ROMAN ITINERARIES – SANT’ANGELO DISTRICT – ITINERARY 43
SANT’ANGELO DISTRICT – ITINERARY 43
The Sant’Angelo District Itinerary 43 will make you penetrate more and more into the streets of the ancient Jewish Ghetto, and then leave it to examine a variety of noble palaces belonging to important Roman families, ending the stroll in the Church of St. Mary in Portico in Campitelli.
Via in Publicolis – Piazza Costaguti – Via dei Falegnami – Piazza Mattei – Via della Reginella – Via di Sant’Ambrogio – Via dei Funari – Piazza Lovatelli – Piazza Campitelli
THE SANTACROCE PALACE
Squeezed between the houses of Via in Publicolis, the Santacroce Palace is a pleasant surprise in the ward. The Santacroce family, like many other noble Roman families, in the humanistic period felt the urge to find an illustrious ancestor linked to the times of Ancient Rome, and they created an imaginary lineage with Valerio Publicola, who in the VI Century BC was consul four times and a successful commander in the wars against Veienti and Sabini.
The Santacroce family was indeed very powerful, being able to count four cardinals and titles of nobility in the towns of Sangemini and Oliveto: the members of the family, however, were also known for their quarrelsome and combative temperament, so as to infuriate Pope Sixtus IV who, in the 15th Century, exiled them and demolished their houses in the Regola and Sant’Angelo Districts. Antonio Santacroce, however, tenacious and stubborn, returned to Rome a few years later and built around 1501 the house that you see in front of you, following the architectural canons in vogue at the beginning of the 16th Century, with the characteristic corner tower (which has lost some of its vertical impetus due to the modern elevation of the building) that served as both ornament and defense of the house.
THE TEMPLE OF CARMEL
Attached to the Palace of Lorenzo Manili, you can see (recently restored) the Temple of Carmel, a nice semicircular building with a small dome supported by four Doric columns in travertine joined by a gate.
Erected in 1759 by a family of grocers to protect an image dedicated to St. Mary of Mount Carmel, after the war the small temple was in a state of absolute degradation, so that no one protested when a cobbler transformed it into his store, closing the spaces between the columns with metal sheets. Today, thanks to a recent restoration, the Temple has returned to its original splendor, with the 18th Century iron gate in all its beauty and with the stuccoes and the clouds on the ceiling surrounding the dove of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the Holy Image and the altar on which it was placed have disappeared, but on the frieze you can still admire the ancient inscription “GLORIA LIBANI DATA EST EI DECOR CARMELI ET SARON“.
As in other religious places of the District, also in the space in front of the Temple of Carmel the Dominican and Jesuit Friars held the already known “forced sermons“, in order to convert the Jews.
Before leaving the small Temple, take Vicolo Costaguti: these shortcuts, very common in past centuries, were real tunnels that passed through entire buildings, to favor the population’s transit. These tunnels, however, were often dark, smelly and not at all safe, as evidenced by the ambush attempted on the French ambassador Ugo De Basseville, who was hit by a razor slash to the throat in 1793. This passage, which ends in a small courtyard, represents indeed a very important evidence of the urban planning of the ancient Ghetto.
THE COSTAGUTI PALACE
Go now to the Costaguti Square to observe the homonymous palace, built by the Patrizi family, who came from Siena and settled in the area of Campo Marzio since 1537: the founder of the family was Arcangelo Patrizi, who greatly enriched his family thanks to his profession as a consistory lawyer. His son Costanzo also had a good career, becoming monsignor and covering the position of General Treasurer of the Apostolic Chamber in the papal administration: today he is buried inside the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
In 1624, the heirs of Monsignor Costanzo sold the building to the papal banker Ascanio Costaguti, native of Liguria and appointed marquis by Pope Innocent X. Thanks to its commercial power and the large number of cardinals, the Costaguti family was able to erase from the name of the palace the memory of the Patrizi family. The entrance was originally along Via della Reginella, between numbers 29 and 30, but the door was walled up when Via della Reginella was included in the Ghetto, forcing the Costaguti family to open a new one on the square.
