ROMAN ITINERARIES – PONTE DISTRICT – ITINERARY 20
PONTE DISTRICT – ITINERARY 20
The Itinerary 20 of the Ponte District starts from Via dei Coronari and will lead you to the discovery of some of the most admirable examples of the Roman Renaissance, including the Cloister of Bramante and the Church of St. Mary of Peace.
Via dei Coronari – Via del Monte Giordano – Vicolo del Fico – Piazza di Montevecchio – Via dell’Arco della Pace – Via di Santa Maria dell’Anima – Via della Pace – Via del Governo Vecchio – Piazza Tor Sanguigna – Vicolo d’Avila – Piazza dell’Orologio
VIA DEI CORONARI (FIRST PART)
Take Via dei Coronari, to arrive at the Tor Sanguigna Square, overlooked by the Grossi Gondi Palace, decorated with a graceful little door adorned on the top with goblets of upturned lilies and adorned with a beautiful 18th Century Marian shrine, where the image of the Assumption is placed framed by a triumph of stucco angels. At the corner with the Vicolo di Febo (so called from the sign of a tavern decorated with the emblem of the sun), the same palace preserves a small aedicule with the image of the Holy Family gathered under the wings of the Holy Spirit.
Now take Vicolo della Volpe, which also takes its name from the sign of an old tavern: from here you can see the bell tower of St. Mary of the Soul, the dome of St. Mary of Peace and the beautiful Marian shrine with the Madonna and Child of the convent of the Lateran Regular Canons. The corner of the same building, where the aedicule is located, is decorated with smooth ashlars and is surmounted by a shelf decorated with fluttering ribbons.
Continuing on Via dei Coronari, you will see on the right the alley of St. Trifone, one of the narrowest streets of Rome, dedicated to the saint martyred in Phrygia and considered the protector of gardeners.
At numbers 17 and 18 of Via dei Coronari you can see a house that has a medieval portico on the first floor with columns of cipollino marble and bigio marble of the Roman age. The building belonged to the Archconfraternity of St. Mary of the Garden, the beautiful church in Trastevere that was, among all the Roman Archconfraternities, one of the richest in real estate. The marble slab at the corner of the street recalls the ownership of the building in favor of the Archconfraternity: a Madonna in Throne between two cypresses is depicted there, while in the background is the representation of the enclosure of the garden, called “hortus conclusus“.
Continuing along Via dei Coronari, observe at the height of numbers 215-217 a 15th Century relief walled up on the second floor, with the representation of the Savior between two candlesticks, in front of which two brothers of the Archconfraternity of the Holy Savior in Sancta Sanctorum kneel down, famous as that of the four S (already examined in one of the previous Itineraries).
THE LANCELLOTTI PALACE
At this point reach the little square of St. Simeon, which is the result of the demolition of an entire block in 1939. This square was once overlooked by the deconsecrated Church of St. Simeon and now overlooks the Lancellotti Palace, linked to the Lancellotti family, present in Rome since the 15th Century and extinguished in the Massimo family in 1865. The palace, which at the corner is adorned by a shrine with the image of the “Savior supported by angels in glory” in front of which is a beautiful wrought iron lamp, was built by Cardinal Scipione at the end of the 16th Century, thanks to the work of two architects: first Francesco from Volterra and then Carlo Maderno.
The palace, which has a beautiful portal designed by Domenichino and encloses a beautiful courtyard crowned by porticoes, has some rooms decorated with frescoes by Agostino Tassi, with a note of merit for the splendid Hall of the Grooms.
The palace was the seat of the Academy of Infeconds and the French Embassy when Chateaubriand lived there and it is here that, before passing into the state collections, despite the temporary expatriation to Hitler’s Germany, the famous “Lancellotti Discobolus“, a Roman replica of the original bronze sculpted by Mirone, was kept for a long time.
THE PAWNSHOP PALACE
Still on Via dei Coronari, at numbers 30 and 32, is the Palace of the Ancient Pawnshop. The façade is adorned with the coat of arms of the aforementioned Pawnshop, and with a plaque that recalls how it was Pope Sixtus V who founded it in 1585; another commemorative plaque recalls that, until 1752, the Pawnshop worked here before being transferred to the present one by Pope Clement VIII.
