Monday, 14 December 2009

The solitary angel of St. Andrea della Valle

If you look at the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, not far from Largo Argentina, you would notice that there is just one statue of angel on the left side. This makes the facade partially incomplete. Where is the other angel which should have been simmetrically placed on the right side? The facade was erected by Carlo Rainaldi in 1665 on the base of a project of Maderno. This project wasn't very much loved by Rainaldi so that he decided to place two angels on the facade to make it more beautiful. The first one was realised by Giacomo Fancelli, but his work was so much criticised even by the pope Alessandro VII, that the artist, pretty much offended, said to the pope: "If you really want the second angel, then do it by yourself!" This is why today we see only one angel instead of two.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The church of Sant'Agostino and Caravaggio

The church of St. Augustine is situated just few meters from Piazza Navona and it is one of the richest churches in Rome in terms of artworks. The main altar has been designed by Bernini, there is a painting of Guercino, a small fresco by Raphael representing the Prophet Isaiah, and two beautiful statues by Sansovino, one of which, Our Lady of Childbirth, much venerated. But most likely the most famous artwork of the church is the painting from Caravaggio you can find in the first chapel on the left, the Madonna dei Pellegrini. According to the legend, it was painted by Caravaggio when he managed to find shelter in the church after he killed the father of a girl he seduced. The model he used for the Virgin Mary was a well known roman prostitute and probably one of his lovers.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

St. Cecilia

The church dedicated to Saint Cecilia is in the charming area of Trastevere and it was built by the pope Pasquale I around 820 after having found the corpse of the saint buried in the III century in the cemetery of St. Callixtus. According to the legend when the corpse was found, it was miraculously intact and because of this it was placed in the church. The same church eventually in 1599 was restored and they decided to check the shrine of Cecilia and again...her body was found in an excellent conservation state. They commissioned then to Stefano Maderno a statue which represents how the saint was lying when discovered the second time: her body was intact and she was showing the symbol of the Holy Trinity, that is three fingers up in one hand and one in the other. Three persons in one.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

St. Mary Major

St. Mary Major was built in 432 by pope Sisto III to celebrate the Virgin Mary as "Mother of God". During the centuries it was enlarged and richly decorated. The bell tower, with its 75 meters of height, is the highest one in Rome and it was erected in 1376. This church is also known with the name ad praesepe (holy family) because there are the supposed relics of the cradle of Jesus. In one of the chapels there are also other supposed relics: fragments of the swaddling clothes, some stones which were in the cave where Jesus was born together with some hay where Jesus was leant. In the museum of the Church it is displayed the oldest roman "presepe", done in 1290 by Arnolfo di Cambio. The great mosaic of the apse representing the Incoronation of the Virgin Mary, which has been done with a particular innovative style, was realised by Jacopo Torriti in 1295. Another curiosity: below one of the steps of the main altar there is the grave of Bernini.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Via dei Fori Imperiali

The area of Via dei Fori Imperiali was once occupied by a district. It was Benito Mussolini who proceeded to demolish all the buildings in this area to create a symbolic link between the Colosseum, the most important roman monument, and Piazza Venezia, the new center of the fascist empire. The new street was inaugurated in 1932. This large street of the center of Rome cuts in two parts the area of the forums and its creation buried many archeological ruins. Since the '80s they have been talking about eliminating it but so far nothing has been done yet.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The ossuary-crypt of Via Veneto

In the church of Santa Maria Immacolata in Via Veneto there is a crypt with 5 chapels. They are entirely decorated with human bones which were belonging to 4000 monks who lived there between 1528 and 1870. The decision of decorating the crypt with human bones may seem spooky, but in reality it is just a way to underline the deeply christian concept that the human body is just the container of the soul. So, after the death it can be reused also for...aesthetic purposes!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Caravaggio and St. Matthew and the angel

St Matthew and the angel,
version "accepted"
This painting from Caravaggio is in the church of St. Louis of the French. Initially Caravaggio realised a version of St. Matthew (the one here in the photo in black and white - destroyed during WWII) which was considered outrageous by the customers: the saint was represented like a peasant who barely knew how to write and who was guided by the angel in writing his own gospel. He was without halo and crossed his legs showing his bare feet in the foreground. In the second painting Matthew has the halo, he holds firmly the pen in his hand and looks less rough: in a word he is more presentable. At the end this latter version was chosen: a small case of artistic censorship.

