ROMAN ITINERARIES – REGOLA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 28
REGOLA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 28
The Itinerary 28, the shortest of the four ones in the Regola District, will lead you to discover a small part of the Jewish Ghetto, mostly included in the St. Angel’s District. Go back to Via Arenula, this time along the right side; once you reach the Cairoli Square, stop at the corner with Via di Santa Maria dei Calderari.
Via Arenula – Via di Santa Maria dei Calderari – Piazza delle Cinque Scole – Via di S. Bartolomeo ai Vaccinari – Via Beatrice Cenci – Piazza del Monte dei Cenci
VIA DI SANTA MARIA DEI CALDERARI
More or less in the place where you are located stood the Church of St. Mary in Caccabariis, so called for the manufacturers of “caccabi” (from the Latin caccaba, or boilers and other kitchen pots). The church existed since the time of Urban III (XII Century), a Pope who never lived in Rome, kept away from the struggles against empire and personal opponents. From the Virgin Mary the church passed to St. Blaise, to host the Brotherhood of the Junkmen first and then the Brotherhood of the Coachmen. In this last role, dethroned St. Biagio, he returned to the Madonna, with the title of St. Mary of the Coachmen, but the construction of Via Arenula determined its destruction in 1881.
Going along the street, you can see on the left, near number 23, the structures of an ancient monument: a brick arch, framed by two travertine half-columns with Doric capitals supporting an architrave, part made of travertine and part of brick. According to Renaissance scholars and drawings, this could be a part of the Balbi Crypt or more probably a part of the structure of the Flaminian Circus.
On the left of number 27, observe the inscription placed in memory of a famous Tiber flood in 1598, with a small hand indicating a small boat shaking on the river.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF THE WEEPING
At the end of the street, you can see the unfinished Church of St. Mary of the Weeping, so called thanks to one of the many images of the Madonna famous for her tears, shed for a murder committed right in front of her image on January 10th 1546: the murderer would have struck his opponent to death after he had surrendered, putting his sword back in its sheath. The image was placed in this church, rebuilt in 1612 to a design by Nicola Sebregondi.
In 1746 Pope Benedict XIV entrusted the church to the Archconfraternity of Christian Doctrine which, being in the Jewish Ghetto, had precisely the specific task to counter the thesis of the Five Scolas, propagating Christian doctrine. Even if “scola” at that time did not mean “school” in the sense conceived today, but community, the Scolas delivered specific teachings and messages.
From the outside, the church, which as already mentioned remained unfinished, presents a curious aspect, articulated on three streets: the octagonal dome, with its faded plaster, stands out a little lost among the roofs of what remains of the old Ghetto. The interior preserves the 17th Century frescoes by Lazzaro Baldi and on the high altar, between four alabaster columns, the fragment of a fresco of the Madonna who wept in 1546.
THE JEWISH GHETTO
The history of the Jewish Ghetto would deserve a long and in-depth disquisition, which is not the purpose of these Roman Itineraries. Although the issue will be addressed again by talking about the St. Angel’s District, it is necessary to provide some preliminary information here as well.
Like many other communities, even the Jewish one, since ancient times, had settled in a specific area of Rome, between Trastevere and the Tiber Island: the Fabricius Bridge in fact, one of the two bridges connecting the island to the mainland, was called for a long time the Jewish Bridge.
Choosing to live in a certain area and being forced to live in that area, however, are two completely different issues. Pope Paul IV hated the Spaniards above all else: the arrival in mass of Catalans, Aragonese, Castilians, mostly Jews, infuriated him so much that he built a real Ghetto. A wall surrounded the area, which could only be accessed through five gates (they were brought to eight by Pope Leo XII): Jews could only go out at certain hours, they always had to wear a flashy yellow cap, and women could not appear in public without a special veil on their face. At a certain hour the curfew rang and the doors were closed: from that moment on, no one could go out.
The closure of the Jewish Ghetto of Rome lasted from 1555 to 1848. The Ghetto occupied only a small part of the Regola District, extending mainly in the nearby St. Angel’s District. A district in the districts then, a micro-city in the city of Rome.
