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.
Monastero e Chiesa dei Santi Domenico e Sisto (Book 8) (Map B3) (Day 3) (View C8) (Rione Monti)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
SS. Domenico e Sisto
S. Caterina a Magnanapoli
The Plate (No. 149)
The full heading of this plate makes reference also to the nunnery of S. Caterina; so the plate covers two nunneries, both belonging to the Dominican order. They were located in Monte Magnanapoli, the southern peak of the Quirinale hill which overlooked the former Forum of Trajan; the origin of Magnanapoli which literally means eatNaples is uncertain: there are three different explanations for it:
a) the Trajan's markets at the foot of the hill were thought to have housed baths built by Pope Paul I hence balnea Pauli (Paul's baths), later on corrupted in Magnanapoli;
b) the construction of a Byzantine fortified citadel in the VIth century; this was called bannum nea polis (new military town) in a mixture of German and Latin words; bannum nea polis eventually led to Magnanapoli;
c) the existence in the area of towers and other buildings belonging to the Colonna family; they had inscriptions with the words "Mag(nus) Neapol(itani) Regni Connestabilis" because the Colonna had many fiefs in the Kingdom of Naples: the text of the inscription can be seen in Palazzina di Papa Pio IV.
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Entrance to Villa Aldobrandini; 2) Street leading to S. Maria Maggiore; 3) Street leading to Monte Cavallo (Quirinale); 4) SS. Domenico e Sisto; 5) S. Caterina da Siena. The map shows also 6) Casino Aldobrandini.
In 1876 the level of the ground in this part of Monte Magnanapoli was lowered so the former entrance to Villa Aldobrandini is today a window and a flight of steps is needed to enter S. Caterina da Siena.
The lowering of the ground was required by the opening of Via Nazionale, a new street linking Stazione Termini, the central railway station with Piazza di Venezia. "Omnibus" (for all) a carriage drawn by horses which was the first public transportation system introduced in Rome required a limited inclination of the street and for this reason the ground was raised or lowered at several points along Via Nazionale (see S. Vitale for an example of raised ground). The street leading to Piazza del Quirinale which already existed at the time of Vasi was lowered and enlarged.
SS. Domenico e Sisto
The construction of the church spanned almost a century from 1569 when Pope Pius V, a Dominican himself, funded the purchase of the land to 1664, when the elegant staircase was completed. The church and the adjoining nunnery were meant to be a new residence for the nuns of S. Sisto (Vecchio) which was situated in an unhealthy location. Pope Gregory XIII promoted the restoration of the old nunnery, thus slowing the construction of the new one. Work resumed in 1609 and it was completed by Vincenzo Della Greca and his son Felice.
The Dominicans or Black Friars had as a symbol a dog with a torch, with reference to Dominicanus = Dominus Canis (Dog of the Lord); the image used as background for this page is based on a relief in the portal of the church.
In 1587 the completion of Acqua Felice, a new aqueduct, with a monumental fountain on the Quirinale, greatly improved the appreciation for this hill which was the closest to Papal Rome. In 1600 Pope Clement VIII bought in Magnanapoli a small casino surrounded by a large piece of land, which he passed on to his nephew Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini. The main building was redesigned by Carlo Lambardi.
The coat of arms of Pope Clement VIII shown in the plate is lost, but the heraldic symbols (stars and stripes) of the Aldobrandini are still noticeable in many parts of the gardens and on the many globes of their balustrades. However the balconies of the main building show the dove of the Pamphilj: Donna Olimpia, the last heir of the Aldobrandini, married first Paolo Borghese and then Camillo Pamphilj (in the small map the gardens are called Giardino Panfili).
Because of the opening of Via Nazionale and in general of the development of the area after 1870, the gardens of Villa Aldobrandini were reduced to a fraction of their original size. They are now open to the public.
To know more about Villa Aldobrandini see Paula Howarth's very interesting site on the Villa and its current use.
S. Caterina a Magnanapoli
Pope Gregory XIII promoted the construction of this Dominican nunnery by making a donation but it was not until 1608 that the actual construction started under the patronage of Cardinal Scipione Borghese; Giovanni Battista Soria, an architect who had worked for the cardinal at S. Grisogono, S. Gregorio al Celio and at S. Maria della Vittoria designed the fašade. Because the Borghese heraldic symbols (eagles and dragons) do not appear on it, most likely the fašade was slightly modified during the pontificate of Pope Alexander VII whose heraldic symbols were placed on the balustrades of the portico.
The church has a very richly decorated interior: in other pages of this web site you can see its cantoria, a relief by Melchiorre CaffÓ, a monument by Giuliano Finelli and its altar.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page: