In his choice of subjects for his 1756 book on the parish churches of Rome, Giuseppe Vasi included S. Maria in Campo Carleo on the grounds that it had been one of the first parish churches of the city. The unassuming building however was not an ancient one and it is not known to have contained ancient columns or capitals. In retrospect we must thank Vasi for his choice because his etching depicts a neighbourhood which does not exist any longer.
The origin of Campo Carleo is uncertain: it is thought that either a Byzantine officer named Kaloleon or a Carolo Leonis had their residence in the area.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Strada dei Conti; 2) Tower of Palazzo del Marchese del Grillo; 3) Strada Alessandrina; 4) Walls of Monasterio della SS. Nunziata; 5) Ruins of Tempio della Pace (at the end of the street); 6) Chiesa di S. Urbano. 2) and 4) are shown in detail in other pages. The small map shows also 7) S. Maria in Campo Carleo.
The view in June 2009. On the left Mercati di Traiano, in the centre the loggia of Casa dei Cavalieri di Rodi and in the foreground two reconstructed columns of Basilica Ulpia. The inset shows the name of the short street (yellow dot) between Mercati di Traiano and Casa dei Cavalieri di Rodi. It is the only remaining reference to the neighbourhood shown in the plate
The Parish of S. Maria in Campo Carleo was abolished by Pope Leo XII in 1825 and the church was pulled down in 1884. Strada Alessandrina is still there, but all the buildings, including S. Urbano, which flanked it were demolished in 1932. The street was named after Cardinal Michele Bonelli, known as Cardinal Alessandrino because he came from Alessandria, a town in northern Italy. He lived in a nearby palace; between 1567 and 1570 he promoted the draining of a swamp at Arco dei Pantani and the opening of a new street between Piazza della Colonna Trajana and Tempio della Pace.
Aerial view before 1932; the red dot is the point from
which Vasi took his view; 1) Colonna Traiana; 2) SS. Luca e Martina; 3) Arco dei Pantani; 4) Tempio di Pallade. The green line shows Strada Alessandrina and the yellow lines indicate the approximate route of the first section of Via dell'Impero (today Via dei Fori Imperiali)
A number of buildings in this part of Rome were demolished in order to allow archaeological excavations, but the decision to pull down the whole neighbourhood was taken for political purposes. A new large avenue was opened to link Palazzo Venezia, from which Prime Minister and Fascist Duce (Leader) Benito Mussolini delivered his most important speeches, with Colosseo, the symbol of Ancient Rome. Via dell'Impero was inaugurated on the tenth anniversary of the Fascist seizure of power (October 28, 1922).
(left) A photo of the western side of Strada Alessandrina before 1932; (right) underground walls of S. Urbano
According to Antonio Munoz, the Fine Arts Superintendent in charge at the time of the excavations, the churches and houses which were pulled down had no significant historic or artistic value, the only exception being the Late Renaissance house of Flaminio Ponzio (the building with a balcony on the left side of Strada Alessandrina in the etching by Vasi). Its fašade was re-assembled in Piazza di S. Maria in Campitelli.
(above) Junction between Via dei Fori Imperiali (left) and Strada Alessandrina (right) where the City of Rome has made use of Vasi's etching to show the neighbourhood which was pulled down; (below) Via dei Fori Imperiali with Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II on the left
Rear view of Basilica di Massenzio and behind it the bell tower of S. Francesca Romana (in the foreground Tempio di Pallade)
The large building which Vasi called Tempio della Pace is now referred to as Basilica di Massenzio; the actual Templum Pacis has been identified in the foundations of Monastero dei SS. Cosma e Damiano.
Monastero dei SS. Cosma e Damiano (left) and Basilica di Massenzio (right) seen from Orti Farnesiani
The basilica is named after Emperor/Usurper Maxentius, who built it in 306-312; it was completed by Emperor Constantine. The building was divided into three naves by eight gigantic pillars. Each of them was decorated with a column. In 1613 the only standing column was removed by Pope Paul V who placed it opposite S. Maria Maggiore. The remaining part of the basilica corresponds to the northern minor nave, which included a side apse.
(left) Maps highlighting the expansion of the Roman Empire on the back of Basilica di Massenzio; (right) detail of the vaults
The colossal vaults and their decoration were a source of inspiration for many artists (you may wish to see the ceiling of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane by Francesco Borromini). The maps showing the expansion of the Roman Empire were added in the 1930s (there used to be also another map showing the short-lived Italian Empire which was declared by Mussolini after the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936).
(left) Fragments of porphyry columns at the southern entrance to the basilica; (centre/right) Musei Capitolini: marble parts of a colossal statue of Emperor Constantine which stood in the basilica (a hand was found at Circus Maximus and you can see it in the image used as background for this page, the holes in the head indicate the presence of a bronze crown)
It is generally believed that the statue of Constantine was an acrolith (from the Greek words meaning height/extremity and stone) i.e. the head, the arms and the legs were made of marble, whereas the clothed parts of the body were made of wood or bronze. It was not a new development in sculpture because this technique had been used by Phidias at Olympia in the Vth century BC.
Next plate in Book 6: S. Agnese fuori delle mura.
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Orti Farnesiani.
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Tempio Antico di Pallade.
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Tempio Antico di Pallade.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Due strade si aprono ai fianchi di questa piccola, e antica chiesa parrocchiale; una a destra dicesi; de' Conti, e l'altra a sinistra, si chiama Alessandrina.
Tre soli arconi spogliati di ogni ornamento rimangono in piedi del celebre e magnifico tempio della pace, che fu una delle maggiori fabbriche di Roma. Principiollo Claudio Imperatore e poi terminollo Vespasiano, dopo aver soggiogata la Giudea, e per dargli quella vastitÓ di sito, che conveniva, atterr˛ la casa di Giulio Cesare, ed altre fabbriche, che impedivano la superba idea di quel tempio. In esso conserv˛ tutti i vasi e ornamenti preziosi, che port˛ nel suo trionfo dal tempio di Gerusalemme, e oltre le ricchezze delle provincie lontane, vi si portavano a conservare anco quelle di Roma, e vi erano delle statue e pitture fatte da' pi¨ eccellenti artefici di quei tempi. Per una saetta arse poi tutto quel tesoro in tempo di Commodo con grave danno de' Romani: onde mai pi¨ fu riattato. Una sola colonna delle otto, che sostenevano la nave di mezzo, rimasta in piedi, da Paolo V. fu drizzata sulla piazza di s. Maria Maggiore, collocandovi sopra la statua della ss. Vergine di metallo dorato, e di un tronco di quelle, ne fu formata la maravigliosa statua di Alessandro Farnese, che si vede in questo salone.