The main concern of the Costaguti family was to give the ancient Patrizi Palace a completely new structure: the work was commissioned to the architect Carlo Lambardi, who in the second half of the 16th Century enlarged the building at the expense of the Church of St. Leonard in Albis, which stood on the area of the present Costaguti Square and belonged to the Company of Sculptors. The architect Lambardi opened the main entrance on the Mattei Square, showing off the vanity of the Costaguti family, and built a wide cornice facing the square and hosting many balconies.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE PALACE
The interior, without a courtyard, has a main floor divided into eight rooms frescoed by the original owners Patrizi with mythological subjects, poetic and symbolic. In the palace worked talented painters such as Federico Zuccari (“The Months“), the Cavalier d’Arpino (“Stories of Aeneas“), Domenichino (“Apollo, Cupids and symbology of time“) and Guercino (“Rinaldo and Armida“), as well as a series of assistants and coworkers.
THE BOCCAPADULI PALACE
The Costaguti Square is completed on the northern side by the Boccapaduli Palace, a beautiful building (recently restored) originally owned by the Boccamazza family, well known in the district since the 15th Century for the fights and stabbings in which its members were often protagonists.
When in 1613 the Boccapaduli family took over from the previous owners, they tried to “turn their backs” on the Ghetto, enlarging the building outside it and moving the main entrance. The name of the Boccapaduli family is closely linked to the Capitoline Square too, since it was Prospero Boccapaduli who approved, on behalf of the City of Rome, the implementation of the project of Michelangelo Buonarroti for the new arrangement of the square.
With the extinction of the Boccapaduli family, occurred in the Napoleonic age, the building passed first to the Guerrieri and then to the Pediconi. The façade develops on four floors with eleven windows each, framed and architraved on the second floor, framed on the second, with small wrought iron terraces on the third and fourth.
THE FOUNTAIN OF THE TURTLES
Now leave Costaguti Square and go to one of the most charming squares of the district, the Mattei Square. Observe for a moment the main entrance of the Costaguti Palace, characterized by the large inscription COSTAGUTI that dominates the architrave, and then let yourself be attracted and fascinated by the undisputed charm of the Fountain of the Turtles.
Unlike many Roman monuments, due to the patronage of some Pontiff or important Cardinal, this jewel was built thanks to the Conservators of the Municipality that in 1581, in order to celebrate the arrival of the Virgin Water in the District, commissioned the sculptor Taddeo Landini to erect a fountain worthy of the event. The sculptor carried out the work in 1585 using the drawings of Giacomo Della Porta, author of the main fountains of the time.
Actually, in the original project, there were no turtles: the nice animals were added in 1658 by the great baroque artist Gianlorenzo Bernini during the restorations of the 17th Century (and maybe, according to some documents, dolphins should have been in their place). But the real protagonists of the fountain are the bronze Ephebuses, elegant and graceful, at the same time classical and sensual, with their feet resting on the dolphins and their arms stretched upwards in the act of pushing the turtles towards the highest basin: they guarantee impetus, movement and harmony to the fountain, exalting at the same time the perfection of the human body.
THE LEGEND OF THE FOUNTAIN OF THE TURTLES
There is a legendary story about the construction of this wonderful fountain.
Tradition says that Duke Mattei, having lost his entire patrimony at gambling, wanted to amaze his future father-in-law (who, having learned of the fact, refused to give him his daughter in marriage), showing him to be, despite everything, always a nobleman. According to the legend, he had the Fountain of the Turtles made in the space of a single night. The next day, he invited father and daughter to his palace for a clarification, and had them look out a window from which they could enjoy the marvelous spectacle, telling them: “This is what a penniless Mattei is capable of doing in a few hours!“. It was immediately followed by an apology and the confirmation of the marriage. However, so that no one would be able to look out and in memory of that memorable day, the young duke ordered the window to be walled up, and it is still closed today.
The strange fact is that the fountain was made in 1585, while the Mattei Palace was built only around 1616. And here the story becomes legend: the beautiful fountain would have been made for the private garden of a mysterious princely palace. The Duke Mattei would then have limited himself to ask the prince to lend it to him, transporting it to the square during the night: after the confirmation of the marriage, that temporary transfer became mysteriously definitive.
