ROMAN ITINERARIES – TREVI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 7
TREVI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 7
The Trevi District Itinerary 7 (the shortest one of the District), which will lead you to discover the beauties and curiosities hidden in the shadow of the Quirinale Palace, also starts from Trevi Square, the ideal heart of the district, and precisely from the narrow and dark Via di San Vincenzo, on the corner of the church that gives it its name, where a sufficiently trained eye can see some small houses of medieval origins, such as the one located at number 30.
Piazza di Trevi – Via San Vincenzo – Piazza Scanderbeg – Vicolo Scanderbeg – Via dello Scalone – Via della Dataria – Via dei Lucchesi – Via dell’Umiltà
The whole area of the District shows some typically medieval areas, for example in the maze of alleys around Scanderbeg Square, such as Alley of Models, winding behind the Church of Saints Vincent and Anastasius.
The name of the small street should derive from the fact that, since the end of the 18th Century, there were boys and girls who moved from Ciociaria or Abruzzo to Rome to pose in paintings with landscapes and genre scenes, executed by amateur painters, especially foreigners, very happy to portray men and women in traditional costumes in front of backgrounds reminiscent of the Roman countryside. It was a real craft, with boys and girls walking hopefully on the Spanish Steps, close to the artists’ studios.
All these narrow alleys converge in a small square where time seems to have stopped: Scanderbeg Square, overlooked by some interesting buildings.
The widening takes its name from the Palace at number 117, where the Albanian prince Giorgio Castriota Scanderbeg, defender of Albanian independence against the Turks, lived. The building changed ownership several times and around 1846 it was renovated by the architect Virginio Vespignani. To that date dates back the portrait of Scanderbeg, placed in a medallion on the lintel of the main door, made by the painter Eugenio Anieni. Also worthy of note are the other buildings that surround the square, in particular the 18th Century building at number 50 with elegant windows, which belonged to the Hospital of St. James of the Spanish (the shells on the windows are precisely the symbol of St. James of Compostela).
Here, in the quiet little square, Rome really looks like a small village, just as the narrow Vicolo Scanderbeg, which from Via del Lavatore climbs the slopes of the Quirinale Hill, narrow between the lower part of the papal palace and the back of the Dataria Palace, built by Andrea Busiri Vici in 1860, looks like a medieval street.
Shortly after crossing the small square, the picturesque Via dello Scalone opens on the left, so called because of the staircase leading to the Gate of the Bakery, built in 1612. The function of this door, which was originally decorated with a painting by Giovanni Lanfranco with “Saints Peter and Paul“, was to connect the Quirinal Palace with the lower areas of the city, according to the wishes of Pope Paul V, who wanted to open a direct connection with the Vatican by passing through the Spanish Steps.
Right in front of this gate took place the famous assault of the French troops, led by General Radet, to enter the palace and kidnap Pope Pius VII on the night between 5 and 6 July 1809.
Finally, you come out in Via della Dataria, overlooked by important representative buildings. But what is the “Dataria“? It is a public office, nicknamed by the Roman people “court of benefits” since the “date” was affixed on official documents (a bit like the current stamp office).
The palace belonged to Cardinal Orazio Maffei, who died in 1609. After his death, the palace was rented first from the Apostolic Chamber and then purchased by Pope Paul V in 1615, to be used as the seat of the cardinal “datarium“, as evidenced by the coat of arms and the long Latin inscription on the facade.
The current layout of the building, however, is fully 19th Century, since few traces remain of the ancient Maffei nucleus, including a small fountain in the second courtyard.
The street hosts other interesting buildings, among which the Palace of San Felice, built in 1864 by the architect Filippo Marinucci at the behest of Pope Pius IX, in the place where there was an ancient Capuchin convent attached to the church of the Holy Cross of the Lucchesi. Its large square courtyard hides two treasures: the upper church of St. Nicholas de Portiis (visible on the right) and, in a basement under an adjacent courtyard, the remains of the Roman tomb of the Semproni (1st Century).
Still on Via della Dataria, at number 22, there is the Testa Piccolomini Palace, built in 1719 by the architect Filippo Barigioni on the remains of a 17th Century house. The façade, with four orders of windows, is quite simple: beautiful are the stucco frames of the windows of the noble floor, where the elements of the family coat of arms (the cross with the five crescents, the crowned eagle and the rampant lion) are reproduced.
Almost at the end of the street there is another small alley on the left, which leads into a widening that in the 16th Century was called “Piazza delle Erbe” (Square of the Herbs), perhaps because at that time it housed a market, dominated by the presence of the interesting Church of the Saints Croce and Bonaventure of the Lucchesi.
Before examining the Church, proceed towards the Dataria, and observe the walled tombstone at number 9: it is a marble plaque placed in the 18th Century to prevent the dumping of garbage, which prohibits any person from throwing garbage in this place on pain of a fine of ten scudi.
