ROMAN ITINERARIES – TRASTEVERE DISTRICT – ITINERARY 48
TRASTEVERE DISTRICT – ITINERARY 48
The Trastevere District Itinerary 48 will lead you to the District XIII of Rome, whose coat of arms consists of a golden lion’s head on a red field. The meanings of this symbolic figure are various: according to some scholars, the lion would be the symbol of the strength that has always been characteristic of the inhabitants of Trastevere, while the red would symbolically represent the blood of the Christian martyrs of Trastevere including St. Callisto, St. Calepodio, St. Urban and St. Cecilia; according to others, the lion would be the heraldic coat of arms of the Anicia family, who lived here; for some others, finally, the lion would refer to the Guelph party, since many noble and powerful families living in Trastevere were Guelphs.
TRASTEVERE AT THE TIME OF THE ANCIENT ROME
The name of the ward derives from the Latin expression “trans Tiberim“ (beyond the Tiber), which explains the uniqueness of this area of Rome, defined by Augustus the Regio XIV, the last of the fourteen sections in which the city was divided: however, only at the time of Aurelian (270-275) the Regio of Trans Tiberim was included in the Pomerium and surrounded by walls, with a large extension including the vast plain between the Tiber and the Vatican Hill.
At the time of the Rome of the Kings, the area occupied today by Trastevere was a hostile bank, still considered land of the Etruscans: it was therefore a dangerous area, which Rome occupied in order to be able to monitor the river from both sides, but on which it did not rely particularly, considering that it chose to connect it to the left bank of the Tiber with a single wooden bridge, the Sublicio Bridge.
The area was never particularly relevant in terms of monumental public buildings: the documents mention small sanctuaries, such as the one built by King Servius Tullius for the goddess Fortuna, and especially large green spaces, such as gardens belonging to Muzio Scevola (Prata Mucia) and Lucius Quinzio Cincinnatus (Prata Quinctia), while on the Janiculum were buried King Numa Pompilius and the poet Ennius.
In the Republican age the areas near the river were populated by sailors, fishermen, port workers and oriental immigrants, which led to the construction of a series of temples for oriental cults (such as that of the Sun, for example).
With the economic prosperity of the imperial age, in the area of Trans Tiberim arose great noble villas such as that of Clodia, dear friend of Catullus, or that of Caius Julius Caesar (Horti Caesaris); in the vast area of the Vatican plain (Ager Vaticanus) were then built the Villa of Agrippina and that of Domizia.
In addition, Augustus decided to build here a vast artificial lake for the performance of naval battles (the so-called Naumachiae of Augustus). Augustus also built in the area of Trans Tiberim the Excubitorium, the seat of the VII Cohort of Vigiles: they were about a thousand men trained in order to extinguish the frequent fires that broke out in Rome, but also able to perform tasks of urban police. They were also called milites sebaciarii (from the Latin sebum, which means tallow), as they used tallow flashlights for night guard duty.
TRASTEVERE IN THE MIDDLE AGES
With a sentence full of implicit references, the Roman scholar Giuseppe Baracconi, in briefly presenting Trastevere in the Middle Ages, wrote: “the bells replaced the trumpets, and Trastevere grew in the shadow of Christian churches and crenellated walls on a bank stained by the blood of various saints“. The District in this era had narrow and winding streets, very irregular because of the balconies protruding that prevented the passage of wagons, and resembled a labyrinth of alleys lined with miserable blackened houses. Here and there sprouted small towers, built by noble families and cardinals for their own defense, which stood threateningly close to poor and defenseless houses made of brick and wood.
The ancient monuments provided a lot of material, so much so that even today in the old walls you can glimpse blocks of columns, pieces of sarcophagi and fragments of entablatures. The richest houses joined the different wings of their palaces with arches that became real covered passages, sometimes so low as not to allow the passage of wagons. The waters stagnated and fed weeds, which grew flourishing feeding the passing sheep. For a long time, the streets of Trastevere were not paved, being simple dirt paths: only in the 15th Century Pope Sixtus IV paved some of them with bricks laid in a herringbone pattern, but the friction of the cart wheels forced the Popes to opt for the paving in flints called “sampietrini“, made at the end of the 16th Century with Pope Sixtus V.