Today, the real Jewish Ghetto of Rome no longer exists: to have a better idea of how it really was, we suggest you visit the Jewish Museum. Indeed, in 1888, with the new master plan, most of the old streets and buildings of the ghetto, unhealthy and without toilets, were demolished creating three new streets: Via del Portico di Ottavia, Via Catalana and Via del Tempio. In this way, entire small blocks and streets that formed the old urban fabric of the neighborhood disappeared, replaced by large spaces more tidy but also less characteristic.
If you would like to make a tour of the Jewish Ghetto in Rome, please contact Rome Guides.
THE FIVE SCOLAS SQUARE
Now reach the Five Scolas Square, obtained with the demolition of the old Jewish Ghetto, and in particular with the destruction of the buildings that housed the Scola Nova, the Scola of the Temple, the Scola of Sicily, the Scola of Castilia and the Scola of Italian rite. Among the legal, social and economic restrictions that affected the Jews, there was also one that prevented them from having more than one synagogue: this prescription was circumvented by incorporating under one roof five different congregations or “scholae“.
THE FOUNTAIN OF THE SQUARE
The fountain, designed in 1591 by the architect Giacomo Della Porta and modelled by the stonemason Pietro Gucci using ancient Roman marble (probably obtained from the Temple of Serapis on the Quirinal), furnishes the square with its elegant four-leaf clover basin. This fountain adorned the center of the disappeared Judea Square for almost three centuries, as reported in the maps of the 16th Century; then, following the disembowelment of the St. Angel’s District, it was dismantled and rebuilt in this square in 1930, as also evidenced by the inscription.
THE CENCI-BOLOGNETTI PALACE
Raising your eyes, you will have in front of you the 19th Century façade of the Palace on which stands out the name Cenci-Bolognetti, a family resulting from the union in 1772 between the Counts Bolognetti and Girolamo Cenci. The building was built in the 19th Century on the area previously occupied by some houses, purposely demolished, that were part of the so-called “Cenci Island“.
COLA DI RIENZO
Go around the corner of the Cenci-Bolognetti Palace and you will arrive at the corner of the Church of St. Thomas, where in 1313 the famous tribune Cola di Rienzo was born: he tried to establish a popular government in the city of Rome torn by conflicts between the people and the nobles. He was a man who massacred a large part of the Colonna family in the famous battle of Porta San Lorenzo; a man who, in Avignon, thanks to his eloquence and his culture, enchanted pope and men of letters; a man who dreamed of the restoration of the greatness (hopelessly lost) of Rome; a man who lacked a sense of measure, and ended up dragged in tatters in the street and hung upside down.
VIA DEI VACCINARI
Even the inscription at the beginning of Via dei Vaccinari recalls the memory of Cola di Rienzo. The name of the street derives from “victinariis” (leather tanners) who lived here. Here, at the beginning of the street, there was a parish church demolished at the beginning of the 20th Century, but its marble parts and altars are preserved, which were even reused in the Cathedral of Asmara, the Capital of Eritrea. The chronicles of the time report a curious fact: digging under the foundations of the church, a large amount of horns came to light, to testify the ancient presence of tanners and the slaughterhouse from which they drew the raw material for their work.
The sad story that involved the beautiful Beatrice Cenci, her stepmother Lucrezia and her brothers Giacomo and Bernardo is one of the darkest pages of Rome.
They had been condemned by Pope Clement VIII for the murder of Count Francesco Cenci, Beatrice’s father: it was a premeditated crime, to end the series of violence of an evil man, described as brutal and perverse, involved in numerous fights and sentenced several times to trial for sexual violence and pedophilia. However, he had always managed to buy his own acquittal.
According to the chronicles, exasperated by the violence and sexual abuse, Beatrice had come to the decision to organize the murder of her father with the complicity of her stepmother and brothers. Twice the attempt to kill the torturer (the first time with poison, the second time with an ambush of brigands) failed: during the third time Francesco, stunned by opium, was attacked in his sleep and killed with violent hammering to the skull. To hide the crime the conspirators tried to simulate an accident: the body of the victim was found in a vegetable garden, after having thrown it from a windowsill. After the funeral, the relatives returned to live in Palazzo Cenci, near the Ghetto.
