All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in September 2009.
Ospizio dei Frati Eremiti (Book 7) (Map A3) (Day 2) (View B8) (Rione Monti)
In this page:
The subject of the plate is the tribune of S. Maria Maggiore. It is one of three plates devoted by Vasi to this Basilica (the others are plate 48 - front view and plate 157 - side view). In 1771 Vasi depicted the tribune in a larger etching. The view shows a section of Strada Felice, the street which links S. Maria Maggiore to SS. Trinità dei Monti. The street was opened by Pope Sixtus V whose name before the appointment was Felice Peretti.
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) Tribuna di S. Maria Maggiore; 2) S. Maria della SanitÓ; 3) S. Paolo Primo Eremita. The small map shows also 4) S. Norberto; 5) S. Dionigi Areopagita; 6) S. Vitale.
The area was largely modified after 1871 with the opening of Via Nazionale (the photo was taken immediately before the crossing between this street and Strada Felice). In 1920 the construction of a complex of buildings to house the Italian Home Office led to the pulling down of S. Maria della SanitÓ and of part of the monastery adjoining S. Paolo Primo Eremita.
S. Paolo Primo Eremita
The church was dedicated to an Egyptian saint who is regarded as the first Christian hermit (primo eremita). He lived in the desert in a cave inside which he found a spring. A palm tree provided him with food and leaves with which he covered himself; every day a raven brought him some bread. At his death two lions dug his grave by using their paws.
A religious order inspired after the life of this saint was endorsed by Pope Clement V in 1308. Its members were mainly Hungarians and Poles. The Roman monastery was founded in 1669; the church shown in the plate was almost entirely redesigned by Clemente Orlandi in time for the 1775 Jubilee Year; the small portico has points in common with Bernini's S. Andrea al Quirinale, whereas the use of concave and convex lines is a tribute to Francesco Borromini. The fašade has many references to the life of St. Paul, which attract the curiosity of unhurried passers-by. The church was deconsecrated in 1873.
There were three other monasteries with a church in this section of Strada Felice (S. Maria della SanitÓ, S. Norberto, S. Dionigi Areopagita). They are all lost although some references to religious institutions can be found in the current buildings.
S. Dionigi Areopagita was shown by Vasi in another view of the tribune of S. Maria Maggiore, taken from le Quattro Fontane.
The Ministry for Internal Affairs is one of the last stile umbertino buildings in Rome. It was designed by Manfredo Manfredi. Its construction and that of other adjoining buildings led to the levelling of a vast area, thus making the Viminale hill rather difficult to notice.
The obelisk was relocated here by Pope Sixtus V in 1587; originally it was at the entrance of Mausoleo di Augusto together with a second obelisk which is now in Piazza del Quirinale. The pope dedicated the obelisk to the Holy Cross: a bronze cross was placed above the heraldic symbols of the pope (to see all the obelisks of Rome click here).
From the base of the obelisk it is possible to see the full length of Strada Felice. The street is now divided into three sections:
a) Via Depretis from S. Maria Maggiore (on the Esquilino hill) to Via Nazionale which is located between the Viminale and Quirinale hills;
b) Via delle Quattro Fontane from Via Nazionale to Piazza Barberini on the other side of the Quirinale hill;
c) Via Sistina from Piazza Barberini to the obelisk opposite TrinitÓ dei Monti on il Pincio.
The rear view of S. Maria Maggiore is marked by the large domes of Cappella Sistina, built by Pope Sixtus V and of Cappella Paolina which was built a few years later by Pope Paul V. They can be distinguished by the heraldic symbols of the popes (those of Pope Paul V were eagles and dragons).
The exterior of the old medieval apse was out of proportion with the dimension of the two chapels and of their domes. In 1669 Pope Clement IX endorsed a project by Gian Lorenzo Bernini which was based on the construction of a new larger apse surrounded by a colonnade. The cost of the project was initially underestimated by Bernini, perhaps to ease the papal approval. Pope Clement X in 1670 stopped the execution of the project and in 1673 Carlo Rainaldi redesigned the apse appearance, making it look larger by the addition of balustrades and statues.
In the XVIIIth century a narrow lane off Strada Felice led to the old church of S. Vitale, rebuilt in 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV. Today S. Vitale is located along Via Nazionale, a very important street; because town planners wanted the new street to have a smooth inclination they raised the level of the ground and the church ended in a sort of hole.
The very simple fašade leads to a very interesting interior which at the beginning of the XVIIth century was painted with dramatic scenes of sufferings and deaths of martyrs. The finely carved doors give the visitor an anticipation of what he is going to see.
You may wish to see the church as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page: