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Page revised in May 2011.
S. Martino al Cimino
(Papal Loggia in Viterbo)
S. Martino al Cimino, a few miles south of Viterbo, was a small medieval village around an abandoned Cistercian abbey when in 1645 Pope Innocent X donated it to Olimpia Maidalchini, the widow of his elder brother Pamphilio Pamphilj.
Olimpia Maidalchini was given the title of Princess of S. Martino and she promoted a radical renovation of the village; with the help of Roman architects she turned it into a small town which is
regarded by art historians as an almost intact example of modern urban design. After the death of Pope Innocent X the princess chose to live in her fiefdom, rather than in her Roman palace in Piazza Navona.
An imposing gate designed by Francesco Borromini gave access to the new town: the inscription detailed the improvements made by the Pamphilj family: the restoration of the church, the enlargement of the village, the construction of walls and fountains.
The design of the new town was commissioned to Marcantonio De Rossi, who was chiefly a military architect having designed the walls between Porta Portese and Porta S. Pancrazio and the two gates.
The houses built by De Rossi for the princess' subjects may seem today rather uninviting because of the repetitiveness of their design, but at the time of their construction they were regarded with envy by the inhabitants of the other small towns around Viterbo, who often lived in houses cut into the rock, such as those which can be seen at Blera.
IXth century records indicate that a Benedictine monastery existed in the area of S. Martino, but the abbey and the church were built in the early XIIIth century by the Cistercian Order which originated from France, hence the dedication to St. Martin of Tours; the two bell towers were added in the XVIIth century; some sources attribute them to Borromini, other sources to De Rossi.
The interior maintains most of its original character, although its Gothic aspect is more evident in the side naves, one of which can be seen in the image used as background for this page.
After the death of Olimpia Maidalchini, the Pamphilj rarely visited their fiefdom and they made only minor additions to the church.
In the XVth century the Cistercian Order almost abandoned S. Martino and eventually in 1564 the monastery was closed; while the church was restored by the Pamphilj, parts of the monastery and of its ancillary buildings were incorporated into a modern palace; a small section of the cloister can still be seen between the church and the palace. Marcantonio De Rossi designed an unusually void of decorations building for the princess; he even re-employed one of the old entrances of the monastery, although its design did not match that of the palace.
De Rossi designed a very practical internal cordonata, a sloping road which allowed the princess to reach her apartments on a mule; by tradition the popes rode a mule on important occasions such as the procession to S. Giovanni in Laterano which followed their election; in general riding mules was not regarded as unsuited for people of high social standing.
The walls of S. Martino were not meant for defence against an army, but just as a security measure against bands of brigands. In order to reduce costs De Rossi designed them so that they also served as walls of the houses (the windows were opened when defence needs subsided).
The design of the rear gate, which was mainly used by the Princess' farmers to go to work, is very similar to the portal of a villa, rather than to an urban gate; a second and more elaborate gate gave access to Palazzo Pamphilj.
The coat of arms of S. Martino is almost identical to that of Pope Urban VIII at Palazzo Barberini which according to Filippo Juvarra was designed by Francesco Borromini; also the coat of arms of the main gate is attributed to Borromini.
In and about Viterbo - other pages:
Orte and Vasanello
S. Maria della Querce
Latium was enlarged in the 1920s with territories from the neighbouring regions: the map on the left shows the current borders of Latium; the map on the right has links to pages covering towns of historical Latium: in order to see them you must hover and click on the dots.