This 1754 etching by Giuseppe Vasi shows in the foreground a section of Via del Corso which at that time was regarded as a small square because it was slightly wider than the rest of the street. It was called Piazza Sciarra since all the palaces on its eastern (right)
side belonged to the Sciarra, a branch of the Colonna family; the last two buildings were linked by a covered passage known as Arco di Carbognano, after the name of a fiefdom of the Sciarra.
The etching shows also Via del Corso from Piazza Sciarra to its northern end at Piazza del Popolo.
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) Palazzo Sciarra "per la famiglia" (people working for the Sciarra either as servants or in the administration of the family properties); 2) Arco di Carbognano; 3) Piazza del Popolo; 4) Street linking Piazza di Pietra with Fontana di Trevi. 3) is shown in another page. The small map shows: 1) Palazzo Sciarra "per la famiglia"; 2) Arco di Carbognano; 3) Palazzo Sciarra (the main building); 4) Street linking Piazza di Pietra with Fontana di Trevi; 5) Palazzo Bonaccorsi; 6) S. Maria Maddalena delle Convertite; 7) Palazzo Verospi. The dotted line in the small map delineates the borders among Rione Colonna (left half and top right quarter), Rione Pigna (small area near the green dot) and Rione Trevi (lower right quarter).
The view in July 2009; (inset) Piazza del Popolo
In 1883, after the 1870 annexation of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy, a new city plan envisaged the enlargement of Via del Corso from Piazza Sciarra to Via Condotti; this led to the demolition of a series of buildings on the eastern side of the street except for Palazzo Sciarra; the small adjoining palace and Arco di Carbognano were pulled down to open a new street leading to Fontana di Trevi. Eventually the enlargement did not cover the whole section of Via del Corso included in the city plan, but only that between Palazzo Sciarra and S. Maria Maddalena delle Convertite.
Portal and details of its decoration showing some masks
The presence of the Colonna in this neighbourhood goes back to the XIth century. Their houses were protected by towers one of which was modified over the years until it was turned into the current palace.
The Colonna split into branches which were named after their fiefdoms; the Colonna of Paliano had their residence in Palazzo Colonna, the Colonna di Carbognano in this palace, but they were better known as Colonna di Sciarra after their ancestor Giacomo "Sciarra" (Quarrelsome) Colonna who slapped Pope Boniface VIII in the face in 1303.
The fine portal was built in 1630 by Orazio Torriani: he probably followed a drawing by Antonio Labacco, an assistant to Antonio da Sangallo the Younger; the image used as background for this page shows a detail of its capitals.
The palace belonged to the Sciarra until the end of the XIXth century when Prince Maffeo went bankrupt as a result of his too many real estate investments, which included the construction of Galleria Sciarra Colonna. The Sciarra had a villa on the Janiculum.
Musei Capitolini: (left) inscription from Arco di Claudio in the courtyard of Palazzo dei Conservatori; (right) relief from the western triumphal entrance to Tempio di Adriano, now in the main staircase of Palazzo dei Conservatori. It was found near Piazza Sciarra
At the time of ancient Rome the aqueduct of Acqua Vergine crossed the urban section of Via Flaminia (today's Via del Corso) very near Piazza Sciarra. The arch across the street was turned into a triumphal one, similar to Arco di Druso. It was dedicated to Emperor Claudius to celebrate his conquest of Britannia; fragments of reliefs and inscriptions were found at different times during the construction of buildings on both sides of Piazza Sciarra. The final part of the inscription was reconstructed as follows: He received the surrender of eleven kings of the Britons defeated without any loss, and first brought barbarian peoples across the Ocean into the dominion of the Roman people.
The large relief shows Emperor Hadrian entering Rome where he is greeted by a personification of the City, which is very similar to that in the pedestal of Colonna di Antonino Pio. The two men with a laurel wreath are personifications of the Senate (the older one) and of the People (the younger one) of Rome.
(left) Museo Nazionale Romano: circular pedestal of a statue depicting dancing maenads, female followers of Dionysus (from the Sciarra Collection); (centre) Centrale Montemartini: statue of Athena found in 1887 near Piazza Sciarra, the head is modern; (right) Musei Vaticani: statue of Emperor Augustus from Palazzo Verospi
(left) Palazzo della Banca Commerciale Italiana on the site of Palazzo Bonaccorsi; (right) Palazzo Verospi
The process of demolition and reconstruction of the buildings on the eastern side of Via del Corso was a very painful one and it was completed only in 1922
with the inauguration of Galleria Colonna which replaced Palazzo Spada Piombino.
Banks played a major role in this process as they competed to have their headquarters or their Roman branch along Via del Corso.
Palazzo della Banca Commerciale Italiana was designed by Luca Beltrami in 1919. Credito Italiano, another important bank, bought Palazzo Verospi; the building was not affected by the enlargement of the street because it was located on its western side; yet it was modified to fit the requirements of the bank: a storey was added and the ground floor windows were turned into doors, thus modifying the original design of the façade by Girolamo Rainaldi and Onorio Longhi, which was very similar to that of Palazzo Sciarra.
(left) Palazzo Marignoli; (right) detail of its façade
In the XVth century many prostitutes lived and worked in the streets between Via del Corso and Piazza di Spagna; today these streets are part of the shopping district of Rome.
The popes tolerated and even authorized prostitution, but they supported initiatives meant to redeem prostitutes; in 1520 Pope Leo X assigned a small church near Via del Corso to Compagnia della Carità per le Donne Convertite,
a brotherhood which helped prostitutes who wanted to abandon their trade; in 1585 the church was rebuilt and dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene; it was damaged by fire in 1617 (you may wish to see it in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
The church and the adjoining nunnery were closed in 1798; a fine painting by il Guercino depicting St. Mary Magdalene at Jesus' tomb with two angels (it opens in another window) which was in the church was moved to Musei Vaticani. The street leading from Via del Corso to Piazza S. Silvestro is still called Via delle Convertite.
Palazzo Marignoli was designed by Salvatore Bianchi and Giulio Podesti; it occupies the site of the former nunnery and church and in addition that of some other buildings; it now belongs to an insurance company.
Next plate in Book 4: Palazzo Ruspoli sul Corso.
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Dogana di terra (Piazza di Pietra).
Next step in your tour of Rione Colonna: Dogana di terra (Piazza di Pietra).
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Chiesa di S. Marcello.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Dal palazzo del Principe di Carbognano della nobilissima famiglia Colonna di
Sciarra prende questa piazza il suo nome, ed è molto frequentata dalla nobiltà; e
cittadinanza per le botteghe del caffè, specialmente per quella del Veneziano, in cui
si trovano oltre l'esquisite bevande calde, e fredde, anco de' canditi, e confetture