COLONNA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 13
COLONNA DISTRICT – ITINERARY 13
The Colonna District Itinerary 13 will start from Column Square, continuing along Via del Corso and then gradually heading towards Via della Mercede, where the route will end.
Via dell’Orso – Via della Vite – Via del Gambero – Piazza San Silvestro – Via del Pozzetto – Largo del Nazareno – Via di Sant’Andrea delle Fratte – Via di Capo le Case – Via Francesco Crispi – Via Sistina – Via del Tritone – Piazza Barberini – Via della Purificazione – Via dei Cappuccini – Via due Macelli – Piazza della Propaganda Fide – Via della Propaganda Fide – via Mario dei Fiori – Via della Mercede
THE “ALBERTO SORDI” GALLERY
Let’s start by going back to Column Square where, on the opposite side of the palace of “Il Tempo”, there is the Colonna Gallery, renamed “Alberto Sordi Gallery” in 2003, in memory of the Roman actor who died in that year. The history of the Gallery dates back to 1872, the year in which it was proposed the enlargement of the adjacent Column Square, to adapt it to the changing needs of the area, after the establishment of the Chamber of Deputies in the nearby Montecitorio Palace, with a large porch from which two arms of the gallery.
The new gallery was inaugurated in 1922, but was completely finished only in 1940, under the direction of the architect Giorgio Calza Bini. Today it houses numerous stores and cafes.
THE MARIGNOLI PALACE
Cross Via di San Claudio until you find yourself in front of the large Marignoli Palace. Filippo Marignoli had entrusted the engineer Bianchi with the task of building the two monumental facades of the palace on St. Sylvester’s Square and on Via delle Convertite; along Via del Corso, instead, Filippo Marignoli bought the famous Caffè Nazionale, already owned by the liquorist Aragno, and then commissioned the architect Giulio Podesti to build the mighty facade with columns that flank the large doorway, with a courtyard also colonnaded.
The Marignoli Palace currently houses a famous chain of Italian restaurants, but in the past it housed the famous Caffè Alemagna, which took the place of the even more famous Caffè Aragno where, between 1890 and 1955, writers, journalists, artists and actors met. The inscription ARAGNO is still visible today on the ground floor façade.
The area where the Marignoli Palace is located today was previously occupied by the Church of St. Lucy of the Column, of which we have the memory already at the time of Pope Gregory IX (1233). The church and the nearby monastery were rebuilt several times, and saw the work of talented architects and painters such as Martino Longhi the Elder, Carlo Maderno, Guercino and Giacinto Brandi, until it was suppressed in 1798 and finally demolished in 1874.
THE ST. SYLVESTER’S SQUARE
Walk around the Marignoli Palace, to get to the St. Sylvester’s Square, an important junction of the city also due to the presence of the Central Post Office.
Today the square is quite different from the one you would have seen at the end of the 19th Century, but also different from the one of just 30 years ago. Once, in addition to the Church of St. Sylvester and the nearby convent (later transformed into a post office building), there was the Anglican Church of the Trinity, the first Roman Protestant Church, built in 1874 on a project by the architect Antonio Cipolla. The church was then demolished in 1910, to enlarge the square, and the Anglican community had to move in 1913 to a new building built in neo-Romanesque style on a project by Edmund Fisher, along via Romagna.
In addition to this, in 1886 you would have seen, in the center of the square, the monument dedicated to the famous poet and melodrama writer Pietro Metastasio, sculpted by Emilio Gallori and now transported to the New Church Square.
Around 1950, St. Sylvester’s Square became the main terminal of the bus and trolleybus lines that connected the center to the various suburbs, until in 2011 it was decided to close the square to traffic, which was pedestrianized and redeveloped to a design by architect Paolo Portoghesi.
