All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in November 2009.
S. Niccolò in Carcere (Book 6) (Map C3) (Day 5) (View C9) (Rione Ripa) and (Rione Campitelli)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
S. Niccol˛ in Carcere
S. Maria della Consolazione
Ospedale della Consolazione
Offices of the guilds
This plate shows an area where the ruins of ancient Foro Boario and Foro Olitorio were turned into medieval buildings or churches. Vasi placed in this etching a melodramatic scene: two men fighting for a woman and one of them showing a knife (you may wish to see some pages with details of Vasi's etchings which illustrate leisure, trade and traffic in the XVIIIth century).
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) Ancient Columns of S. Nicola in Carcere; 2) Street leading to S. Maria della Consolazione; 3) Fountain in Piazza Montanara; 4) Street leading to S. Galla. 3) is shown in detail in another page. The small map shows also: 5) S. Omobono; 6) S. Maria della Consolazione; 7) Ospedale della Consolazione; 8) Offices of the guilds. The dotted line in the small map delineates the borders among Rione Sant'Angelo (small area on the left), Rione Ripa (left lower quarter) and Rione Campitelli.
The net of small houses surrounding S. Niccol˛ in Carcere was pulled down in the 1930s: the church and the nearby Palazzo Orsini/Teatro di Marcello were freed of many later additions. The medieval bell tower was reconstructed on the basis of old documents and the fašade of the church was restricted to its central section to show the columns of an ancient temple.
The original church is thought to have been built in the VIIth century when Rome was part of the Byzantine Empire; this would explain its dedication to St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, one of the most important Greek saints. The church was rebuilt in the XIth century.
The church structure makes use of the columns of three different Roman temples. They were built in the IIIrd/IInd centuries BC and they were all restored at the time of Emperor Augustus: elements of the central temple can be seen in the nave of the church and by visiting an underground crypt; six travertine columns of the left temple can be seen on one side of the church, while a row of seven peperino columns and two isolated columns belonging to the right temple can be seen between the church and Teatro di Marcello (you may wish to see a page on the Stones of Rome). The temples were dedicated to Spes (Fortune), Juno and Janus.
This church is associated with an image of the Virgin Mary; it was painted to comply with a will of a prisoner who was hanged in 1385 at Rupe Tarpea which stands to the left of the church; the image was placed on a wall facing the execution site; almost a century later an innocent man who was being hanged in the same spot was supported by an invisible hand. A small chapel was built to house the miraculous image which became known as Madonna della Consolazione; in 1600 a church designed by Martino Longhi replaced the chapel.
The guilds which had their offices in nearby Campidoglio (see section at the end of this page) contributed to financing the construction of the church and in return they were assigned some of its chapels. The upper part of the fašade was completed in 1827. Originally S. Maria della Consolazione stood on just three steps, but because the level of the square was lowered in the 1930s, sixteen steps are now required to reach its entrance.
Ospedale della Consolazione was founded at the beginning of the XVIth century by uniting three small existing hospitals. It was modified and enlarged several times, but it gradually lost importance and in 1936 it was closed. In the 1930/40s several buildings on the slopes and at the foot of Campidoglio were pulled down to isolate the hill: this led to the partial loss of the hospital buildings, but its most ancient part with two nice Renaissance portals was spared (although it is now used for other purposes). The coat of arms with three crosses is a reference to the original hospitals.
Originally the church was used as a chapel by one of the three hospitals which were merged into Ospedale della Consolazione and it was called S. Salvatore in Portico; in 1575 it was acquired by the guild of the tailors; it was almost entirely rebuilt and it was dedicated to S. Omobono, a XIIth century merchant from Cremona who donated his properties to the poor and who worked as a tailor to comply with Clothe the naked, the third Act of Mercy according to the Roman Catholic Church. Click here for a list of churches belonging to a guild.
A small Roman stela opposite the church is interesting for its two inscriptions: in the upper part two Roman consuls state that the area is public property; in the lower part Pope Paul IV in 1556 celebrates himself as preserver of Roman heritage.
The area around the small church was widely excavated in the 1960s and many interesting remains were found; they date back to the very early days of Rome. Today's level of the ground is higher than that at the time of Ancient Rome, but it is lower than that at Vasi's time (which explains the stairs which now lead to S. Omobono). The area is very near the river and it was easily flooded.
Offices of the Guilds
Everybody knows the grand entrance to
Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo. Not many are aware that during working hours the piazza
can be reached from S. Niccol˛ in Carcere going up through a park on the southern side of the hill. One reaches a Renaissance loggia
identical to and facing that of Convento di S. Maria in Aracoeli; the buildings on both sides of the steps leading down to the piazza housed the offices of the Roman guilds, which
were decorated with inscriptions and reliefs.
Next plate in Book 6: S. Grisogono
Next step in Day 5 itinerary: S. Giorgio al Velabro
Next step in your tour of Rione Ripa: S. Giorgio al Velabro
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: Portico di Monte Caprino