THE BALBO’S THEATER AND THE CRYPTA BALBI
Lucius Cornelius Balbus, a Spaniard and proconsul of Africa, triumphed over the Garamonti in 19 BC. Not satisfied with this, he wanted to follow a praiseworthy custom of Ancient Rome and also be remembered for the construction of an imposing public work. He therefore decided to build in 13 BC the third stone theater of Rome, located where today is Via delle Botteghe Oscure: although it was the smallest in Rome (it contained between 7000 and 10,000 spectators), the theater was luxuriously decorated, and became very famous for four small columns of onyx that enriched the stage.
From the 5th Century A.D., Balbo’s Theater went into complete ruin; in the 10th Century, its walls were transformed into a medieval fortress, remembered by the sources with the name of Castrum Aureum, in which gardens and churches were inserted. In the following centuries, small stores were inserted in its arches (from which the street takes its name, as “Botteghe Oscure” means “dark shops“).
The ancient Theater of Balbo is now connected to the important seat of the National Roman Museum, called Crypta Balbi: it is a real museum of urban archeology, which researches and documents the evolution of this area, its settlements and its uses over the centuries. The exhibition, which presents both findings made on site and discoveries from other sites, is very accurate and well documented, even from the educational point of view, describing extensively not only the findings on display, but also the historical contexts to which they refer. If you would like to visiti it, please have a look at the Museums and Galleries Tour.
Next to the entrance to the Crypta Balbi, on Via Caetani, note the inscription recalling that the car with the body of Aldo Moro was parked there on May 9th 1978, and that his death is undoubtedly one of the darkest and most enigmatic moments in Italian history.
THE CHURCH OF ST. STANISLAUS OF THE POLES
Continue for a few more steps along Via delle Botteghe Oscure to visit the Church of St. Stanislaus of the Poles. The present church (built on top of an older sacred building, probably dating back to the 12th Century) was erected in 1578 by the Polish Cardinal Stanislaus Osio, who dedicated it to St. Stanislaus, patron saint of Poles, and provided it with a hospice and a hospital for his compatriots on pilgrimage to Rome.
Between 1729 and 1735 the whole complex, by then in an advanced stage of degradation, was entirely rebuilt by Francesco Ferrari. The façade has two orders separated by a band with the dedicatory inscription. The interior, with a nave, is rich in stuccowork and decorations and shows on the side altars works of Polish artists of the 18th Century. The vault is decorated with a 1774 fresco by Ermenegildo Costantini representing the Glory of St. Stanislaus, while on the high altar there is a painting by Antiveduto Gramatica representing Jesus with St. Stanislaus and St. Hyacinth.
THE CHURCH OF ST. CATHERINE OF THE FUNARI
Go back a few steps, walking along the short stretch of Via Caetani and dedicate your attention to the Church of St. Catherine of the Funari (rope makers), attested in a bull of Pope Celestine III in 1192 with the name of St. Mary in Castrum Aureum (evidence of the fact that it was built near the remains of the Crypta Balbi, which, as said, was called in the Middle Ages with the name of Castrum Aureum).
In 1536 Pope Paul III granted the church to Ignatius of Loyola, who founded in the monastery a house for poor girls. Later, with the help of Cardinal Federico Cesi who financed the restoration, the church was rebuilt between 1560 and 1564 by Guidetto Guidetti, a pupil of Michelangelo. In order to silence possible controversies and undue interferences, among which those of other architects who wanted to take the credit for the construction, Guidetti decided to sign his work, thus leaving a rather rare documentation (if it is common to sign a painting or a statue, it is much less common to sign a church): you can therefore read “Guideto de Guideti architector” under the more magniloquent inscription related to Cardinal Cesi.
After having had a look at the mighty bell tower, result of the transformation of a medieval tower, enter the single internal nave, lingering in particular on the chapels on the right: the first one (Bombasi Chapel) is decorated by the splendid St. Margaret by Annibale Carracci, while the second one (Ruiz Chapel) was built on a design by Vignola with pillars painted by Federico Zuccari, who will also paint on the sides of the altar the Stories of the life of St. Catherine.
