All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in 2009.
Parte di Campo Vaccino verso il Campidoglio (Book 2) (Map B3) (Day 1) (View C9) (Rione Campitelli)
This view shows the western part of Campo Vaccino whereas its eastern
part is shown in the next Plate. Campo Vaccino (Cow Field) was the site of a weekly cattle market for many centuries (vacca is the Italian word for cow). In the XVIIIth century the level of
the ground was higher than in antiquity and it covered most of the Roman ruins; the few surviving monuments were partly buried.
In 1803 Pope Pius VII relocated elsewhere the cattle market and promoted the first archaeological excavations of the Forum; they targeted the columns buried in the slope of the hill. The area was thoroughly excavated after 1870 with the objective of reaching the level of the ground at the time of Emperor Augustus; this approach led to uncovering the foundations of some Roman monuments built in later periods.
Read William Dean Howells' account of his visit to Campo Vaccino in 1908 and his views about the pros and cons of the excavations.
Colonna di Foca
The exact purpose of the lonely column mentioned in the plate was unknown at Vasi's time; it was thought to be the only remaining of a series which supported a bridge between the Palatine and Campidoglio. The excavations led to discovering fragments of an inscription at its base; they revealed that the column supported a bronze statue of Byzantine Emperor Foca (Gr. Phocas) and that it was erected in 608.
The column was taken from another building and most likely also the (lost) bronze statue was not original. Foca was an usurper and was known for being particularly cruel, even for the custom of his time; he murdered Maurice, the legitimate emperor, and his five sons; he eventually paid a price for this crime because, after being dethroned in 610, he was skinned and then burned alive.
To understand why in Rome he was so popular one must bear in mind that, because the Patriarch of Constantinople challenged the legitimacy of his power, in 607 the emperor issued an edict saying that the Bishopric of Rome was the first of all sees. He then transferred the Pantheon property to the pope.
The column is the last monument erected in the Roman Forum.
Arco di Settimio Severo
The arch was erected by the Senate to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Emperor's accession and his victories in wars against the Parthians. The reliefs of the arch are very much damaged, in particular those showing events of the Parthian wars, including the conquests of Edessa and Ctesiphon, the enemy's capital. Other reliefs are in pretty good condition, either because they were buried in the ground or because they were not affected by the modifications which turned the arch into a medieval small fortress (there are four rooms inside the arch and a turret was built on its top).
It is interesting to note that the reliefs of Colonna Trajana set a pattern for depicting a prisoner of war which was followed in this arch; although the column illustrated Trajan's Dacian Wars, whereas this arch celebrated wars against the Parthians, the prisoners made by Septimius Severus were portrayed in Dacian costumes.
At least in their reliefs, the ancient Romans treated their conquered enemies in a dignified and compassionate manner.
Templi di Saturno e di Vespasiano
The temple which Vasi thought was dedicated to Concordia (consensus) is now known as Tempio di Saturno. The current building is a IVth century restoration of a very old Republican temple which was rebuilt in 42 BC and damaged by a fire in 283 AD. The different size of the columns shows that the restoration was a sort of "cannibalization" which made use of materials coming from other ruined temples.
The Saturn celebrated in this temple is not the Latin counterpart of the Greek god Chronus, Zeus' father, but an Italian god-king who presided over a mythical golden age; the Saturnalia were one of the main festivities of the Roman calendar; they took place around the winter solstice: slaves were allowed to treat their masters as their equals, gifts were exchanged, candles were lighted and banquets were arranged; Saturnalia are thought to have influenced Christmas' traditions.
The Temple dedicated to Emperor Vespasian was built by his son Domitian in 86 AD. Its three remaining columns and the cornice show great craftsmanship.
The view taken from Orti Farnesiani on the Palatine hill shows the Tabularium, the Roman archives on top of which Palazzo Senatorio was built; its side towards the Forum has the appearance of a medieval fortress.
The bell tower was built during the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85) and it replaced a medieval one. It was designed by Martino Longhi il Vecchio and it had on top a statue of Rome holding a large cross (actually it was an ancient statue of Diana). After 1870 this statue was replaced by another statue representing Rome, but without the cross; this was done to show the new lay function attributed to the building (it houses key municipal offices).
In the XIIIth century Palazzo Senatorio became the site of the Comune di Roma, the political system which at the same time was being adopted by many other Italian towns. The government was entrusted with a small parliament, the members of which were elected on a borough or guild basis. The presence of the pope limited the authority of the communal institutions, however in the XIVth century, when the popes set their residence in Avignon, Rome was ruled as an independent Comune.
In 1398 fights among different parties led the Comune to request the protection of Pope Boniface IX who built a tower to strengthen the defence of the palace. At the same time most of the other Italian Comuni were falling under the power of a family (Medici in Florence, Visconti in Milano, etc.), so what happened to Comune di Roma was part of a general decline of this institution.
In 1453 Pope Nicholas V built a tower on the north-eastern corner of the building. The small balcony on the side facing the Forum belongs to the office of the Mayor of Rome. The mayor uses it to show the monuments of Rome to his distinguished guests.
The main access to Campidoglio was from the Forum; in the XVIth century a new access to the hill was built on its western side and Michelangelo designed a large square and a new grand entrance to Palazzo Senatorio which however is used only in exceptional cases. The more modest entrance built by Pope Sixtus IV is currently the ordinary access to the building.
The first attempts to reconstruct from the remaining buildings the whole appearance of Ancient Rome, date back to the XVth century. In 1553 the painter and architect Pirro Ligorio published Libro delle Antichità di Roma (Book on the Roman Antiquities) dedicated to Cardinal Ippolito d'Este for whom he had designed Villa d'Este, which was followed by a double map showing both modern and ancient Rome.
In Reverend Jeremiah Donovan's guide to Rome published in 1844, a description of the monuments of the Forum was accompanied by a reconstruction of their ancient appearance. It was an etching by Gaetano Cottafavi based on a watercolour by architect and archaeologist Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863) (click here to see it - external link), who was for many years the Architect of the Bank of England.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page: