ROMAN ITINERARIES – REGOLA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 25
REGOLA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 25
The Itinerary 25 of the Regola District examines one of the most peculiar wards of Rome. At the beginning, the entire bend of the Tiber, from the slopes of the Capitol to the Parioli District, formed that Campus Martius so beloved by the Ancient Romans, because it was a place suitable for physical exercises, army maneuvers and election meetings.
Specifically, inside the current Regola District there was the Trigarium, a small circus where the charioteers who drove the triga (a cart pulled by three horses) trained themselves.
An ancient road intersected the district, connecting the Triumphal Bridge with the Aurelius one (located near the current Sixtus Bridge) and from there, crossing the Tarentum, with the Trigarium. This ancient route has indirectly reached us, traced by the roads that go from Via del Banco di Santo Spirito to Via dei Pettinari, directed towards the Sixtus Bridge.
The Regola District was included in the IX Augustea Region with the name of Circus Flaminius, but during the Middle Ages, with the confusing reduction of the districts and the very approximate way of solving administrative problems, a real management case was created.
Although the district had been reclaimed in the Middle Ages from the putrid and marshy waters that infested it, it was necessary to arrive to 1744 in order to allow the Pope Benedict XIV to reorder in an organic way the whole matter: the Regola District still presents itself today as a tangle of urban and social situations, a maze of princely residences, hospitals, assistance institutes, numerous churches with relative convents, embassies, banks, prisons and various types of houses, in a characteristic mixture of princely greatness and never forgotten commoner nature.
Even the urban fabric of the Regola District (whose coat of arms is a rampant deer in the turquoise field) has suffered, from 1870 onwards, significant changes with the construction of the walls of the Tiber (which erased the existing connection between the river Tiber and the citizens, in addition to making disappear the profession of ferryman, typical of the Regola District) and with the demolition done for the opening of Via Arenula, in order to connect the new Garibaldi Bridge with the Square of the Argentine Tower. The name of this street recalls the toponym of the district, since it is now widely believed and agreed that the term “Regola” derives from “Renula“, that is the soft sand that the river deposited during floods.
For the Itinerary 25, the first one of the Regola District, reach Largo Perosi, immediately at the end of the Mazzini Bridge, and get ready to face a maze of streets.
Largo Perosi – Vicolo delle Prigioni – Via Giulia – Via della Scimia – Via del Mascherone – Piazza Farnese – Via Monserrato – Vicolo della Moletta
THE NEW PRISONS
At first impact, this first portion of the Regola District is dominated by the tawny and massive construction of the so-called New Prisons. Look at the mighty windows equipped with strong grilles, barely softened by a travertine frame: the building still today immediately betrays its original gloomy destination.
Walk along the street, which is obviously called Vicolo delle Prigioni (Road of the Prisons), until you come to Via Giulia, where at number 52 is the main entrance to the New Prisons.
Probably erected by the architect Antonio del Grande in 1655, the New Prisons constituted for those times an undoubted progress, at least compared to prisons still of medieval style, such as Tor di Nona (of which we have spoken in the previous Itineraries). For example, there was a section (destined to minor crimes) that had a sort of private management entrusted to the same prisoners, under the mild control of the Marshals of the Roman Curia.
In spite of any possible renewal, the shadow of prisons and justice indirectly continues to leave its memory in this ward: in fact, in the disappeared Padella Square there was a church dedicated to St. Nicholas of the Fork. According to various documents, in fact, the forks used for executions were kept directly in the garden of the church itself, and the executions took place directly above a well into which the body of the condemned man fell. At the end of the 15th Century, under the control of the Planca family, the church and the square took the name “of the Crowned”.
THE CRIMINOLOGICAL MUSEUM
Neglect the modern plaques that flank the beautiful massive travertine portal and, in the rare case in which it is accessible, enter to visit the Criminological Museum of Rome, opened in 1930 and considered a useful support for the study of the penal and penitentiary system.
