ROMAN ITINERARIES – REGOLA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 26
REGOLA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 26
This time, with the Itinerary 26 of the Regola District, you will start your tour not on a road, but on a bridge. Starting from the Trilussa Square, in the Trastevere District, you will pass over Sixtus Bridge, which since the 15th Century has always represented the most logical route for those who had to reach the Regola District from the Trastevere one.
Ponte Sisto – Via dei Pettinari – Piazza Trinità dei Pellegrini – Via San Paolo alla Regola – Piazza Monte di Pietà – Via Santa Maria in Monticelli – Piazza San Paolo alla Regola – Via del Conservatorio – Via delle Zoccolette
THE SIXTUS BRIDGE
The Sixtus Bridge, as already stated in the introduction to the Regola District, has its origins on the oldest Aurelian Bridge, also called Pons Valentiniani (“Valentinianus Bridge”), and for over four hundred years it has been the most direct connection between the city center and the Janiculum Hill.
It is evident that the Pontiffs did not like bridges: in over a thousand years of total authority over Rome, they built basically only this one, on the occasion of the Jubilee of 1475. The other bridge, the so-called Palatine Bridge, was always an extremely critical passage, prey to the Tiber currents and too close to the Tiber Island to play a role of primary importance. It was only in the second half of the 19th Century, when it was no longer possible to avoid it, that Pope Pius IX decided to build the Industry Bridge, far downstream from the Port of Ripa Grande.
The bridge, 108 meters long and built in tuff covered with travertine, took its name from Pope Sixtus IV, and was restored by Pope Clement VIII, who had the travertine pavement and parapets renewed, until in 1880 the works for the construction of the walls deeply altered its appearance, with the placement of cast iron parapets fortunately removed for the Jubilee of 2000. The bridge consists of four arches with a large “occhialone” (the circular hole) on the central pylon, which has always acted as a wake-up call for Roman citizens in case of flooding of the river.
The history of Sixtus Bridge, as often happens when we talk about Popes and public works, is connected to a famous legend: the Roman citizens were indeed persuaded that Pope Sixtus IV had hidden a considerable treasure there, and this is the reason for all the holes that for centuries have defaced the walls and pillars of the bridge, in search of coins and hidden treasures.
Now take Via dei Pettinari, a slightly downhill road to remind you that you are walking over the embankment erected to defend the city from flooding; with the construction of the walls, however, all that characteristic part of the city overlooking the river was completely destroyed.
The road, which still retains its medieval structure, traces the layout of the ancient route, which connected the nearby Temple of Neptune with the Aurelius Bridge; the word “Pettinari” is said to be linked, according to some, to the comb-makers (comb means “pettine“) who had their workshops on the road, and according to others to the wool combers for mattresses.
THE CHURCH OF HOLY SAVIOR IN WAVE
Once the flooding of the Tiber River was stopped, this area no longer had reason to be nicknamed “de Unda” (“in Wave”), as it was subject to continuous flooding. Instead, the toponym is still connected to the Church of Holy Savior in Wave.
The church, quite anonymous externally, rests on the remains of a Roman building of the II Century A.D., suggestively documented by the crypt of the church itself and the beautiful columns dividing the naves. The church, restored in the 18th Century by the architect Luca Carimini, today offers an atmosphere similar to the medieval one with the columns and capitals of the primitive church, with the beautiful Madonna and Child by Cesare Mariani (1878) in the apse.
The crypt, which can be visited passing through a small door that opens onto the left aisle, is the jewel of the church: it is a small room made evocative by the beautiful Roman columns with Ionic capitals supporting cross vaults, with an altar created on a Corinthian capital of considerable size. Along the walls of the access staircase, you can see many classical fragments walled on the walls.
THE HOSPICE OF THE PILGRIMS’ TRINITY
Arrive now at the Pilgrims’ Trinity Square, famous for the centenary events of its famous Hospice. The idea of Pope Boniface VIII to call in 1300 the first Jubilee, considered by the Pope as a wonderful occasion for the revival of Rome as a pilgrimage destination, had been decidedly brilliant: lost definitively the Palestine in 1291, Rome became rightfully the Western Jerusalem, attracting consequently conspicuous masses of faithful.
The less wealthy pilgrims, however, had to face substantial sacrifices to make such a pilgrimage, which the poor receptivity of the Eternal City was certainly not able to fix, and that three centuries of renewal had not been able to raise.
