the entrance arch is decorated by two lions with pears (coat of arms of cardinal Alessandro Peretti, the vice-chancellor who had the portal executed), while on the architrave we can read the name of Pope Sixtus V.
On the façade of Via del Pellegrino, you can instead admire the lovely balcony made by Andrea Bregno with the coat of arms of the cardinal Riario flanked by two panels bearing the motto “HOC OPUS” and “SIC PERPETUO“; on the corner towards the square there is the coat of arms of Pope Julius II (with the oak branches in double cross of St. Andrew) and on the opposite corner that of Pope Pius XI (eagle with open wings and three balls).
The courtyard, now unanimously considered a masterpiece of architecture of the 15th Century, is a work of the architect Donato Bramante. It consists of three orders, the first two porticoes on columns and the third with walls marked by pilasters with composite capital; the pendentives of the arches on the ground floor have shields with the rose of Riario; on the main floor simple roses alternate with coats of arms of the cardinal Riario. Among the heraldic elements we find in the courtyard gallery the Farnese lily, which recalls the works commissioned by the cardinal and vice-chancellor Alessandro Farnese to the architect Vignola.
THE INNER DECORATIONS
In the palace there was a theater built by order of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni to a design by Filippo Juvara (1676-1736), obtained from the union of two rooms on the second floor, where shows of considerable importance were staged.
The interior of the building presents grandiose rooms, frescoed at different times: the most famous of these rooms is the so-called One Hundred Days Hall, so nicknamed because the painter Giorgio Vasari decorated it in that time depicting episodes from the life of Pope Paul III. The chronicles tell that Vasari boasted of the speed of the realization with the great artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, who simply responded seraphically: “I can see it“.
The Cardinal’s apartment and the rest of the palace were instead frescoed by numerous artists, including Perin Del Vaga, a pupil of Raffaello Sanzio.
THE CHURCH OF ST. LAWRENCE IN DAMASO
Incorporated in the Chancellery Palace, the Church of St. Lawrence in Damaso was built by Pope Damaso in the 4th Century, not far from the Pompey’s Theatre, enlarging an ancient ecclesiastical building dedicated to St. Lawrence. Its façade was facing the Via del Pellegrino. The church was restored several times: by Pope Adrian I in the 8th Century, by Pope Leo III in the 9th Century and by Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan in the middle of the 15th Century, until the demolition works began in 1484, which allowed the church to be incorporated into the new palace built by the cardinal Riario.
The architect of this first restoration was probably Donato Bramante, who was already engaged in the creation of the courtyard of the Chancellery Palace. Ornamented in the following centuries by frescoes now lost, it was restored in the 17th century by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who transformed the apse from rectangular to semicircular. In 1798 the French used the church as a stable, and after nine years the architect Giuseppe Valadier was commissioned to restore it in neoclassical style. Unfortunately, in 1868, the architect Virginio Vespignani performed consolidation works and decided to cover the interior with clumsy 19th Century decorations, while preserving the plan of Bramante’s project. As a final coup de grace, in 1939 a fire destroyed the ceiling of the church.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
Cross the 16th Century portal, designed by the architect Vignola, and you will be fascinated by the richness of marble and gilding. In the middle nave you can admire the 19th Century frescoes by Luigi Fontana, but it is mainly in the vestibule that most of the works of art are concentrated, including the statue of St. Charles Borromeo by Stefano Maderno and the frescoes by Corrado Giaquinto and the altarpiece by Sebastiano Conca (18th Century). The nave ends with a semicircular apse, in the center of which there is a large oil painting by Federico Zuccari depicting the Coronation of Mary and Saints; below the high altar, surmounted by a heavy ciborium, there are the bodies of Saints Eutichiano and Damaso.
THE POMPEY’S THEATRE
Move now to the square that is improperly called the Pompey’s Theatre. The theatre in fact did not rise here, but the square nevertheless recalls the majestic building built and inaugurated in 55 BC to become the first permanent stone theatre of the ancient Rome. The external curve of the theatre can still be guessed from the modern buildings along Via del Biscione, Piazza del Paradiso and the beginning of Via dei Giubbonari, while the Pio Righetti Palace stands in perfect correspondence with the Temple of Venus Victrix, which was at the top of the cavea and protruding outwards at the center of the hemicycle.
Via di Grottapinta, with the semi-circle of the houses, follows and preserves the internal curve of the theater’s cavea too. The plan of the complex included, moreover, a four-sided portico of enormous dimensions that reached the Sacred Area of Argentine Square where, close to the back of the four temples, there was the great hall of the Pompey’s Curia, where on March 15th 44 B.C. Caius Julius Caesar was killed, perhaps at the foot of that statue of Pompey that we have talked about in previous itineraries, about Via dei Leutari where it was found.
THE PICHI PALACES
The square of the Pompey’s Theatre is full of Renaissance palaces with harmonious portals. Its primitive name of Pollarola Square was due to the chicken market that took place here since the Middle Ages. It seems that this activity was very profitable, since Ceccolo Pichi was able to enrich himself in a short time and build the small palace visible today at number 43, enriched by a beautiful architraved portal of 1460, with festoons, heads and an abraded coat of arms that, instead, reappears intact in the windows and consists of a column, a rose and two peaks with the head upwards.