CHURCH OF SAINTS CROCE AND BONAVENTURE
The origins of this church are shrouded in darkness. On the place where it currently stands there must have been, in the Middle Ages, a small temple dedicated to St. Nicholas of Bari, consisting of two overlapping churches, of which the oldest, partially buried, is still under the current building.
After the 14th Century, another one was added above this church, of which the exterior is still partially visible in the courtyard of the St. Felice Palace (as written in the previous paragraph).
Since the middle of the 15th Century the church, indicated with the name of St. Nicolò de Portiis, became a parish church: according to some people the name derives from the fact that in that area there would have existed in ancient times the “Foro Suario“, that is the market of pigs, according to others the name would be linked to the Porzi family, that in the Middle Ages owned several houses in the surroundings. already owned since the Middle Ages the houses nearby. In the first half of the 16th Century the church was given to the Capuchin friars, who in 1575 began to build a new convent dedicated to St. Bonaventure, by the will of Pope Gregory XIII.
In this convent the well-known Capuchin Saint, St. Felix from Cantalice, beatified by Urban VIII in 1625, spent most of his life. The urban planning operation of the entire Quirinal area, promoted at the beginning of the 17th century by Pope Paul V, seriously jeopardized the survival of the convent: the friars had to leave their peaceful headquarters in a hurry on April 27th 1631, bringing with them the remains of St. Felix. According to the chronicles of the time, the transfer was made during the night, to prevent the formation of crowds too numerous devotees, and during the ceremony there was even a miracle, the healing of a demon. The remains of the saint were placed in the second chapel of the new church, St. Mary of Conception, built near Barberini Square.
After the departure of the Capuchins, the convent of St. Bonaventure was destined to host the so-called “pontifical family”, composed of the service staff following the Pope, during the periods in which the latter resided at the Quirinale.
The church instead was granted by Pope Urban VIII in 1631 to the “nation of Lucca living in Rome“, thanks to the munificent contribution of a rich jurist from Lucca, Alessandro Cantoni, who had bequeathed large sums of money to some of his fellow citizens to build a church dedicated to St. Croce, the patron saint of Lucca.
In fact, since the middle of the 15th Century there was in Rome a community of people coming from Lucca, who enjoyed a certain economic prosperity: the purchase of the church was therefore an opportunity to create a confraternity, which would collect all the people living in Rome.
In the second half of the 17th Century the building was completely renovated by the architect Mattia De Rossi, a student of Bernini, and assumed the appearance it still has today. The same architect restored the church of St. Francis in the Trastevere District: visit it during the Trastevere Tour of Rome Guides.
Between 1859 and 1863, the church underwent a radical restoration, directed by Virginio Vespignani, relating to some interior spaces and the underground temple of St. Nicholas.
THE INTERIOR OF THE CHURCH
Behind a rather simple facade, there is a bright interior with a single nave, with three chapels on each side, alternating with four small wooden hanging choirs, embellished with fake curtains, similar to theater boxes.
The carved and gilded wooden ceiling encloses, within heavy finely worked frames, three paintings executed by the Lucchese painters Giovanni Coli and Filippo Gherardi between 1673 and 1677, of which the central one, depicting “Eraclio bringing the Cross back to Jerusalem“, is considered their masterpiece.
CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF HUMILITY
Now take Via dell’Umiltà (Humility Street), which takes its name from the small and little known Church of St. Mary of Humility, that closes the Itinerary III of the Trevi District.
The origins of the church, now incorporated into a building that houses the Pontifical North American College, are linked to the life story of Francesca Baglioni Orsini, a Tuscan noblewoman daughter of Caterina de’ Medici and Pirro Baglioni Colonna.
Born in Florence in 1543, Baglioni was married at a very young age to the Roman baron Francesco Orsini, and had to move to Rome.
At the age of fifty she remained a widow and decided, for the love of monastic life, to invest all her considerable income in the construction of a monastery, buying an entire block of houses in front of her house, near the Trevi Fountain. The work, which began in 1601, lasted about twelve years.
The primitive church was located inside the monastic complex: only in 1641 the architect Paolo Maruscelli, collaborator of the most famous architect Francesco Borromini, was commissioned to build a new one, which was finished after only five years.
In 1756 there was a first renovation, by the unlucky architect Clemente Orlandi, who was not paid for his work, but had to settle for four capons and a tray of pastries that were sent three times: at Christmas, Easter and August.
The present modest facade, so poor to go almost unnoticed, is not the original one, realized by Carlo Fontana in 1680, but a mediocre remake of the second half of the 19th Century, signed Andrea Busiri Vici and executed in 1859.
The entrance portal is surmounted by a bas-relief by Vincenzo Felici depicting the “Annunciation of Mary“; remarkable instead the interior, with a single nave, richly decorated by Maruscelli and Fontana. On the barrel vault you can admire a fresco of the first half of the 18th Century by Michelangelo Cerruti: the high altar, of remarkable workmanship, is attributed to Martino Longhi the Younger.