ROMAN ITINERARIES – PIGNA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 35
PIGNA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 35
Now get ready to begin the Pigna District Itinerary 35, which will be the last one of the District and will lead you to the discovery of the Roman College Square, from where you will have to start your stroll.
Piazza del Collegio Romano – Via di Sant’Ignazio – Via del Caravita – Via del Collegio Romano – Piazza di Sant’Ignazio – Via del Corso – Via Lata – Via del Plebiscito – Vicolo Doria – Piazza Venezia – Via del Plebiscito
THE ROMAN COLLEGE
On the Roman College Square currently overlook the Pamphilj Palace, which we will discuss in the next paragraphs of this Itinerary, and the Church of St. Martha, which had been mentioned in the previous paragraph, now deconsecrated and dedicated to cultural activities.
The Roman College owes its existence, like the Church of Jesus and indirectly like the Church of St. Ignatius, to St. Ignatius himself, founder of the Company of Jesus. In imitation of the University of Paris, however, the College had an impulse mainly by the will of Francesco Borgia, third Father General of the Jesuit Order. Initially, indeed, the place of indoctrination for the followers of the Society was in the so-called Professed House, located in the Jesus’ Square, next to the church with the same name; later, it was moved under the Capitol, in a modest house owned by the Aquilani family. The vicissitudes of the Jesuit College were not yet over, however, because it moved again, first to the Capocci-Frangipane Palace in Via del Gesù, where it was rented from 1553 to the year of the flood of 1597, then to the Salviati Palace.
But the Company of Jesus in those years had a really amazing proselytism, and even this location soon became insufficient, so that in 1582 Gregory XIII, who in the meantime was receiving many benefits from the preaching of the followers of St. Ignatius, laid the first stone of the present Roman College, which was completed in 1584.
The huge building was right next to the palace of the Cardinal Salviati, who raised vibrant protests for such an invasion of territory; the solution was, however, very quick, since the Jesuits (now very rich and under the papal protection) bought the palace of the cardinal with the aim to tear it down to gain more light and architectural perspective with the arrangement of the facing square.
The architecture of the building was supposed to be by Bartolomeo Ammannati, who was also the creator of the similar convent of the Jesuits in Florence, but reasons of opportunity and some financial problems ended up assigning the work to Giuseppe Valeriani, a Jesuit architect who also worked in the nearby Church of Jesus. The Roman College has an imposing façade, divided into three architectural blocks, subdivided into five portions: on the central body you can see a niche and the chiseled coat of arms of Gregory XIII with the memorial plaque of the foundation. The structure is crowned by a small astronomical observatory that for years provided the exact time to the whole city of Rome, through a wicker ball that descended every day at noon. On the Roman College was also set up, since 1787, a meteorological institute, accompanied by an apothecary’s shop, with adjoining sale of products by the Jesuits: if you can get the authorization, you can visit the rooms dedicated to this business, having the walls frescoed with the figures of the most illustrious doctors of the past time.
The lateral wings of the building have two grandiose portals, one of which is blind, adorned with heraldic figures with triangular tympanum windows, and a whole series of windows, slightly different in size and arrangement, also placed on three floors.
The interior of the building, which today houses the oldest and most illustrious classical high school in the capital, the Ennio Quirino Visconti (inaugurated in 1871), is equally monumental. It presents indeed a square courtyard with arcades on two orders, with pillars of Ionic order at the bottom and Corinthian order at the top; of remarkable interest also the two flights of stairs leading to the upper floors.
THE LIBRARY AND THE MUSEUMS
In the Roman College (13,400 square meters of surface area) was located the huge library of the Jesuits, the so-called Library Secreta Maior, full of over 50,000 volumes and 17th Century shelves, which with the advent of the Italian State constituted the first nucleus of the Library dedicated to Victor Emanuel II, later transferred to the new spaces of Castro Pretorio. In the rooms of the old library, located on the right of the building looking at the façade, are now the offices of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
The Roman College also owned an ethnographic museum, obtained through various donations over the time, starting from the foundation in 1651, thanks to the contribution of Father Athanasius Kircher, scholar of mathematics, physics and oriental languages. In 1876 the extensive material already collected was catalogued and reorganized, and the museum, open to the public, was entitled to Luigi Pigorini. Currently the ethnographic museum has been transferred to EUR, while the medieval material is located in the Venice Palace and the Etruscan one in the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia.
