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Visit Rome following 8 XVIIIth century itineraries XVIIIth century Rome in the 10 Books of Giuseppe Vasi - Le Magnificenze di Roma Antica e Moderna The Grand View of Rome by G. Vasi The Environs of Rome: Frascati, Tivoli, Albano and other small towns near Rome A 1781 map of Rome by G. Vasi An 1852 map of Rome by P. Letarouilly Rome seen by a 1905 armchair traveller in the paintings by Alberto Pisa The 14 historical districts of Rome An abridged history of Rome How to spend a peaceful day in Rome Baroque sculptors and their works The coats of arms of the popes in the monuments of Rome Pages on a specific pope Pages complementing the itineraries and the views by Giuseppe Vasi Walks in the Roman countryside and in other towns of Latium following Ferdinand Gregorovius A Directory of links to the Churches of Rome A Directory of links to the Palaces and Villas of Rome A Directory of links to the Other Monuments of Rome A Directory of Baroque Architects with links to their works A Directory of links to Monuments of Ancient Rome A Directory of links to Monuments of Medieval Rome A Directory of links to Monuments of Renaissance A Directory of links to Monuments of the Late Renaissance A list of the most noteworthy Roman Families Directories of fountains, obelisks, museums, etc. Books and guides used for developing this web site An illustrated Glossary of Art Terms Venice and the Levant Roman recollections in Florence A list of Italian towns shown in this web site Venetian Fortresses in Greece Vienna seen by an Italian XVIIIth century traveller A list of foreign towns shown in this web site
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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 November 2010.

To the Italian visitors of my web site

Piazza del Popolo (Book 2) (Map B1) (Day 1) and (Day 3) (View C5) (Rione Campo Marzio)

In this page:
 The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
 Today's view
 Piazza del Popolo
 Obelisco Flaminio (Obelisk to Rameses II)
 Porta del Popolo
 S. Maria del Popolo
 S. Maria dei Miracoli and S. Maria in Montesanto
 Palazzo Sterbini and Via Laurina

The Plate (No. 21)

Piazza del Popolo

Giuseppe Vasi chose Piazza del Popolo for the opening etching of his 1752 book on the squares of Rome; he had two possible options for showing the square; he eventually did not make a choice because in the book he depicted Piazza del Popolo from its southern end and in a small etching in the title page he showed it from its northern end.
The main etching focused on S. Maria del Popolo and Porta del Popolo and on the long queue of carriages waiting to make their entrance to Via del Corso during the Roman carnival; J. W. Goethe described in his Italian Journey this unusual traffic jam: As evening draws near, more and more people press into the Corso. The carriages have come to a standstill long ago. It can happen that, when night falls, they haven't been able to budge for two hours. (..) When one coachman backs, all those behind him have to back too. The guards start cursing and threatening him. (..) Either he must get back into line or drive into a side street, but these are usually already full of standing carriages, which came too late to get into the Corso, because the vehicles there had already ceased to circulate (translation by W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer - Collins).

Introducory etching
Small etching in the title page of Book II

The small etching showed the Tridente (hayfork), the three streets ideally departing from the obelisk at the centre of the square: Via del Babuino leading to Piazza di Spagna (left), Via del Corso leading to Piazza Venezia (centre) and Via di Ripetta leading to Porto di Ripetta (right); prior to the development of railway this was the first view of Rome for travellers coming from the north. This plate is rather academic, whereas Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a contemporary etcher, chose a different viewpoint resulting in a less formal scene (you may wish to see it in an external link).
The view of the main etching is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below, that of the small etching from the blue dot. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) the obelisk and the fountain; 2) S. Maria del Popolo; 3) Porta del Popolo; 4) S. Maria dei Miracoli. The small map shows also 5) S. Maria in Montesanto; 6) Palazzo Sterbini; 7) Via Laurina.

Small ViewSmall Map

Today

The view today
The view in March 2010

During the annexation of Rome to the French Empire several projects were developed to redesign Piazza del Popolo in conjunction with the opening of large gardens on the Pincio, the hill overlooking the square; the changes were eventually completed by architect Giuseppe Valadier in 1818, after the return to Rome of Pope Pius VII and the restoration of the Papal State.