THE CENTRAL POST OFFICE
Next to the Church of St. Sylvester stands the Palace of the Post and Telegraph, better known as the Central Post Office. Nibby, in his legendary Guide to Rome, called it “the most beautiful post office in Italy“. In reality the building was originally, as mentioned, the monastery of the Clarisse and only in 1870, within the operation of passage of most of the ecclesiastical property to the Italian State, the monastery was adapted to the Ministry of Public Works. In 1879 the architect Giovanni Malvezzi restructured it for its new function of Central Post Office, whose neo-Lombard Venetian style facade is the work of Luigi Rosso.
On the façade, together with two plaques dedicated to King Victor Emmanuel II, there are portraits of the Savoy princes with evident allusion to the settlement in Rome of the new Savoy dynasty. We can see in profile, like big medallions, Victor Emanuel II himself, Umberto I, assassinated in Monza, and his son, the Prince of Naples Vittorio, who later became Victor Emanuel III. There are also Queen Margherita, consort of Umberto, a woman of great culture and humanity, Amedeo d’Aosta, who became King of Spain, and Thomas Duke of Genoa. This is probably the most complete public review of the kings of united Italy, a historical memory of the Italian monarchy.
In the central corridor, the Postal Administration has placed a gigantic reproduction in polychrome majolica of the Plan of Rome made by Giovan Battista Falda in the 17th Century.
THE CHURCH OF ST. SYLVESTER IN CAPITE
The church, known as St. Sylvester in Capite but actually dedicated to both St. Sylvester and St. Stephen, stands (as we already said in the introduction to the District) on an area occupied in antiquity by the Temple dedicated to the Sun.
THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
The first sure news about the church dates back to 761, when a papal bull recalls how Pope Paul I had it built on the ruins of his father’s house. The church is still mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis, which recalls how in 779 Pope Leo III was attacked while in procession from St. John Lateran to St. Lawrence in Lucina, being then hospitalized in the convent near the Church of St. Sylvester.
Some remains identified during excavation tests, carried out about half a century ago, have shown how the ancient church was divided into three naves by columns and how it was very similar in size to the current ones.
Between the end of 1100 and the first years of 1200, the church underwent a restoration that saw, among other things, the construction of the elegant seven-storey bell tower with mullioned windows, adorned with marble disks and surmounted by a bronze rooster wind chimney of the 12th Century, the only one still installed in Rome, together with the creation of the cosmatesque mosaic of which some fragments still exist today.
In 1285 the Benedictine monks, who had ruled the church, were replaced by the Clarisse nuns, authorized by Pope Honorius IV, who remained in the church, who also owned substantial property throughout the Lazio region, until 1876.
Starting from 1588, the church and the nearby convent were involved in numerous restoration works, carried out by the famous architect Carlo Maderno and his successors, until, frescoed also inside and decorated with stuccoes, the church was reopened in 1696.
Numerous relics were collected in the church, including the heads of St. John the Baptist and St. Sylvester, as well as other relics of St. Sylvester and St. Stephen that had been deposited in the church’s underground confession.
In 1796, shortly before the occupation of Rome by the French, two of the images of the Madonna inside the Church of St. Sylvester showed miraculous signs: the Immaculate Conception by Giacinto Gimignani and the Madonna of Pentecost by Giuseppe Ghezzi. These phenomena are particularly recurrent on the occasion of danger for ecclesiastical institutions or for the continuity of worship and sacred devotion.
During the 19th Century the monastery was stripped of most of its property (only the admirable “reliquary of St. John the Baptist” was saved) and in 1871 it was assigned to the Ministry of Public Works, with the exception of a small part left to the nuns who, however, as said, left the convent definitively in 1876.
About ten years later the church was assigned to the English Pallottine Fathers, thus becoming the English National Catholic Church in Rome.
Among the rectors of the church, the name that deserves more consideration is Father Withme, who administered the church between 1887 and 1909 and who placed on the walls of the church hall a collection of ancient Roman inscriptions already preserved in the monastery: these are mainly funerary inscriptions, some of which are also preserved in the courtyard. Also in the courtyard you can admire some Roman architectural fragments and a couple of broken columns, which most probably belonged to the disappeared Temple of the Sun.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH – OUTSIDE
The façade, designed by the architect De Rossi, is marked by pilasters and preserves the dedicatory inscription. The attic is decorated with the statues of Saints Sylvester, Stephen, Francis and Clare, together with the relief depiction of the head of St. John the Baptist, an important relic of the church. Above the large 13th Century entrance portal, adorned with plant elements, there is a relief reproducing the so-called “Edessena Image“: it is the marble copy of the depiction of Christ’s face, painted on parchment, owned by the King of Edessa Abgar, who was transported here by the Greek monks and is now kept in the Vatican in the Matilde Chapel, located on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace.