THE CHURCH OF ST. IGNATIUS
Let’s go now along Via del Collegio Romano, passing the arch that joins the Roman College with the Oratory of Caravita, and enter into St. Ignatius Square, which is part of the Campo Marzio District, and which however deserves a moment of admiration for the wonderful play of perspective of the theatrical wings created by the architect Filippo Raguzzini around 1727.
In front of you, now, stands out the impressive and colossal façade of the Church of St. Ignatius.
THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
Around 1620, Pope Gregory XV, who was a member of the Ludovisi family and had studied at the Roman College when he was young, had the idea of erecting a monumental church in honor of St. Ignatius. The Pope, who wanted a magnificent church for which he was ready to invest the considerable sum of 100,000 scudi, contemplated various projects by different architects, but at the end he chose the one drawn up by Orazio Grassi, teacher at the College for the mathematical sciences, to whom we owe the façade and the architectural structure of the church.
The first stone of the building was laid in 1626, but the church was opened (provisionally) only in 1650, with bars in the middle of the nave in order to avoid access to the still incomplete areas: only 35 years later, the church could be considered completed.
1685, however, is also the year of the creation of the most famous and sensational work of art in the church: it is the famous fake perspective dome, painted by the Jesuit Andrea Pozzo on a canvas 17 meters in diameter, ideally admirable from the yellow disc placed in a specific point of the nave. Unfortunately, the original fake dome has not survived to the present day: due to the explosion of a catafalque during a solemn mass for the dead officiated in the 19th Century, Pozzo’s work suffered serious damage and was reworked, as a perfect copy taken from ancient drawings, by Francesco Manno.
On the façade, with two orders with three doors, of which the central one flanked by two empty niches, runs an inscription in Latin that translated sounds like this: “To St. Ignatius founder of the Society of Jesus the cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi vice chancellor of Holy Roman Church in the year of the Lord 1626“. In the second order the façade presents a large window with two niches on the sides. The apex presents a cross with the Ludovisi’s coat of arms.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The church is literally gigantic: inside it is 82 meters long and 43 meters wide, with a height of 30 meters.
The same Andrea Pozzo decorated the vault of the nave, the transept, the presbytery and the apse, exalting the glory of St. Ignatius and the Company of the Jesuits. Splendid the perspective fresco of the nave, the Glory of St. Ignatius, with Christ showing the banner of the cross and that from its side radiates a beam of light that illuminates Ignatius, from which at the same time leaves to four allegorical figures around him representing the four continents known at that time.
Admire also the altars of the transept, both designed by Andrea Pozzo, with on the left the marble panel of the Annunciation by Filippo Della Valle and on the right the relief of St. Louis Gonzaga by Pierre Legros, the same artist who created the sepulchral monument of Pope Gregory XV, consecrated in 1722, which you can appreciate in its baroque solemnity inside the Ludovisi Chapel.
THE ORATORY OF CARAVITA
Leave the Church of St. Ignatius and take Via del Caravita, meeting almost immediately the Church of St. Francis Xavier, commonly called Oratory of Caravita.
The Oratory is dedicated to the Spanish Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier and takes its name from that of its founder, the Jesuit Pietro Caravita, who had it built in 1631. The Oratory, much less expensive than the adjacent church, was able to welcome the believers without bewildering them with pomp and grandeur.
The façade of the Oratory is simple, with two orders, with an inscription on the architrave honoring St. Francis Xavier. Even the interior is not particularly baroque, but it offers the possibility to admire a large wooden Crucifix of the 16th Century, the Stories of Francis Xavier frescoed by Lazzaro Baldi and Sebastiano Conca, a fragment of a fresco of the Madonna painted by Baldassarre Peruzzi and some pieces of ancient marble set in the floor.