The Obelisk
Piazza del Popolo seen from Porta del Popolo

The redesign of Piazza del Popolo had a minor impact on the view of the Tridente; the comparison between today's image with the etchings by Vasi and Piranesi shows that the bell towers of the almost twin churches were built at a later time: in 1758 that of S. Maria in Montesanto (left - design by Giuseppe Theodoli) and in 1760-65 that of S. Maria dei Miracoli (right - design by Francesco Navone).

Piazza del Popolo

The new Piazza
The eastern half of Piazza del Popolo and behind it il Pincio

Valadier enlarged the square by adding to two large half circles flanked by identical buildings which were much criticized for their unassuming design; the overall size of the square was deemed to be excessive in relation to the size of the churches and of the obelisk.
Piazza del Popolo is a preferred location for political rallies.

Neoclassicism
Group of statues portraying Rome between Tevere and Aniene by Giovanni Ceccarini; at the sides of the group two columns with "rostra"

The original French project included the erection of a gigantic statue of Emperor Napoleon on the top terrace of the Pincio; this idea was scrapped by the return of Pope Pius VII, but the overall decoration of the square continued to be influenced by an "imperial" approach and by an exaltation of Ancient Rome, which in the past the popes had avoided.

Neoclassicism
(left) Spring by Filippo Gnaccarini; (right) Neptune between two tritons by Giovanni Ceccarini


In conclusion one could say that there are two distinct Piazza del Popolo; one on a north-south axis with a Renaissance/Baroque character and one on an east-west axis which has a typical Neoclassic design; they have in common the obelisk, but otherwise they seem to ignore each other.

Obelisco Flaminio (Obelisk to Rameses II)

The Obelisk
(left) Northern side (of the obelisk); (centre) southern side; (right) western side

In 1586 Domenico Fontana, at the request of Pope Sixtus V, relocated a standing obelisk from the side of S. Pietro to the centre of the square in front of it; the successful completion of the move led the pope to order the restoration/relocation of three other ancient obelisks in the frame of an overall redesign of modern Rome.
In 1589 one of the two obelisks which stood on the ground of Circus Maximus was moved to Piazza del Popolo and placed at the junction point of the Tridente.

The Obelisk
(left) Original inscription (identical to that on the obelisk of Piazza di Montecitorio); (centre) tip of the obelisk with the bronze cross and the heraldic symbols of Pope Sixtus V; (right) XIXth century fountains

The obelisk was erected in Heliopolis and it celebrated Pharaoh Rameses II; it was brought to Rome by Emperor Augustus; it was relocated to Piazza del Popolo also because Pope Sixtus V decreed that S. Maria del Popolo could replace S. Sebastiano as the seventh basilica to be visited by pilgrims (to see all the obelisks of Rome click here).
Prior to the relocation of the obelisk the centre of the square was marked by a fountain designed by Giacomo Della Porta in 1570; it was the first of a series of fountains for the distribution of Acqua Vergine, an ancient Roman aqueduct first restored by Pope Sixtus IV and then expanded at the time of Pope Gregory XIII; the fountain was slightly moved towards Via del Corso to make room for the obelisk; in 1823 Giuseppe Valadier designed four small fountains surrounding the obelisk and the old one was relocated opposite S. Pietro in Montorio and then moved to Piazza Nicosia.

Porta del Popolo

Porta del Popolo
Decoration by Gian Lorenzo Bernini; FELICI FAUSTOQ(UE) INGRESSUI = (to celebrate) the happy and lucky arrival

The inner side of Porta del Popolo celebrates the arrival in Rome of Queen Christina of Sweden in 1655, but the decoration is actually a celebration of Pope Alexander VII, because the six mountains and the star were heraldic symbols of the pope. In the festoon Bernini united oak branches (another heraldic symbol of the pope) with ears of wheat, the heraldic symbol of the Vasa (or Wasa), the Swedish royal family.

S. Maria del Popolo

S. Maria del Popolo
(left) Façade; (right) detail of the main portal


For a long time it was thought that the reference to popolo (people) was a corruption of pioppo (poplar); in recent years records have been found which indicate that the church was built in 1099 at the expense of the municipal authorities and that therefore the church was called Sancta Maria Populi Romani. The medieval church was entirely rebuilt for the Jubilee Year 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV; the design of the façade and of most of the decoration of the interior is attributed to Andrea Bregno and his assistants.
In 1655-61 Bernini redesigned in part the façade and the interior; you may wish to see the façade as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome.