The palace preserves at the corner an aedicule with the Madonna in prayer, depicted as if it were supported by a ribbon. In the center of the square there is a fountain, whose water flows into the basin from the mouths of four masks: the small fountain was only placed in this small square in 1973, because it previously adorned the beautiful Garden of Orange Trees annexed to the Church of St. Sabine on the Aventine and before that it decorated the Montanara Square, destroyed by the works carried out between 1926 and 1934 to free the slopes of the Capitol and the Theatre of Marcellus from the numerous small houses that were leaning against it.
VIA DEI CORONARI (SECOND PART)
At number 33 of Via dei Coronari you can admire the Del Drago Palace, another famous Roman family from Viterbo. The 16th Century palace, with its wonderful portals, has the ground floor embellished with travertine slabs with rusticated corners and splendid windows decorated with the motifs of the family coat of arms. A rich cornice decorated with rosettes in the coffered ceiling concludes the building.
On the square that follows on the left, at number 4, you will see the Fioravanti Palace, which has one of the most beautiful portals in Rome, decorated with pilasters and composite capitals and, in the corners, two ancient marble heads (respectively a Roman replica of the Eros of Phidias and a female portrait of the III Century AD).
After a short walk, you will find Via della Vetrina on the left, whose name comes from the window of a tavern: this was the first Roman tavern to offer passers-by a panorama of its interior.
At numbers 184-186 is the Palace of the Archconfraternity of the Picens, restored in 1888, which preserves the tables owned by the Archconfraternity with the representation of the patron saint between two votive lamps. Follow at number 64 a 17th Century house with an elegant door decorated with a coat of arms and, on Via di San Simone, at number 67, you will notice a beautiful 15th Century door decorated with roses of the Orsini family. At the end of the alley there is a characteristic little staircase leading to the (now deconsecrated) Church of Saints Simon and Judas: the first of these two apostles was a missionary in Egypt and the second, brother of James, went to Mesopotamia and is popularly remembered as the Saint of the so-called lost causes.
Further on Via dei Coronari, at number 104, you can see a beautiful 18th Century house that was first owned by the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and then by that of St. John Beheaded, whose marble plaque with the saint’s head is walled up on the second floor.
At numbers 148 and 149 you can see the house erected in the first half of the 16th Century by Prospero Moti, Commissioner General of the Fortifications of Rome at the time of Paul III, based on a design by Pietro Rosselli. Take a look at the motto you read on the door (“Keep what you do yours“) and the upper floors (“We can’t do everything” and “Respect what you promise“). Observe also the elegance of the windows flanked by pilasters surmounted by composite capitals and the beautiful main door also flanked by pillars with capitals decorated with the representation of a central mask between a pair of harpies.
Then pass Vicolo Domizio, so called from the name of the Posterula Domitia that, as we have seen, was close to the Tiber. On the corner is the famous aedicule known as “Image of Bridge“, designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger inspired by the newsstands of the Pantheon; the aedicule was decorated with a fresco by Perin del Vaga depicting “Christ crowning the Madonna” surrounded by St. Sebastian and St. Anthony.
Now enter in the Coronari Square, mainly characterized by the perspective of the St. Angel’s Bridge. Take for a moment Vicolo del Curato, which owes its name to the parish office of the nearby Church of Saints Celso and Giuliano, and observe on the wall on the right a polychrome fresco with the representation of the coat of arms of the hospice of the Spanish in Rome, where they lent assistance to the women giving birth.
Here opens the alley of San Celso and, on the right, you can see a shrine dedicated to St. Philip Neri, which depicts the moment of the apparition of the “Madonna and Child” during the mass celebrated by the Saint. Under the shelf remains, unfortunately fragmented, the marble plaque covering the alms box with the dedication to St. Philip, perfect evidence of the affection that always linked the Roman people to the saint.
