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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 September 2010.


Palazzo Pio (Book 4) (Day 7) (View C7) (Rione Parione)


In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Today's view
Palazzo Pio
S. Maria di Grottapinta
Teatro di Pompeo


The Plate (No. 75)


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.
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) entrance to the palace in Campo de' Fiori; 2) old part of the building; 3) arch leading to S. Maria di Grottapinta; 4) Strada del Paradiso (after the name of a medieval inn). The small map shows also 5) S. Maria di Grottapinta; 6) Teatro di Pompeo; 7) S. Andrea della Valle, the dome of which Vasi shows in the background of the plate.


Today

The view in June 2009

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.
One storey has been added to both sections of the palace.


Palazzo Pio

1667 fašade by Camillo Arcucci

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.

Details of the windows

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.

S. Maria di Grottapinta

(left) S. Maria di Grottapinta; (centre) sacred image which used to be inside the arched passage; (right) detail of the passage decoration

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).
The church, which was a "branch" of S. Lorenzo in Damaso, has been deconsecrated for a very long time.

Teatro di Pompeo

(left) Building and street which retain the bent shape of the auditorium; (right) statue of Hercules found in 1864 near Palazzo Pio and now at Museo Pio Clementino; next to it a bust of Antinous which was found near Palestrina

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.

Sacred images in Piazza del Biscione (left) and Largo del Pallaro near S. Maria di Grottapinta (right)

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:


Palazzo Pio, e Chiesa di s. Maria di Grotta Pinta
Fu questo giÓ dell'antichissima famiglia Orsini, dipoi abitato, ed ornato di pitture, e statue dal Card. Isvaglia Siciliano; e finalmente dal Principe Pio fatto con bell'architettura dalla parte opposta. Siede questo sopra le rovine del celebre teatro di Pompeo il Grande, e ne vedemmo giÓ la cavea nella parte posteriore di esso, ed ancora nelle cantine si osservano le volte e muri di quel magnifico edifizio, nelle quali fu da primi Cristiani fatto un oratorio, o cappella dedicata prima al ss. Salvatore, e poi alla ss. Vergine, che fu detta Crypta pincta, ed ora la diciamo di Grotta Pinta.
Fu quivi da Pompeo Magno edificato quel magnifico Teatro, perchŔ quý presso ebbe la sua prima casa, e per˛ dopo aver difesa la Patria, ed aver tre volte trionfato sopra i nemici di essa, 699. anni dopo l'edificazione di Roma volle far decorosa la contrada, ove egli nacque, erigendovi fra gli altri edifizj un teatro tutto di marmo capace di trenta mila spettatori, e fu il primo, che in Roma si facesse stabile, essendo per l'addietro solito farsi di legno ogni qual volta che si avessero a rappresentare giuochi scenici. Vogliono alcuni, che Pompeo lo principiasse, e poi da Cajo Calligola fosse terminato, altri che Calligola lo rinnovasse. Nerone per˛ in un sol giorno fecelo mettere a oro, per fare splendida pompa a Tiridate Re degli Armeni quando venne in Roma.
Appresso a questo, cioŔ da quella parte verso la chiesa di s. Andrea della Valle, edific˛ il medesimo Pompeo la Curia, acci˛ in tempo delli spettacoli vi si tenesse Senato; ed in questa fu Giulio Cajo Cesare ucciso da' Congiurati, cadendo a piŔ della statua di Pompeo. Per lo che fu chiusa e poi per astio abbruciata dal Popolo. Eravi unitamente un magnifico portico sostenuto da 100. colonne, ed ornato di pitture, e fontane con varie fiere fatte in marmo.

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