TRASTEVERE BY NIGHT
At night, Trastevere was a very dangerous neighborhood. Until the end of the 18th Century, the streets of the district had no public lighting: only the taverns had a lamp hanging outside, to indicate their location to the customers, and there was a small lamp in front of the many sacred images. The most prudent travellers had a personal lantern, which for noblemen was held by a trusted servant: when two groups crossed each other, it was good manners to lower the lantern, a bit like what happens nowadays by the most polite drivers when they cross at night a vehicle coming from the opposite direction.
Even the carriages had their own light, hanging from the horses or held by a valet who preceded them, while they proceeded at a walking pace. The banks of the Tiber were instead made practicable by the lanterns of the boats.
THE BRIDGES OF TRASTEVERE
The bridges that joined Trastevere with the opposite bank are various. First of all was the Sublicius Bridge, the oldest in Rome, built by King Anco Marcio in the VII Century B.C. and heroically defended by Orazio Coclite, before disappearing permanently in the XI Century.
Then there was the Emilius Bridge, now better known as the Broken Bridge, of which we have already spoken in previous Itineraries: it was built in 179 BC by the censors Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, but was destroyed several times by flooding of the Tiber, so that today only one symbolic arch remains.
In 1475 Pope Sixtus IV decided to build the only Renaissance bridge in Rome that has come down to us, the Sixtus Bridge, where there was probably the Roman bridge erected by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Currently, there are eight bridges that unite Trastevere to the left bank of the Tiber: the Prince Amedeo of Savoy (1942) that goes to the Ponte District, the Mazzini (1904), Sixtus (1475) and Garibaldi (1888) ones that connect Trastevere with the Regola District, the Cestius and Fabricius that across the Tiber Island lead to the Sant’Angelo District, the Palatine Bridge (1891) that connects it with the Ripa District and finally the Aventine one (1918) that connects it with the Testaccio District.
FROM ARTISANS TO NOBLEMEN AND CARDINALS
It is clear that the Tiber river has always had a very strong connection with Trastevere, attracting traders of various kinds and nationalities, including Jews who settled in this area, with Augustus who commissioned Marcus Agrippa to finance the construction of synagogues: a large part of the Jewish community lived near the present Church of St. Cecilia, not far from the Christians who practiced various trades such as blacksmiths, tavern owners, tanners, wood sellers, cloth merchants and obviously, given the proximity of the river, fishermen, boatmen and unloaders.
In the area was very flourishing in the 16th Century the University of the Potters, while at the foot of the Janiculum were active the furnaces and in Sant’Onofrio could be found the limekilns.
Alongside the humble artisans lived, however, the nobles, the cardinals and artists too. In Trastevere were born St. Gregory II (on his house was built the Church of St. Agatha), St. Callisto and Pope Innocent II; in the palace of St. Mary in Trastevere lived Pope Urban VI (1378-1389) and Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447), as well as many cardinals. In the 15th Century the King of Naples Ladislao was hosted in the convent of St. Crisogono, while Ferdinand of Aragon resided in the Anguillara Palace. Raphael had a house in St. Apollonia Square, and Sebastiano del Piombo and Federico Barocci also lived in Trastevere.
The district was full of charitable institutions and hospitals financed by cardinals, nobles or confraternities. Andreozzo Ponziani, the father-in-law of St. Francesca Romana, opened the Hospital of the Holy Savior, and the same saintly daughter-in-law hospitalized the poor sick ones in the palace in Via dei Vascellari and, when she ran out of money, she asked for alms for them. In the convent of St. Cecilia the sick found assistance and care. In the 18th Century Pope Benedict XII had the Hospital of St. Gallicano built. Via della Lungara became an immense conservatory that assisted the penitent, the converted and the condemned women.
