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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 2010.

Archiginnasio della Sapienza (Book 9) (Map C2) (Day 4) (View C6) (Rione Sant'Eustachio)

In this page:
 The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
 Today's view
 Archiginnasio della Sapienza
 S. Ivo alla Sapienza
 A Speaking Decoration
 Biblioteca Alessandrina and Teatro Valle

The Plate (No. 161)

arch is a prefix meaning pre-eminent of its kind, so Archiginnasio della Sapienza was the most important high-level educational institution of Papal Rome; it was founded by Pope Boniface VIII with the name of Studium Urbis and it was located in Trastevere. During the XVth century it was moved to Rione Sant'Eustachio and it became known as Archiginnasio della Sapienza (Wisdom) because Pope Sixtus V placed an inscription above its entrance with the following quotation: Initium Sapientiae Timor Domini (The Psalms 111, 10 - The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom). The main university of today's Rome is named La Sapienza.
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli; 2) Palazzo Madama; 3) Palazzo Carpegna. These monuments are all shown in other pages. The small map shows also 4) Archiginnasio della Sapienza; 5) S. Ivo alla Sapienza; 6) Biblioteca Alessandrina; 7) Teatro Valle. The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Parione (left) and Rione Sant'Eustachio (right).
Vasi shows the spiral lantern of S. Ivo alla Sapienza in the plates covering S. Eustachio and Palazzo Madama.


(left) The view in January 2009; (right) detail showing Palazzo Madama (left), Palazzo Carpegna (centre) and the corner of Archiginnasio della Sapienza (right)

The very narrow street between Archiginnasio della Sapienza and S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli was enlarged between 1936-38 by shortening the nave of the latter and building a new fašade in a backward position; the block of houses which is visible at the centre of the plate was also pulled down so that the view now reaches the left side of Palazzo del Collegio Germanico. Palazzo Madama is now hidden by Palazzo Carpegna which was pulled down and rebuilt in a slightly forward position, in line with the fašade of Archiginnasio della Sapienza.

Archiginnasio della Sapienza

(left) Bell tower with the heraldic symbols (three mountains and a star) of Pope Sixtus V; (above-left) inscription; (above-right) lantern of S. Ivo seen through the central window; (below) clock surrounded by bees, the heraldic symbol of Pope Urban VIII who placed an inscription with a sun, another heraldic symbol of his family on the southern side of the building.

In 1564 Pope Pius IV commissioned Pirro Ligorio a project for a total renovation of the buildings which housed Archiginnasio della Sapienza: in 1561 Ligorio had engraved Antiquae Urbis Imago (external link), one of the first reconstruction of ancient Rome where he had shown his deep knowledge of Roman architecture; in 1562 he designed a casino for Pope Pius IV where he made use of this knowledge. His project for Archiginnasio della Sapienza was based on a large rectangular courtyard with two semicircular walls at its ends (a design similar to those of Basilica Ulpia and of the rear part of Terme di Caracalla); Giacomo Della Porta, who actually built most of the current palace in the following years, made many changes to Ligorio's project, but the semicircular fašade of S. Ivo della Sapienza is part of the original project. Only one of the two bell towers planned by Della Porta was completed.

S. Ivo alla Sapienza

(left) S. Ivo seen from the courtyard of Palazzo della Sapienza; (right) view of the interior of the dome with heraldic symbols of Pope Alexander VII

In 1632 Gian Lorenzo Bernini suggested the name of Francesco Borromini to Pope Urban VIII as a master builder capable of completing the construction of Archiginnasio della Sapienza; Borromini was a nephew of Carlo Maderno, a famous architect of the early XVIIth century, and at that time he was working as assistant to Bernini in the completion of Palazzo Barberini; the task he was assigned was rather limited: the completion of the southern and northern sides of the courtyard and the construction of a small church on its eastern side.
Borromini could only follow the pattern established by Della Porta for the courtyard, but he showed his ingenuity in the design of the church. Pope Urban VIII endorsed Borromini's 1642 project: it was relatively inexpensive (all the decoration was based on stucco works), it reminded of the pope's heraldic symbol (the lantern was supposed to represent the sting of a bee) and it was supported by an elaborate rationale linked to Sapienza.

