ROMAN ITINERARIES – TREVI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 5
TREVI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 5
The Itinerary 5 of the Trevi District will be a perfect introduction to understand the history of this area. Some people think that the name of the Trevi District, which has as its sign three naked swords on a red field, derives from the presence of the most famous fountain in the world, but this is not the case. The name derives, with all probability, from the Latin word “trivium“, which indicated the confluence of three streets. According to some scholars, however, there is also another etymology, coming from the three “mouths” of the Virgin Water pipe, built in 19 BC by Marcus Agrippa, son-in-law of Octavian Augustus.
TREVI DISTRICT – THE ANCIENT HISTORY
Frontino, the Latin writer and author of the “Treatise on the Aqueducts of Rome“, described the event as follows: “Thirteen years after having conducted the Julian water (in 33 B.C.), Agrippa conducted the Virgin Water to Rome from Lucullus’ land. She was called “Virgin” because, to the soldiers who were looking for water, a young girl pointed out some springs, following which they discovered an enormous quantity of water“.
In a certain sense, however, the two origins coincide, since they both indicate the same place: the little square of the Crociferi, located next to today’s Trevi Square. It is here that the exhibition of the Trevi Fountain was located before the transformation carried out by the architect Nicola Salvi between 1731 and 1762, and it is always here that the streets of the trivium meet.
In Imperial Rome, the area included in the current district was partly in the Regio VI (Alta Semita) and partly in the Regio VII (via Lata), occupied by large groupings of private dwellings within which some grandiose and monumental buildings stood out, such as the Temple of Quirino, which gave its name to the Quirinal Hill, or the Capitolium Vetus, of very ancient origins, where the Capitoline triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) was venerated.
The particular configuration of the terrain of this district determined, since Roman times, a sort of division between the lower area, at the level of the river, and the hilly area: while the first has always been part of the fabric of the city, the second has always been chosen for purely residential settlements. Unlike the Alta Semita, therefore, the Via Lata was a more densely inhabited region.
TREVI DISTRICT – MEDIEVAL TIMES
Once the splendours of the Roman Empire ended, after the sacking of the city by the Goths of Alaric in 410 A.D. and then, 45 years later, by the Vandals of Gensericus, the whole upper part was depopulated, while the population was growing thicker in the Tiber valley. On the slopes of the Quirinal Hill remained the churches, connected to the city through the classic road network, which allowed the connection between the river and the two gates, Salaria and Nomentana.
During the dark centuries of the Middle Ages the district was dominated by the presence of the Colonna family, who were already settled just under the slopes of the Quirinal before the 11th Century. At that time the Trevi area was distinguished by the marble arch located near the via Lata, called Arcus Novus, probably built by the Emperor Domitian, who was nicknamed “de Trejo“. The heart of the district was the square in front of the Church of St. Marcellus, and in the district had their residences, in addition to the Colonna, several other aristocratic families.
Around Mount Horse (this is how the Quirinale was called, due to the presence of the two colossal statues of the Dioscuri, coming from the baths of Constantine) there were lands and gardens of important members of the aristocracy of the time, such as the vineyards of the Cardinal of Ferrara Ippolito d’Este and those of the Cardinal of Carpi near St. Suzanne.
While the whole area around the Platea Apostolorum, the Square of the Holy Apostles, had a destiny similar to that of the entire Tiber valley, and was therefore always densely populated, the upper part of the district had a much slower urban and building development, which only began towards the end of the 16th Century, with the opening of the “Via Felice“, whose layout corresponds roughly to that of Via Sistina, Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via Agostino Depretis.
TREVI DISTRICT – XVI AND XVII CENTURIES
The opening of the Via Felice, wanted by Pope Sixtus V (real name, Felice Peretti) and realized by his architect Domenico Fontana in 1585, was preceded by a series of other interventions to revitalize the entire area, which began with the restoration of the Alma Semita during the pontificate of Pius IV (the street was in fact named “Pia“) and continued with the transformation of the complex of the Baths of Diocletian into a church and convent, which took place between 1560 and 1565.
In the same period of time, Michelangelo opened a new passage in the circle of walls, Porta Pia, while a few years later Pope Gregory XIII began the construction of the first nucleus of the new Papal Palace.
One of the factors that made this sort of rebirth of the upper part of the Quirinal possible was the construction of the Acqua Felice aqueduct, which took place between 1585 and 1589 and supplied the entire upper part of Rome with water, which was completely lacking.
Before the construction of the conduit, to get the water it was necessary to buy it from the “acquaioli“, who took it from the river or from the other fountains and then sold it to those who did not have it.