The Criminological Museum, which is a valuable historical testimony on the punitive systems of the past and an educational tool for schools and educational institutions, boasts a very interesting exhibition of ancient instruments of punishment and capital punishment, in order to testify the cruelty of the punitive systems of the past, as opposed to the purposes of punishment ratified by the Italian Constitution.
Now take Via Giulia, which as already stated belongs to the Regola District only partially.
The road was wanted by Pope Julius II at the beginning of the 16th Century, (1503-1513), straightening the ancient Via Magistralis, so called because of the presence of numerous notarial studies: thanks to its abundant straight kilometer, it was the first and longest road in Rome. The pontifical project, in reality, was much more than the construction of a simple rectilinear road: Via Giulia indeed had to end in the Vatican, crossing the Tiber as soon as the ancient Triumphal Bridge had been rebuilt.
Apart from this, however, the area could be considered a sort of Via Margutta “ante litteram“, considering that many artists of the highest level lived here. At number 85 there was Raffaello Sanzio’s house, while nearby there was the very busy Benvenuto Cellini’s house, always a receptacle for time-wasting artists and courtesans, and also Francesco Borromini had a house in the immediate vicinity, even if probably not exactly on Via Giulia. The pontifical desire to turn it into the new urban axis of the city, as well as transforming it into an artistic court, also attracted dignitaries of the Holy See: the street became a place of intrigue, art and extraordinary events, a perfect symbol of Rome, so much so that the writer Emile Zola included the protagonists of his novel “Rome” at number 66 of Via Giulia.
THE GHISLIERI PALACE
Inside the Liceo Virgilio, at number 64, you can see what remains of the Ghislieri Palace, a college in use until 1928 for twenty-three young students from decayed noble families, but originally built by the Roman doctor Giuseppe Ghislieri to help widows. As soon as the Salviati family began its activity to help the noble families who had fallen into poverty, the Roman citizens rose up: still today, in the Capitoline Museums, there is a beautiful inscription that grants the Roman people the faculty to designate one of the boarders to the Ghislieri College, thus breaking the strict rule of the exclusive admission of fallen nobles.
The portal shows, under a relief depicting the “Holy Family“, the Ghislieri coat of arms and the inscription of the foundation of the Institute, contained in a fluttering scroll.
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT OF THE NEAPOLITANS
Make just a couple of steps and observe the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans.
Via Giulia, as you will probably remember from the previous Itineraries, has always boasted a vaguely “multi-ethnic” character, with the participation of Florentine, Sienese or French communities; for this reason, it should not surprise you that, a short distance from that Via di Monserrato where the Spanish had the predominance, the community of the Neapolitans, who were subjected to King Philip II, settled since 1572.
The Brotherhood of the Neapolitans was founded by Cardinal Inigo d’Avalos in replacement of a place of worship dedicated to St. Aurea, rebuilding the church and reconsecrating it in honor of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans. The works proceeded very slowly, starting in 1619 on a project by architect Ottaviano Mascherino: only in 1650 Cosimo Fanzago built the façade.
The completed work, however, left evidently unsatisfied the members of the community, who entirely rebuilt the church at the beginning of the 18th Century, according to a design by Carlo Fontana. The architectural revolution, however, was not to be considered finished: in 1853 the Bourbons of Naples, perhaps to emphasize the part they had played in the defense of Pius IX against the Roman Republic four years earlier, rebuilt the building again, entrusting the project to the architect Antonio Cipolla, who did not realize a great masterpiece.
The façade has two orders, with the coats of arms of Pius IX and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies at the top to flank the central rose window, and the portal at the bottom, designed by Giuseppe Palombini, which recalls the visit made by Ferdinand I in 1818 and the munificence of Ferdinand II for the restoration of 1853.
Inside the Church were kept many memories lost during the works, among which the tomb of Francesco Milizia and the canvas related to the “Stigmata of St. Francis” by Cavalier d’Arpino.
