ROMAN ITINERARIES – TRASTEVERE DISTRICT – ITINERARY 50
TRASTEVERE DISTRICT – ITINERARY 50
The Trastevere District Itinerary 50 begins in the quiet and silent Square of St. Francis of Assisi, designed by Pope Paul V in the 17th Century. From the square depart streets whose names are more or less directly linked to the figure of the saint, especially Via Jacopa Settesoli: she was a trusted companion of St. Francis, and was called “dei Sette Soli” because she lived in the Tower of Moletta, in front of the Septizodium, in an area erroneously called “Septem Solia”.
From the square departs also Via di San Francesco a Ripa, in which the name of the Saint is coupled with the word “Ripa” to indicate how the area was not far from the Port of Ripa Grande.
Piazza di San Francesco d’Assisi – Via Jacopa Settesoli – Via di San Francesco a Ripa – Viale di Trastevere – Piazza Mastai – Vicolo di Mazzamurelli – Via di San Gallicano – Via Monte Fiore – Via di San Francesco a Ripa – Via della Cisterna – Piazza di San Callisto – Via dell’Arco di San Callisto – Via Luciano Manara – Piazza di San Cosimato – Via Roma Libera – Via Emilio Morosini – Via dei Dandolo
THE SQUARE OF ST. FRANCIS IN RIPA
The Square of St. Francis in Ripa is overlooked by the Costa Palace, where the 19th Century Roman painter Giovanni Costa was born. He was the founder of the artistic movement that had as its motto “In arte libertas” (In art freedom) and that preferred painting outside in the open air, reacting to the prevailing academicism and leaving works portraying with poignant realism the urban landscape of Rome, now irremediably changed. In that same house, as you can read from the plaque affixed to the wall, Giuseppe Garibaldi set his headquarters.
In front of it there is the old convent of the church, assigned after 1870 to the Bersaglieri Lamarmora Barracks: in it, during the Second World War, the evacuees were housed, while today it is the seat of the Carabinieri Operational Department for Cultural Heritage Protection.
At the corner of the convent between the square and Via Jacopa Settesoli there is a high-relief of 1962, depicting the Ecce Homo with the dedication of the parishioners, while at the center of the square stands a white marble Ionic column surmounted by a cross, erected in 1847 by Pius IX to replace another column placed here by Paul V in 1605 in memory of the new arrangement of the area. The present column is particularly important, since it comes from an ancient temple situated in Veio, of which eleven other columns remain, today placed on the façade of the Wedekind Palace.
THE CHURCH OF ST. FRANCIS IN RIPA
The church, with its simple and harmonious façade that is not affected by the baroque excesses, was rebuilt in 1682 by Mattia De Rossi. The interior, with a nave and two side aisles, is full of funeral monuments and works of great value, among which the Annunciation by Francesco Salviati, the St. Peter of Alcantara by Giuseppe Chiari, the Nativity of Mary by Simon Vouet and the funerary monuments of Cardinal Ricci and Giulia Ricci Pallavicini, respectively sculpted by Domenico Guidi and Ercole Ferrata.
In the church is also buried the metaphysical painter Giorgio De Chirico, whose widow donated to the church three paintings by her husband.
Also admire the striking Rospigliosi Chapel, designed in the 18th Century by the architect Nicola Michetti and the sculptor Giuseppe Mazzuoli, who created the allegorical statues and medallions. The chapel is characterized by a remarkable decorative splendor that makes it particularly sumptuous, with gilded stuccoes in which the Pallavicini and Rospigliosi coats of arms appear and a precious altar, entirely covered in polychrome marble and surmounted by a broken tympanum with an angel and some cherubs.
THE BLESSED LUDOVICA ALBERTONI
However, the decoration that makes this place an absolute must in the Trastevere District Itinerary 50 is the amazing sculpture designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, representing the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni and sculpted in 1674.
Ludovica Albertoni, a Franciscan tertiary who lived in Rome from 1474 to 1533, was beatified in 1671 because of her mystical visions, a sign of religious transcendence. In the same year, the Altieri family decided to dedicate an altar to her in their private chapel, commissioning the work to the famous Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was now in his seventies.