Since 1548, two years before the Holy Year of the middle of the XVI Century, St. Philip Neri took charge of the intricate problem, obtaining a house from the noblewoman Elena Orsini and collecting the derelict pilgrims, scattered throughout Rome without a place to stay. The assistants of St. Philip Neri, aware of how often pilgrims were not only hungry and cold, but sick and full of aches and pains, decided to create the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity to provide relief and assistance.
Pope Paul IV, although busy locking Jews in the Ghetto and declaring war against Spain, persuaded perhaps by some cardinals, granted the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity the faculty to purchase the buildings of the ancient parish of St. Benedict at the Regola District, also known as “St. Benedict of the Scots”. The complex that was built was composed of large dormitories and refectories, being able to accommodate almost five hundred people and offer hot meals to almost a thousand pilgrims.
Apart from the Jubilee festivities, just considering all the other festivities of great popular appeal (Easter, Corpus Christi, and so on), Italians could enjoy three days of free overnight stay, while the days became four for foreigners and even seven for the Portuguese ones who, based on a consolidated tradition, received a gold coin at the time of leaving too. The food was also abundant, specifically considering the time: a pound of bread, two ounces of meat, a third of a liter of wine, cheese, salad and fruit. A quick statistic allows to extract very impressive numbers: out of ten jubilee years, from 1575 to 1825, it hosted 2,826,430 people, mostly men.
The Hospice, however, had its most significant moment on June 1849: its position, close to the only bridge of connection with Trastevere and the Janiculum Hill, made it a strategic point of great importance for the first line of the defenders of the Roman Republic, engaged on the Gianicolensi Walls of Pope Urban VIII. The Hospice (run by Father Alessandro Gavazzi, buried at the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome: contact Vincenzo, President of Rome Guides, in you want to visit it) became the place to bring the wounded ones and within its walls died, as reported by the inscription on the façade, the poet and patriot Goffredo Mameli.
THE CHURCH OF THE PILGRIMS’ TRINITY
Look now at the façade of the church, designed by the architect Giuseppe Sardi on a project of the architect Francesco De Santis (architect of the Spanish Steps too): entirely made of travertine, it is slightly concave and bipartite from the cornice with the commemorative inscription.
The Latin cross-shaped interior, almost completely restored between 1847 and 1853, has a decoration that is not particularly impressive: the two main works are the top of the dome, with the admirable Eternal Father painted by Guido Reni in 1612 and, in the chapel of the right transept, the marble group with St. Matthew and the angel, work of 1614 by Jacob Cobaert, initially intended for the Contarelli Chapel of St. Louis of the French, later replaced by the splendid canvas by Caravaggio (if you want to know the history of the chapel, book the Caravaggio Tour organized by Rome Guides).
THE PAWNBROKER’S MOUNT
The Pilgrims’ Trinity Square is closed by the rear façade of the Palace of the Pawnbroker’s Mount, which faces the Hospice.
The Institute of the Pawnbroker’s Mount puts in the spotlight the main problem of the relationship between the Church and the banking activity managed and connected to it. This relationship had problematic implications from the very beginning and caused deep scruples, because any interest rate, no matter how modest, was bordering on usury, and there were numerous ecclesiastical dispositions against it.
This controversial management of the subject indirectly favored the involvement of the Jewish community in this area, since they were covering a void: this activity, however, began to irritate the Church, since the Jews managed “Christian funds”.
The term “Mount“, still in use for certain banking institutions (Monte dei Paschi di Siena, for example), is used to recall the accumulation of money, made up of several capitalists and destined to give life to the initiative. Especially in Rome, the main contribution was provided by the Cardinal Carlo Borromeo.
For respect of a truthful chronicle, it is necessary to specify that the Pawnbroker’s Mount of Rome (constituted in 1539 under Pope Paul III) was not the first one: the first ones, inside the Pontifical State, were that of Orvieto (1464), Perugia (1467), Viterbo (1479) and Bologna (1506).
The transfer in the actual seat happened in 1603, where in origin there was a palace belonged until 1588 to the family Santacroce. Important works were carried out to adapt the building to the new requirements: the architect who worked on the project was Carlo Maderno, with the collaboration of the young Francesco Borromini. The bell tower with its clock, working and illuminated, is a superb background to the short Via dei Pompieri, which connects the square with Via dei Giubbonari, where you must absolutely admire the poetic view. In the center of the façade you can see the relief depicting Christ dead, with at the sides two large coats of arms of Popes Paul III (founder of the Pawnbroker’s Mount) and Clement VIII (who moved the Pawnbroker’s Mount in this building).
