All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in September 2010.
Palazzo Pio (Book 4) (Day 7) (View C7) (Rione Parione)
Giuseppe Vasi included Palazzo Pio in his book of etchings dedicated to the finest palaces of Rome because it was built above the ruins of
the first theatre of the ancient city; in the text accompanying this etching and in his Guide to Rome Vasi spent
just a few words on the palace, but he described at length the features and the history of the theatre,
which was built by Pompey in 61-52 BC.
By professional background Giuseppe Vasi was an architect, not a real life painter, so he was very good at drawing a complete building,
even though he could not see all its sides; from Campo dei Fiori (where the photo above was taken) the view of the 1667 fašade of Palazzo Pio is very askew,
while the old part of the building is not visible from Piazza del Biscione, the small square in front of its 1667 fašade.
A 1593 map by Antonio Tempesta shows the palace when it belonged to the Orsini; it had a very tall tower with a clock and most likely a coat of arms of the family, which is at the origin of the name given to the small square in front of the 1667 fašade; one element of the Orsini's coat or arms is a biscia (grass snake) hence Biscione. The Orsini sold their palace to the Pio di Savoia who commissioned Camillo Arcucci a new fašade in Piazza del Biscione.
The decoration of the new fašade was based on the heraldic symbols of the Pio di Savoia; while the eagles are portrayed in a very formal posture, the lions seem full of life.
Grottapinta means painted cave and is a reference to the paintings on the ceiling of the passageway which from Piazza del Biscione leads to the church; in 1599 the medieval
building was restored by the Orsini,
who placed their coat of arms on the fašade (you can see it in the image used as background for this page).
At the time of the Roman Republic, the Senate was wary that leisure would weaken moral standards and a law was passed which prohibited the construction of permanent theatres; Pompey, after having defeated the pirates who threatened trade routes in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, wanted to celebrate his victory (and to increase his popularity) by giving the Romans a proper theatre; in order to circumvent the law he officially built a Temple to Venus Victrix (Venus the Victorious) which was placed at the top of the auditorium.
The theatre was not limited to the site for the performances, but it included a large courtyard surrounded by porticoes; its eastern side was unearthed in 1929 near S. Nicola dei Cesarini; according to historians Julius Caesar was stabbed to death at the eastern entrance to the courtyard near a statue of his friend and rival. The complex of buildings was impressive for the columns, marbles and statues which decorated it; the theatre was restored several times, the last one by Theodoric in the Vth century; some of its granite columns were used for the courtyard of Palazzo della Cancelleria.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 4: Palazzo Massimi
Next step in Day 7 itinerary: Campo di Fiore
Next step in your tour of Rione Parione: Santa Barbara dei Librai