Bernini had to deal with the scabrous and complicated theme of Christian ecstasy, which he had already approached twenty years earlier in the Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila, in the Church of St. Mary of the Victory. Blessed Ludovica is lying on a bed finely embroidered in marble and resting on a block of jasper worked as if it were a drape, placed in an unconventional way on the altar of the chapel. Although the space at his disposal was very limited, Bernini nevertheless succeeded in creating a highly scenographic effect by moving the rear wall back so as to conceal two small vertical windows that send a grazing light onto the statue.
Bernini’s work received a lot of criticism, due to the ambiguous representation of ecstasy, halfway between the mystical and the erotic: indeed, the statue is particularly conturbing, making the concept of a divine ecstasy dangerously similar to a much more carnal physical orgasm. What Bernini tried to do, working his candid block of Carrara marble, was to combine the two aspects, making them flow one into the other, so that they could mutually stimulate each other. It is a true ecstasy, deeply carnal, which triggered very ironic reactions, especially from those who did not fully understand Bernini’s intentions: Charles de Brosses, for example, in his “Lettres familières écrites d’Italie en 1739 et 1740“, wrote (as the playboy he was) “If these are divine ecstasies, I know them well!”.
A canvas by the painter Baciccia is in the background of the statue of Ludovica Albertoni, and it was painted in such a way that the two works were in obvious contrast: besides the evident difference in the materials, with the white marble and the darker colors of the painting, there is a very strong discordance between the convulsive agitation of the figure lying down and the delicate heavenly vision behind it, almost as if the painting was the vision of the blessed woman herself, surrounded by the heads of the little angels who smilingly observe the ecstasy of her.
Now take Via di San Francesco a Ripa until you cross Viale Trastevere, undoubtedly the main street of the District, which has changed name several times: Viale del Re, Viale del Lavoro and finally Viale Trastevere. The road, about two kilometers long, was inaugurated in 1888 in order to connect the center of Rome with the railway station of Trastevere: however, it was almost immediately supplanted by the Termini Station, and Via Trastevere will be remembered especially for the demolitions that it caused in the Trastevere District, including the destruction of the buildings built by the architect Andrea Busiri Vici around the Mastai Square to house the workers of the Pontifical Tobacco Factory.
VICOLO DI MAZZAMURELLI
After crossing Viale Trastevere, head towards the characteristic Vicolo di Mazzamurelli, whose name is very difficult to explain: “mazzamurello“, in the Roman dialect, means evil and bizarre spirit, so someone thought that in one of the little houses of the alley lived a magician or a demonologist able to dominate the evil spirits. In reality, much more prosaically, the name of the street could derive from a gambling game made with cards, which was played in the alley far from the guards.
Follow the alley up to the intersection with Via di San Gallicano, and look at the crumbling building on your right: here, in an attic now demolished, Bartolomeo Pinelli, nicknamed “the painter of Trastevere”, was born on November 20th 1781. He died in 1835 and is remembered with a commemorative bust on Viale Trastevere.
The life and behavior of Bartolomeo Pinelli can undoubtedly be defined as “original”: indeed, he did not limit himself to immortalize the traditions and customs of the Roman people, but also illustrated ancient and modern classical poems. Pinelli was not a practicing Catholic, but in his soul he retained a sense of profound honesty and respect for the authentic values of Christianity. It is well known, in this context, the famous episode of the “Infamous Column”, erected in the center of the Tiber Island. On this column, placed in front of the Church of St. Bartholomew, was hung a chart with the names of those who had not fulfilled the Easter precept; in 1834, the name of Bartolomeo Pinelli was written too. At that point, he went to the parish priest, protesting like a madman: Pinelli was not furious because his name was on the table, but because it read “miniatore” (miniaturist), while he considered himself a more prestigious “incisore” (engraver). In a frenzy, Bartolomeo Pinelli took his carriage and loaded the column with the back of it, knocking it down.
Pinelli loved pranks. Disturbed by the musician who lived on the floor below, Pinelli completely flooded his own attic so that the water could flow into the apartment below; to the musician’s protest, Pinelli replied “at your house you can play as much as you want, at my house I can swim as much as I want”. Sometimes he looked out of his window with a fishing rod and tried to grab the wigs of the aristocrats who walked under his windowsills.