THE RICCI PALACE
At number 146 you can see the back of the Ricci Palace, but instead of stopping in front of the façade enter the beautiful courtyard with large painted arches, where you can see a beautiful Roman cippus with inscription and relief of two spouses in the act of greeting each other, and the fountain on the right, where a mask surmounted by the coat of arms of Ricci, consisting of a hedgehog under a sun full of rays, throws water into an ancient sarcophagus.
The Ricci family was originally from Montepulciano (in Tuscany) and moved to Rome when Giovanni Ricci, in the middle of the 16th Century, became “master of the house” of Cardinal Ciocchi Del Monte. Became Pontiff with the name of Julius III, the Pope remembered the good services of Giovanni Ricci and, gratefully, he nominated him cardinal in 1551. After becoming Archbishop of Pisa, Ricci almost gained the papal tiara on the death of Pope Pius V.
THE CHURCH OF ST. ELIGIUS OF THE GOLDSMITHS
Go past the Ricci Palace, staying on the right, and go in front of the Church of St. Eligius, built by the University of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths, next to the palace that still today is the seat of the Noble College of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths of Rome.
The paternity of the construction, begun in 1516, is extremely controversial: many experts attribute it without hesitation to Donato Bramante, many others define Raffaello Sanzio as the architect, and some scholars (using a drawing preserved in Florence) make the name of Aristotele da Sangallo and Baldassarre Peruzzi. This evident confusion and uncertainty must be attributed to the collapse of the façade, which happened miserably in 1601: on the one hand there is therefore the scarcity of documents, on the other hand there is also a slight embarrassment for the mistake made by one of these extraordinary architects.
The architect Flaminio Ponzio took care of the reconstruction, completed in 1620 by Giovanni Maria Bonazzini. The Noble College of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths, still existing today, took care of the last restorations in the second half of the 20th Century.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior, very harmonious, is a Greek cross surmounted by a dome, with a small treasure in the apse: the frescoes by Taddeo Zuccari, who died at a young age and considered at his time a supreme talent, with the Prophets, Pentecost and the Conversation among the Apostles.
In the past the church was also adorned with a canvas painted by his brother Federico Zuccari, depicting the Adoration of the Magi, which today is unfortunately only present in copy (made by Francesco Romanelli) on the altar to the right of the entrance.
The area of Via Giulia in which you are about to enter was of relevance to the Sienese community. The large coat of arms of the Bourbons of Spain, affixed to an anonymous 19th Century palace, recalls in the inscription the hospital complex built for poor Hispanic pilgrims who fell ill during their pilgrimages: if open, enter the courtyard, rich in fragments coming mainly from the Church of St. James of the Spanish.
THE CHURCH OF ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA
Immediately behind, with a sharp contrast with the color of the adjacent buildings, the very white Church of St. Catherine of Siena, patron saint of the city, to highlight how this was the area of Rome where the citizens of the famous Sienese Republic had their point of reference, not only cultural and religious, but also military considering the presence of the Torrigio, a tower near the Tiber river.
In 1519 the Sienese sodality, which had been settled on Via Giulia since the 15th Century, was officially recognized as a Brotherhood by Pope Leo X. This Brotherhood decided to build the church dedicated to the patron saint of the city, entrusting the work in 1526 to the Sienese architect Baldassarre Peruzzi, who was able to build it thanks to donations from the Sienese nobility in Rome, first of all the banker Agostino Chigi. If you want to visit Villa Farnesina, a masterpiece connected to the life of this character, you can book the Extended Tour of Trastevere organized by Rome Guides.
Due to the flooding of the Tiber, the oldest church (decorated by Timoteo Viti, a pupil of Raphael, and Antiveduto Grammatica) fell into ruin and was completely rebuilt between 1766 and 1775 to a design by Paolo Posi.
The current façade is inspired by the dynamic works of Francesco Borromini: on the sides of the central window, Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf, which is the symbol of the city of Siena (according to legend, this city was founded by Remus).
The interior, with a single nave, houses valuable 18th Century paintings (admire above all the Tommaso Conca‘s ones), while in the Oratory of the Confraternity are still preserved the only two works saved from the destruction of the previous church: the Resurrection by Girolamo Genga and the statue of St. Catherine, a plaster work by Ercole Ferrata.