Interior of the dome

King Solomon was known for his wisdom and his seal had a hexagonal shape (up and down triangles) and so the plan of the church envisaged by Borromini was hexagonal with three concave sides and three convex sides; the triangles were also a reference to the Holy Trinity.

Details of the decoration of the lantern (left), with heraldic symbols of Pope Innocent X, and of the dome (right) portraying the Lamb of God on the Scroll of the Seven Seals

Archiginnasio della Sapienza had academic courses on Theology and Law and its church was dedicated to St. Yves, patron saint of lawyers, although the church in the past was also associated with four other saints: Fortunato, Leone, Luca and Pantaleo.

A Speaking Decoration

Initial phase: (left-above) dragon of Pope Gregory XIII; (left-below) dragon and eagle of Pope Paul V; (right) lion, pears, three mountains and star of Pope Sixtus V

The inner courtyard and the church show the heraldic symbols of the popes who one after the other contributed to building and decorating Archiginnasio della Sapienza and S. Ivo.

Borromini's phase: (left) lantern supposed to represent the sting of a bee, heraldic symbol of Pope Urban VIII; (above-left) dove with the olive branch and three fleurs-de-lys, heraldic symbols of Pope Innocent X; (above-centre) six mountains, star and acorns, heraldic symbols of Pope Alexander VII; (above-right) stars of Pope Alexander VII; (below-left) bees of Pope Urban VIII; (below-centre) star of Pope Alexander VII; (below-right) acorns of Pope Alexander VII

Biblioteca Alessandrina and Teatro Valle

(left) Biblioteca Alessandrina (in the foreground a Roman basin near Palazzo Carpegna); (right) Teatro Valle

Archiginnasio della Sapienza included Biblioteca Alessandrina named after Pope Alexander VII, who provided the students with a large library which included that of the former Dukes of Urbino (13,000 volumes which today are in the modern University of Rome).
Teatro Valle was inaugurated on January 7, 1727, the first day of carnival: Roman theatres were active only during the carnival period, but notwithstanding the short season in the XVIIIth century they were a very profitable investment. In December 1816 Gioacchino Rossini was commissioned an opera for the forthcoming carnival and he composed in a rush La Cenerentola (Cinderella). The premiere at Teatro Valle on January 25, 1817 had the same unfavourable response which had occurred a year earlier to the first performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Teatro Argentina, but eventually La Cenerentola became the hit of the season. It was the last Italian opera buffa by Gioacchino Rossini and according to many his masterpiece. The fašade of Teatro Valle was redesigned in 1821 by Giuseppe Valadier.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

... Dipoi voltando nel vicolo, che le sta a sinistra, ed entrando nel primo vicolo, si trova a sinistra il Teatro della Valle, ed appresso l'
Archiginnasio della Sapienza
Era giÓ perduto lo studio delle scienze, non meno di quello delle belle arti, per le continue guerre d'Italia, e sciagure di Roma, quando s. Gregorio il grande pens˛ di rimetterlo. Innocenzo IV. stabilý quello dell'una, e dell'altra legge, Bonifacio VIII. eresse quivi le pubbliche scuole l'anno 1293. e Clemente V. vi stabilý le cattedre delle lingue, e altri Pontefici vi hanno aggiunto quelle di altre scienze. Il primo architetto della fabbrica fu il Buonarroti, o secondo altri il Bramante; ma poi fu terminata sotto Alessandro VII. dal Borromini, il quale fece nel gran cortile la chiesa con la cupola di una nuova invenzione, tanto nell'interno, che nell'esterno ammirabile. Fu dedicata a s. Luca Evangelista, a san Leone Magno, e a s. Ivo avvocato de' poveri, avendovi fatto il quadro Pietro da Cortona, ma per causa di morte fu terminato poi da Gio. Ventura Borghesi suo allievo.

Next plate in Book 9: Prospetto principale del Collegio Romano

Next step in Day 4 itinerary: Palazzo Madama
Next step in your tour of Rione Sant'Eustachio: S. Eustachio