THE PECULIARITY OF THE TRASTEVERE DISTRICT
All of the above highlights the strong and tenacious nature of the inhabitants of Trastevere: proud and genuine, vigorous and generous, lovers of company and picnics cheered by wine, but at the same time quarrelsome and aggressive, with the knife that came out even for the most trivial matters.
With the construction of the embankments on the Tiber, after 1870, the floods that had always scourged Trastevere were reduced to zero, but also the melancholic and unrepeatable panorama of the district was destroyed. Trastevere, that had always maintained its own strongly medieval feature, in a dark atmosphere and rich of memories, preserved only in part that maze of alleys: it is like a fruit whose peel appears integral, but whose pulp is partly adulterated.
Before starting the Trastevere District Itinerary 48, remember that you could visit this marvellous portion of Rome booking the Trastevere Tour organized by Rome Guides, to discover every secret corner of it.
Ponte Garibaldi – Piazza Giuseppe Gioachino Belli – Via della Lungaretta – Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere – Piazza Sant’Apollonia – Via del Moro – Via della Lungaretta – Vicolo di Santa Rufina – Via della Renella – Piazza Tavani Arquati – Largo San Giovanni de Matha – Piazza Sidney Sonnino – Vicolo della Luce – Piazza in Piscinula
THE GARIBALDI BRIDGE
Leave behind the spacious Via Arenula and walk along the Garibaldi Bridge crossing the Tiber.
The bridge was built by architect Angelo Vescovali between 1887 and 1888. It was originally built on two iron arches which in 1956 gave way to reinforced concrete; in 1957 the bridge was further widened, thus reaching a width of over 20 meters and a length of over 120 meters.
The bridge has no ornamentation, except for the four marble columns (two at each end of the bridge) on which are engraved the locations and the dates of the most famous exploits of Garibaldi: on the side of Via Arenula you can read on the first column “Mentana 1867 and Dijon 1871” and on the second “Montevideo 1847 and Rome 1849“, while on the opposite side the inscriptions recall on a column “Varese 1859 and Marsala 1860” and on the other “Volturno 1860 and Bezzecca 1866“.
From this bridge to Sixtus Bridge, on the right bank of the Tiber, stretched the Renella Beach, which became famous because of an ordinance of Pope Pius IX in the summer of 1855, which allowed men to bathe free of charge from 8 to 21 every day at Renella and in front of the Port of Ripetta.
THE GIOACCHINO BELLI SQUARE
The Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli Square is airy and spacious: built in 1890, it houses the monument to Belli, created by Michele Tripisciano in 1913 but financed through a generous public subscription. The Roman poet is represented standing with one hand resting on the parapet of the Fabricius Bridge, depicted with the herm of the four heads, and in his left hand holds a stick. Below him is depicted the she-wolf of Rome with the twins and in the back a popular scene, which alludes to the many sonnets of Belli having just the Roman people as a favorite subject. The stick was originally made of wood, but it has been stolen so many times that in the end the Town Hall of Rome ordered to manufacture an iron one dyed black to simulate ebony and fixed with cement to the sculpture.
THE ANGUILLARA PALACE
Among the various palaces that overlook the square, the most interesting is undoubtedly the Anguillara Palace, whose tower dates back to the 13th Century. In the second half of the 15th Century, the Count Everso II rebuilt the tower and the palace with a modified coat of arms of the Anguillara family: no longer the two crossed eels, but a wild boar halfway out of a crest and holding an eel in its mouth. The motivation for this change is obscure, while it is much easier to understand the motivation for the coat of arms: the Anguillara family had large properties in the homonymous village overlooking the Bracciano Lake and, having Norman origins, was very devoted to the cult of St. George, who killed a dragon in the form of a long snake (and therefore, symbolically, of an eel).