Exit the Oratory, turn right onto Via del Corso, and after a few steps you will reach the corner of today’s Via Lata. The building on the corner, where today there is a Bank Office, was built in 1714 on behalf of the grain merchant Livio del Carolis, and it is due to the architect Alessandro Specchi, who had it decorated by distinguished artists of the time. Because of the accumulated debts, De Carolis was forced to sell the palace to the Jesuits in 1750, who rented it to important Italian and foreign dignitaries. Precisely because of this circle of illustrious tenants, the palace always had a reputation for intense social life, and within it the Boncompagni family set up a huge library of mathematical sciences.
The palace is on three floors, with a tripartite façade with pilasters, and is rich in heraldic elements inherited from the various families who stayed there; you can admire the helicoidal staircase designed by the architect Alessandro Specchi, adorned with Doric columns, and the beautiful 18th Century paintings on the walls and ceilings of the building.
THE FOUNTAIN OF THE PORTER
The so-called Fountain of the Porter, which once stood on Via del Corso, was transported where you can see it now in 1872, on the side of the building just described. The small fountain represents a water vendor who supplies himself with water to bring it to the various customers, and was commissioned by the University of the Watermen, those water carriers who, using special barrels, quenched the thirst of the Renaissance Rome, orphan of the Roman aqueducts, now useless and unsuitable. A false legend attributes the sculpture to Michelangelo Buonarroti.
A second popular legend says that the statue, abundantly derided and almost illegible in features, shows the face of Martin Luther, who lived in Rome in 1511, staying in the nearby monastery of the Augustinians. In reality, according to some scarce documents, the character immortalized in marble is a man named Abbondio Rizio.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY IN VIA LATA
Now turn right onto Via del Corso, until you reach the Church of St. Mary in Via Lata. The building has a well documented early Christian origin, having been commissioned by Pope Sergius I at the end of the VII Century, and is mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis of Pope Leo III, around the year 806.
In the underground of the building are still visible and visitable the ancient remains of the original church, which were obliterated in 1491 for the construction of the current one, which also involved the destruction of the famous Arcus Novus, which was located right next to it and was probably erected at the end of the III Century A.D. in honor of the emperors Diocletian and Maximian.
Because of its position, however, the church was often affected by the frequent flooding of the Tiber river, so in the 17th Century the noblewoman Olimpia Aldobrandini decided to demolish and rebuild it, using the services of the architects Cosimo Fanzago and especially Pietro da Cortona, who designed the splendid façade, completed in 1660 and decorated with Corinthian columns that give the church a strong vertical thrust. The tympanum is surmounted by a cross and flaming stone vases.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior of the church has three naves divided by thirteen columns with Ionic capitals covered with Sicilian jasper. Over the access portal is a 17th Century organ, designed by Caterinozzo from Subiaco. The high altar, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is richly decorated with four alabaster columns and houses a 13th Century Madonna: under the icon are the relics of Agapito, deacon and martyr of the III Century. The artist Giacinto Brandi also painted the ceiling decoration between 1653 and 1654, with three large paintings, of which the central one representing the Coronation of the Virgin is still visible, while the other two, dedicated to the four Cardinal Virtues, were erased during the restoration of the church during the pontificate of Pius IX. You can also see the valuable remains of the Cosmatesque floor and the important wooden choir from 1628.
THE UNDERGROUND SECTION
If you have time, visit the rooms below the church, which can be accessed from a side staircase to the atrium. Inside, you can see a well and a column that, according to tradition, belonged to the room where St. Paul was held prisoner. The remains of the ancient underground frescoes have been detached and are now on display at the National Roman Museum of Crypta Balbi.