In the 17th Century the layout of this part of the city was already very similar to the present one: in the lower part of the district, gathered around the Square of the Holy Apostles, new important noble residences were built (the Odescalchi, Colonna, Grimaldi Palaces) around which developed an urban fabric connected to a class made up of small bourgeois, merchants and artisans, which revolved around the noble palaces. It was a small army of waiters, coachmen, silversmiths, hairdressers, carpenters, saddlers, masons, stonemasons and blacksmiths.
This architectural and social landscape has remained more or less intact for about two centuries. The Quirinale, isolated from the residential fabric of the lower town, tends to become a sort of “citadel of power“, housing a series of buildings strongly representative of papal power, all connected to the Grand Palace, whose function as an alternative to the Vatican was considerably accentuated in the 18th Century, with the construction of the papal stables, the Palace of the Consulta, the completion of the “Manica Lunga” and the new arrangement of the two colossal statues of the “Dioscuri” and the obelisk on the Quirinale Square.
TREVI DISTRICT – MODERN TIMES
After the Taking of Rome (1870) the urban layout of the new capital had to be planned. Thus the idea was born of bringing together all the ministries along Via Pia, to make it “the administrative axis of the new Capital“, capable of connecting the King’s residence with the Railway Station. The hypothesis led to the construction of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of War along the street, while between St. Bernard Square and Porta Pia the Ministries of Agriculture, Public Works, Transport and Labour were built.
Via Pia was then renamed Via del Quirinale and Via XX Settembre, and became the new axis connecting the historic centre with the new districts that were beginning to emerge in the western part of Rome, inside and outside the Aurelian Walls, according to a plan provided for in the 1873 that completely upset the territory of this part of the city, which had managed to maintain a quiet and picturesque appearance thanks to the perfect integration of churches and palaces in the surrounding environment.
In the following decades, the opening of new streets such as Via del Tritone, Via Barberini and Via Bissolati, the Umberto I Tunnel under the Quirinale Gardens, as well as the demolition of the small 17th Century houses overlooking Barberini Square and the convent of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, further reduced the popular charm that the Trevi District must have had until the end of the 19th Century.
What remains is perhaps too little to remember the Rome of the 19th century, but enough to still feel its heartbreaking beauty.
Piazzetta dei Crociferi – Via Poli – Vicolo del Forno – Via delle Muratte – Via di San Vincenzo – Via del Lavatore – Piazza di Trevi
THE CRUCIFERS AND BELISARIUS
The first itinerary to discover the Trevi District begins in the place from which the district takes its name: the little Square of the Crucifers, where the three streets of the “trivium” met.
The square, located to the left of the famous Fountain, has a quiet appearance: the only noteworthy monument of the small widening, on the corner with Via Poli, was the one dedicated to the religious hospitallers created by St. Camillus de Lellis in 1584 for the care of the sick. These had the precise task of going to the patients holding a wooden cross in their hands, which was later replaced by the same symbol, made of red cloth and sewn onto their cassock.
The corner church with its harmonious 16th Century lines has a very ancient and interesting history, which begins even in the 6th Century AD, a time when Italy was travelled far and wide by bands of barbarians who sowed death and destruction everywhere. To try to defend himself from such scourges, the Emperor Justinian decided to appoint a brave young Greek soldier, who was only twenty-one years old, named Belisarius, as general.
Belisarius immediately proved himself worthy of his duties and managed to put two barbarian tribes, the Vandals and the Goths, on the run. Unfortunately, however, he made a resounding mistake, ousting Pope Silverio in 537, because he believed he was organizing a conspiracy against him. He sent him into exile to the island of Ponza, where the poor Pontiff died after only a year. After what happened, Belisarius realized he had committed a serious mistake, and to repair it he founded a small church, formerly known as St. Mary in Synod. A medieval plaque, walled up on the side of the church, bears witness to the general’s precise desire to obtain forgiveness through the construction of the sacred temple as an ex voto.
CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF THE TRIVIO
Around the 14th Century the church of Belisario was probably enlarged and became St. Mary of the Trivio, also called “in Arcora” because it was near the arches of the Virgin Water, which fed the large basin that was the first version of the Trevi Fountain.
In 1575, under the pontificate of Gregory XIII, the church was completely rebuilt and was entrusted to the order of the Crucifers, who commissioned a promising pupil of Michelangelo’s, the Sicilian Jacopo del Duca, to carry out the restoration, with the elegant façade marked by the refined central doorway and the finely decorated architrave.
Also noteworthy is the interior, which preserves the most important work of one of the most singular artistic personalities of the late 17th Century in Rome, the painter and architect Antonio Gherardi. The artist, born in Rieti in 1644 and a pupil of Pietro da Cortona, frescoed the entire vault of the nave in about 18 years. The paintings, depicting Stories from the New Testament, testify to the artist’s taste for scenography, who also created the carved and gilded wooden organ behind the high altar.