In front of the façade of the church, surmounted by a high tympanum, there is a portico that probably replaces the oldest medieval portico: inside, you can see some plaques, the most interesting of which (dated 1119) refers to the Column of Marcus Aurelius, remembering how those who had alienated the Column of Marcus Aurelius (at that time owned by the church itself) would have been excommunicated. The presence of the plaque referred to the column is not accidental, not only because the monastery was the owner and therefore directly linked to the district, but because the Colonna family itself was present in some chapels of the church.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH – INSIDE
The interior of the Church of St. Sylvester has a single nave, with barrel vault and side chapels. While the architectural arrangement is of the late 16th Century, the decoration of the church was carried out between 1680 and 1696 by Carlo Rainaldi for the nave and by Mattia de Rossi and Ludovico Gimignani for the side chapels.
At the center of the floor of the nave is the tombstone of Cardinal Dietrich Stein, who had renovated and consecrated the church in 1601. On the vault you can admire the frescoes by Giacinto Brandi with the “Assumption of the Virgin Mary between Angels and Saints“, among them St. John the Baptist and St. Sylvester. In the corners are represented the four Sibyls, realized on drawings by Mattia de Rossi.
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua and Pope St. Stephen I, both of whom are also depicted on the altarpiece together with the “Madonna and Child” by Giuseppe Chiari.
In the second chapel you can see the mosaic coats of arms of the Palombara and the Colonna families and you can admire the wonderful St. Francis, work of Orazio Gentileschi, who with a wide gesture and full of emotion receives the stigmata.
Then there is the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, where you can see Pope Paul I to whom an angel gives inspiration to build the church (work of Giuseppe Ghezzi).
The transept of the church is a work of Carlo Maderno and preserves the coats of arms of the Colonna, Orsini and Tomacelli families. On the vault is depicted “the Edessena image that is brought to the bedside of King Adgan” by Gimignani, while the dome of 1595 was frescoed by Pomarancio in 1605 with figures of Angels, the Evangelists and God the Father.
Very beautiful is the high altar, with a triumphal arch (according to some, Michelangelo Buonarroti would have collaborated to the project of the arch) decorated with two angels supporting the Edessena Image.
The apsidal basin is decorated by the scene of the Baptism of Costantine and the vault by the representation of the “Trial to St. Stephen“, another painting by Gimignani.
In the left aisle is important, in the first chapel, a fresco by Morazzone with the scene of the Visitation, which shows the Column of Marcus Aurelius in the distance. Then follows the small Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, which preserves the amazing reliquary of the head of St. John the Baptist, in gilded silver and semi-precious stones, the work of goldsmiths of the 14th Century.
The Nazarene College
Walk first on Via del Pozzetto and then on Via del Bufalo, from the name of the family of the same name whose coat of arms is the image of one of these animals: this heraldic emblem is visible above an ancient fountain, located on the left corner of the Nazarene.
Here stands Palazzo Tonti, named after Cardinal Michelangelo Tonti who was made titular archbishop of Nazareth, hence the second name given to the palace by Pope Paul V. The cardinal, in that same period, made friends with St. Joseph Calasanzio, Spanish founder of the order of the Scolopi, who had the task of educating young people from poor families. On his death, the cardinal left the palace to the Scolopi to promote their work: the Nazarene College moved definitively to the Tonti Palace in 1689, with the students who were boarders of wealthy families and the simple students of poor families, who were educated free of charge thanks to the fees paid by the families of the former. It is therefore possible to define the Nazarene College as the first school in Rome open to everyone, with the tradition of hosting for free, or with highly discounted tuition, the children of the less well-off families.
