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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in February 2011.



- Palestrina
(detail of a fresco at S. Onofrio; this page is also part of Giuseppe Vasi's Environs of Rome description
)

En Route to Genazzano

In summer 1856 Ferdinand Gregorovius spent three months in the small town of Genazzano; he described his stay there and in other nearby towns in Aus der Campagna von Rom (About the Roman Campagna) (you can read the English translation by Dorothea Roberts in Bill Thayer's Web Site); he started his account by describing the itinerary he followed to reach Genazzano; he left Rome at Porta Maggiore and took Via Labicana (today usually referred to as Via Casilina) along which he saw the newly built railroad which linked Rome to Naples and the arches of ancient Roman aqueducts; he then reached Tor Pignattara (the name given to the mausoleum of St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine) and San Cesareo on the slopes of the Alban hills, a location notorious for the brigands' assaults on the stagecoaches which used this route. He then passed near Colonna and Zagarolo, two small towns which were fiefdoms of the Colonna before being sold to other families.

Palestrina

View of Palestrina (below) and Castel S. Pietro (above)

At Colonna Gregorovius started to see Palestrina, the ancient Praeneste, a town which was conquered by the Romans in 338 BC; it was composed of an acropolis at the top of a hill and of a lower town at its foot; the two were protected by massive walls; the lower town housed the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, a famous oracle; during the Middle Ages Praeneste split into two separate small towns: the acropolis became Castel S. Pietro, while the site of the sanctuary was turned into a walled town which retained the old name, although it was modified into Palestrina (a separate page covers the history and the monuments of the ancient town). Gregorovius could have reached Palestrina also following Via Prenestina.

(left) Bell tower of the cathedral; (centre) S. Antonio (redesigned in 1614 by Orazio Turriani)); (right) S. Rosalia (1660 - designed by Francesco Contini)

In the XIIth century Palestrina became a fiefdom of the Colonna; their power was challenged by the Caetani of nearby Anagni; both families exerted great influence on the Roman Church; at the conclave of 1294 two Colonna cardinals were unable to prevent the election of Cardinal Benedetto Caetani who became Pope Boniface VIII; in the following years the rivalry between the two families led to almost open warfare and in 1298 Palestrina was conquered by the troops of the pope who destroyed completely the town which at that time was mainly located above the ruins of the Roman sanctuary; this explains why the bell tower of the cathedral is almost the only monument of the old medieval town.

(above) Coats of arms of Cardinal Girolamo Basso della Rovere, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (left) and of the Colonna family (right) on the lintel of the cathedral (in the centre Agapito, the patron saint of Palestrina); (below-left) c.o.a. of Cornelia Baglioni Colonna at Chiesa dei Cappuccini; (below-centre) c.o.a. of the Barberini and Colonna family on the façade of Palazzo Barberini; (below-right) c.o.a. of Prince Maffeo Barberini and his wife Olimpia Giustiniani, a relative of Pope Innocent X on a side entrance to Palazzo Barberini

The Colonna regained possession of Palestrina and in 1307 Stefano Colonna promoted its reconstruction; in 1436 however the town was pillaged and almost destroyed by the troops of Giovanni Maria Vitelleschi, who acted on behalf of Pope Eugenius IV; in 1448 the Colonna returned: the decoration of the lintel of the cathedral indicates that they were on good terms with the Della Rovere family; in 1630 the Colonna sold Palestrina to Carlo Barberini, brother of Pope Urban VIII; his son Taddeo was given the title of prince by the pope. Many monuments of the town bear the coats of arms of these two families.

Monument to Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina by Arnaldo Zocchi (1921) and behind it the former seminar which incorporated "Sala Absidata", an ancient building inside which fragments of a large mosaic were found during the XVIth century (see page two)

It is uncertain whether Pierluigi da Palestrina was actually born in the town; at the beginning of his career he held the post of organist at the cathedral and he married a woman from Palestrina. He became the most acclaimed composer of his time and he enjoyed the protection of popes of very different views; one of his best known works is Missa Papae Marcelli, a mass dedicated to Pope Marcellus II (YouTube video by Oxford Camerata).

Gates: (left) Porta S. Croce (XVIth century built by the Colonna); (right) Porta del Sole (XVIIth century built by the Barberini)

Palestrina retains its four old gates; they were all opened at a time when defensive needs were not paramount; the Barberini decorated one of the gates with a relief showing a
radiant sun, one of their heraldic symbols, which eventually gave its name to the gate.