The palace belonged to the Anguillara family until 1538, then it was given at first to the Picciolotti from Carbognano family and then to the Spinsters of St. Eufemia. In 1887 the building was expropriated by the Municipality of Rome, which commissioned the architect Augusto Fallani to restore it: he did not limit himself to small restorations, but carried out a remodeling that tore the original shape of the building, preserving only the medieval tower, to which the architect added the Guelph battlements.
A plaque on the tower reminds us that in 1921 the Town Council gave the building to the Dante Alighieri Society, so that “it could be perpetually consecrated to the study and divulgation of the works and life of the Divine Poet“.
You can enter inside the Anguillara Palace through the 15th Century portal, surmounted by the coat of arms of Everso II, entering a small courtyard with a well decorated with the coat of arms of the Anguillara family. A staircase leads to a loggia supported by small pillars. On the first floor of the building there is a library specialized in Dante’s books, while on the first floor there is the Council Room, where readings of Dante Alighieri’s texts are often held.
THE BASILICA OF ST. MARY IN TRASTEVERE
Now take Via della Lungaretta, a long road that corresponds to a stretch of the Via Aurelia Vetus, discovered in 1889 below the current street level. This street was called Via Transtiberina until the 15th Century, and took the name of Via della Lungaretta (diminutive of Via della Lungara) after the arrangement made by Pope Julius II.
The street ends in one of the most fascinating squares of Rome, dominated by the Basilica of St. Mary in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in the Christian world, built by Pope Julius I in 340 on the ancient oratory founded by St. Callistus: initially the church was dedicated to this saint, until in the 6th Century it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
At the time of Ancient Rome, in the place where the church stands today there was a “meritorious taberna“, where retired soldiers used to spend their time happily: from a point inside this building, to the surprise of those present, a spring of oil suddenly sprang from the ground. St. Jerome wrote that this eruption lasted for a whole day and that it meant “the grace of Christ that would come to the people“; in reality it was probably oil, or even more probably polluted water coming from a putrid fountain. The memory of this phenomenon can be found in the inscription on the step to the right of the presbytery of the church, where the legendary jet of oil (fons olei) is mentioned.
After various embellishments and restorations, the church was completely rebuilt in the 12th Century by Pope Innocent II.
In the 17th Century Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini renovated the ceiling, in 1702 Pope Clement XI commissioned Carlo Fontana to build the present external portico and in 1860 Pope Pius IX ordered architect Virginio Vespignani to further restore the church.
THE FACADE AND THE PORTICO
The façade, decorated with mosaics from the 12th-13th Century, is absolutely grandiose. In the center you can admire the Madonna on the throne with the Child surrounded by ten women, five on each side, carrying lighted lamps, the symbol of faith. Connected to the façade is the 12th Century Romanesque bell tower (remodeled in the 17th Century) with a large clock in the center and a small mosaic aedicule depicting the Madonna at the top. On the loggia you can see the 18th Century statues of St. Callixtus, St. Cornelius, St. Julius and St. Calepodio.
The portico in front, supported by four massive granite columns, preserves sarcophagi, tombstones and Byzantine pluteuses, while the three entrance doors are enriched with classical marble ornaments.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior of the three-nave basilica is imposing and majestic with columns of various origins, many of which probably came from the Caracalla Baths. The modern floor is in cosmatesque style and at the center of the magnificent wooden ceiling designed in the 17th Century by Domenichino you can admire an Assumption of the Virgin painted by the same artist.
The real jewel of the basilica is the apse, where the dazzling 12th Century mosaic on a gold background gleams, depicting Jesus Christ and the Madonna seated on the same throne with numerous saints at their sides and Pope Innocent II holding the model of the church in his hands.
Below it, Pietro Cavallini in 1291 depicted with great expressive effectiveness some episodes of the Life of the Virgin Mary, in the middle of which you can see the Madonna and Child between St. Peter and St. Paul in front of which is kneeling the donor Bertoldo Stefaneschi. On the arch of the apse there is the Cross between the seven candelabra of the Apocalypse and the symbols of the Evangelists, while on the sides there are the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.
