ROMAN ITINERARIES – REGOLA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 27
REGOLA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 27
The Itinerary 27 of the Regola District starts from Via Arenula which, if on one side has the merit of preserving the ancient name of the District, on the other side has the demerit of having partly demolished it in accordance with the town planning of the end of the 19th Century.
Garibaldi Bridge – Via Arenula – Via della Seggiola – Via Santa Maria in Monticelli – Piazza Cairoli – Via dei Giubbonari – Via dei Balestrari – Piazza della Quercia – Piazza Capodiferro – via delle Grotte – Piazza Campo dei Fiori – Via dei Cappellari – Via del Pellegrino
After the Unification of Italy and the conquest of Rome, it was necessary to set a specific urbanistic goal, consisting in connecting the center with the peripheral areas, through streets as wide and straight as possible. One of these fundamental bisectors was the Viale del Re, today called Viale Trastevere, which crossed the Tiber River over the Garibaldi Bridge, built in 1888 by Angelo Vescovali, and reached the Square of the Argentine Tower through Via Arenula.
After crossing the bridge, take Via Arenula. According to some scholars, the Manetti Tower, called “perforated“, which we will talk about later, should be placed right here. In this area there was one of the oldest shores of the Romans: many inhabitants of the city learned here to swim, to fish, to pull boats with ropes, thus becoming real “fiumaroli“, that means inhabitants and workers on the Tiber river. The activity became more and more natural, to the point of turning into a real tradition that took place with extreme naturalness and in a very nonchalant way, so much so that at a certain point the Authorities found themselves forced to request at least the obligatory use of underwear, as recalled by various edicts.
THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
The complex of the Ministry of Justice occupies the entire first section of the left side. Built in a vaguely Renaissance style by the architect Pio Piacentini, between 1913 and 1920, this ministerial building presents a showy rusticated travertine ashlar with a diamond cut, probably inspired by that of the Santacroce Palace.
THE MANETTI’S HOUSE
Once past the Ministry, cross Via della Seggiola, once occupied by the workshops of craftsmen specialized in the manufacture of chairs (such as Via dei Sediari in the Campo Marzio District). Near the widening formed by the junction between Via della Seggiola and Via di Santa Maria in Monticelli (the church was described in the previous Itinerary), there was probably the Manetti’s House, not far from which there was the Tower mentioned earlier. One member of this family is included among the thirteen champions of the Barletta Challenge, while another, Latino Giovenale Manetti, held the position of street conservator and commissioner of antiquities in Rome (stealing several of them for his private collection). The Manetti family disappeared in a single day: during a bloody brawl, in fact, all the members of their family were killed. A well-known Roman historian claimed that the axe that adorned their coat of arms was later replaced by a coffin.
THE FREDI FAMILY
Leave now on the right Via della Seggiola and head towards that branch of Via di Santa Maria in Monticelli that descends towards Cairoli Square. On the left, immediately after the church, you will see the Panizza Palace, a beautiful 18th Century building with windows decorated with shells and flowers, and just beyond the Fredi’s House which, apart from the inscription “prora et puppis est vivere” (life is to sail), preserves almost nothing of the original decoration after the remakes of the late 19th Century. The Fredi family was very important: Felica, member of this family, discovered in 1506 the statue of the Laocoon, and it was another member of the family, moved to France, who created the Fredy de Coubertin dynasty from which derived the Baron Pierre who, on the occasion of the 1896 Olympic Games, claimed that participating was more important than winning.
THE GARDEN IN THE CAIROLI SQUARE
Now reach Cairoli Square, decorated with a large green garden. On the right, with one side on Via Arenula, you have the Signori Palace, with an inscription on the façade recalling the munificence of Guglielmo Huffer, to whom goes the merit of having arranged at his own expense the garden in front of you.
It is an elliptical garden, having two focal points: the large (over 3 meters in diameter) granite fountain found in the Roman Forum and the bronze statue of the politician and patriot Federico Seismit Doda, cast by Eugenio Maccagnani.
THE SANTACROCE PALACE
At the side, you can see one of the various residences of the Santacroce family, which since 1904 has taken the name of its current owners, the Pasolini dall’Onda family. Onofrio Santacroce began the construction in 1598, using the services of Carlo Maderno, but in 1630 the work was still going on under the guidance of Francesco Peparelli, to whom the façade should be attributed.
Today the palace is severe and massive, deprived of the numerous architectural fragments of the Roman period, mostly coming from the Temple of Neptune lying under the Church of St. Mary in Monticelli. Inside, the rooms show frescoes by Battistino (1640) depicting the “Triumphs of the Santacroce” and “Biblical Scenes“.
VIA DEI GIUBBONARI
Pass in front of the imposing bulk of the Church of St. Charles at the Catinari, once included in the perimeter of the Regola District but now part of the St. Eustace District, and take the lively Via dei Giubbonari, so called because it once housed the manufacturers of jackets and cloaks. It is a vibrant street, full of stores and activities, vaguely chaotic, dominated by the vast bulk of the Barberini Palace, the original residence of this important family, which became insufficient for the boundless ambition of Pope Urban VIII and then replaced by the other much better known Barberini Palace (explained in the next Itineraries).