S. Maria del Popolo
(left) Domes of the church and of the Cybo chapel and bell tower; (right) interior


S. Maria del Popolo is a church-museum which houses works from Pinturicchio, Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini and many other artists of the Renaissance and of the XVIIth century.

Battistero
(left) Baptistery chapel; (right) della Rovere chapel with a painting by Bernardino Pinturicchio

The della Rovere, the family of Pope Sixtus IV and of Pope Julius II had their family chapel at S. Maria del Popolo and they also promoted the construction of the main altar which was designed by Andrea Bregno (it was relocated to the Baptistery chapel by Bernini); this explains why so many coats of arms of the della Rovere can be seen in the church.

Battistero
(above) Balustrade of the Baptistery chapel with a coat of arms of the della Rovere; (below) detail of a gravestone in the nave

The interior offers many examples of the change in taste which occurred between the early Renaissance and the XVIIth century; in the former period art was aimed at defining patterns of elegance and beauty in a harmonic context for an aesthetic pleasure, in the latter period it was aimed at conveying strong emotions to the believer, even by a gruesome representation of Death.

Jonah and Habakkuk
Chigi Chapel: (left) Jonah by Lorenzetto (based on a design by Raphael); (right) Habakkuk and the Angel by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Agostino Chigi, a very rich banker who was on friendly terms with Pope Julius II, chose S. Maria del Popolo for his family chapel, which was designed by Raphael, but it was left unfinished; Cardinal Fabio Chigi (Pope Alexander VII), a descendant of Agostino Chigi asked Bernini to complete it (the image used as background for this page shows a coat of arms of Cardinal Flavio Chigi, a nephew of the pope).
Dan Brown set an episode of his novel Angels and Demons here; read some remarks on its accuracy.

Lamp and Tomb of Cardinal Millini
(left) Chigi Chapel: lamp designed by Bernini; (right) monument to Cardinal Savo Millini by Pierre Monnot in the Millini chapel


Other works of art housed in S. Maria del Popolo can be seen in pages covering baroque monuments where the dead are shown in a medallion, Baroque Angels, organs, baroque statues in the act of praying and the martyrdom of saints. A separate page is dedicated to the monument to Maria Flaminia Odescalchi Chigi.

S. Maria dei Miracoli and S. Maria in Montesanto

The Trident
The two churches seen from the obelisk: (left) S. Maria in Montesanto; (right) S. Maria dei Miracoli

Pope Alexander VII promoted several initiatives to improve the section of Via del Corso from Piazza Colonna (where his family palace was located) to Piazza del Popolo; in 1661 he commissioned Carlo Rainaldi the design of two churches at the northern end of the street so that they would provide a monumental entrance to Rome in conjunction with the gate and the obelisk.
The final design of the churches enhanced the depth of the three streets departing from Piazza del Popolo and it reflected suggestions made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The Trident
(left) S. Maria in Montesanto; (right) monument to Marquis Benedetto Gastaldi (design by Carlo Fontana, statues of the Virtues by Antonio Raggi) in S. Maria dei Miracoli

The two churches are not identical; S. Maria in Montesanto was built first and it has an elliptical dome, whereas that of S. Maria dei Miracoli is circular. Another reason why they are not identical is that the space available for their construction was different. The construction of the two churches was mainly financed by Cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi, a member of a wealthy Genoese family, who obtained to be buried with his brother at the side of the main altar of S. Maria dei Miracoli. The churches were completed by 1681.