THE DORIA-PAMPHILJ PALACE
Finally, it is time to illustrate the enormous building complex of the Doria-Pamphilj Palace, which extends along Via del Corso, the Roman College Square, Via Lata and Via del Plebiscito. It still belongs to the Pamphilj family, who came to Rome from Umbria in the 15th Century, becoming very powerful with the ascent to the papal throne of Pope Innocent X, member of the family. In 1671, the Pamphilj joined the Genoese Doria family, through the marriage between Anna Pamphilj and Andrea Doria: from that moment the genealogical tree became so branched and complex that it became a real maze of relationships.
The first nucleus of the current Pamphilj Palace dates back to the middle of the 15th Century; at that time, here was the home of Cardinal Nicolò Acciapacci, Archbishop of Capua. In 1505 Giovanni Fazio Sartorio renovated the building, having the beautiful inner courtyard built, but a few years later Pope Julius II, visiting the palace still under construction, convinced the owner, who died of a heartbreak, to “donate” the building to the Pope’s nephew Francesco I Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino.
The Della Rovere family completed the porch, embellished with sixteen columns and according to some scholars based on a design by the architect Bramante, but less than a century later, in 1601, the building was purchased by the Aldobrandini family, who enriched it with wonderful decorations and enlarged it laterally until 1647. However, when the nephew of Pope Innocent X, Camillo Pamphilj, married Olimpia Aldobrandini, she brought as a dowry this palace, as well as a large number of paintings and works of art. For this marriage the palace received further enlargements, also incorporating the adjacent Salviati Palace which overlooked the Roman College Square: it was partly demolished, thus creating the square, and partly adapted as a new wing of the Pamphilj Palace.
The work of embellishment continued even after the death of Camillo Pamphilj, and well beyond the marriage of Princess Anna with Giovanni Andrea Doria: a spectacular family chapel was set up based on a design by the architect Carlo Fontana, and the façade on Via del Corso, designed by Gabriele Valvassori, was redesigned and welded to the individual sections of the building in a style linked to the “Roman Baroque”, which the architect’s contemporaries found “extravagant”.
Many other architects carried out extension and consolidation works on the Palace. In 1739 the Pamphilj bought several small houses overlooking Via del Plebiscito and Piazza Grazioli, had them demolished and built another large building in their place, full of apartments to rent. In 1848, however, the architect Andrea Busiri Vici renovated the chapel, built the façade on the Grazioli Square and rebuilt the roof of the Aldobrandini Hall (which in 1956, however, collapsed under the weight of the greatest Roman snowfall of the last century).
On Via del Corso, the palace has three portals flanked by columns with lily capitals, according to the Pamphilj coat of arms, while the windows are very elegant with rich gratings. Enter to admire the beautiful courtyard that opens at number 304, quadrangular with two orders of arches, which would probably need some extraordinary restoration.
THE DORIA-PAMPHILJ GALLERY
The Doria Pamphilj Gallery is curiously little known to tourists, although it is a real treasure chest. If possible, you should enter and visit it, admiring first of all its atmosphere, from the Hall of Landscapes to the Dance Hall, from the Chapel to the Gallery of Mirrors, frescoed in 1733 by Aureliano Milani with the Stories of Hercules.
All the rooms have reasons of interest, both for the decorations of the ceilings and for the boiseries, the tapestries, the finely decorated doors, the access staircases, the transit corridors, up to the ballroom with the balcony for the orchestra, which will give you the feeling of noble magnificence married to excellent style.
Visit the Hall of Primitives, which contains paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries, with small masterpieces of Flemish art painted for example by Hans Memling. Admire the lunettes by Annibale Carracci and Francesco Albani, the three canvases by Caravaggio (the Rest in Egypt, the Mary Magdalene and St. John still part of the collection, while the Buona Ventura (Good Fortune) was donated to Louis XIV and is now in the Louvre Museum), the Double Portrait by Raphael Sanzio, the seductive Salome with the Baptist’s head by Titian Vecellio, the remarkable selection of Flemish paintings (including Peter and Jan Brueghel) and even the many canvases depicting landscapes, which make the Doria Pamphili Gallery as one of the major collections of this painting genre in the world.