Palazzo Barberini

The ancient sanctuary was structured on a series of terraces; the highest one housed a sort of theatre with a small circular temple; the Colonna built their houses on the ancient structures; Prince Taddeo Barberini had these houses reshaped along the curved lines of the theatre; inside the palace it is still possible to see the location of the circular temple.

Palazzo Barberini - interior: (left) fragment of the frescoes which decorated the palace; (right) stone frame with the Barberini's heraldic symbols

In 1956 the palace was turned into a national archaeological museum (Museo Nazionale Prenestino) which displays reliefs, statues, mosaics and other exhibits found at Palestrina; prior to this change the building was abandoned for a very long period and it retains only small parts of its XVIIth century decoration.

Renaissance well and view of the Castelli Romani from Palazzo Barberini

Gregorovius described the view from the palace: Rome to the north, some of the Castelli Romani and Segni to the west and Anagni and Ferentino to the south.

Monument to Cardinal Antonio Barberini by Bernardino Cametti in Santa Rosalia: the angel writes "aeternitati vixit" meaning that the cardinal lived having in mind his eternal life

The Barberini built a small church near their palace, where several members of the family were buried; unlike the main building, the church fully retains its lavishly decorated interior, with two striking baroque monuments which show angels apparently floating in the air; the icon of this website is based on a detail of one of these statues.
Gregorovius made Palestrina popular among German readers and spending a summer in one of the towns described in his books became fashionable. Among others, Thomas and Heinrich Mann spent a summer in Palestrina.

See
page two: The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia


Giuseppe Vasi
Digressione breve e deliziosa

Per ritrovare alcuni luoghi celebri ne' contorni di Roma.

Città di Pelestrina
Fuori della porta Maggiore lungi 24. miglia, da Roma è questa città, fabbricata al dire de' Poeti da Preneste figliuolo di Latino e nipote di Ulisse, o da Telegone figliuolo di Vulcano, e dicesi, che così la chiamasse l'Oracolo dalle corone, colle quali si videro la prima volta quelli abitatori, o pure dalla preminenza del sito, che quasi praest agli altri monti. Su questo fu il celebre tempio della Fortuna primogenita, a cui ricorrevano i Gentili, non solo nelle loro pretensioni, ed elezioni di ufizj, cariche, ed onori messi a forte; ma ancora ne' loro viaggi, specialmente per mare. Perciò i marinari e viandanti, passando dal mare tirreno, e scoprendo quel tempio da lontano, solevano riconoscere con dimostrazione di ossequio il simolacro di quella Dea, acciò conseguissero prospera navigazione.
Fu ristaurato quel magnifico tempio da Lucio Silla in emenda dell'empietà commessa contro C. Mario il giovane, e altri suoi nemici, che ivi si erano rifugiati, parendogli di aver profanata la santità di quel tempio. E perchè vide, che la città era rimasta vuota di cittadini, parte uccisi da esso nel lungo assedio, e parte fuggiti dalla sua crudeltà, egli vi mandò da Roma molti ad abitare, e fecela colonia Romana.
Dipoi per la salubrità dell'aria, ed amenità del paese fu frequentata quella città da Augusto, ed Orazio insieme con Mecenate; da Aulo Gellio, da Marc'Antonio Imperatore e da molti altri: ma sopra tutto è notabile, che in essa città s. Agapito, giovinetto di 15. anni dopo vari tormenti sofferse il martirio nel medesimo luogo, ove oggi è la chiesa cattedrale. Rimane di quel tempio non piccolo argomento vicino a questa chiesa, ed altresì nel palazzo superiore, osservandosi l'ammirabile mosaico noto a tutte le nazioni.
E' ancora notabile la città o castello, che sta sulla cima del monte, perchè ivi dimorò per qualche tempo s. Pietro Apostolo, perciò si dice castel di s. Pietro, e vi si vede la famosa torre, in cui stette prigione il B. Japocone.

Introductory page on Ferdinand Gregorovius

Previous page (in Gregorovius' walk): Colonna and Zagarolo
Next pages (in Gregorovius' walk): Cave, Genazzano, Olevano, Paliano and Anagni
Next page (in Giuseppe Vasi's Environs of Rome): Frascati

Other walks by Ferdinand Gregorovius:
The Ernici Mountains: Ferentino; Alatri
The Volsci Mountains: Valmontone; Segni; Norma; Cori
On the Latin shores: Anzio; Nettuno and Torre Astura
Circe's Cape: Terracina; San Felice
The Orsini Castle in Bracciano
Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery



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.