The Trident
(left) S. Maria dei Miracoli; (right) its bell tower designed by Girolamo Theodoli

Palazzo Sterbini

Palazzetto Sterbini
(left) Palazzo Sterbini; (right) Via Laurina with an inscription indicating the level of the 1598 flood and a medieval relief portraying two pilgrims

Palazzo Sterbini is an XVIIIth century building in Via del Babuino which belonged to the Boncompagni (who owned nearby Palazzo Boncompagni Cerasi); it was decorated with busts of Roman emperors; it was bought by the Sterbini, a family known for Cesare Sterbini who wrote the libretto for Rossini's il Barbiere di Siviglia.
Opposite Palazzo Sterbini a short street leads to Via del Corso; during the Middle Ages and probably until the 1475 Jubilee Year, the access to Via del Corso was obstructed by the ruins of some ancient funerary monuments; pilgrims had to make a detour and pass through this street which for this reason was named Via Peregrinorum.
In the late XVIIth century, when the pilgrims accessed Via del Corso from its new monumental entrance, the street was renamed Via Laurina, after Laura d'Este, mother-in-law of King James II of England; she made donations to the nearby Collegio di S. Orsola.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:


Chiesa di S. Maria del Popolo
Si slarga all'entrare di questa porta una gran piazza, ornata di un maraviglioso Obelisco antico e di varj tempj, e fontane. A sinistra della detta porta appoggia la chiesa di s. Maria del Popolo, la quale fu eretta l'anno 1099. da Pasquale II. per cancellare la nefanda memoria di Nerone, le di cui ceneri quivi negli orti di sua famiglia Domizia stettero sepolte. Ed essendo poi nell'anno 1227. riedificata dal Popolo Romano, prese di questo il nome; e perchè si continuasse la devozione verso la ss. Vergine Gregorio IX. riposevi l'immagine della medesima, che stava nella celebre cappella di Santa Sanctorum: E in forma di basilica a tre navi, e fu data in cura ai Frati Agostiniani della congregazione di Lombardia. Giulio II. adornolla di pitture e di marmi; ed Alessandro VII. la rinnovò con disegno del Bernini.
Due nobilissime cappelle, oltre quella dell'Altare maggiore, sono in questa chiesa, una a destra del Card. Cibo, e l'altra a sinistra di Agostino Ghigi; e fra le pitture evvi nella prima cappella a destra la Natività del Signore fatta dal Pintorecchio; nella seconda poi ornata tutta di marmi e sculture, evvi sull'altare la ss. Concezione con 4. Santi dipinta da Carlo Maratti, e di laterali sono uno di Monsù Daniele, e l'altro di Gio. M. Morandi: le pitture però a fresco nella cupola sono di Luigi Garzi. Il s. Agostino colla ss. Vergine nell'altra cappella è del detto Pintorecchio, e la Visitazione di s. Elisabetta nell'altra è del Morandi suddetto; l'Angelo però a destra è scultura di Ercole Ferrara, e l'altro a sinistra di Gio. Antonio Mari. Il s. Tommaso di Villanova nella cappella, che segue, è di Fabbrizio Chiari, e le pitture nella cupola della chiesa sono del Vanni. Il nobilissimo altare maggiore, in cui si custodisce l'immagine della ss. Vergine fu fatto da Urbano VIII. con disegno del Cav. Rainaldi, e i due sepolcri nel coro sono sculture di Andrea Sansovino. Il quadro dell'Assunta nella cappella che segue, è di Annibale Caracci, e i laterali di Michelangelo da Caravaggio; però le pitture nella volta sono d'Innocenzo Tacconi, ed il resto di Gio. Batista Novara; le pitture e statue nell'altra cappella sono di Giulio Mazzoni. L'altro quadro nella crociata è di Bernardino Mei, l'Angelo a destra è scultura del Raggi, e quello a sinistra del Mari. Le pitture nella cappella che segue sono di un Fiammingo, e quelle nell'altra di Gio. da s. Giovanni; li depositi però furono fatti col disegno dell'Algardi. Siegue appresso la celebre cappella fatta da Agostino Ghigi con disegno di Raffaele da Urbino, e con i suoi contorni fu dipinto il quadro dell'altare da Fra Sebastiano del Piombo; li mosaici nella cupola furono similmente cavati da' cartoni di Raffaello; le lunette però sono del Vanni. La statua di Elia e quella di Giona furono scolpite da Lorenzetto con disegno, e direzione di Raffaello, e però pajono antiche; le altre due e i depositi sono opere del Cav. Bernino; il paliotto dell'altare con i bassirilievi, e candellieri di metallo sono opere del mentovato Lorenzetto; il quadro nell'ultima cappella e di Pasqualino de' Rossi, ed il resto di pitture e sculture in varj altri luoghi della chiesa sono riguardevoli, ma per brevità si tralasciano.
