All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in November 2009.
SS. Nereo e Achilleo (Book
B4) (Day 5) (View C10) (Rione Ripa) and (Rione Campitelli)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
SS. Nereo e Achilleo
S. Sisto Vecchio
Terme di Caracalla
The Plate (No. 58)
The very old church of SS. Nereo and Achilleo offers Vasi the chance to depict
the northern slopes of Piccolo (small) Aventino with a view over
Baths and S. Balbina and its monastery. Today this peak of the Aventine is more commonly
known as S. Saba (you may wish to have a
stroll in S. Saba).
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below.
In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Caracalla's Baths;
2) S. Balbina;
3) SS. Nereo e Achilleo;
4) Vigna de' Padri Gesuiti (a cultivated piece of land belonging to the Jesuits);
5) S. Sisto Vecchio;
6) Via Nuova (an urban section of ancient Via Appia).
The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Ripa (left) and Rione Campitelli (right).
The view in June 2009
The area is now planted with pines and cypresses which limit the
view over Caracalla's Baths and S. Balbina. Via Nuova was significantly enlarged in 1914 and in 1938 (it is now known as Via delle Terme di Caracalla); when this occurred the minor buildings to the right of S. Sisto Vecchio were pulled down (they are visible in the foreground of the etching) in order to spare SS. Nereo ed Achilleo.
Today the gardens to the side of the new street are a favourite spot for Roman joggers.
Nereo e Achilleo
(left) Fašade; (right) bell tower
Domine Quo Vadis is a church along Via Appia which is linked to an episode of the life of St. Peter; the same applies to SS. Nereo ed Achilleo: the church was originally built in memory of the bands St. Peter lost at this spot; they protected his ankles from the effects of the chains. For this reason the church was recorded as Titulus Fasciole in a IVth century inscription.
(left) Rear side of the church; (centre) altar; (right) medieval aedicule
At the end of the VIth century the church was dedicated to the two martyrs (Roman soldiers put to death at the time of Emperor Diocletian). Its current aspect is mainly due to the 1597 renovation promoted by Cardinal Cesare Baronio (who also restored nearby S. Cesareo).
Its interior was decorated with large frescoes depicting dramatic scenes of martyrdoms in line with the guidelines issued by the Catholic Church in the preceding years.
The column which stands opposite the church had an ancient capital and above it a bronze cross both of which have been stolen.
In the IXth century the church was protected by walls and by two towers one of which can still be seen near the apse of the church. Today this tower is not as tall as it was when originally built.
Cardinal Baronio used some Cosmati works
for the decoration of the interior; these came from other churches.
The plate shows in its lower left corner a small circular building: this medieval aedicule was most likely built at the site of a previous Roman signpost marking the split of the street between a minor branch going
to Porta Latina and Via Appia going to Porta
(left) Fašade; (right) medieval tower
During the Middle Ages the Aventine was characterized by three monasteries which had the appearance of fortresses: S. Sabina, S. Saba and S. Balbina. The lower part of the walls of this church are thought to be part of the house of Lucius Fabius Cilo, a Roman senator who was a supporter of Emperor Septimius Severus. A medieval
tower commanded a view over anybody approaching the monastery. The street behind the monastery is covered in a page about the Silent Streets of Rome.
(left) Coat of arms of Pope Innocent VIII; (centre) coat of arms of Cardinal Marco Barbo, nephew of Pope Paul II; (right) episcopal chair
The church has a very fine episcopal chair with a Cosmati decoration; during the 1930s S. Balbina was restored in order to give it what was supposed to be its appearance before the modifications made during the XVth and XVIth centuries (you may wish to see the church in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
S. Sisto Vecchio
(left) Fašade; (centre) details of the portal (above) and of a window (below); (right) XIIIth century bell tower
The church is first recorded in the late IVth century; because the area was often flooded it was rebuilt several times and each time the floor was raised. The church was called Vecchio (old) in the late XVIth century when the Dominican nuns who lived in the adjoining monastery were relocated to SS. Domenico e Sisto, this because in summer the site was very unhealthy.
The church and the monastery were again used in the XVIIIth century. The new fašade is a 1725 work by Filippo Raguzzini, who maintained the original entrance by Giacomo Della Porta which shows the dragons of Pope Gregory XIII (you may wish to see the building as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
Terme di Caracalla
Shops along Via Nova
The baths were built between 212 and 217 AD by Emperor Caracalla, most likely to regain the favour of the Romans after he had arranged the murder of his brother Geta. They were the largest baths of Rome until the construction of those dedicated to Emperor Diocletian.