Since 1658, the College has been home to the Academy of the Uncultured, together with a rich library of precious ancient volumes and enviable mineralogical and paleontological collections, including an entire whale skeleton.
The Nazarene has always been one of the most famous Colleges in Italy: from here came out diplomats, politicians and seventy cardinals. In the 19th Century, among the rectors, there was the illustrious mathematician Domenico Chelini, and among the teachers there was the great dantist Luigi Pietrobono. Among the students we cannot forget the philosopher and economist Pietro Verri, a name that reminds us how in the schools of the Scolopi they always hosted feelings of high freedom connected to the ideas of the Illuminism and the Risorgimento.
To begin the construction of the Palace was Alessandro Maurelli, a nobleman from Parma who had participated in the Flanders War in the retinue of Alessandro Farnese (last quarter of the 16th Century). Cardinal Tonti then bought it in 1622. The Palace, with its severe late Renaissance architecture, has a large rusticated portal with a balcony supported by three corbels and a series of high windows of which those, on the first floor, have the parapet supported by corbels adorned with triglyphs and leonine protomes.
The courtyard of the Palace has some funerary statues of the late Republican and Imperial age and a fountain crowned at the top by an ancient clock and concluded by a niche in which is the statue of St. Joseph Calasanzio. Interesting are the 16th Century allegorical frescoes in the rooms on the ground floor, where there are also the Roman statues representing a togato and a muse. The staircase on the left, decorated with 17th Century busts inspired by portraits of famous people of Roman history, goes up to the second floor, where you can admire the chapel frescoed, at the end of the 19th Century, by the painters Gagliardi and Grandi with stories of the “Life of St. Joseph Calasanzio” and with the representation of Pope Pius IX who approved the project of the same chapel.
On the right instead opens the so-called Gallery, a remarkable collection of paintings of the 18th and 19th Century with coats of arms and mottos of the Uncultured, landscapes, busts of emperors, divinities and ancient philosophers: on the ceiling of the same there are a series of paintings depicting “the Sciences“. The gallery leads into the Great Hall, decorated on the vault by the “Triumph of Faith, Science and Arts” and along the walls by ancient marble busts (including the famous “Ptolemy Monoftalmo“) and dozens of portraits of the most famous students of the college.
THE CHURCH OF ST. ANDREW OF THE “FRATTE”
Leave now the Nazarene College and take Via di Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, which will lead you to the homonymous Church of St. Andrew of the “Fratte”, mentioned in the texts on Rome since the 12th Century. “Fratte” means “woods, gardens” and it means that, when it was built, the Church was far away from the civilized city centre of Rome, between gardens and vineyards.
The church, originally run by Augustinian nuns, first passed to the Scottish nation, then to the confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and then to the order of the Minims of St. Francis of Paola. At the end of the 16th Century, the Minims rebuilt it by having the sober façade built by Gaspare Guerra, and above all the dome and the bell tower by the great baroque artist Francesco Borromini, whose work unfortunately remained unfinished due to the artist’s suicide. Borromini’s tiburium and bell tower modulate a succession of surfaces and volumes that make the last work of the great architect a true jewel of Roman Baroque, while the dome (marked by an unusual X-shaped structure, in memory of the martyrdom of St. Andrew) is entirely built in brick, a detail that gives the building a sense of austere religiousness. A curiosity: the bell tower is nicknamed “dancer” because, when the big bell rings, the structure oscillates fearfully.
On the door of the church is the coat of arms of the marquises Del Bufalo, while on the bell tower designed by Borromini there are eight angels’ herms with folded wings that recall the two statues by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, preserved inside the church: they are the angel with the crown of thorns and the angel with the scroll of the cross, both carved (1668-1670) to be placed on the St. Angel’s Bridge. Indeed, Pope Clement IX considered them too precious to be exposed to the bad weather and had two copies of his workshop installed on the bridge: however, the evil tongues claimed that the Pope wanted to appropriate them and send them to Pistoia, his family’s hometown. The two originals, after a brief stay in the Rospigliosi Palace, did not move from Rome, remaining inside the Bernini Palace until 1729, when they were donated by the sculptor’s heirs and transferred to this church.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
The interior of the Church has a large central nave with side chapels and a transept designed by Borromini. The floor was laid in 1828 by Giovanni Torlonia. Observe, to the right of the entrance, the sepulchral monument of Livia Del Grillo and, in the Baptismal Chapel, a small temple decorated with paintings by Borgognone.