The last macabre joke happened after his death: Bartolomeo Pinelli was buried in the Church of Saints Vincent and Anastasius, in front of the Trevi Fountain, but when a recognition was made in the basement, neither the coffin nor the funerary inscription were found. According to some scholars, the priests of the church, who did not consider Pinelli to be a good Christian, removed his body from the church and threw it into the mass graves.
On his notebook, Pinelli wrote the phrase that he would have liked to have carved on his tombstone: “Pinelli is dead and his tomb is the world“.
THE HOSPITAL OF ST. GALLICANO
Via di San Gallicano takes its name from the chapel and the Hospital of St. Gallicano, built in 1726 according to the will of Pope Benedict XIII by the architect Filippo Raguzzini, to assist patients suffering from skin diseases. St. Gallicano was a consul at the time of Constantine: he converted to Christianity and retired to Ostia dedicating himself to the care of the sick, but under the Emperor Julian the Apostate he suffered martyrdom.
As remembered by two epigraphs, the hospital was subsequently enlarged in the 18th Century by Pope Benedict XIV and in the 19th Century by Pope Leo XII, who added the Anatomical Room. The hospital’s façade is 160 meters long and is divided by an equally long walkway, so that nurses could open and close the windows from the outside without disturbing the patients. At that time, according to sources, the Hospital of St. Gallicano was an outstanding example of the evolution of sanitary engineering and was considered one of the best in Europe.
In the center of it stands out the façade of the church, placed exactly in the middle of the building to divide the two wings according to gender: one for men, one for women. The church, in the shape of a Greek cross with four apses, is characterized by elegant curves with concave and convex surfaces: inside, you can admire several paintings of the 18th Century by Marco Benefial, including the Madonna and Child to whom St. Gallicano presents three sick persons.
BASILICA OF ST. CHRYSOGONUS
From Via di San Gallicano go up towards Via della Lungaretta, then you will come out in the Sidney Sonnino Square (President of the Council of Ministers in Italy in 1906) on which overlooks the Basilica of St. Chrysogonus, Christian martyr beheaded in Aquileia in 304 during the persecution of Diocletian.
Before 499, in this area there was a small church at a level six meters lower than the present one, around which there was a large number of crumbling but densely populated houses. In 1129 the Cardinal Giovanni from Crema ordered its reconstruction on the same place, now at a higher ground level because of the debris brought by the floods of the Tiber, and also ordered the erection of a convent and an oratory next to the church. In 1620, Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned the architect Giovanni Battista Soria to carry out further extensive restorations, having his name and heraldic symbols (the dragon and the eagle) inserted in the portico, on the façade, in the ceilings of the nave and the transept and along the entablature.
The Romanesque bell tower dates back to the XII Century, but on the top it has a questionable cusp crowning of the XVII Century.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior of the basilica has three naves divided by eleven columns on each side, probably coming from the Baths of Septimius Severus. The 17th Century lacunar ceiling is very sumptuous, and in the center there is a copy of the Triumph of St. Chrysogonus, painted in the 17th Century by Guercino, the original of which was sold to an English collector and is now in the Lancaster House in London. Now walk across the cosmatesque floor approaching the high altar (dating back to the 12th Century), surmounted by the gigantic 17th Century ciborium, made by Giovan Battista Soria: it is so huge that it covers the artistic treasure of the church, the decoration of the apse, dating back to 1290 and attributed to Pietro Cavallini, representing the Virgin with St. Chrysogonus and St. James.
THE UNDERGROUND CHURCH
From the sacristy, by paying a modest entrance fee, you can access the remains of the church of the Constantinian era, which was built on top of more ancient Roman houses of the late Republican era. The apse of the ancient church, which housed the relics of St. Chrysogonus, was located at the end of the single nave of the basilica and was flanked by the pastophoria, two service rooms: the one on the right may have been a diaconikon, a sort of sacristy, while the other would have served as a protesis, the place where the relics were kept.
The particular shape of the church, with a single nave instead of three, and the presence of several pools has led archaeologists to suppose that it was the sacred reconversion of a previous commercial space, perhaps a fullonica (laundry) intended for the dyeing of fabrics.
