A tour in the Rome of Bramante, Michelangelo and Raphael, to discover the grandiose urban and architectural projects of the Renaissance.
Rome not only needs divine protection and armed and spiritual strength, but also beauty.
A write these words is one of the popes to whom the modern image of Rome is most linked, Sisto V. We are in 1590: in just under 200 years, since the papal court definitively returned to Rome in 1420 after the Avignon period, the population of the city went from about 20 thousand to more than 100 thousand inhabitants (despite the trauma of the Sack of Rome in the 1527) and Rome regains its ancient role of universal guide.
The Rome of the Renaissance, the Rome of Bramante, Michelangelo and Raphael, is a city that has regained the primacy in art and architecture. A city that changes face and “reborn” day after day. Rewrites its medieval past, when the irregular and discontinuous urban fabric was dotted with ancient ruins that sprouted between low houses, towers and crenellated fortifications.
Building fever rises, with grandiose urban and architectural projects promoted by the popes. These are flanked by the initiatives of rich and powerful individuals who restore churches and enlarge or build sumptuous palaces from scratch.
Many interventions are inspired by the need to improve access to the Vatican. It is the case of via Giulia, the first and longest road in Rome (1 km) with a straight track. The street was designed in 1508 from Bramante for Pope Julius II. In the stretch between the Vatican and Ponte Sisto – begun in 1473 and named after Pope Sixtus IV, uncle of Julius II – are in fact designed two parallel roads along the banks of the Tiber, via Settimiana (later called della Lungara) and precisely via Giulia. While the former, however, continues to remain little more than a country road for a long time, flanked by a few buildings and suburban villas, via Giulia cuts through an already densely populated neighborhood.
In the intentions of the pope and his architect, the street should have housed the new one administrative center of the city. This is also based on the proximity to other buildings such as the old Chancellery in Palazzo Sforza Cesarini and the new Mint. In the area between the vicolo del Cefalo and via del Gonfalone, Giulio II and Bramante in fact designed a new imposing Justice palace, with arcades and towers at the four corners. The building is never completed. The base remains as evidence of this, with colossal ashlar stones so protruding as to constitute a kind of seats, called by the Romans the “Sofa in via Giulia”.
While remaining incomplete, the road takes on a leading role and there are many noble families who build their palaces here, from Sacchetti to Chigi and Ricci. Others are added when Leo X rises to the papal throne. At the north end of via Giulia stands the district of the Florentines (of Florence he was the pope, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent) and the already numerous Tuscan colony grows and strengthens.
They build themselves beautiful buildings with elegant gardens sloping down towards the Tiber, many of which have small private piers. Even the likes of Raffaello e Antonio da Sangallo the Younger they buy plots of land in the area.
Church of San Giovanni
To Jacopo Sansovino Leone X entrusts the construction of the Church of San Giovanni, continued by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Giacomo Della Porta and Carlo Maderno, and also famous for its illustrious burials, including those of Carlo Maderno and Francesco Borromini. San Giovanni is the national church of the Tuscan community, whose exponents at the time held leading roles in the curia, in the world of the arts and in economic activities, first of all banking.
In the first twenty-five years of the sixteenth century, Rome had about thirty banks owned by Florentine families. Between these the Gaddi, the Capponi, the Strozzi.
Suspended due to the Sack of 1527, the works in the area are relaunched by the Farnese family, who chooses to build his new princely residence here overlooking the market of Campo de ‘Fiori and the shopping area. Wanted by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (the future Pope Paul III), Palazzo Farnese is one of the finest palaces in Rome, begun by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, continued by Michelangelo and finished by Jacopo Barozzi known as Vignola and Giacomo Della Porta, to whom we owe the rear facade on Via Giulia.
The project was originally much more extensive than what we see today. According to Michelangelo’s plan, the Arco Farnese that crosses Via Giulia should have connected Palazzo Farnese and its gardens to the Villa Farnesina, on the other bank of the Tiber.
Hospice of Beggars
In the last years of the sixteenth century, theHospice of Beggars, built in 1586 by the architect Domenico Fontana for Pope Sixtus V, finally marks the southern end of the street. More than a commercial artery, in the following centuries the street was used for processions – for example that of the cloaked girls, the unmarried girls who received a dowry from the goldsmiths university of Sant’Eligio – and races, parades of carnival wagons and parties.
With the construction of the walls of the Tiber in the late nineteenth centuryo, la via radically changes its face. Many palaces are demolished or downsized, and riverside gardens become a thing of the past. However, the area of Via Giulia still retains its charm and elegance to this day, and the numerous palaces and churches still maintain splendid decorations.
The buildings of worship and the palaces
Walking along via Giulia from Ponte Sisto, the first work you come across is the Fountain of the Mascherone, a large mask of Roman era adapted as a fountain in 1570, wine sometimes came out of the mouth during the sumptuous feasts wanted by the Farnese. There are many places of worship:
- the church of Santa Caterina da Siena, a point of reference for the Sienese community that lived here;
- San Biagio degli Armeni, also known as San Biagio della Pagnotta for the blessed sandwiches distributed to the poor on February 3, the day of San Biagio;
- Santa Maria dell’Orazione and Morte, built around 1538 to give burial to the “poor dead”, found in the countryside or drowned in the Tiber and rebuilt on a project by Ferdinando Fuga in 1733-1737.
Among the buildings:
- Falconieri Palace, built in the sixteenth century for the Ceci family and enlarged by Francesco Borromini in 1650;
- The Cisterna Palace;
- Sacchetti Palace, built by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who lived there until the year of his death in 1546;
- The seventeenth century Ricci Donarelli Palace, which has incorporated some fifteenth-century terraced houses;
- The sixteenth century Medici Clarelli Palace;
- The so-called Raphael’s house.
Source: Turismo Roma
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