In the second chapel on the right, wanted by Francesco Cozza as a votive offering for the end of the plague in 1656, admire St. Michael the Archangel, painted by Gimignani, and St. Charles Borromeo who helps the plague victims, painted by Cozza himself.
Follow the third chapel, with the beautiful 18th Century tomb of the Cardinal Carafa, and the entrance door to the cloister with the tomb of the converted Arab, Mulai Acmet, prince of Morocco.
The dome is decorated with the figures of the Doctors of the Greek and Latin Church and, in the dome, the “Redemption“, work of Pasquale Marini (1650-1712), who also painted the “Multiplication of the loaves and fishes” in the apse basin.
In the presbytery is the Chapel of St. Anne, designed by two of the greatest artists who worked in Rome between the late 18th and early 19th Century: Luigi Vanvitelli and Giuseppe Valadier.
On the left side of the nave you can see the funeral monument of Duchess Caffarelli, wife of Ottavio del Bufalo, then the Chapel of St. Joseph (by Virginio Vespignani in 1883) and, finally, the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miracle, designed in 1950 by Marcello Piacentini. In this place is remembered the miraculous apparition of the Virgin to the Jewish Israelite Alfonso Ratisbonne (January 30th 1842), who converted to Catholicism and became a fervent devotee of the cult of Mary; still today, daily, groups of faithful recite novenas and rosaries in front of this chapel illuminated by dozens of candles (often electric).
Now go inside the small convent, whose porticoed cloister preserves 17th century frescoes with stories from the Life of St. Francis of Paola and the Representation of the Battle of Otranto.
VIA DEL TRITONE
The Colonna District Itinerary 13 will lead you now along via Capo le Case, passing at first the Centini Palace (in which the politician Massimo d’Azeglio opened his studio) and then via Francesco Crispi, on which the Church of St. Joseph at Capo le Case is still today, inside which there is since 1717, behind the high altar, a staircase that Clement XI blessed turning it into the Holy Staircase, so that the nuns of the convent could climb it every day on their knees.
Taking Via Sistina, you will soon come out on Via del Tritone, opened between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century, so called for the presence of the splendid fountain, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and located in Barberini Square.
Here, at number 79, you can see the Church of St. Mary of Itria, whose name derives from the presence of an image of the “Virgin Odigitria” (“that acts as a guide in the street“), which was brought to Rome from Constantinople and therefore called Our Lady of Constantinople.
The church was founded in 1593 by the Sicilian nation in Rome together with the Maltese and, in the 17th Century, a college for the Maltese and Sicilians who came to study in Rome was annexed to it. The church, rebuilt in 1814 after the demolition wanted by the French, has inside a canvas depicting the patron Saint of Palermo, St. Rosalia, and some remarkable candlesticks donated by Marie Louise Queen of Etruria, wife of King Ludwig I of Bourbon.
THE FOUNTAIN OF THE BEES
Then go up Via del Tritone, exiting in Barberini Square (which, however, has already been examined, being included in the Trevi District). Here, on the corner with Via Sistina, there is a 17th Century palace where until 1880 was the Fountain of Bees, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1654 as an exaltation of the Barberini’s heraldic emblem. The fountain functioned as a drinking trough, and was connected to the same pipes that fed the Triton Fountain.
After its disassembly and the subsequent one in the municipal warehouses, the fountain was so neglected that it was almost completely destroyed, except for a fragment of the shell with a bee. It was rebuilt in the same way as the original by the sculptor Adolfo Apolloni, who used travertine instead of the original Lunense marble and restored the fountain on the right corner of Via Veneto.