St Matthew and the angel
version "refused", destroyed during
world war II

Monday, 3 August 2009

The "fake dome" of Sant'Ignazio

Inside the church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola, not far from Via del Corso, there is an incredible "fake dome" created by Andrea Pozzo in 1685. Why this dome is fake? Because it is a canvas of 17 meters of diameter on which Pozzo painted the extraordinary illusionistic effect of a dome which...isn't there! On the pavement there is a marble dish which indicates the exact point of observation of this perspective effect. It seems that a real dome has never been realised because when the works of the church were ongoing the funds for the dome weren't sufficient to complete it.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Vittoriano and the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II

The Vittoriano monument, dedicated to the first italian king, Vittorio Emanuele II who died in 1878, is one of the most photographed monuments in Rome, although the whiteness of its marbles doesn't really match with the surrounding monuments and colours of the city. All the statues and sculptures have huge dimensions. The equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II is colossal: it is long and high 12 meters, it weighs 50 tons and the hoof of the horse is half meter! When it was placed where it is today, a lunch was offered inside the horse with 21 people participating!

Friday, 19 June 2009

The oldest caffè in Rome

The oldest caffè in Rome is in 86, Via Condotti and its name is Caffè Greco. Founded in 1760, some of the most influential people of the last two and half centuries entered this place. During the XIX century this place was visited by musicians like Mendelssohn, Wagner and Berlioz, writers like Leopardi, Stendhal, Gogol' and Twain, patriots like Silvio Pellico and philosophers like Schopenhauer. In 1906 a very characteristic person went there: Buffalo Bill with some Red Indians! This visit is witnessed by a photo which still hangs inside. 

Friday, 12 June 2009

The angel of St.Angel Castle

Why St. Angel Castle is called this way and why on top of it there is a bronze statue of an angel? This monument is also known as Mausoleum of Hadrian and it was built under his rule at the beginning of the II century A.D.. It seems that in the year 590 a terrible plague raged through the city and to stop it the pope Gregorio I Magno organised a procession. At the moment of passing in front of the Mausoleum of Hadrian to go towards St. Peter, the archangel Michael was seen hovering in the sky while putting away the sword, an act which was interpreted as a sign that the plague would have ended soon. Indeed, not much later, the plague ended and the Mausoleum of Hadrian became castellum Sancti Angeli, Castel Sant'Angelo.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The arch of Titus and the seven-branched candelabrum

The arch of Titus is situated not far from the Colosseum and it was built after Titus' death in 81 A.D. In 70 A.D., Titus, as general of the roman army and son of the emperor Vespasian (the emperor who started the construction of the Colosseum in 72 A.D.), suppressed a rebellion in Jerusalem and contributed to the famous Jewish diaspora. During this rebellion, he destroyed the temple of Solomon. Today only a wall still remains of that temple, the famous Wailing Wall. A memory of the destruction of the temple of Solomon can be found as well in the internal fornix of the arch where it is shown the looting of the famous Menorah, the seven branches golden candelabrum.

The golden candelabrum

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Column of Trajan

The Column of Trajan was inaugurated in 113 A.D. and shows the deeds which have been led by the emperor Trajan in the battles against the Dacians, a population living in the area where Romania is today. The column is realised in white marble from Carrara, it is nearly 40 meters high (including the basement) and includes roughly 2500 characters. The frieze which "goes around" the column 23 times is 200 meters long and the emperor is represented in 60 different scenes. If you look attentively at the column you will notice that it is full of small windows: this is because inside there a spiral staircase which allows to walk up from the basement till the top through a way of 185 steps! The small windows were (and still are) there to guarantee air and light to the people who wanted to walk up. Today the access is not allowed.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Claudius aqueduct

Romans were great builders of civil engineering works and the aqueducts were some of their most impressive creations. The Claudius aqueduct is certainly the most famous one. Its construction was started by Caligula in 38 A.D. and ended by Claudius in 52 A.D. It stretched for nearly 69 km out of which only 16 are not underground. Still today it is possible to admire a big part of it in the Parco degli Acquedotti. This monumental work, which had supplied water to several areas of Rome, has been reproduced by dozens of artists, drawers, photographers and painters. In his journey to Rome, Goethe described this aqueduct as "a series of triumphal arches".