If you would like to visit in a very deep way this artistic treasure chest, please book the Museums and Galleries Tour organized by Rome Guides, writing us that you want to explore the Doria-Pamphilj Gallery.
THE BONAPARTE PALACE
Walk along Via del Corso, reaching the end of the street towards Venice Square, and observe the D’Aste-Rinuccini-Bonaparte Palace, completed in 1677, after about twenty years of work by the architect Antonio De Rossi. The last part of the name of the building is certainly the most important, since it was purchased by Letizia Bonaparte, Napoleon’s mother, in 1818.
On Venice Square this palace has graceful architraved windows, with a richly decorated cornice and a mighty altana on which you can distinctly see the letters of the word BONAPARTE. However, it is above all on the corner that you can admire its most famous architectural decoration: the “mignano“, a small corner balcony with shutters from which Letizia Bonaparte watched the walk along Via del Corso, so as to spy on the Roman citizens without being seen.
THE VENICE SQUARE
The current Venice Square was originally called Platea Nova; later it was called the Concha Square, since in 1466 Paul II moved the large granite pool from the Baths of Caracalla to this place, elected as his residence. It was then followed by a second twin basin, always of the same origin: the basins are now visible in the Farnese Square, where they were moved as ornaments. This transfer, wanted by Pope Paul III on the occasion of the arrival in Rome of Charles V, a rectangular basin was placed on the square, but in 1878 also this third basin was removed and placed in People’s Square by the architect Giuseppe Valadier, where it is still visible today.
The square, overlooked not only the already mentioned Bonaparte Palace, but also the Frangipane and Torlonia ones, was closed on two sides by the Venice Palace and the Venice Little Palace: this was indeed the place where, on the occasion of the Berbers’ race, the horses running from the People’s Square all along Via del Corso were stopped. In 1845 the horse omnibus made its first appearance here and the gas lighting experiment was carried out there.
After the demolition of the Torlonia Palace (in addition to many other buildings of minor importance) and the displacement of the Venice Little Palace, Venice Square became as you see it today only in 1909.
THE VENICE PALACE
Originally, the Venice Palace was a modest house built as the lodging of the cardinals who owned St. Mark’s Basilica, located next to it. When in 1440 the building became the property of Cardinal Pietro Barbo, he decided to enlarge and transform the structure, adding to it the Biscia’s Tower, which once belonged to the Annibaldi family, with its mighty battlements. A big building impulse developed however when Cardinal Barbo became Pope with the name of Paul II: the palace became at that point a real papal palace, increasing immeasurably its proportions (just to understand, the original palace had an area of 700 square meters, the one completed by Pope Paul II exceeded 11,000 square meters with the garden). The Pope had a series of splendid rooms set up in his palace, including the wonderful Hall of the Globe (1466), and at the same time he had the loggia and the portico set up in the adjacent Church of St. Mark, recycling building materials from the Colosseum.
However, Paul II was not satisfied: he had in mind to modify the windows overlooking Venice Square (transforming them into the characteristic “Guelph cross” windows that you can admire today) and build a large courtyard opposite the Basilica, but he did not have time to see the work completed because in 1469 the Pope, frightened by a conspiracy, decided to leave the palace to take refuge in the Vatican. The work was then continued by his nephew, the Cardinal Marco Barbo, Bishop of Vicenza and Patriarch of Aquileia.
In reality, each new occupant of the palace intervened with his own manipulations, such as Cardinal Cybo, nephew of Pope Innocent VIII, or Pope Paul III, who had one of the windows of the façade widened, transforming it into the infamous balcony from which, in the 20th Century, the Fascist Duce Benito Mussolini used to face the crowd gathered in Venice Square.
The Venice Palace was therefore an eminently papal palace as an alternative to the Vatican, until the Quirinal Palace was available. The Popes came to reside in the palace more and more rarely, and the last consistory that took place there is that of 1597.