THE OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST ALONG VIA SISTINA
On Via Sistina there is the Church dedicated to Saints Hildefonso and Thomas of Villanova, whose façade marked by pilasters ends in a curvilinear tympanum. Inside there is a beautiful Crib by Francesco Grassia (1667), but the church is frequented especially for the copies of the images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Copacabana: the presence of these venerated Marian images of Latin American origin is due to the fact that at the church there was a congregation of the subjects of the King of Spain.
At number 138 you can see the Rossini House: a plaque recalls the property of the famous engraver from Ravenna, a student of Piranesi and author of more than a thousand views of Rome, whose prints are still much sought after by collectors. On the right is the Sistine Theatre, built in 1950, where the best actors of the Italian musical variety have performed.
At number 123 from 1838 to 1842 lived Gogol who, as a plaque on the facade of the palace recalls, wrote his masterpiece “Dead Souls” here. Gogol was so in love with Rome and the Roman Carnival that he wrote in a letter to a friend: “Carnival is a great event all over Italy, but in Rome in a special way. Everyone takes to the streets, everyone is masked. Those who do not have the means to disguise themselves revolt the palandrana and smear their faces with black smoke. Whole trees and carpets of flowers go around the streets. The Corso would seem to be covered with snow so much flour is thrown there. Imagine that you can throw a whole sack of flour in the face of the most beautiful and that not only will not get angry, not even if she is a noblewoman, but it will make it to you in equal measure. There is an extraordinary freedom that would send you into raptures“.
In 1834 the writer Hans Christian Andersen lived at number 10 Via Sistina and set his fable “The Improviser” at number 104 of the same street.
VIA DEI DUE MACELLI
Go back now and take Via dei Due Macelli, once called the Pauline Road, which takes its name from the two slaughterhouses (“due macelli“) where animals were killed and their meat sold, before Pope Leo XII had the slaughterhouse built in 1825 just outside of the People’s Gate.
The street has a series of important literary references: at number 3 was founded the magazine “Byzantine Chronicle“, but what you have to admire is the Chauvet Palace, at number 9, an important example of late nineteenth-century iron architecture designed by Giulio de Angelis, where the newspaper “Popolo Romano” was based.
Walk now through the small alley called Due Macelli where, at number 40, there is a very rare 15th Century portal adorned with circular ashlars, alluding to the shapes of the breads produced by a bakery (now demolished) that was located nearby. Until not so long ago it was possible to see, fixed in the wall, the ring that the Swiss Guard, a faction post to all the ovens in time of famine to avoid turmoil, used to put the halberd in them in moments of rest. Similar rings were also placed next to the taverns and from here was born the Romanesque saying “to support the halberd“, to indicate someone who had found to settle well and effortlessly.
THE PALACE OF PROPAGANDA FIDE
Between via Capo le Case, via di Propaganda Fide, Spanish Steps and via Due Macelli, stands the Palace of Propaganda Fide, with an almost trapezoidal plan, the territory of the Holy See as recognized by the Lateran Pacts and seat of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (De Propaganda Fide). It is here that all the missionary activity of the Catholic Church is organized.
The Palace originated, in the early 17th Century, on commission of Cardinal Ferratini, regent of the Apostolic Chancellery. Sold shortly afterwards by the heirs, the Palace was purchased by Monsignor Vives, a Spaniard in the service of the sovereigns of Flanders, who with a papal bull of Gregory XV created the college for the education of missionaries. Vives himself, in order to better increase the planned missionary work, donated the palace to Pope Urban VIII, and at the will of the Pope, the palace underwent great architectural transformations, being transformed into a place of administrative coordination, a place of cultural activity with a large library and a polyglot printing house.