On the walls of the ancient early Christian church have been found frescoes dating between the 8th and 11th Centuries, which include Pope Sylvester capturing the dragon, St. Pantaleon healing the blind man, St. Benedict healing the leper and the Rescue of St. Placid.
THE CHURCH OF ST. PASCHAL BAYLON
Go back along Via di San Francesco a Ripa, and turn right to go towards the St. Callixtus’ Square.
On the way, in addition to several 19th Century (number 129) and 18th Century (number 170) buildings, you will also see the Church of the Forty Holy Martyrs and St. Paschal Baylon, dedicated to the forty Christian soldiers who during Licinius’ persecution (310 A.D.) in Sebaste (Armenia) did not want to deny their religion and were forced to dive into a frozen pond where they froze to death. St. Paschal Baylon was instead a Spanish friar, who lived in the 16th Century and was canonized in 1690, considered the “protector of women”: in particular, girls in search of a husband or women who complained about a certain “sexual weakness” of their husbands, went to the church to pray St. Paschal to perform a miracle in their favor. The legend tells the saint appeared in a dream to one of these women, giving her the recipe for a liqueur that would cure her husband’s lack of desire: the liqueur, made of eggs and marsala wine, was called in honor of the saint “San Bayon”, from which would derive the name “zabaglione“.
The original church with the adjoining hospital, dating back to the 12th Century, was restored at various times and rebuilt in 1745 by Giuseppe Sardi, who built the façade with two orders divided by a massive cornice, with a beautiful portal surmounted by the coat of arms of Philip V, while above the side doors there are the coats of arms of the Franciscan Order (which still administers the church). At the top, an oval with the representation of St. Paschal Baylon.
The interior, with a single nave, is harmonious and was considered a fanciful example of Baroque art: in the 18th Century, Matteo Panaria painted on the vault the Glory of St. Peter of Alcantara and on the vault of the cross the Glory of St. Paschal.
THE FOUNTAIN OF THE BARREL
Walking along Via di San Francesco a Ripa, you will come across Via della Cisterna: this street was once called Via del Pozzo (Road of the Well), because it led to the well where St. Callixtus was thrown with a rope around his neck.
Stop now in front of the curious Fountain of the Barrel, framed in a travertine arch, that Pietro Lombardi sculpted in 1927: this, like other district fountains, was commissioned to the architect Lombardi by the Municipality of Rome that wanted to place some small fountains alluding to the coats of arms of the districts or to the main activities of every single ward.
In the center you can see a “caratello”, ancient Roman name for the barrel used to transport wine, from whose central hole a jet of water comes out and is poured into the underlying must vat. The barrel is flanked by two one liter wine jugs. The whole decoration recalls the Trastevere tradition, which has always been full of taverns and inns where wayfarers could refresh themselves.
THE CHURCH OF ST. CALLIXTUS
To find the famous well that once gave its name to the street, you’ll have to go to St. Callixtus’ Square, overlooked by the homonymous church: it is still preserved in the garden of the former convent of St. Callixtus attached to the church. Pope Callistus I was drowned in 222 A.D., during the empire of Alexander Severus, and was buried in the Cemetery of Calepodio along the Via Aurelia, to be then transferred under the high altar of St. Mary in Trastevere.
The origins of the church are still a mystery: it was probably built on the site of the house of Pontianus, where Pope Callistus had taken refuge and where he was killed. The small oratory built by the Christians was transformed in the 8th Century into a small church, which in the 12th Century was completely frescoed. At the beginning of the 17th Century, the architect Orazio Torriani completely rebuilt it together with the palace annexed to the church.
To the right of the church there is a grandiose building complex, built at the behest of Pope Pius XI by Giuseppe Momo in 1936, as the seat of the Congregations of the Holy See: it consists of four buildings that encircle a large courtyard where the statue of Pius XI stands.
The façade of the church is divided into two orders: in the lower one, two fake windows flank the portal, while the upper one shows the coat of arms of Pope Paul V on the pediment.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior has a single nave with a chapel on each side, and is affected by the extensive restoration of the 20th Century. Specifically, in the chapel on the right there are two angels attributed to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which support a painting depicting St. Mauro the Abbot by Pier Leone Ghezzi; on the vault of the church there is a fresco by Antonio Achilli depicting the Glory of St. Callixtus.
