Rome, Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Farnese, Piazza Mattei. At the overlooked opposite ‘shore’
Rome. The city of squares
If there is a city that can be called the city of squares, this is Rome. Squares are so integral to its image that without them the former capital of the ancient world would not be what we know.
And not by accident. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome, from the largest city in the world with huge monumental complexes all over its surface, was transformed into a medieval city that looked more like a large cluster of villages, since within the ancient walls where once 1,5 million people lived, there were no more than ten thousand in the worst times. Among its poor and poorly built districts, there were vast uninhabited areas where the brilliant works of the emperors rose once.
Rome resumes its imperial aspect
In the Renaissance, however, Rome became once again a major cultural centre, thanks to Pope Julius II, who called here the artists who remained unsupported after Florence ’s capture by the French in 1494 and the fall of the Medici.
From then on, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, Rome has begun to take rapidly the form we know today. The main ingredient being the squares.
In order to connect the scattered districts between them and fill again the empty space among them, these urban ensembles were built, with monumental palaces and magnificent churches around them.
And in the middle, they put the columns of ancient Rome that were still standing, between heaps of soil. Columns made by emperors or brought from Egypt. Only now, instead of emperors, statues of saints were placed on their top.
Below or around the columns, the greatest sculptors of the time made the famous fontane, the countless fountains that remind of ancient Rome of the many aqueducts, which was also full of them.
And as the terrain is uneven (let’s not forget that Rome is built on seven hills), these ensembles are often placed on different levels, connected to each other by monumental stairs.
Thus, the so picturesque and so characteristic image of today’s Rome emerged: an endless series of outdoor theatre scenes where the daily life of the Italian capital unfolds like a theatrical performance in a set of unique richness of forms and colours.
So let’s wander in this wonderful outdoor scenery. Very close to Piazza Navona (http://culturehikes.com/en/rome-squares-piazza-navona/) is Campo de’ Fiori.
Campo de’ Fiori
From Piazza Navona, passing on the other side of the avenue Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, we arrive at Campo de ‘Fiori (Flower Field). The name of the square dates back to medieval times when it was literal.
The particular interest of the square lies in the fact that it’s one of the few that preserved their medieval form and were not architecturally shaped during the Baroque era. Thus, it’s an important historical evidence of medieval Rome.
Executions were held publicly in Campo de ‘Fiori. Here, on February 17, 1600, the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive as a heretic and all his works were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books.
In 1889 Ettore Ferrari dedicated him to a monument at the exact point of his death. He stands looking at the Vatican provocatively and was seen in the early days of reunified Italy as a martyr of freedom of thought.
Campo de’ Fiori (Flower Field). The monument to Giordano Bruno
Next to Campo de ‘Fiori is Piazza Farnese. It’s dominated by Palazzo Farnese, which has been described as the most magnificent Italian palace of the 16th century.
It was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the younger, one of Bramante’s assistants in designing Saint Peter’s and an important Renaissance architect. Construction began in 1515, at the request of Alessandro Farnese, who became a cardinal in 1493, at the age of 25.
In 1534 Michelangelo was commissioned to complete the third floor, with the large cornice, and modify the courtyard.
The façade includes alternate triangular and curved pediments, a central entrance with chiselled carved stones and the cornice of Michelangelo. The magnificent central window is also his work, just like the frieze with the garlands on the top floor.
Above the window is the largest papal coat of arms ever seen in Rome, for in the meantime Paul III Farnese had become a pope, so the status of the family in Rome had changed. When the pope appeared in the window, the entire façade became a setting for him.
Today the palace belongs to the Italian state and houses the French embassy.
The fountain with the turtles
From Campo de ‘Fiori, following Via dei Giubbonari and after Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, Via dei Falegnami, we arrive at Piazza Mattei.
Here is the Fontana delle Tartarughe (the Turtle Fountain), built between 1580 and 1588 by the architect Giacomo della Porta and the sculptor Taddeo Landini.
It was one of the many fountains built at the time when the Roman aqueduct Acqua Vergine was repaired, the only one that had been in operation since antiquity and supplied Rome with drinking water, which ended in these fountains.
The bronze turtles around the basin, usually attributed to Gian Lorenzo Bernini or Andrea Sacchi, were added in 1658 or 1659 when the fountain was repaired.
Fontana delle Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain)
Next stop: the diamonds of Tiber. Stay tuned…
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