THE FALCONIERI PALACE
The Falconieri Palace is one of the most artistically interesting and mysterious places in Rome.
Built in the middle of the 16th Century by the Odescalchi family, it passed to the Farnese in 1606 and in 1638, after the payment of 16,000 scudi, it became property of the Falconieri, an illustrious Florentine family that boasted two saints, Alessio and Giuliana, three cardinals and a profitable contract for the gabella on the salt. The family died out in 1865, but the Gabrielli family (in which the Falconieri one died out) managed to get the title of Falconieri Counts of Carpegna. The Falconieri Palace, sold in 1927 to the Hungarian Government, is currently the seat of the Hungarian Academy.
In 1646, Orazio Falconieri had the wisdom to commission the great baroque architect Francesco Borromini to renovate his palace: the architect left intact the old entrance, surmounted by the heraldic lily of the Farnese family, and added a second one putting on top the falcon head, the heraldic symbol of the Falconieri family. The hawks, widely used in noble environments for hunting and falconry, stand out even more in the two large herms, located at the corners of the building between 1730 and 1735: the curiosity of these sculptures, proud and majestic, is that they clearly show a female breast.
Inside, the grand staircase and the stuccoes on the ceilings are still of great value today, but at one time the palace was known for the quality of the paintings on display, including the “Loves of Venus” and “The Four Elements” by Francesco Albani, the “Allegory of Liberality” by Guido Reni and the “Repentance of St. Peter” by Domenichino. To be honest, however, many men came to visit the palace not for the artistic collection, but for the renowned beauty of the women of the Falconieri family, exalted by Stendhal and De Brosses too.
The most intriguing curiosity of the Falconieri Palace is indeed the interior decoration of the rooms. The Falconieri Palace hides among its rooms several mysterious enigmas of sacred geometry: complex representations, made of stucco or painted, in which heraldry and symbolism merge in a language that is not purely decorative but purely evocative. This detail could be justified by the link between the architect Borromini and the Masonic and hermetic symbolism.
THE “BIG MASK” FOUNTAIN
The splendid Farnese Arch, often covered with romantic creepers, gladdens the view, but your attention may now be drawn to the dripping of the nearby Fountain of the Mascherone (the Big Mask Fountain), topped by the heraldic lily of the Farnese family.
The large mask and the basin are undoubtedly ancient, but the fountain as a whole was only arranged in 1626 by Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi, the same architects who in the same years placed the two fountains on the Farnese Square: the only difference is that once upon a time the fountain was located in a small and charming square, from where it was possible to see, through an arch, the banks of the Tiber and from which you could pass to take the ferry, nicknamed “scafa“, heading to the Settimiana Gate.
Take a few steps back, to take Via del Mascherone, which obviously today takes its name from the fountain just described, but in 1744 it was called the “road of the chain“, because Giovanni de Rubeis, owner of several properties along the road, decided to close the passage with a chain.
On the street faced the Church of St. Thomas de Spanis, initially built by the Spanish but then donated to the Bolognese community to remedy the negligence of the Spanish administration. In the church there was a very famous work of art, “the Virgin among the Saints” by Domenichino, but for unclear reasons the painting ended up in the Brera Art Gallery in Milan.
THE CHURCH OF ST. BRIDGET
After the Spanish, the French, the Sienese and the Bolognese, now it is the turn of the Swedes who, respecting their Roman tradition (just think of Queen Christina of Sweden, of whom we have spoken in the previous Itineraries) chose to be represented by a woman.
According to the documents of the time, St. Bridget, a very noble lady of Sweden, came to Rome around 1362 to visit the holy places of the city and to find her daughter Christina, who was already in Rome to satisfy her spiritual needs. Once they met, Bridget and Christina worked to set up a hospice for the pilgrims of their nation.