THE BARBERINI PALACE
Currently this building has a rather anonymous and resigned air, but in the past it had to have a much more noble aspect: purchased in 1581 by Francesco Barberini, uncle of the future Pope Urban VIII, it quickly expanded with the purchase of the adjacent buildings. Maffeo Barberini himself, the future Pope, lived there since 1584. The interior preserves an interesting snail-shaped staircase attributed to Carlo Maderno and Filippo Braccioli and a splendid entrance on the Mount Square, made imposing by the columned vestibule by Francesco Contini (1630). The building remained under the Barberini family until 1734, when the family was succeeded by the Discalced Carmelites and then the Mount of Piety: the arch that surmounts the street dates back to this period, built to connect this palace with the others already owned by the Mount of Piety.
Past the Barberini Palace, you can see another small building that has, although diaphanous and now almost invisible, traces of frescoes on the façade, perhaps made by Baldassarre Peruzzi, who would have decorated this building for the primitive owner, Jacopo Strozzi from Florence.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF THE OAK
Do not be attracted by the colorful and lively atmosphere of Campo dei Fiori, but continue along Via dei Balestrari, the street of the ancient crossbow makers, arriving in the Oak Square, on the left of which there is the Church of St. Mary of the Oak.
At the beginning of the 16th Century, the area was frequented by the people of Viterbo, who came here for the trade of Maremma cattle: this is where the origin of this cult comes from, born partly for parochialism and partly for faith towards the Virgin of the Oak, venerated in Viterbo in a splendid sanctuary. The church was built in place of a previous building consecrated to St. Nicholas, who was evicted. The step from the trade to the slaughter of cattle was very short, and then in 1537 the church was assigned by Pope Clement VII to the Brotherhood of Butchers.
Actually, the present building is the result of the renovation carried out in 1728 by the architect Filippo Raguzzini, to which were added the retouches made at the end of the 19th Century by Andrea Busiri Vici. The interior is Greek cross-shaped, with a beautiful dome and on the high altar the reproduction of the “Virgin of the Oak” of Viterbo, enclosed in a frame decorated with the symbols of the Brotherhood of Butchers.
THE MISSINI-OSSOLI PALACE
Back outside, almost in front of the church, you can admire the Missini-Ossoli Palace, built in 1527, just before the famous Sack of the Lansquenets, by the merchant of Orvieto Giordano Missini. After multiple purchases and sales, the palace passed to the Ossoli family and then to the Spada-Potenziani family. The paternity of the building is uncertain: some attribute it to Baldassarre Peruzzi, others to Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.
THE COUNT OF CAGLIOSTRO
Before leaving the square, take a fleeting look at the marble plaque indicating Via delle Grotte. Probably the toponym depends on the presence, once still visible and now relegated to some cellar, of the ruins and caves of the ancient Theater of Pompey. This street is mentioned several times in the court proceedings concerning Giuseppe Balsamo, better known as Count of Cagliostro, who lived here and met his wife Lorenza, who betrayed him and regretted it for eternity. Even today, a legend insists on the presence of the ghost of her, who has no peace in the grip of remorse and wanders along this street at night.
THE SPADA PALACE
After having held very important positions, having been Papal Treasurer and Apostolic Nuncio to France and Portugal, the Cardinal Girolamo Capodiferro felt that the time had come to stay in Rome, in a residence worthy of his rank and office. In only two years, between 1548 and 1550, he realized this project, probably relying on the artist and decorator Giulio Mazzoni for the pictorial decoration and the stuccoes inside and outside. Unfortunately for him, the Cardinal did not enjoy his residence for very long, dying at only 57 years of age in 1559.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE SPADA PALACE
Observe the amazing façade of the Spada Palace, very rich in decorations. If the first floor is relatively sober, with eight architraved windows and a solemn door surmounted by the Spada family coat of arms, the upper floors are richly decorated, with a first level marked by nine windows interspersed with statues of characters of Ancient Rome: Trajan, Pompey, Fabius Maximus, Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Julius Caesar and Augustus.
On the upper floor, at the gables of the windows, small stucco Amorini hold medallions bearing the coat of arms of the Capodiferro, a dog sitting in front of an igneous column surrounded by the motto UTROQUE TEMPORE. The building ends with a last floor enlivened by nine windows alternated by large squares with inscriptions of the underlying statues depicting the characters of Ancient Rome: every inscription mentions, for each of them, a particular virtue or a specific vice. Frames and floral ornaments enrich the entire structure, creating a very rich decoration with masks and fluttering ribbons.
After various rentals to cardinals and ambassadors, the building was sold for 13,500 scudi to Cardinal Bernardino Spada, great friend and protector of important artists such as Francesco Borromini, Guercino and Guido Reni. The first of the three was the great innovator of the palace, which he transformed into an authentic jewel, a real competition with his great colleagues who had designed the nearby Farnese Palace one century earlier.