Once outside the church, on the façade of the house on the corner of Via dei Delfini, greet the Roman poet Giggi Zanazzo, who was born here in 1860 and who is remembered by a plaque that was placed here in 1929.
THE PATRIZI CLEMENTI PALACE
Next to the church there is the Patrizi Palace in St. Catherine, later acquired by the Clementi family (as the name on the architrave of the entrance shows).
This building was constructed between the 16th and 17th Century, demolishing the famous Melangolo Tower, which still appeared on the map of Rome drawn by Antonio Tempesta in 1593 and belonged to the Frangipane family until the end of the 15th Century. The tower was also linked to the memory of Ignatius of Loyola, who had rented a house leaning against the tower and who in that very house, in 1540, received the bull of approval of the famous Company of Jesus.
The building, with an irregular and elongated trapezoidal plan, looks like a compact block of four floors that occupies the whole block. The interiors, strongly altered as a consequence of the modern uses to which the building has been put, show decorations of good quality only on the first floor, with wooden coffered ceilings and images of profane themes, rural and marine landscapes, loggias populated by putti and sacred subjects enclosed within elaborate illusionistic architectures.
THE LOVATELLI PALACE
Next to Patrizi Clementi Palace you can see the Lovatelli Palace, once belonging to the more famous Serlupi family, which in the 17th Century inherited the name and the goods of the extinct Crescenzi family. In 1580, Girolamo and Gianfilippo Serlupi destroyed the existing buildings and churches in the area and, with the help of the architect Giacomo Della Porta, built the palace, completing it in 1619: the lilies on the cornice reflect the heraldic coat of arms of the family, while the names of Girolamo and Gianfilippo Serlupi, which were once on the architraves of the doors, were cancelled by the passing of time.
The building was sold in 1744 first to the Ruspoli and then in the 19th Century to the Lovatelli, related to the Caetani. Thanks to the patronage of Countess Ersilia Lovatelli, the living room of this house became one of the favorite meeting points of the Roman cultural environment for over half a century, with visitors such as Gregorovius, D’Annunzio, Carducci and Zola.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY IN PORTICO IN CAMPITELLI
Continue along Via dei Funari which, just opposite the intersection with Via di Sant’Angelo in Pescheria, shows two beautiful ancient columns set into the wall of the Patrizi Clementi Palace, probably the remains of one of the temples enclosed in the perimeter of the Porticus of Octavia.
Moving on, take Via della Tribuna di Campitelli for a moment to notice, at number 23, five beautiful Ionic and four Doric columns, set in the wall at different levels and perhaps belonging to the Temple of Juno.
It is now time to reach the long and narrow Campitelli Square which, as you will remember, is half part of the Campitelli District and half part of the Sant’Angelo District, where the monumental Church of St. Mary in Portico in Campitelli is located, moved here in 1619 from the nearby Lovatelli Square by the will of the Serlupi family.
The reconstruction of the church took place in the second half of the 17th Century, carried out by the architect Carlo Rainaldi at the behest of Pope Alexander VII, who wanted to celebrate the end of the plague of 1656 which had already decimated half the population of the Kingdom of Naples and which threatened to spread to Rome, by building a more worthy and monumental site for a Marian icon considered miraculous and kept in the small Church of St. Mary in Portico. The translation took place with great pomp on January 14th 1662.
The church is a beautiful example of Roman Baroque, with a travertine façade that presents the usual division into two parts, with half-columns and a tympanum above the main entrance and a narrower upper part, connected by volutes to the lower part.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior in the shape of a Latin cross, characterized by a curious narrowing towards the high altar, shows twentyfour columns in Corinthian style and many important paintings on the side altars, with canvases by Luca Giordano, Baciccia and especially the Archangel Michael by Sebastiano Conca, placed in the first chapel on the right.
The perspective of the apse exalts the scenographic high altar designed by Girolamo Rainaldi and realized by Giovanni Antonio De Rossi with the collaboration of Ercole Ferrata. The icon kept on the high altar is a singular work in gilded copper foil with enamel background, datable around the XI Century, representing the Virgin with the Child in her arms in the typical Byzantine iconography of the Odigitria (“She who shows the way”).