THE TAVERNA-ORSINI PALACE
After the Vicolo di San Giuliano, you will enter a widening in which opens a scenic succession of beautiful buildings. You are in Via di Monte Giordano, and on the left you can admire the mighty and noble Orsini Palace, which stands on a hillock formed by the amphoras of the nearby Tiberine port, similar to that of Testaccio. In the 13th Century the Orsini family settled there with a fortification, and the name of the complex derives from Giordano Orsini, senator of Rome in 1341 and partisan of Cola di Rienzo, who was lucky enough to witness the poetic coronation of Petrarch on the Capitol. The vicissitudes of the palace are many: here lived Cardinal Battista Orsini, who was killed by Pope Alexander VI, here was the seat of the Academy of Woodworkers and here were hosted both Cardinal Ippolito d’Este and the writer Torquato Tasso. In 1668 Flavio Orsini gave it to the Gabrielli family, but already in 1888 the complex was sold to the Taverna counts, who are still the owners.
The Orsini Palace is composed of four nuclei chronologically different: the oldest nucleus is that of the palace that encloses the courtyard of the 15th Century, followed by the part that overlooks Via di Monte Giordano with the courtyard with a beautiful fountain, and then the third block which is accessed from Via dei Coronari and finally the last, which includes the deconsecrated church of St. Simon and Judas.
The entrance on Via di Monte Giordano opens onto a characteristic climb and shows, in perspective, the fountain made by Felice Antonio Casoni; during the climb, you can already see from the outside the differences between the medieval phases with the ancient tower and the Renaissance ones.
Inside the main palace, many rooms are frescoed with works by Girolamo Muziano and Ludovico Cardi: a rich art gallery also decorates the smaller rooms, often used for banquets and receptions.
VIA DI MONTE GIORDANO
Before taking Via di Monte Giordano, enter for a moment into Vicolo dell’Avila, whose name recalls the family of the same name whose palace, now visible at number 2, was built towards the end of the 17th Century. The portal, flanked by a powerful frame, is decorated with the symbols of the family in which you can see an eagle holding a palm branch. A famous religious chapel, linked to the Avila family, is still visible today in the Church of St. Mary in Trastevere.
Take Via di Monte Giordano, from which you can admire a suggestive view of the garden of the Orsini Palace, and arrive in front of number 7, where was the home of the famous Flemish playwright Teodoro Ameyden who, in the first half of the 17th Century, lived in Rome and was a careful scholar of the city. In this house Ameyden had even set up a theater, where he used to stage his plays. On the travertine portal is engraved the motto: “From him everything“.
At number 5 opens the House of Counts Bellotti: cross the wide portal to enter the courtyard adorned with a neoclassical statue of the young Paris (or perhaps an equally young Mars), which is the background of a fragment of a fresco with an open-air architectural perspective.
Take Vicolo delle Vacche (which owes its name to the resourcefulness of a cowherd who opened a stable and a dairy in the 16th Century) and admire the pretty 15th Century house at number 26, where the coat of arms of Innocent VIII is preserved in a fresco, before going out onto Piazza del Fico.
Look up, now: in the background, on the left, you can admire the dome of the Church of St. Agnes in Agone in Navona Square and, on the right, that of the New Church.
THE CLOISTER OF BRAMANTE
Now take Via della Pace, touching the Gambirasi Palace, once owned by the Confraternity of St. James of the Spanish, which still shows the coat of arms of the Gambirasi: a crab with the Cross between the gills decorated with the motto “Your Cross is my exaltation“.
Via dell’Arco della Pace leads you to what remains of the convent of St. Mary of Peace: the courtyard, better known as the cloister, represents and is the most beautiful example of an early Renaissance court in Rome. Designed by the architect Donato Bramante and built between 1500 and 1504, it has a four-sided portico on the ground floor punctuated by pillars adorned with pilasters repeated, to a lesser extent, on the second floor where they are interspersed with columns. The work was commissioned to Bramante by the Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, as attested by the dedicatory inscription that embraces the entire perimeter of the Cloister and the noble emblems surmounted by the cardinal’s hat placed in sculptural decoration of the lower and upper pillars.
The Cloister of Bramante is a very elegant work of refined linearity and rigorous respect for the schemes, which highlights the principles of harmony and balance in each compositional element. The atmosphere definitely enclosed, the continuous play between light and shadow and the comfortable classical harmony, due to Bramante’s ability to integrate stylistically different elements in a perfect unity, make the place an architectural jewel of the early Renaissance.