BETWEEN CARDINALS AND VENICE
In 1564 Pope Pius IV established a sort of condominium in the palace between the titular cardinals of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Venetian Republic, which occupied it as a residence for its ambassadors. The common parts were the staircase, the courtyard and the royal hall; however, the situation gave rise to continuous disputes that were not always easy to arrange. The forced condominium certainly did not help the aesthetics of the palace: in 1713, the ambassador Nicola Duodo put some partitions in the Room of the Globe, obtaining nine rooms on two floors, and closed the arches of the Loggia of St. Mark. The cardinals, however, did the same, and in 1733 Angelo Maria Quirini had a covered patrol corridor built, called the Cardinal’s small passageway, which led to the building that had been built on one of the towers of Marco Barbo.
At the end of the 18th Century, due to the Treaty of Campoformio, the palace passed to the Habsburg Empire and in the Napoleonic period it became the property of the Italic kingdom, hosting, among other things, the Academy of Fine Arts, under the direction of Antonio Canova.
The palace had to be demolished in 1811, in order to create a covered market, but the danger was only thwarted for a short time, since the demolition took place in 1909 in order to make visible the controversial monument to Victor Emanuel II from Via del Corso. The Venice Little Palace was then dismantled, brick by brick, and rebuilt in 1911 in the place where you can see it now: it suffered, however, several interventions and changes compared to the original, with the addition of a second floor and the closure of the arches, definitively losing any perspective effect and all the lightness of the inner courtyard.
THE VENICE PALACE IN THE MODERN TIMES
The Venice Palace belonged to Austria until 1916, before being returned to the Italian State in 1924: at that point, restoration works were started that included the new staircase on the Via del Plebiscito, a general consolidation of the building and the decoration of the Concistory Hall, while in the Room of the Globe was created a new mosaic floor. From 1929 to 1943, the date of the last meeting of the Council, the palace hosted the Chief of the Fascist Government and his Great Council.
THE COURTYARD AND THE FOUNTAIN
From the main door of the Venice Palace located on Via del Plebiscito, entrance for the periodic exhibitions held in the palace and for the Museum, you can go to the small garden full of palm trees, admiring in the center of it the fountain that personifies Venice, with the lion of St. Mark.
THE VENICE PALACE MUSEUM
The collections of the Venice Palace Museum were gathered from a first nucleus of sculptures and artworks from the St. Angel’s Castle, the National Gallery of Ancient Art and the collections of the nearby Museum of the Roman College founded in the 17th Century by the Jesuit encyclopedic Athanasius Kircher.
The artistic material of the original collection consisted mainly of works from the medieval and Renaissance periods, witnessing particular sectors of decorative art such as small bronzes, enamels, marbles and ceramics of Italian manufacture. Between 1924 and 1926 to the original collections were added various objects (entire ceramic trousseaus, furniture, silverware, jewellery and sacred vestments) confiscated from religious orders and taken from buildings destroyed and heavily damaged in Abruzzo by the earthquake of 1915.
In 1929, when the building was chosen by Benito Mussolini as the seat of the Head of the Government, the museum was practically closed and could be visited only with the authorization of the Public Security Authorities.
After the interlude of the war, the Venice Palace Museum has slowly defined its physiognomy as a great Museum of Applied Arts: it preserves artistic materials of various nature and historical periods that occupy practically the entire main floor of the building, including the large rooms of the Cybo Apartment, the Cardinals’ small passageway and all the other historical rooms.
THE COLLECTIONS OF THE MUSEUM
Inside, there are preserved: collections of paintings on wood and canvas of the XV-XVIII centuries, 18th Century pastels as well as miniatures and fans; a rich series of Italian and German wooden sculptures; a valuable collection of sketches and terracotta reliefs of the 16th and 17th Century; early medieval and Renaissance marbles; enamels, sacred gold and silverware of profane use, glass, ivories and small Renaissance bronzes of the Italian school; a vast collection of ceramics that includes examples of Orvieto’s archaic majolica, Italian Renaissance majolica, porcelain made in Italy and abroad (including a vast repertoire of oriental porcelain for export).