THE BORROMINI’S PERSPECTIVE GALLERY
In 1653 Borromini realized in the Palace his undisputed masterpiece, the Perspective Gallery: thanks to an incredible illusionistic game between the columns and the inclined planes, the short Gallery (less than nine meters long, but apparently longer than thirty) makes a statuette of Mars of just eighty centimeters at the end of it appear gigantic.
The Gallery is the result of Cardinal Bernardino Spada’s interest in perspective: he probably attributed to this gallery the meaning of moral deception and the illusion of mundane grandeur.
THE SPADA GALLERY
To see the Perspective Gallery you must first enter the majestic inner courtyard, decorated again by Giulio Mazzoni and his assistants with statues of mythological gods, sea parades and bas-reliefs of harpies.
The palace progressively extended into the adjacent alleys, while the growing fortunes of the Spada family, thanks in particular to Cardinal Bernardino, also made it possible to build a splendid collection of paintings, sculptures and furnishings, which still today represents one of the richest and most famous private collections in the world.
In the four rooms of this Museum you will have the opportunity to enjoy some real masterpieces of the 17th Century, including the two portraits of Cardinal Bernardino Spada (made by Guercino and Guido Reni, two dear friends of the same cardinal), the theatrical Dido’s Death by Guercino (a work of full Baroque style), the sketch of the Triumph of the Name of Jesus by Baciccia (later frescoed, in exaggeratedly colossal dimensions, in the Church of Jesus in Rome), the Portrait of a violinist by Titian Vecellio and two of the most important works by Artemisia Gentileschi, talented daughter of the painter Orazio, who is present in the museum with the St. Cecilia and a Madonna and Child.
If you want to visit this splendid collection of paintings, please book the Museums and Galleries Tour organized by the Cultural Association Rome Guides.
THE STATE COUNCIL
Since 1927 the building houses the State Council, to which it belongs. The rooms of this Administrative Court have wonderful decorations, including an impressive sundial, the Hall of the Elements, the Gallery of the Stuccoes and the Great Hall, entirely decorated with perspective architecture and hosting inside the colossal sculpture of Pompey the Great, believed to be the one at whose feet fell Julius Caesar, found on Via dei Leutari (as already told in a previous Itinerary).
Continue now along Via Capodiferro, observing the houses that were once part of the urban complex of the Spada Palace.
At number 7 you can see the Spada Little Palace, a sober 16th Century building of which the architect is certainly unknown: some attribute it to Baldassarre Peruzzi, others to Vignola. Like the nearby Spada Palace, this building originally belonged to the Capodiferro family, who built it in 1540 and restored it in 1566. On the first floor there is the imposing architraved portal, probably the work of Ottaviano Mascherino; on the second floor, five windows interspersed with pillars with Ionic capital.
VIA DEI CAPPELLARI
Go back to the Campo dei Fiori Square and take Via dei Cappellari, which will appear much darker and gloomier than the square. This feeling is well linked to the ancient presence in this area of the Cow Tavern, purchased in the early 16th Century by the notorious Vannozza Cattanei, famous as the companion of Pope Alexander VI, to whom he gave four children.
Go into the narrow street, still medieval in appearance, which once housed the hat makers. Near a small arch, you can see enclosed by a grate the “Crucifix of the Chaplains“, a work of the late 15th Century depicting Christ Crucified, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and a patron (probably a member of the Orsini family).
Always under the arch, at number 29, as remembered by a simple plaque, was born Pietro Trapassi, better known as Metastasio, whose monument we have already seen in previous Itineraries in the New Church Square.
After a few steps cross Via di Montoro, which takes its name from the homonymous Palace located at number 8 of this street. It is of the first half of the 18th Century, and shows a central door and two lateral ones, surmounted by the heraldic symbols of the Montoro family, that is eight-pointed stars and groups of mountains.
THE CHURCH OF ST. LUCY OF THE GONFALONE
At the moment the road meets Via del Pellegrino, a large part of which belongs to the Parione District. Reach at this point the last building of the present Itinerary, the Church of St. Lucy of the Gonfalone, located at the extreme border of our District.
St. Lucy is a very popular Saint in Rome: on the one hand she is the protector of the sight, on the other hand she is celebrated on December 13th, acting as an antechamber to the Christmas festivities and getting the curious name of “shortest day of the year”, anticipating the winter solstice by more than a week.
Probably, the origin of the cult in Rome is linked to the presence of a Sicilian community, which founded the first oratory dedicated to the Saint on the current Via del Gonfalone. This complex is still today remembered as the Old St. Lucy.
When in the 15th Century the Brotherhood of the Gonfalone moved here, St. Lucy assumed another role, becoming also the protector of freedom: in fact, among the various tasks of the Brotherhood there was also that of the release of slaves, in aid of what was then practiced by the Order of the Trinitarians. The common purpose with the Trinitarians is highlighted by the fresco in the apse (painted by Francesco Azzurri in 1866), where you can see St. John de Matha and St. Felix of Valois, founders of the Trinitarians, while in the background there is an assault of cavalry against a city adorned with minarets. In addition to it, the fresco on the right depicts Pope Sixtus V blessing a group of characters who have just been freed from the Brotherhood of the Gonfalone.