The high altar is unfortunately surmounted by Virginio Vespignani‘s massive canopy, supported by four porphyry columns.
Among the various jewels hidden in this admirable church, do not miss on the left aisle the Avila Chapel, dedicated to St. Jerome and entirely realized in 1680 by the painter Antonio Gherardi with remarkable perspective effects (clearly inspired by the Perspective Gallery conceived by Francesco Borromini and already examined in a previous Itinerary) and with an ingenious invention in the upper part, with angels supporting a false dome.
Among the other works of art, at the end of the left aisle, there is the icon of the Virgin of Clemency (Madonna Theotòkos), a very precious specimen dating back to between the 6th and 8th Centuries, characterized by a rigid frontality and similar, for stylistic quality and bright colors, to the first layer of frescoes of the Church of St. Mary Antiqua, which can be visited inside the Roman Forum.
If you can, you can also access the sacristy, where there is a table depicting the Virgin with St. Sebastian and St. Rocco, by a pupil of Perugino, and a small terracotta bas-relief depicting the Last Judgment, made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
THE FOUNTAIN OF ST. MARY IN TRASTEVERE
Leave now the basilica and linger on the beautiful square in front of it, which has its main decoration in the monumental fountain in the center of it.
Erected by Pope Nicholas V in 1450, the fountain underwent major restoration works commissioned by Popes Alexander VI and Julius II, before the flow of water was interrupted due to the breakage of the pipes during the Tiber flood of 1598: they were restored only after a few years, until it was decided to feed the fountain through the Paola Water.
Great artists worked on the fountain, such as Bramante in the 15th Century, Giacomo della Porta in the 16th Century and Gian Lorenzo Bernini together with his assistant Carlo Fontana in the 17th Century.
On the octagonal basin you can see the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII and four large shells, while on the outer walls of the basin below there are four epigraphs (three in Latin and one in Italian) that recall the various restorations of the fountain, the last of which dates back to 1873.
The Square of St. Mary in Trastevere is bordered by a series of interesting buildings. On the right of the basilica there is the House of the Canonicals of St. Mary, with at number 20 a harmonious 18th Century portal with an arched tympanum and a plate with the inscription “fons olei”.
THE ST. CALLIXTUS’ PALACE
To the left of the church is the solemn St. Callixtus’ Palace, residence of the cardinals of the Basilica of St. Mary: there lived Pope Eugene IV who, threatened by the Colonna family that incited the people against him, fled from Rome on a boat dressed as a Benedictine monk, covered by a shield while the Roman citizens hurled stones and darts at him, to finally reach Pisa and from there to Florence. The palace was as unlucky as the Pope, because it was sacked by the Romans and even by the French, in 1849 and 1851; then, requisitioned by the Kingdom of Italy and later returned to the Holy See, it was restored in the 20th century by Pope Pius XI. The façade on the square was designed in the 17th Century by Orazio Torriani, but the window of the balcony bears at the top the coat of arms of Pope Pius XI (the eagle and three balls).
THE OTHER PALACES OF THE SQUARE
Two other palaces overlook the square. The first, at number 23, is the Leopardi Palace, built in the 16th Century by the architect Giovanni Mangone and purchased first by Girolamo Sciarra, then by the Jesuits and finally by the Leopardi family. Here, in the 19th Century, was founded the Pia Casa del Rifugio (House of Refuge), destined to women who had left prison. The palace shows architraved windows decorated with lion heads and, above the second floor, you can see rampant lions interspersed with a star, representing the heraldic elements of Girolamo Sciarra.
The second building is the 17th Century Palazzo Pizzirani, resulting from the incorporation of small houses. On the façade the windows have a shaped frame and are decorated with little heads, while the internal rooms still have the original coffered ceilings.
VIA DELLA LUNGARETTA
Return now to Via della Lungaretta, going in the opposite direction, and reach St. Apollonia Square, so called from the name of the homonymous church that has disappeared.