VIA DELL’ARCO DI SAN CALLISTO
From the St. Callixtus’ Square, take a moment to observe Via dell’Arco di San Callisto, which is famous for two curiosities. First of all here was the Osteria della Vedovella (the Inn of the Young Widow), very famous in Rome for the attractiveness of the young widow, courted by all the Roman men; moreover, at number 43, you can see one of the smallest houses in Rome, with two floors and an external staircase.
THE ST. COSIMATO SQUARE
Now reach the nearby St. Cosimato Square, whose name derives from that of the church that overlooks it.
“Cosimato” is probably a name derived from a corruption of the names of Cosmas and Damian, two medical brothers who were beheaded after long tortures during Diocletian’s persecutions at the end of the III Century AD near Antioch, where they were buried. Considered the patron saints of doctors, the two saints performed many miracles: Justinian erected a church in Constantinople dedicated to them, claiming to be healed of an illness through their intercession. In the 6th Century, in one of the halls of the Forum of Peace in Rome, a Basilica dedicated to them was built, as already explained in a previous Itinerary.
In the second half of the 11th Century, a church, a monastery and a cloister were built here, to be completely rebuilt in the second half of the 15th Century by Pope Sixtus IV, who added a second cloister to the building. Other restorations were necessary, in the following centuries, because of the neglect and the explosion of a nearby powder magazine, which heavily damaged the building. In 1643, during the construction of the Walls of the Janiculum, the monastery was in serious danger of being demolished, but the danger was averted thanks to the firmness of the nuns who opposed with all their strength.
In ancient times the entrance was characterized by a small prothyrum of the 12th Century, supported by two columns, one grooved and one smooth. Today you actually enter the church from the portal situated in Via Roma Libera 76: in the courtyard you can see an ancient granite basin, transformed into a fountain in 1731.
The brick façade is very simple, decorated an elegant Renaissance portal of the 15th Century with a marble frame richly decorated with candelabra, with an inscription that alludes to the reconstruction wanted by Pope Sixtus IV. The door is composed of six panels sculpted in relief: the two at the bottom reproduce two twin coats of arms of the donor Dionora Teti, the two at the top represent St. Francis and St. Clare, while the two at the center are missing, probably depicting Saints Cosmas and Damian.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
The interior, with a single rectangular nave, has a beautiful wooden ceiling and preserves some interesting works of art including, to the left of the high altar, a Madonna and Child between St. Francis and St. Clare, painted in the 15th Century by Pastura, a pupil of Pinturicchio.
Visit also the Chapel of St. Severa, whose altar was created by recycling the fragments of the funerary monument of Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo, coming from the Church of St. Mary of the People: you can see two angels who are crowning the Madonna, holding the Baby Jesus on her knees, while on the right you can see St. Cecilia introducing to her the Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo. In the niches of the pillars are carved the four virtues: Faith, Justice, Hope and Charity.
THE TWO CLOISTERS
If you have the chance, visit the two cloisters of the monastery. The first is medieval, dating back to 1240, with coupled columns and stylized capitals, and houses in the porch funerary memories and fragments of plutei of the 9th Century. The second one was built in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV: it is a four-sided portico with a square plan and a double order, but the arches of the second order were subsequently walled up to avoid a structural collapse.
From the cloister of Sixtus IV you can admire the beautiful Romanesque bell tower of the church, with three floors, the first one decorated with mullioned windows with two lights and the other two decorated with three lights, with the single floors divided by an elegant marble frame to be attributed to the remaking of an older bell tower. The bell tower, which has been reinforced in several parts, had a 1238 bell cast by Bartolomeo Pisano, which is now preserved, together with other old bells, in a room close to the ancient Capitular Hall, east of the cloister.
THE NAUMACHIA OF AUGUSTUS
In the lands between the monastery of St. Cosimato and the monastery of St. Francis in Ripa, at the time of the Roman Empire, there was the Naumachia of Augustus, a gigantic water basin (536 meters long and 357 meters wide) used for spectacular naval battles between small boats, in which gladiators or condemned prisoners pardoned by the Emperor (naumacharii) fought. The fighting crews took the name of populations that had become subjects of Rome, such as Persians against Athenians, Egyptians against Tyrians.