Saturday, 14 March 2009


Today with the word "paparazzo" we mean those kind of tabloid photographers who hunt celebs to shoot pictures during their intimate or private moments. The word paparazzo became known and it was "launched" by the Fellini's movie "La dolce vita" shot in Rome in 1960. In fact the name of one of the tabloid photographers of the movie was Paparazzo (paparazzi is the plural form) and since then this word commonly indicates in many languages that kind of profession. The character was played by the italian actor Walter Santesso.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Michelangelo and the Creation of Adam

The fresco of the Creation of Adam, one of the scenes from the Bible realised by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, contains a very fascinating mistery. In fact it seems that the red "shell" within which lays the figure of God (in the right part of the fresco) is a representation of the right side of a human brain. Michelangelo got an excellent anatomical knowledge, despite at that time was forbidden to dissect corpses. But the most incredible thing is that the right side of the human brain is the one which supervises fantasy and...creation. The idea of a "divine brain" dedicated to the creation of the human kind: a concept magnificently expressed by Michelangelo.

Monday, 9 February 2009

The vase of Trevi's fountain

When you look at Trevi's fountain you admire the scenic beauty of the whole monument, the water effects, the white marbles which evoke the majesty of Baroque Rome and won't probably notice an ornamental vase placed to the right of the fountain itself. It seems that it has been put there by Nicola Salvi, the author of the project of the fountain in 1733. In front of the vase there was a barber shop and the barber while the works were ongoing criticised the project: the fountain wasn't beautiful at all! Nicola Salvi, sick and tired of the critics, created a vase and he placed it just in front of the barber shop so to prevent the barber from criticising his work again! The barber shop isn't there anymore but the vase still is.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Circus Maximus and the obelisks

The Circus Maximus can be considered the biggest circus ever built. It was 600 meters long and 140 meters wide and it could host 250.000 people. It was built in the 6th century B.C. In the 1st century B.C. Augustus placed in the central part of the circus the obelisk of Rhamses II which today dominates Piazza del Popolo. In the year 357 A.D. it was placed at the centre of the circus another obelisk, the highest one in Rome, which can be admired today in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano. Both obelisks were stolen by the romans during the occupation of Egypt and both of them reused to decorate two beautiful squares.

Monday, 2 February 2009

The Pantheon and the canopy of St.Peter


Pasquino statue

The Pantheon is an extraordinary monument: it is the best preserved ancient monument of Rome and, among other records, it has the biggest masonry dome ever realised. It was built and destroyed several times until its final version (done in the 2nd century A.D.) arrived till today. The ceiling of the entrance (pronaos) was covered by tons of bronze which were removed in 1625 by pope Urban VIII from Barberini family to realise the canopy of Bernini in S.Peter. Some time later, someone put the following sentence above Pasquino's head  (the most known "talking statue" of Rome): "quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini" (what the barbarians never managed to do, the Barberini actually did)!  

Monday, 19 January 2009

Few data about the Colosseum

The Colosseum was built in 8 years, from 72 to 80 A.D. using thousands of slaves. It could host up to 60,000 people and the emperor Titus, in the year of its inauguration, declared 100 days of national holidays. 100,000 tons of marble have been used together with 300 tons of iron to cement the blocks. It's 5o meters high and 188 meters long and what we see today is just 1/3 of what it was in the past...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Pietà by Michelangelo

The Pietà is a sculpture that Michelangelo realised in 1498-99 for the french ambassador to the pope when he was just 24. This is the only sculpture which has been signed by Michelangelo. According to the story, one day Michelangelo heard some people talking positively about his sculpture but they referred to it as a good work done by another artist native from Rome. Annoyed by these comments, he came back during the night in the church and he carved on the ribbon of the Virgin Mary his name. Because of the hurry (who was catched inside the church during the night risked a death sentence) he nearly forgot to carve the second "e" of his name...which in fact appears inside the "g"!

The signature of Michelangelo