The investigators sent by the Pope realized in a very short time that it had not been an accident: exhumed the corpse, the marks of the hammerings on the skull were immediately found.
The process had an enormous impact on the society of the time. In the trial two great lawyers faced each other, Pompeo Molella for the prosecution and Prospero Farinacci for the defense. The first, in an attempt to lighten the young girl’s position, accused her father Francesco of raping his daughter, but Beatrice in her depositions never wanted to confirm the abuse. In the end the accusations prevailed and the defendants, who confessed also because of the terrible tortures suffered, were all found guilty and sentenced to death. Many cardinals sent requests for clemency to the Pontiff, but they were rejected.
Many stated that the Pope wanted this execution with all his strength, since he was the natural beneficiary of the confiscation of the Cenci’s property: this reason made the sentence taken for granted, so much so that it was issued even before pronouncing the defensive plea.
On September 11th 1599 in Rome thousands of people went near the St. Angel’s Castle, because the Cenci family was one of the most famous dynasties of the city. The crowd was at the same time pervaded by compassion and anger, fear to accusation, pity and thirst for revenge. There were nobles and middle class, without any social division; among them, also two great painters like Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi.
The first beheading was that of Lucrezia. Then it was the turn of Beatrice, the beautiful daughter of 22 years. The crowd stared at her, scrutinized her, judged her, but then descended into silence. Beatrice whispered a prayer and kissed a crucifix, before the executioner took her head from her neck with a cleaver blow. The corpse of the girl, as she had asked, was buried in a burial niche in front of the high altar of St. Peter’s in Montorio, under an unmarked plaque.
THE CENCI’S MOUNT
The paragraph about Beatrice Cenci is linked to the road that you will take now, Via Beatrice Cenci, and that will lead you on the right to the ascent of the Cenci’s Mount. The narrow road climbs up an artificial hill consisting of part of the ruins of the curved side of the Circus Flaminius, built in 221 BC by the censor Caius Flaminius, and whose steps extended almost to the Porch of Octavia and the Theatre of Marcellus.
The environment, preserved in its medieval structure, exudes a particular charm: the walls denounce here and there the reuse of classical fragments, while the serpentine shape of the street allows the light to filter perfectly to emphasize the suggestiveness of the place and light up the gloomy memory of the events related to the Cenci family.
The Cenci family, practically exterminated with this multiple execution in 1599, survived only with Bernardo. In 1775, Virginio Cenci collected the inheritance of the Bolognetti family from Vicovaro, so that in 1782 the family took the name of Cenci-Bolognetti.
THE CHURCH OF ST. THOMAS
Once you reach the harmonious little square, you will see that the palace is facing the Church of St. Thomas, which became the noble chapel of the Cenci family around the 14th Century, when the family settled in this place. At the moment, the church is the result of the works made by Cristoforo Cenci in 1555 and finished by his son Francesco in 1575, as also remembered by the inscription in the center of the façade, decorated by two portals surmounted by two large circular windows.
Between the two entrances there is a funerary altar of Flavian age, which by curious coincidence is dedicated to a certain Marcus Cincius Theophilus: the assonance of the name makes it understandable why it was moved up here, taking it who knows where.
The interior, with a rectangular plan, presents in the first chapel on the left the frescoes with Stories of the Virgin painted by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta (1585), while according to tradition Francesco Cenci was buried in the Chapel of the Crucifix.
Today the church belongs to the Brotherhood of the Coachmen that every year, on September 11th, they celebrate a mass in memory of the torment of Beatrice Cenci.
THE CENCI’S TOWER
In front of the church, the building that at the corner closes the northern half of the small square (probably following the curve of the ancient Circus) shows a 16th Century portal surmounted by a beautiful classical fragment, representing a head of Gorgon. You are probably in front of the Cenci’s Tower, remembered by the chronicles of the 14th Century, which still today offers several rooms frescoed in the 16th Century by Antonio Tempesta and Angelo Caroselli (a painter quite famous in Rome for his studies on necromancy) and in the 17th Century by Filippo Lanzi with the Stories of Venus and Adonis.