THE TREVI FOUNTAIN – INTRODUCTION AND HISTORY
An entire part of the Trevi Square is occupied by one of the sides of the massive Dukes of Poli’s Palace, on which the Trevi Fountain is inserted.
Originally, however, the Fontana dell’Acqua Vergine (Fountain of the Virgin Water) overlooked this street, because it was here that the small fountain first appeared in documents of the 10th Century with the name of “Trejo“, from which the water brought to Rome by means of an aqueduct built by Marcus Agrippa and restored by Pope Hadrian I around 780 A.D., flowed. It was probably the same Pontiff who built the first fountain, erected next to the arches of the aqueduct.
Throughout the Middle Ages the mechanism worked perfectly: the Trevi water was kept under continuous control by the Capitoline Curia, which had the task, once per month, to make sure that no private citizen exploited the fountain for personal purposes, through derivations or unauthorized openings. To regulate the population flow and the so-called “acquaroli” (who filled entire barrels of water and then sold it at home), the access to the spring was protected by a gate, while on the left side there was a drinking trough for the animals. On the right side there was a small tower, the Trevi Tower, while on the simple façade of the fountain three small basins collected the water that flowed from as many mouths.
In 1453 the first restoration, commissioned by Niccolò V, took place: the tower was demolished and the original facade was replaced by a façade crowned by merlons, with a plaque in the centre accompanied by the coats of arms of the Pope and the Municipality of Rome.
A little more than a Century later, in 1562, another Pontiff undertook to solve a problem that did not concern the structure of the fountain, but rather the water: in fact, due to the disappearance of the original spring (the one that, according to legend, a virgin had indicated to some Roman soldiers), the aqueduct was fed by other sources of very poor quality. For this reason, Pius IV reconnected the aqueduct with the original spring and on August 16th 1570, in front of an acclaimed crowd, the authentic Virgin Water returned to flow from the Fountain of Nicholas V.
Pope Urban VIII, in the 17th Century, commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini “a sumptuous facade to the Virgin Water of Trevi“, to be made using the marble taken from the demolition of the Tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Appian Way. Bernini had already obtained permission from the Pope to destroy the monument, but luckily this was prevented by the Municipality. Nevertheless, the architect also drew up a project, which completely changed the orientation of the previous façade: the new Trevi Fountain would no longer look towards the Square of Crucifers, but would be turned 90 degrees. Work began quickly, demolishing some buildings to enlarge the square in front of the new facade, and Urban VIII, to raise some money, increased the tax on wine, unleashing the wrath of the Roman people.
For a variety of reasons, from the sudden lack of material to the insufficient funds needed to carry out Bernini’s costly project, the work was interrupted; with the death of the Pope, then, the project was forgotten.
The problem of the arrangement of the fountain, which Bernini left halfway through, however, harassed the successor of Urban VIII, Pope Alexander VII, who had decided to move it to the place where his family’s palace overlooked, Colonna Square. However, this time too, the plans remained unfinished. In the meantime, in total disregard for the fate of the monument, Pope Clement X gave the order, in 1672, to sell all the blocks of marble and travertine piled up near the spring, because they were no longer of any use.
In the 18th Century, numerous architects proposed to the Pope a series of projects to solve the problem of the Fountain of the Virgin Water. The issue was finally resolved with the election of Pope Clement XII, who had the merit of starting the construction of what would become the most famous fountain in the world.
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THE TREVI FOUNTAIN – THE DECORATIONS
In the aftermath of his election, Pope Clement XII immediately showed great interest in the Trevi Fountain, so much so that he launched two contests for the construction of the monument: the second was attended by very famous architects, such as Ferdinando Fuga, Nicola Salvi and Alessandro Galilei.
Salvi’s project, which was also the cheapest among the three, was chosen and on October 2nd 1732 the Pontiff started the works for the construction of the fountain, which lasted for almost 31 years, until the inauguration on May 22th 1762.
THE TREVI FOUNTAIN’S ARCHITECTURE
The façade of the famous monument, 20 meters wide and 26 meters high, is leaning on one side of the Palace of the Dukes of Poli, and is a very happy meeting between architecture and sculpture that imitates nature.
The architectural part consists of a large central niche with a coffered dome, symbol of the “Kingdom of the Ocean“, flanked on either side by two pairs of Corinthian columns supporting a grand attic, decorated with statues depicting the four seasons, made by sculptors Ludovisi, Pincellotti, Corsini and Queirolo in 1735. In the centre, at the top, a large inscription surmounted by a monumental fastigium composed of the Corsini coat of arms, the family of Pope Clement XII.
The two sides of the central body, conceived as a sort of triumphal arch, are occupied by two niches containing as many statues: on the left the “Abundance“, by Filippo della Valle, surmounted by a relief depicting “Agrippa approving the design of the aqueduct“, by Andrea Bergondi; on the right the “Healthiness“, also by Della Valle, and above “The Virgin indicating the spring to the soldiers” by Gianbattista Grossi.