THE MARQUIS GIAMPIETRO CAMPANA
Before leaving the building, it is worth remembering the Marquis Giampietro Campana, Director of the Pawnbroker’s Mount between 1840 and 1850, to whom two beautiful Etruscan tombs are registered, one in Veio and one in Cerveteri. The Marquis Campana became practically ruined by his passion for Etruscan antiquities: in order to subsidize his excavations and to build a fabulous residence in ancient style, he went bankrupt and found himself in the middle of one of the biggest scandals in the banking world in the 19th Century. Its conspicuous collection ended up almost all at the British Museum, thus allowing the famous museum in London to inaugurate the very interesting Etruscan section.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY IN MONTICELLI
Go now in front of the Church of St. Mary in Monticelli.
The “monticello” (little mountain) is due to the underground presence of an ancient temple, identified by the architect Virginio Vespignani as a Temple of Neptunius thanks to some marble fragments. According to scholars, the peripteral temple (surrounded by columns) was built by the Greek architect Hermodorus from Salamina in the 2nd Century B.C. according to Greek dictates.
Nobody knows the year of foundation of the church or the name of its architect, but certainly Pope Pasquale II provided for its reconstruction at the beginning of the 12th Century: the wonderful Romanesque bell tower, originally higher but reduced to its present size in the 17th Century for reasons of stability, dates back to that medieval period. Apart from the bell tower, nothing remains of the ancient church, because of the reconstructions made first in 1716 by Matteo Sassi and then in 1860 thanks to the work of Francesco Azzurri.
Cross the mighty portal at the center of the baroque façade and observe the interior, with three naves with a Latin cross plan. In the middle of various modern decorations, go along the left aisle to admire the beautiful 14th Century wooden crucifix attributed to Pietro Cavallini in the second chapel and the Madonna with Child and Saints by Sebastiano Conca in the following chapel.
THE CHURCH OF ST. PAUL IN REGOLA
According to tradition, since the I Century A.D. this area was inhabited by a Jewish community, where St. Paul himself found hospitality. The church would have been built on the place where the apostle would have given his sermons. On the other hand, in memory of such an illustrious presence, the district was called for a good part of the Middle Ages “of Paul“.
The Franciscans took possession of it in 1619, most likely as a direct consequence of the establishment of the Pawnbroker’s Mount. These Franciscans came from Sicily, were under the direct protection of King Philip IV of Spain and founded the “Collegium Siculum“, which had not only the honor of possessing a very important relic (part of the arm of St. Paul), but a large library and a substantial archive too, which unfortunately were irreparably dispersed during the riots of the First Roman Republic of 1799.
The façade of the church, divided into two parts, has in the center a large window with a small balcony. The Greek cross-shaped interior is poor on the floor and unadorned on the ceiling, but has interesting paintings by Giacinto Calandrucci and Luigi Garzi in the side chapels.
Talking about the contiguous Via del Conservatorio, it’s appropriate to explain exactly what the Conservatories were: they were created to preserve the honesty of young girls, to give them a Christian education and to prepare them to become good family mothers, teaching them domestic housework.
In 1842 Rome counted eighteen of these Conservatories, scattered throughout the city. Many of them were known to the people above all for the names that were stuck to the poor guests: there were the “mendicanti” (“beggars”, so called because of their habit of begging), the “pericolanti” (“unsafe”), the “cenciose” (“ragged”) and the “zoccolette”.
The latter are the ones who are most interesting, because they had their headquarters here since 1715. Already fifteen years earlier, on the occasion of the Holy Year of 1700, Pope Innocent XII considered appropriate to gather all these girls who wandered around begging, both to prevent them from ruining the image of the Holy City, and to prevent them from offering their bodies to pilgrims for excessively licentious activities. The Pope’s guards raked about two hundred of them, placing them in some barns close to the Church of St. Eligius of the Ferrari. As reported by the inscription placed on the main door at number 16 of the street, Pope Clement XI noticed however the lack of healthiness of that place and decided to accommodate them in a healthier and more suitable to their condition one, moving them here.
Although working the clothes, even of great value, the dress of these poor girls had not to be of good quality, and the same happened for their shoes. Since they often wore rough clogs, the Roman people began to call them “zoccolette” (clogs holders) precisely because of the shoes they wore. Please consider that, in the Roman dialect, the expression “zoccoletta” can be very misleading, since it would indicate girls connected to the world of prostitution or in any case particularly licentious (“little slut“): as you can imagine, the mockery that accompanied the nickname of such women could lead to disreputable behavior.