The Naumachia of Augustus was inaugurated in 2 BC (year in which was inaugurated the Temple of Mars in the Forum of Augustus too) within the Horti of Julius Caesar, that he donated in his testament to the Roman people; the big water basin was fed by the Aqua Alsietina, coming from the Martignano Lake and practically undrinkable.
The basin was supposed to have a depth of about one meter and a half, the minimum depth to allow the ships to float: in spite of such a low depth, it took fifteen days to fill it completely with water. According to the historian Pliny, at the center of it there was an artificial island, connected to the banks by a bridge.
The basin had a depth of about one meter and a half, the minimum to allow the ships to float: in spite of such a low depth, it took fifteen days to fill it completely with water. According to the historian Pliny, at the center of it there was an artificial island, connected to the banks by a bridge.
The Naumachia was also used by some successive emperors, such as Nero or Domitian, but in the III Century AD it had fallen almost completely into disuse.
Now cross Via Emilio Morosini (patriot who defended Rome during the French siege of 1849) and reach Via Dandolo, which is overlooked by the back of the Ministry of Public Education, whose main façade is on Viale Trastevere. Designed by Cesare Bazzani in 1914, the massive building has a grand staircase and is topped by allegorical statues of Philosophy, Education and Art.
Via Dandolo recalls a family from Varese, whose members fought for the high ideal of the Homeland: Emilio Dandolo fought with Garibaldi in defense of the Roman Republic, while Enrico Dandolo participated in 1849 in the defense of Rome and was treacherously killed by French soldiers.
THE SYRIAC TEMPLE
The most important ancient monument of the Trastevere District is located at number 47 of Via Dandolo: here there was indeed the Syriac Temple, a sanctuary of modest proportions, erected by rich Orientals who probably lived in Trans Tiberim or who had their commercial activities here. The excavations of the sanctuary, datable according to archaeologists to the IV Century A.D., have shown that below it there are traces of a more ancient temple: what is certain is that the sanctuary was rebuilt by the rich Syriac merchant Marcus Antonius Gaionas after a devastating fire.
The small sanctuary, brought to light in 1909, is composed of a central courtyard, a small irregularly shaped room and a tiny apsidal basilica.
THE “JANICULUM IDOL”
Among the various statues discovered in the site, the one that mostly amazed the archaeologists was a small bronze idol wrapped in seven coils of a snake, around which were placed some eggs: scholars think that this statuette may represent Osiris, god of the light and of the death, a symbol of nature itself that dies and revives every year. In this sense, the seven coils would represent the seven celestial spheres and the eggs would symbolize the rebirth of life. To see this marvelous idol, you should visit the National Roman Museum of the Diocletian Baths, possibly by booking a special Tour with Rome Guides.
In archaic times, in the place where the Syriac Temple was built, there was a sacred wood, consecrated first to the goddess Furrina and then to the Furies, avenging divinities who tormented criminals. It was here that, fleeing the opponents who wanted to kill him, the tribune Caius Gracchus committed suicide in 121 BC.
Along Via Dandolo there is also a true green oasis of peace and tranquility: Villa Sciarra, extending for over seven hectares, whose charm lies in an atmosphere of restful intimacy and sober naturalness, in a perfect communion of art and nature, between the gushes of the fountains.
Property of the Barberini-Sciarra family since the middle of the XVII Century, it was bought in 1902 by the American diplomat George Wurts, who enriched it with fountains, artistic decorations and nymphaea according to the neo-baroque taste popular in that period. At his death in 1930, his widow Henriette Tower donated the Villa to Benito Mussolini, under the condition that it had to be used as a public park: in this period, the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio played in Villa Sciarra the duel between Andrea Sperelli and Giannetto Rutolo, characters of the novel “Il Piacere“.
In the first decade of 2000, restorations were carried out which brought back the ancient splendor of the Casino Nobile, the various fountains that adorn the Villa (including the Fountain of the Satyrs and the Fountain of Diana and Endymion), the lovely nymphaeum and the arboreal exedra, one of the most beautiful corners of the villa: go there and admire this majestic hedge of laurel arranged in a semicircle, in whose niches you can admire twelve sandstone statues, representing the months of the year.
The Trastevere District Itinerary 50 ends in this quiet and peaceful corner.