From the central niche stands the majestic figure of Ocean, dragged on the shell-shaped chariot by two sea horses, nicknamed “agitated horse” and “placid horse”, which are driven between the sharp rocks and splashing water by two tritons. The entire marble group is in the hands of the sculptor Piero Bracci, who executed it in 1762.
The cliff below widens to cover the entire base of the palace, ending in the large pool, where the water that gushes out under the central chariot is collected.
THE TREVI FOUNTAIN’S LEGENDS
The fountain represents one of the symbols of the Eternal City, and as such has given rise to a series of legends and popular traditions, first of all that of throwing in a coin if you want to return to Rome. Besides this, however, there is another tradition, less known but more romantic, still in use until a few decades ago: when a young Roman man had to leave his city for a fairly long time, he was accompanied by his fiancée to the Trevi Fountain. Arriving in front of the monument, the girl handed him some water drawn from the basin, contained in a brand new glass. Her boyfriend swallowed it all in one gulp and then threw the glass behind his back. Once this ritual had been performed, the girl was certain that she would not forget her or Rome.
Like many famous Roman fountains, the Trevi fountain is known for a few oddities, which have given rise to many legends of popular origin: the first one concerns the large travertine vase placed at the top of the right balustrade, towards Via della Stamperia, also known as the “Ace of Cups“. The story tells that, at the time when Salvi was building the fountain, the house in front of the vase housed a barber’s shop, often frequented by the architect while he was busy with the work. The barber was a good man, but a bit boring and slightly pedantic: every time he shaved Salvi gave him suggestions on changes to be made to the monument, which he considered indispensable. One day the architect, fed up with criticism, decided to silence the petulant barber once and for all, and in one night he had the large travertine ball built, which would have completely hidden the view of the monument from the shop opposite.
Immortalized by Fellini, who in the movie “La dolce vita” plunged Anita Ekberg into it, “sold” in the Sixties by the great comic actor Totò to an American tourist, the Trevi Fountain was the subject of another singular episode: at the end of the First World War the Americans had donated a villa to General Pershing, and they wanted to decorate the garden with a reproduction of the monument, of which few, however, kept a precise memory. When one of their agents came to Rome to see it and then have it reproduced in the garden, the envoy returned saying that the fountain was so large that, if they had reproduced it, it would have taken up all the space of the park and the villa.
THE TREVI SQUARE
The square, which takes its name from the fountain, has the same refined grace of an 18th Century theatrical backdrop, with a semicircular shape. Despite its homogeneous appearance, in reality the buildings that make up this evocative setting were all built at different times, and the square has only taken on its present appearance since the beginning of the 19th Century.
The oldest building is undoubtedly the one in front of the monument, at civic numbers 91-93, which includes the remains of a medieval portico, supported by massive bare columns with Ionic capitals, now adapted as a shop.
THE CHURCH OF SAINTS VINCENT AND ANASTASIUS
The most valuable building is undoubtedly the Church of Saints Vincent and Anastasius, whose elegant façade is the work of the architect Martino Longhi the Younger, who finished it in 1650 at the request of the powerful Cardinal Mazzarino. The origins of the sacred temple, however, are much older and date back to the 14th Century, when in place of the present building there was a small church, St. Anastasius de Trivio.
Due to its bizarre appearance, the façade was nicknamed by the Roman people “Martin’s cane thicket“, because of the overabundance of columns, ten in the lower order and six in the upper one, plus two placed at the sides of the large central window, which support the four tympanums, placed to crown the façade. At the centre you can see the large coat of arms of Cardinal Giulio Mazzarino, supported by four figures of angels. The female figures are the real protagonists of this facade: two bare-chested statues of women support, with raised arms, the entablature of the second order and above all, in the centre of the second tympanum placed above the portal, a female bust. Some conjectures have been made about the presence of this woman in a “foreground” position: according to popular tradition, she is certainly not a saint, but rather the most beautiful of the granddaughters of Cardinal Mazzarino, Maria Mancini, a woman of great charm who became the mistress of the King of France Louis XIV and later the wife of a member of the Colonna family.
The interior of the church, bare and devoid of particular charm, contains on the high altar an altarpiece by Francesco De Rosa depicting the two titular Saints. The church is, however, famous for another vaguely macabre reason: since it was for centuries the parish church of the nearby Papal Palace of the Quirinal, in its apse are preserved all the “precordi” ( the organs enclosed inside the chest) that were removed before embalming the body of the Popes.
Pope Sixtus V was the first who, in 1590, inaugurated this tradition, which lasted until Leo XIII, who died in 1903. The next pope, Pius X, abolished it. For this reason, the dialectal poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli called the church “museo de’ coratelli”, the Romanesque expression to define the entrails of animals for butchery.