Today the Cloister of Bramante hosts often temporary exhibitions.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF PEACE
Leaving the convent, stop now in front of the Church of St. Mary of Peace which, on a scenographic and architectural level, is one of the most evocative and elegant corners of Rome.
The façade of the church, together with the two lateral buildings crossed by passages similar to arches, assumes the appearance of a theatrical scene set to the highest nobility: the small square in front of the church thus becomes the natural destination of a relaxing walk, almost the symbolic place where to find peace.
Today’s church was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV in 1473 to replace an older one, originally dedicated to St. Andrew and then converted to the devotion of Our Lady, but always accompanied by the patronymic “de aquarenaris“. A legend has it that the image of the Madonna displayed today on the high altar was once placed under the portico and was struck by a violent stone, bleeding miraculously. The dedication “to Peace” must instead be referred to the averted danger of a feared conflict such as that between the state of the Church and the Kingdom of Naples.
The first architect of the new church was Baccio Pontelli or Meo del Caprino, followed by Bramante and then Antonio da Sangallo the Younger who designed the dome. The façade, however, decorated with pairs of columns supporting a large modern prothyrum that ends up becoming a real semicircular portico, is much more modern. The author of this scenic masterpiece was Pietro da Cortona, commissioned by Pope Alexander VII, at the end of the 17th Century: the architect also designed the sides of the facade and the two concave buildings, marked by pilasters and large niches and windows, which become the natural and balanced conclusion of the entire architectural space.
Read now the inscription that runs on the porch and that translated from Latin reads: “May the mountains bring peace to the people and the hills bring justice“. These are the words of a psalm used here with reference to the six tops of the coat of arms of the Chigi family, of which Pope Alexander VII was a member. Above the pillars other inscriptions say: “Justice will flourish in our days and the abundance of peace until the moon has disappeared” and again “Peace will be the work of justice and the cult of justice will give silence and security forever“. The beauty of all this architectural complex was always clear to everyone, so much so that on the wall of the building on the left there is a writing that forbids anyone to bring any architectural changes to the surrounding environment.
THE CHIGI CHAPEL AND THE RAPHAEL’S SYBILS
Now enter the church through the ancient 15th Century portal and admire the perfect balance of the single nave. Inside are preserved many masterpieces such as the Chigi Chapel, the first on the right, built on a design by Raphael who designed his wonderful Sibyls, surmounted by the Prophets painted on the external arch by his pupil Timothy Viti. The fresco, commissioned by the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi, is a splendid example of formal beauty and erudition: the harmonic specularity of the figures, the composition ordered in its perfection, the symbolic and literary references are reflected in the evident parallelism between the angels carrying the divine message and the Sibyls who will announce it to the world, in a very evident connection between paganism and Christianity.
Many other paintings and frescoes by Raphael can be seen during the Vatican Museums Tour, organized by the Association Rome Guides.
THE OTHER CHAPELS OF THE CHURCH
The second chapel on the right is linked to the Cesi family and is the work of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, and among the paintings presents the “Creation of Eve and Original Sin” by Rosso Fiorentino (1524), the artist’s only works in Rome. Striking the sculptural decorations of the arch, with the two prominent statues of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Turn now to the left side of the nave, to see the first chapel, the Olgiati Chapel, entirely decorated by the Sienese architect and painter Baldassarre Peruzzi, and especially the second chapel, the Mignanelli Chapel, famous for its marble covering, the result of the sacking of what was left of the magnificent Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitol.
Go now under the white dome, adorned with the stuccoes of Pietro da Cortona, and enjoy the surrounding chapels, taking a look at the wonderful “Baptism of Christ” by Orazio Gentileschi, one of the most important Italian Caravaggesque painters, who also painted the frescoes of the vault.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF THE SOUL
The palace on the right of St. Mary of Peace, whose entrance door is marked with the Austro-Hungarian two-headed eagle holding “Madonna who helps two souls” between its wings, is home to the hospice of St. Mary of the Soul, built to meet the needs of pilgrims of Germanic language and nationality.
To get to the church connected to it you have to flank St. Mary of Peace on the right, passing under a long arch.