In 1634 Gian Lorenzo Bernini built the Chapel of the Three Wise Men, with an oval plan, and then in 1642 he renewed the façade in front of Mignanelli Square, simple and not particularly monumental. In 1646 Bernini was replaced in the direction of the works by his great artistic rival, Francesco Borromini, who built a new, much more dynamic façade on Via di Propaganda and demolished the decoration of the Chapel, completely rebuilding it in more dynamic forms, with a partition in pilasters on which the ribs of the vault arches are grafted, marking the Baroque architectural theme. Among the works of art in the Chapel, the “Adoration of the Three Wise Men” by Giacinto Gimignani (1634) stands out.
The two façades are completely different. The one on Piazza di Spagna, in brick, has windows adorned with seraphim heads and is surmounted by the great coat of arms of Pope Urban VIII; the one made by Borromini, instead, moved by projecting and recessed surfaces, has on the first floor the doors of stores decorated with the bee of the Barberini family and a portal flanked by fluted pillars and with the fastigium decorated with shells and festoons. The windows on the second floor are framed by columns and decorated with metopes and triglyphs, while those on the second floor have crowns of palms, festoons of roses and heads of seraphim.
You could examine the Palace of Propaganda Fide in a deeper way joining the Rome City Center Tour organized by Rome Guides.
Almost in front of the facade of the Palace of Propaganda Fide opens the narrow and straight Via della Vite, destined to lead to Via del Corso. According to tradition, the name derives from an ancient tavern that had a vine branch as its sign.
In the 16th Century the “ghetto of whores“, called “ortaccio” (“ugly garden“), wanted by Pope Pius V to oblige Roman prostitutes, began from this street. At number 41 you can still see the Rosselli-Lorenzini House, a building built in the 19th Century, whose balcony is decorated with upturned halberds: here lived Pietro Roselli, who commanded the patriots of Rome who defended the city from the French soldiers in the short and heroic moment of the Roman Republic.
After crossing Via del Moretto (so called by another inn sign, depicting a dark brown head), look out onto Via Mario de’ Fiori which recalls, in its name, the painter Mario Nuzzi (1603-1673) famous for his symbolic still lifes with floral subjects, dear to cultured baroque collecting. Tradition indicates, at number 93, the painter’s home, but at the time the street was called Vicolo del Bernino, because of the nearby Bernini Palace. According to legend, however, in the street still remains a memory of the painter Mario Nuzzi: the elegant sacred shrine depicting the Assumption of the Virgin, decorated with garlands of roses in stucco, would be the work of the artist.
Arrive at the corner with Via della Mercede, and observe the Bernini Palace, where the great Gian Lorenzo lived and died, whose genius, as the plaque recalls, bowed popes, princes and peoples. On this façade you can see another plaque, which recalls how in the palace lived, for his stay in Rome, one of the fathers of historical-romantic literature, the Scottish poet and writer Sir Walter Scott. At the end of the entrance hall, on the ground floor, there was Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s studio and, on the second floor, in two 17th Century lunettes, two episodes of the artist’s life are frescoed: in the first, in the background of the same building, you can see Bernini kneeling in front of Pope Urban VIII, who had gone to visit him at home. The other lunette instead recalls a trip of the artist to Lyon, and more precisely Bernini’s meeting with the magistrates of that town hall who gave him the keys of the city.
The Bernini Palace was an involuntary witness of one of the famous quarrels between Bernini and Borromini. In fact, Borromini placed two large stucco donkey ears on the windows of the Palace of Propaganda Fide that looked towards the Bernini Palace. Gian Lorenzo answered for the rhymes and planted a small Priapus with a giant phallus on the shelves that support the roof of the house. All these “ornaments” were soon removed by order of the Pope, and have long since disappeared.
At number 50 opens the Theater Sala Umberto I, which was first café chantan and then hosted the triumphs of the great Ettore Petrolini, whose bust is preserved in the atrium of the theater itself. On the façade, the theater presents four allegorical stuccoes of the four phases of man’s life and an inscription, today incomplete, which reads: “Here, through different ages and times of life, we all tend in equal measure towards our eternal homeland“. Returned from some years to the theatrical life, the Sala Umberto is remembered by the Romans of the old generations also as a “third order” Movie Theatre, a place of camouflaged spicy encounters and well attended by soldiers in free exit.