The small Church of St. Margherita, built in 1288 and restored in the 16th Century by Giulia Colonna, who also enlarged the convent, overlooks the square. The church was entirely rebuilt in 1680 by the architect Carlo Fontana, with a façade in two orders, the lower of which has a portal with a curvilinear tympanum and the upper has a large window with a triangular tympanum surmounted by a cross with palm branches (symbol of the victory of the Cross).
The interior has a single nave and three side chapels. On the main altar there is a 17th Century painting by Giacinto Brandi that depicts St. Margherita in jail while she has the vision of the Cross, while on the sides in two ovals you can admire St. Margherita in jail and the Crucifixion of St. Margherita, both 17th Century works by Giuseppe Ghezzi.
The nearby Via del Moro offers you two beautiful Renaissance gates, at numbers 33 and 44; the street was quite famous for the presence of an appreciated puppet theater, while at number 63 a marble plaque indicates the level reached by the Tiber during the flood of December 1870 (the last one in Rome before the construction of the walls).
Continuing along Via della Lungaretta, you will arrive near the small Church of Saints Rufina and Seconda, built on the house of these two martyrs and completed with a monastery, a place of retreat for poor women, administered over time by various religious orders. Inside the church, almost all of the reused columns have chiseled capitals, since pagan divinities were probably depicted on them; the high altar itself rests on a clearly pagan cippus because of the symbols carved on it.
After passing one side of the Hospital of St. Gallicano, you’ll come out in the Giuditta Tavani Arquati square, a fervent Mazzinian who conspired with other patriots against the government of Pope Pius IX and was killed, at number 97 of Via della Lungaretta, by the papal guards together with her family. A bust and a plaque commemorate her.
THE CHURCH OF ST. AGATHA
You will then arrive at Largo San Giovanni de Matha, a square overlooked on one side by the Church of St. Crisogono and on the other by the Church of St. Agatha.
St. Agatha was killed in Catania under the Emperor Decius (249-251) and is considered the patron saint of earthquakes and volcano eruptions. The façade of the church is the work of Giacomo Onorato Recalcati who completed it in the early 18th Century: above the portal you can read the dedication to Pope Benedict XIV, defined as “munificent builder of churches”.
THE “MADONNA DE NOANTRI“
The church is famous in Rome for the painted wooden statue of the Madonna placed on the main altar, nicknamed the “Madonna de Noantri”, linked to a famous festival.
The festival lasts a few days, jokingly called “eight days of confusion” and involves both the inhabitants of Trastevere and tourists, in a joyful mixture of religious festivity and pagan rite: the festival is in any case dedicated to the Virgin of Carmel, which is nicknamed “de noantri” (of ourselves) because, as the inhabitants of Trastevere say, “the Virgin of Carmel is our protector“.
It was Simone Stock, a member of the Carmelite order, who founded this festival. Some fishermen pulled the statue of the Madonna from the waters of the Tiber one day and brought it to their neighborhood to celebrate it; the Virgin Mary also appeared in 1251 to Stock, who wanted to remember the miraculous event, which was recalled every year in July, since 1386.
The statue of the Virgin Mary, actually dating back to the 19th Century and dressed as a Carmelite tertiary, does not hold the Child in her arms, but extends her arms downwards. She has a very rich set of blue, yellow and white silk dresses with gold embroideries; every year the Augustinian nuns dress her with a different dress.
The procession is solemn and fascinating: the statue is carried in procession through the streets of the district up to the Basilica of St. Crisogono where, after a brief stop, it returns to the Church of St. Agatha. There it remains solemnly exposed for a week, until, the following Sunday, the solemn traditional procession is organized on the Tiber up to the height of Garibaldi Bridge, in memory of his discovery in the waters of the river. From there the statue goes up to the Basilica of St. Mary in Trastevere, where it remains until the following morning for the closing of the festivities. When the procession arrives in front of the convent of the Augustinian nuns, the bearers bend the statue of the Madonna forward to make it bow down as a sign of greeting to the nuns in charge of dressing it.