When in the 16th Century Sweden adopted the Lutheran faith, Pope Paul III granted the church in 1534 to the Bishop of Uppsala Olao Magno. Later, in 1557, Pope Pius IV entrusted the administration of the complex to the Converts of St. Magdalene, until 1589 when Pope Sixtus V donated the house of St. Bridget to the Catholic King of Poland and Sweden Sigismund III.
At the beginning of the 18th Century, Pope Clement XI gave the order to restore the church, using the plans of Pietro Patriarca, foreman of the Vatican Basilica. After a series of vicissitudes, the church has been officiated since 1931 by the Swedish Sisters of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior of the church, with a single nave, is decorated by Biagio Puccini with frescoes related to the Glory of St. Bridget. In the chapel on the left, the saint appears side by side with Queen Catherine of Sweden in the work of Eugenio Cisterna (1894); before leaving, please pay attention to the funerary monument of Nils Bielke, a valuable work of 1768 by Tommaso Righi based on a design by Pietro Camporese.
THE FARNESE SQUARE
Now enjoy the architectural perfection of the Farnese Square, which has always been the symbolic center of the Regola District, dominated by its fountains with their three decreasing orders of pools, topped by the Farnese lily.
Please consider that the two fountains were not placed in this square at the same time.
In fact, in 1545, Pope Paul III gave the order to move to the center of the Farnese Square the granite basin that had been in St. Mark’s Square (today’s Venice Square) since 1466 and that had probably been found inside the Baths of Caracalla. The second basin, very similar to the previous one and probably also coming from the Baths of Caracalla, was also located since 1466 in St. Mark’s Square. About forty years after having placed the first one, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese moved it in front of his palace, placing the two fountains in the position currently occupied.
The scarcity of water and the weakness of pressure in the pipes, however, did not allow the proper feeding of the fountains. Only in 1626, using a branching of the Paola Water, the architect Girolamo Rainaldi could finally transform the two pools of the Farnese Square in as many fountains.
THE DEL GALLO OF ROCCAGIOVINE PALACE
Go to number 44, in front of the Del Gallo of Roccagiovane Palace, whose coat of arms is on the central window of the second floor. Despite a vague air of resignation, mainly due to the majestic presence of the Farnese Palace, you are still in front of a work built around 1520 for Ugo de Spina by two great architects such as Vignola and Baldassarre Peruzzi: in this building there was once a collection of antiquities including a copy of the famous “Meleager” of Skopas, later sold to the Vatican Museums and now visible in the Pio Clementino Museum with the Vatican Museums Tour by Rome Guides.
The Roccagiovine Palace is frequently mentioned in the novel “Il Piacere” by the italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, and represents the background of several main scenes of the plot. The author, who used to include names and places belonging to contemporary society in his novels, chose the building as the home of the protagonist’s cousin.
A little further on, at number 51, observe the beautiful 17th Century Castelli Mandosi Mignanelli Palace, marked by an abraded coat of arms, on which you can glimpse an eagle with a ladder between its claws, the heraldic coat of arms of the Mandosi family.
THE FARNESE PALACE
The Farnese Palace is not a simple building: it represents the perfect synthesis of the most significant moment of the golden age of Italian art and politics, being the most successful combination of power and good taste in Rome.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE ARCHITECTS
If you want to attribute a year of birth to the Farnese Palace, you can take 1515 as a reference, when Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, desiring a luxurious house for himself and his family, started the renovation of an old building that belonged to the Bishop of Taranzona, according to drawings and direction by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.
At the death of Antonio da Sangallo, in 1546, despite the considerable increase of the budget with the election of Cardinal Alessandro to the papal throne with the name of Paul III, only the ground floor, the front part of the second floor and the façade of the second floor were finished: in partial defense of the architect, it is necessary to consider the forced pause deriving from the Sack of the Lansquenets in 1527. Paul III died in 1549, but he had the considerable satisfaction of seeing the great architect Michelangelo Buonarroti at work on his palace. Michelangelo accepted the commission not only out of personal ambition, but above all because of his grudge against his predecessor Antonio da Sangallo, with whom he clashed for the construction of the Holy Spirit Gate. There were many modifications: in addition to the central balcony, Michelangelo included the famous egg and notch cornice among the Farnese family coat of arms and mounted the colossal family coat of arms, even modifying the shelves of the windows.