Piazza del Popolo, e Obelisco Egizio
Come la porta, e la chiesa suddetta, così chiamasi questa gran Piazza, in mezzo alla quale si vede il maraviglioso Obelisco, colla ss. Croce inalberata in legno di nostra santa Religione. Questo smisurato sasso, fu un opera delle più ammirabili de' Re di Egitto, fatto in tal forma da Semneferteo, che regnò 522. anni prima della nascita del nostro Redentore. È alto palmi 108, e col piedistallo 145; nel suo vivo è largo palmi 12. e mezzo, e nelle 4. faccie è lavorato con note e simboli Egizj, cavato in un sol masso di granito rosso. Da Eliopoli lo condusse in Roma Augusto, e lo eresse nel Circo massimo, ove poi giacque con tante altre rarità sotto le rovine fino al Pontificato di Sisto V il quale nel 1589. quì fecelo trasportare, facendovi collocare nella sua cima il segno della ss. Croce sopra il Tuo stemma, il tutto fatto di metallo alto palmi 17. e mezzo, sicchè dal piano si contano palmi 162 e mezzo. Il fonte, che adorna il piede di questo, è notabile per la tazza superiore, perchè ricavata da una base delle colonne, trovate nel giardino Colonnese.
Via del Corso
Tre strade si aprono su questa piazza, divise da due chiese erette ugualmente con magnifica architettura, onde rendono maestoso e nobile il primo ingresso della Città. La strada di mezzo seguita, come dicemmo, fino alla piazza di Sciarra col nome di Flammia, ma dopochè vi fu introdotta da Paolo II. la corsa de' cavalli in tempo di Carnevale, prese ancora il nome di Corso. A destra del quale evvi la
Chiesa di S. Maria di Monte santo
I Frati Carmelitani della provincia di Monte santo in Sicilia possedevano quì preso una piccola chiesa, ed avendo principiata la nuova sotto Alessandro VII. col disegno simile a quella dell' altra parte del Corso, per mancanza di danaro, fu poi proseguita dal Cardinale Girolamo Castaldi sotto la direzione del Cavalier Bernini, quasi simile all'altra . Sono in questa delle cappelle ornate di marmi, pitture, e stucchi dorati. Fra le pitture sono riguardevoli quelle nella prima cappella a destra del ss. Crocifisso fatte da Salvatore Rosa, e quelle nella terza di Niccolò Berrettoni. L'Altare maggiore è ornato di marmi e colonne; sonovi ne' depositi laterali delle sculture e busti di metallo condotte dal Cav. Lucenti. Il quadro nella cappella, che siegue, e di Carlo Maratti, e i laterali, uno è di Luigi Garzi, e l'altro di Monsù Daniele, ed è degna di osservazione la sagrestia di quella cappella per le pitture del Baciccio, e del Chiari. Finalmente la s. Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi nella cappella, che siegue è del Gimignani, e la s. Anna nell'ultima del Berrettoni suddetto. A sinistra del Corso è la
Chiesa di S. Maria de' Miracoli
Avevano i Frati Riformati del Terz'Ordine di s. Francesco Francesi una piccola chiesa presso al Tevere, con una immagine della ss. Vergine molto miracolosa; e perchè fosse tenuta con maggior decoro, fu da Alessandro VII. ordinato, che si facesse quivi una chiesa col disegno del Cav. Rainaldi; ma essendo mancato il Pontefice, fu proseguita la fabbrica dal suddetto Card. Gastaldi Genovese, con gli avanzi dello spurgo fatto in tempo del mal contagioso, poco prima sofferto da questa Città, e ne ebbe la direzione il Cav. Bernini, che ridusse la chiesa in figura ovata con cupola, e portico esteriore. Sono in questa delle cappelle ornate di pitture e marmi: specialmente l'altare maggiore è ornato ne' laterali con depositi, le cui statue e putti sono di Antonio Raggi, e i busti di metallo del Cav. Lucenti.

Next plate in Book 2: Obelisco cavato di sotto le ruine
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Chiesa di S. Carlo al Corso
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Piazza di Spagna
Next step in your tour of Rione Campo Marzio: Porta del Popolo