The Pichi family, however, also owned another palace along the nearby Vicolo dei Bovari. Girolamo Pichi, Ceccolo’s son, was even richer than his father and was also husband of Geronima Alberini, coming from a family of wealthy merchants. The palace, which was probably built by Pietro Rosselli (perhaps to a design by the famous Tuscan architect Leon Battista Alberti) after the middle of the 15th Century and which was decorated with valuable paintings and sculptures, was moved back 16 meters for the opening of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, and yet still has a clear artistic value, thanks to the two beautiful Renaissance portals with the Pichi coat of arms and the windows of the façades that bear the inscription “Hieronymus Picus” on the architrave.
Now enter the very close Biscione’s Square, name probably derived from the snake or eel (“biscia“), heraldic element of the Orsini-Anguillara family, owner of the massive Orsini Palace, a beautiful baroque building built on the ruins of the Pompey’s Theatre and in particular founded on the substructures of the Temple of Venus Victrix.
THE ORSINI PALACE
On the square, the two-storey façade, built by Camillo Arcucci in 1650, has some architraved windows decorated with lions and pine cones and surmounted by an arched tympanum while others have a crowned eagle, all elements of the coat of arms of the Pio di Savoia from Carpi family. On the side overlooking Via dei Giubbonari, instead, the palace still has the imprint of a medieval fortress.
The building was erected by the cardinal Francesco Condulmer, and was then sold to Virginio Orsini who built the so-called Arpacata Tower with a clock. The palace was later purchased by the Pio di Savoia family, who decorated it with a famous Gallery of Paintings, entirely purchased in the 18th Century by Pope Benedict XIV for the Painting Gallery of the Capitoline Museums. In the 19th Century the palace was purchased by the banker Righetti who, during the consolidation works, in 1864 brought to light the statue of Hercules, today exhibited in the Vatican Museums.
A curiosity: at the end of the 19th Century there was in the square a public scribe who offered his services to illiterate people with different gradations of price, depending on whether the letter to be written was “ordinary”, “ardent”, “very ardent” or even “in poetic love verses”.
Now take the Passetto del Biscione, a narrow covered and often smelly passage, whose ceiling is painted with a starry sky, and come out in Via di Grottapinta (dialectal version of “grotta dipinta“, painted cave).
You will find yourself in front of the Church of St. Mary of Grottapinta, dating back to 1291 and later entrusted to the Brotherhood of the Conception of the Virgin Mary, built to assist the poor and donate the dowry to indigent women. The façade, rebuilt in the 18th Century, is divided into two orders marked by pilasters, and in the tympanum bears the coat of arms of the Orsini who were the owners. In 1926, the church was deconsecrated and reduced to a warehouse: currently it is used as an exhibition and conference space.
Just a few steps away is the Satyrs’ Square, whose name refers to the two statues of satyrs that were in Pompey’s Theatre and that were found here: currently they are kept in the courtyard of the New Palace, in the Capitoline Museums. If you want to see them with your eyes, just book the Museums & Galleries Tour organized by the Cultural Association Rome Guides.
CAMPO DE’ FIORI
The Itinerary 24 of the Parione District, the last one for this District, ends in the middle of the Campo dei Fiori Square. It was built on the stalls in front of the Temple of Venus Victrix; according to some scholars, the name derives from Flora, the woman loved by Pompey who built his theater here, while according to others the name is a consequence of the vast flower meadow that occupied the square until the mid-15th Century.
Although the Orsini family had a general right of ownership over the area, as already explained in the previous paragraphs, Campo dei Fiori was a constant place of contention between the Roman lords in the Middle Ages; Pope Callisto III paved it in 1456 and Pope Sixtus IV, as recalled by the plaque on the corner of Via dei Balestrari, opened Via Florea (later called Via del Pellegrino). The square became a fervent center of commercial and cultural activities for craftsmen, notaries, writers, pilgrims and ambassadors, with the latter often housed in the Orsini Palace. As a result of such an affluence of people, the square was filled with numerous hotels and inns with often extravagant names, and sometimes horse races were held here, with screaming crowds and bettors. In fact, in many ancient prints and engravings you can see in the Campo dei Fiori Square forks and stakes for hanging, because here were carried out death sentences and executions.
For this reason, on February 17th 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned alive in this exact square, in memory of which the sculptor Ettore Ferrari created in 1887 the monument that stands today in the center of the square (where once stood the Terrina Fountain, examined in this paragraph). The inauguration was one of the most critical and turbulent days in Rome at the end of the 19th Century: Pope Leo XIII stayed the whole day on his knees fasting in front of the statue of St. Peter, and threatened to leave Rome to take refuge in Austria if the statue was discovered to the public. The Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi answered him: “If the Pope will leave Italy, he will never be able to return“.
Giordano Bruno was in reality Filippo Bruno, and he took the name Giordano when he entered the Dominican order. He became a priest and doctor of theology, and in 1576 he was prosecuted for heresy because he denied the cult of the Virgin, the value of the Eucharist and the ultimate destiny of humanity. He fled first to Rome, where he was once again prosecuted and accused of having killed another priest, and then wandered around Europe, becoming at first a Calvinist and then a Lutheran. Denounced to the Inquisition Tribunal, he was sentenced to death.
Giordano Bruno, who has had the merit of pioneering modern philosophy, is represented by the monument in an attitude of gloomy meditation, hooded, standing with a book in his hands. The statue has become over the years a symbol of freedom of thought and the will of the human being to fight in defense of his ideas. Eight medallions are arranged around the base, representing some of the intellectuals who have challenged ecclesiastical power over the centuries, such as Martin Luther, Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas Campanella.