At the number 49, there are the remains of a statue from Iseo Campense, already mentioned in previous Itineraries. The so-called Madama Lucrezia is a gigantic bust of a woman cloaked in marble that can still be seen undaunted and unaltered in the corner formed by the Venice Palace and the Venice Little Palace, right on the left threshold of those looking at St. Mark’s Basilica.
The name of “Madama Lucrezia”, still today counted among the so-called “talking statues of Rome”, seems to derive from the fact that in the 16th Century, when the statue was already in this corner, a beautiful woman from Bologna named Lucrezia lived in the house next to it.
The colossal proportions, the face disfigured by time and by the disfigurements perpetrated on the gentle features make identification very difficult, even if today scholars think that the statue was representing Isis or a priestess of Isis.
The statue is, as often happens, the target of legends and popular traditions. The most famous tradition was that whoever bowed before this imposing statue would have been lucky during the day; in case someone was so distracted or lazy that he did not make the slight genuflection, a band of rascals organized a cruel joke, putting a coin attached to a string right under the statue, so that the absent-minded individual could bend down to pick it up (without succeeding, of course …) respecting the established tradition.
THE ST. MARK’S BASILICA
The St. Mark’s Basilica has a very ancient origin, dating back to the first half of the IV Century A.D. and linked to Pope Mark: several subsequent documents document its existence. At the end of the VIII Century, Pope Adrian I restored the roof and the aisles, while in the IX Century Pope Gregory IV demolished the unsafe parts of the building, rebuilding them and decorating the apse with a mosaic. The flooding of the Tiber river, very frequent in the Middle Ages, often reached the church, certainly not favoring its stability or the good preservation of the furnishings. In the 12th Century, however, the marble canopy (a work of the same craftsman who worked in the Church of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls) and the beautiful Romanesque bell tower were built.
The most significant alterations were made in 1464 by Pope Paul II. He covered the roof with lead foils engraved with the papal insignia, just as the emperors of Rome used to do for bricks; he set up the splendid ceiling of the nave, richly decorating it; he restored the apse and erected the present porch with the overhanging loggia, plundering marble and travertine from the Colosseum. The present floor was rebuilt in 1523, while at the expense of the Venetian ambassador Nicolò Sagreto new windows were installed and the side chapels were decorated with paintings and canvases.
The church took on its present and definitive appearance only in 1735, by Cardinal Angelo Maria Quirini, who replaced the granite columns with those of brick covered with Sicilian jasper, the choir stalls and the high altar.
The works of 1949, necessary to repair the damage caused by humidity, allowed to discover the crypt and the remains of the previous building. The first parish church is located two and a half meters below the present basilica, and remains of the three naves that were divided by colonnades were found, with the altar placed about halfway down the nave. This building must have been oriented in the same way as the present church, and it was probably destroyed by fire. On this first church building was built a second one, around the IX Century, also with three naves: the crypt that you can visit today belongs to this second church.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
Entering the atrium of the basilica, you can admire a well of the IX Century and an inscription walled in the right side wall that certifies the long intimacy of Pope Alexander VI with Vannozza Cattanei, who died in 1518 after giving him four children (all named in the plaque).
The interior of the basilica, with a nave and two aisles, preserves some remarkable elements of different periods, testifying to the millenary history of the church. Entering, observe on the side entrance the funeral monument to Leonardo Pesaro, sculpted by the neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova; then admire the wooden ceiling, the only one from the 15th Century left in Rome together with that of the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
After passing the third chapel in the right aisle, admiring the Adoration of the Magi by Carlo Maratta, approach the apse, with the splendid mosaic of 827 depicting Pope Gregory IV with the square halo of the living, which offers a model of the basilica to Christ, in the presence of the Evangelist St. Mark, Pope Mark and other saints.