All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in April 2009.
S. Giorgio al Velabro (Book 3) (Map C3) (Day 5) (View C9) (Rione Ripa) and (Rione Campitelli)
The area along the river at the foot of the Palatine hill
was marshy until the ancient Romans developed a drainage system (Cloaca Maxima) which
carried off rainwater to the Tiber. After the fall of the Roman Empire the net of sewers was no longer maintained and eventually a small stream which crossed Circus Maximus
was channelled through Cloaca Maxima: in Vasi's time its flow was used for
a paper-mill (on the left). Because of the nearby Campo
Vaccino (the Forum) it was common to see cattle being led there. The view is taken from the green dot in the small map below.
In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Arco di Giano Quadrifronte;
2) The paper mill above Cloaca Maxima; 3) Arco degli Argentieri; 4) S. Giorgio al Velabro. The small 1748 map shows also:
5) S. Eligio dei Fabbri; 6) S. Giovanni Decollato; 7) S. Anastasia.
The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Ripa (left) and Rione Campitelli (right).
The church and Arco di Giano Quadrifronte (without the added medieval tower) have been preserved, whilst the paper-mill has been pulled down. Arco degli Argentieri is hidden by the church. The arches above Cloaca Maxima can be seen in an opening between two modern buildings.
The church was built by the Greek community (as were many other churches in the area, including S. Maria in Cosmedin) in the VIIth century, while the portico (with nice columns and a long inscription) and the bell tower were added in the XIIIth century. The dedication to St. George replaced a previous one to St. Sebastian; both were soldier saints, but the former was the patron of the small Byzantine garrison in Rome. In the 1920s the interior of the church was brought back to its medieval appearance. In 1993 the portico was severely damaged by an explosion, but it has been thoroughly restored (you may wish to see the building as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome). Learn what Velabro means and the importance of this site in the history of Rome.
Arco degli Argentieri
The little arch was erected by Argentarii (money-changers) and cattle dealers in honour of Emperor Septimius Severus: the decoration and the inscriptions made reference to that emperor and his two sons: Caracalla and Geta. After Caracalla murdered Geta all references to the latter were deleted. It is a work of art of the late Empire, as its nearly baroque decoration shows. The relief portraying Hercules is due to the traditional account which sets one of Hercules' labours in this part of Rome.
Arco di Giano Quadrifronte
The arch has different names and was built around the reign of Emperor Constantine. It is also called Arch of Maxentius, after Constantine's fiercest enemy. Giano (Janus) was the god of the passages (ianua in Latin means door): the arch dedicated to him had four fronts instead of two (quadrifronte = four fronts). The main purpose of the arch was to shelter the dealers who used to meet in this commercial part of the city. Its design is similar to the arch at Malborghetto. In the niches there were statues of the gods (short-lived, because in a few years the pagan gods were to be banned). You may wish to see it in the moonlight.
Sant'Eligio is the patron saint of goldsmiths, but because he detached and subsequently reattached a horse's leg he is also the patron saint of those who work with horses. For this reason three Roman guilds (goldsmiths, farriers and blacksmiths) dedicated a church to him: he was honoured in S. Eligio degli Orefici (goldsmiths)
near Via Giulia, in S. Eligio dei Sellai (farriers)
(the church was pulled down at the beginning of the XXth century) and in S. Eligio dei Fabbri (blacksmiths)
which is covered in this page.
The blacksmiths were so proud of their skills that above the entrance they wrote "Universitatis Fabrorum" (the University of the Blacksmiths) (click here for a list of churches belonging to a guild). The guild included also grinders, tinkers, locksmiths and gunsmiths. In Florence the guild of the blacksmiths dedicated a statue to their patron saint in Orsanmichele (see my Florentine Recollections). The church is in the valley between the Palatine and the Capitol. The current building dates back to 1562; it still belongs to the guild (now a brotherhood with a website).
In Florence when you need an ambulance, you do not call the Red Cross, you call "La Misericordia" a brotherhood for helping the sick. Its members wore the traditional hooded uniform until 2006. In 1490 the Florentines living in Rome created their own local Misericordia (miserere=pity cor, cordis=heart) which was named after St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence.
Pope Innocent VIII gave the brotherhood a piece of land where a church (click here for a list of national churches in Rome) and an oratory were built during the first half of the XVIth century (you may wish to see the building as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
The interior of the church and the adjoining oratory have a rich decoration and paintings by Giorgio Vasari and other Florentine mannerist artists. The members of the brotherhood comforted the condemned during their last hours and in 1540 Pope Paul III granted the brotherhood the right to free once a year a convict condemned to death. Read Charles Dickens's account of an execution near this church in 1845.
St. John's head on a platter was the symbol of the brotherhood and it is a recurring theme of the decoration of the church; the emphasis placed on this gruesome reference to the saint was in line with the recommendations developed by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trento which promoted the representation of martyrs' lives and in particular of the tortures they endured and of the ways they were put to death.
S. Anastasia is one of the oldest churches of Rome; it dates back to the IVth century, although its current appearance is the result of several reconstructions; during the Byzantine rule it was the church of the governors of the City. Major modifications were made by Pope Sixtus IV for the 1475 Jubilee. In 1636 the façade was thoroughly redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (or Luigi Arrigucci) for Pope Urban VIII, whose heraldic bees decorate the façade (you may wish to see the building as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
The interior of the church was redesigned in 1721-22 by Carlo Gimach for Cardinal Nuno da Cunha; the ancient columns which once supported the building were used to decorate the new large nave.
The statue of Anastasia was clearly inspired by Bernini's works. Her ecstatic face is similar to that of S. Teresa, the statue Bernini designed for Cappella Cornaro. The church was probably named after Anastasia, a sister of Emperor Constantine, but it was later on dedicated to St. Anastasia of Sirmium, a martyr of the IVth century who was burnt alive.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 3: Chiesa di S. Maria in Cosmedin
Next step in Day 5 itinerary: Chiesa di S. Teodoro
Next step in your tour of Rione Ripa: Circo Massimo
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: Chiesa di S. Maria Liberatrice