On Michelangelo’s death, the work passed to the architect Vignola, who completed the rear part towards the garden with the two loggias, also designing the wonderful fireplace that, from the room of Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese, ended up being dismantled and reassembled in the Lancellotti Palace in Navona Square.
However, the work was not finished even with this third architect: in the final phase, in fact, there was the intervention of Giacomo Della Porta to whom is attributed the completion of the loggia towards Via Giulia, put on hold by Vignola in 1573.
After about sixty years of work, carried out by the main architects of the time and despite several interruptions, the building that was popularly nicknamed “the Farnese Dice” could be considered completed.
The Farnese Palace, seat of the French Embassy since 1874, was sold to the latter in 1911 for the sum of 3,000,000 francs, subject to Italian ransom: the right was exercised in 1936, and now the building is rented to France for a symbolic fee until 2035.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
Inside, the remarkable Hall of the Farnesian Fasti and the Hall of the Emperors were decorated by Francesco Salviati and Taddeo Zuccari, while the impressive Gallery was the masterpiece of Annibale Carracci, helped by his brother Antonio and his most talented students, including Domenichino.
The complex and articulated iconographic theme of the frescoes in the vault of the Gallery has as its common thread the Loves of the Gods, with the entire Greek-Roman Olympus depicted in sentimental effusions and included in an illusory architectural structure open prospectively to the blue sky. In the center of the vault, as if it were a painting hanging from the ceiling with a frame, you can see the largest and most complex fresco, the Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne.
Unfortunately, the so-called “Camerini Farnese” with the Gallery of Statues have been lost, including that of Hercules Farnese, currently at the Archaeological Museum of Naples along with many other sculptures in the Farnese collection.
VIA DI MONSERRATO
More than a simple street, Via di Monserrato is a microcosm in which for centuries human grandeur and infamity have intertwined. The road follows a very ancient route, retracing the route existing at the time of Ancient Rome, which from the Triumphal or Neronian bridge reached the Aurelian bridge (the place where today is the Sixtus Bridge).
We do not know the name of the road at that time, but it is known that in the Middle Ages the road was part of the route taken by the papal procession to go from the Lateran, pontifical seat until the papal period in Avignon, to St. Peter’s.
In the 15th Century many Spaniards arrived in Rome, attracted in particular by the election of two Spanish Popes, members of the Borgia family: Callisto III and Alessandro VI. Having to decide where to settle in the city, they chose this area of Rome, which at the time was already the residence of several foreign communities.
Here, however, there was also the so-called “Savella Court“, so called after the Savelli family, appointed Marshals of the Holy Roman Church, transformed a palace of their property into a court and prison, which remained in operation from 1430 to 1654: among the prisoners locked up here, there was also the famous Beatrice Cenci, of whom we have already spoken in previous Itineraries.
On Via di Monserrato there were therefore bankers, nobles, prelates and convicts, positioned next to each other, among choirs of priests and screams of condemned people, with the polychrome background of the sumptuous painted facades overlooking the waters of the Tiber. Here and there, then, there were some “particular” houses, inhabited by famous courtesans, including the “divine” Imperia Cognati, the woman madly loved by the banker Agostino Chigi, who thanks to his authority had her buried in the Church of St. Gregorio at the Celian Hill.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY IN MONSERRATO
The Church of St. Mary in Monserrato, which takes its name from the church dedicated to the Virgin at the Spanish sanctuary of Montserrat, was built in 1518 and definitively changed the name of the street. Built on the project of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, the church has a particularly dynamic façade, designed by the architect Francesco da Volterra, with on the architrave the group of the “Virgin and Child sawing the mountain” (Montserrat literally means “sawn mountain”).
The interior has a single nave with side chapels, and inside the church are buried since 1881 the two Popes of the Borgia family, Callisto III and Alexander VI, judged so corrupted and evil that they were no longer welcome in the Vatican.