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF LIGHT
Now continue along Via della Lungaretta, passing the intersection with Via di Santa Bonosa on the left (a saint martyred in 270 A.D. whose body was preserved in a small church dedicated to her built in this alley and later destroyed) and Piazza del Drago on the right (so called because of the sign of a dragon belonging to an ancient tavern or perhaps because of the presence of the Del Drago family residence).
After a few steps you will arrive at the Church of St. Mary of Light, which recalls a moving episode of 1730. According to the legend, a blind man was passing by when he heard the sound of stones crashing down; for fear of being crushed, he suddenly stopped to pray, and a shining Madonna appeared in front of him. The man, astonished by the miracle of having regained his sight, began to shout “Light! Light!” and so the Church, previously dedicated to the Holy Savior, took the name of St. Mary of Light.
The news about the first oratory built here dates back to the IV Century A.D., but the first official documents date back to the X Century. In the XII Century the church was rebuilt, but it was only in the XVIII Century that the church and the convent were entrusted to the Minims, who decided to host the sacred image and charged the architect Gabriele Valvassori to carry out a new renovation and the painter Sebastiano Conca to fresco the apse. The façade was not actually completed due to lack of means, and only in 1821 the project was carried out.
After having admired the beautiful bell tower of the 12th Century, decorated with medallions, three-mullioned windows and ceramic tiles, cross the threshold to see the bright interior with three naves, still decorated with stucco of the Baroque period. In the apse the Eternal Father frescoed by Sebastiano Conca stands out, while on the high altar the Virgin of Light, painted in the 16th Century, has been placed in a rich frame.
THE SQUARE IN PISCINULA
Cross the Sidney Sonnino Square and continue the long walk along the last stretch of Via della Lungaretta.
At the corner with Vicolo della Luce, you will have the feeling of having been catapulted into the Middle Ages, in front of the little house that, despite the renovations and transformations, still retains some typical features of medieval houses. The painter Ettore Roesler Franz has thankfully left a picturesque watercolor of this corner of Rome, pointing out that here there was a small tavern, marked by a little red flag indicating the pouring of wine: a wooden board near the flag indicated to lucky passers-by able to read and write that at the Tavern of the Cypress was offered wine from the Castelli Romani with home cooking.
Via della Lungaretta ends in the Square in Piscinula, so called because of the remains of baths with tubs or pools (piscinula is a diminutive meaning small pool) or perhaps a building belonging to the Anicia family and equipped with a showy private thermal system. The square, despite the considerable changes undergone over the centuries, is a characteristic corner of Trastevere: here overlooks the Mattei Palace, dating back to the 15th Century, although the oldest part is from the 14th Century. It is a combination of joined buildings, but stylistically different, which, however, have some valuable features such as crossed and ribbed windows, mullioned windows with a twisted middle column and a portico with two columns on the ground floor.
THE CHURCH OF ST. BENEDICT IN PISCINULA
In the same square is the Church of St. Benedict in Piscinula, built according to some on the ruins of the Domus Aniciorum, the house of the Anicii to which perhaps St. Benedict himself belonged. It is a small church with an equally tiny bell tower of the 12th Century, considered the smallest bell tower in Rome. The sources report that this sacred building dates back to 1192 and that it was restored in the 15th and 17th Centuries; in 1844, thanks to the subsidies of the Massimo family, the architect Pietro Camporese rebuilt the façade with its architraved portal, semicircular window and small tympanum.
Go inside the church, admiring the columns dating back to the Roman Empire, the valuable cosmatesque floor of the 12th Century and the trussed roof. On the main altar there is a 14th Century painting depicting the Virgin and Child, while on the left there is the Chapel of the Madonna, once rich in mosaics, where according to legend St. Benedict used to pray and where the Madonna herself spoke to him suggesting that he found his religious order.