Front of the baths
During the Late Empire, baths were a social meeting point, where people went not just to bathe and exercise; on the ground level along Via Nova, a new street parallel to Via Appia, there were shops and taverns and facilities of another kind. According to a Roman saying: Balnea vina Venus corrumpunt corpora nostra, sed vitam faciunt balnea vina Venus (baths, wine and love rot our bodies, but baths, wine and love are the essence of our lives).
The front wall has a length of more than 200 meters, the fact that most of it still stands, shows the advanced construction techniques developed by Roman engineers. The foundation of the wall does not reach a natural layer of solid rock, but stand on an artificial terrace which replaced uneven ground which was in part a swamp. To create a terrace wide enough to contain all the buildings, gardens and ancillary facilities, the engineers had to cut the slope of the hill and to build containment walls to prevent landslides.
The baths were lavishly decorated and for centuries the popes used their columns and marbles to embellish the churches and palaces of Rome; at the time
of Pope Paul III some
gigantic statues were found which became part of the private collection of the Farnese, the family of the pope (these statues are now in Naples).
The baths were used for more than three centuries until the aqueducts were cut during the Greek-Gothic War.
The Calidarium when it was used for staging operas (left) and in July 2007 for a Swan Lake performance (right)
Between 1937 and the end of the 1980s, a Summer Opera Season was staged between
the two remaining pillars which supported the Calidarium, the main hall of the baths. Aida by Giuseppe Verdi especially
profited from this setting. Since 2003 the Summer Opera Season is again staged at Caracalla's Baths, but at a
certain distance from the pillars. You are invited to come to An Evening at Caracalla and to see the Moonrise over the Baths.
Western building (in the background bell tower of SS. Giovanni e Paolo on the left and Villa Mattei on the right)
Read William Dean Howells' account of his visit to Caracalla's Baths in 1908.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Chiesa di s. Balbina
Si ascende a questa chiesa per un vicoletto molto erto, e dalla struttura di essa si ravvisa la sua
antichitÓ. ╚ stato creduto da molti, che questa sia quella eretta da s. Marco Papa sulla via Ardeatina,
perchŔ qui sono i corpi della s. Titolare, di s. Quirino suo Padre, e di cinque altri santi Martiri; ma
essendo quella via fuori delle mura della CittÓ, ci˛ non pu˛ essere; e per˛ solamente si fa di sicuro,
che fu consagrata da s. Gregorio Magno. Stette sotto la cura digli Eremiti di s. Agostino; ma ora la
tengono i chierici Pii operarj. Questa contrada anticamente dicevasi Piscina pubblica, ed era la parte
pi¨ abitata della CittÓ, specialmente nel tempo, che Annibale stava vicino a Roma, e la strada
dicevasi Via nova, sebbene alcuni pensino, che da questo luogo principiasse la celebre Via Appia. Or
su questa camminando si vede dopo pochi passi la
Chiesa de' ss. Nereo, ed Achilleo
Quella chiesa fu edificata, come si crede, dal Pontefice s. Giovanni I. sopra un tempio d'Iside, e fu
detta in fasciola per la memoria, che vi tenevano i Cristiani di una fascietta quivi caduta a s. Pietro,
quando per il timore di Nerone fuggiva da Roma, colla quale teneva legata la gamba impiagata
da' ceppi, tra i quali stette nella prigione. Il Ven. Card. Baronio, essendone titolare, la ristaur˛ nella
miglior maniera, affinchŔ si conservasse l'antica forma di basilica con colonne, pulpiti di marmo, e
ciborio, ed avendovi collocato sotto i corpi de' santi Titolari, e fattevi dipingere le muraglie da
Niccol˛ Pomarancio, nell'anno 1597. a sua istanza fu data in cura ai Preti della Congregazione
dell'Oratorio. Dietro di questa si vedono le rovine delle
Terme di Antonino Caracalla
E' sentimento di tutti gl'intendenti di architettura, che queste terme, che Antoniane furono dette, siano
state le pi¨ magnifiche, e ben ordinate nell'arte, ed altresý le pi¨ ricche di statue, e marmi preziosi; poichŔ
sotto di queste ruine furono trovati il Toro, e l'Ercole Farnesiano, con quasi infinite altre raritÓ, che si
vedono in Roma.
Next plate in Book 3: Chiesa
di S. Cesareo
Next step in Day 5 itinerary: Chiesa
di S. Cesareo
Next step in your tour of Rione Ripa: Chiesa
di S. Cesareo
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: Villa Mattei