The Church of St. Mary of the Soul comes from the chapel of the homonymous hospice built in 1378 with the funds left by John of Peter and Catherine of Dordrecht. The church, consecrated in 1510, was partly rebuilt after the famous Sack of Rome in 1527 and then heavily modified in 1843. The sober brick façade by Andrea Sansovino is enlivened by travertine pilasters with Corinthian capitals, and the central portal has a gable decorated with the marble representation of the “Madonna invoked by the Souls of Purgatory“. Three large stained glass windows occupy almost the entire second order, while the third is a large central eye flanked by the coats of arms of Pope Hadrian VI of Utrecht, the last foreign pope for centuries before the election of John Paul II.
This church, which is the German-speaking national Catholic church, has a very elegant gothic bell tower with the top covered with polychromatically flared tiles, with a predominance of yellow and green.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
Entering inside the church, admire the artistic masterpieces: “St. Bennone receiving the keys of Meissen Cathedral found inside a fish“, realized by Carlo Saraceni; the frescoes by Siciolante da Sermoneta with “Stories of the Virgin and Christ in Glory“, preserved in the Chapel of the Holy Cross; the valuable “Pietà“, by Lorenzetto.
The main chapel, richly redecorated in the middle of the 18th Century by Paolo Posi, is enriched on the main altar by one of Giulio Romano‘s masterpieces, “Holy Family and Saints“, originally painted in 1521 for the chapel of the Fugger family, the very rich merchants of Augusta. On the right, you can see the funeral monument of Hadrian VI, built in 1529 on a design by Baldassarre Peruzzi.
Walk along Via della Pace, cross Piazza del Fico and take Via del Corallo whose name derives from the name of Pietro Coralli, notary of the first half of the 17th Century who lived in this street and who, upon his death, left his home to the Archconfraternity of the Trinity of the Pilgrims.
Continue now on the right along Via del Governo Vecchio, until you meet Vicolo dell’Avila, and look at the palace in front of you. It is a 16th Century building with four floors, surmounted by the elegant altana decorated with stucco heraldic lilies. The rusticated façade is decorated with a large arched door: in this house, as is also mentioned in the marble inscription affixed to the façade in 1882, Pietro Cossa, a famous 19th Century man of letters, was born on January 25th 1830.
THE BONCOMPAGNI CORCOS PALACE
Continuing along Via del Governo Vecchio you will arrive in the Clock Square, where you can admire the Boncompagni Corcos Palace. This beautiful 17th Century building was built by the Jew Solomon Corcos, who converted to Catholicism in 1582 and took the surname Boncompagni from that of Pope Gregory XIII. The palace, which is accessed through a beautiful doorway framed by columns supporting a balcony, has windows on the second floor surmounted by a curved tympanum and decorated with faun heads, while those on the second floor are surmounted by medallions with female heads.
Above the entrance door is a large shell from which hang two festoons while the dragon, always in the coat of arms of the Boncompagni family that Corcos had adopted together with the surname, is present both on the cornice and on the capitals that surmount the columns on either side of the door.
THE BENNICELLI PALACE
The Itinerary 20 of the Ponte District ends with the Bennicelli Palace, which overlooks the end of the Clock Square. The palace was designed by the architect Francesco Borromini in 1661 on behalf of Monsignor Virgilio Spada, who wanted to use it as the seat of the Bank of the Holy Spirit, despite the contrary opinion of the ministers of the banking institution, who considered the area too far from the center of business. On the death of Virginio Spada, however, the ministers of the bank decided that the new headquarters would be another one (i.e. the building that still today is called the Palace of the Bank of the Holy Spirit): for this reason, Marquis Orazio Spada was forced to purchase the building, which was unfinished, for the sum of more than 25,000 scudi and to employ another 35,000 scudi to have the work completed by Borromini.
The present palace, with the elegant main door between two pairs of columns supporting the balcony, is the result of the 19th Century transformation carried out by the architect Gaetano Koch, who completely reworked the palace for the will of the new owners, the Counts Bennicelli.
In this house was born and lived for a certain period the most famous member of the Bennicelli family, Adriano, better known as “Count Tacchia“, so called because his family traded timber and “tacchia” in Roman dialect means piece of wood. The “Count Tacchia“, famous for his way of life and for his easygoing behavior, became very famous all over Italy thanks to the film starring the actor Enrico Montesano.