Via Nomentana, one of the historical roads of Ancient Rome is today (in its urban section outside Porta Pia) a large alley flanked by imposing buildings and large villas. Unlike other historical roads which linked Rome to its remote eastern (Via Appia) or western (Via Aurelia) provinces, Via Nomentana had a much closer target: the small town of Nomentum, where many rich Romans had their suburban villas.
1) Ponte Nomentano; 2) Mentana; 3) Monterotondo; 4) Palombara; 5) S. Angelo Romano; 6) Montecelio; 7) Marcellina; 8) S. Polo dei Cavalieri in a 1924 map; the blue dot indicates Tivoli which is covered in another section
After the fall of the Roman Empire the ancient town of Nomentum was abandoned and its inhabitants moved to a nearby site which was more easily defensible. In the following century it was surrounded by walls and towers which still protect it. Some houses are decorated with ancient statues and funerary reliefs.
(left) Palazzo Peretti Borghese; (centre) detail showing the heraldic
symbol of Pope Sixtus V Peretti; (right) a corner of the palace
The main square has almost a Renaissance appearance. Cardinal Felice Peretti (Pope Sixtus V 1585-90) and in the following century the Borghese family modified the medieval fortress to turn it into a more elegant residence.
Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo - Rome: relief portraying a Muse and three Aglaurides
(Athenian nymphs who produced music by dancing) from an altar found near Mentana (Ist century BC)
(left) Porta Garibaldi and S. Rocco; (right) monument to Girolamo Orsini in S. Maria delle Grazie
Monterotondo means round mountain and the name refers to the fact that the town is at the top of an
isolated hill, a characteristic it shares with other small towns of this part of Latium. For this reason Monterotondo is visible from
Rome and Giuseppe Vasi showed it in his Grand View of Rome. The image used as a background for this
page shows Monterotondo seen from Palombara.
In October 1867 Giuseppe Garibaldi, the XIXth century Italian national hero, made an attempt to march towards Rome with some 3,000 volunteers. He hoped on an insurrection of the Romans of Trastevere, but the papal police discovered the location where the leaders of the planned revolt had placed their firearms and ammunition and after a short fight arrested them. In the meantime Garibaldi and his troops moved towards Rome: to reach their objective they had to seize Monterotondo: they set fire to the main gate of the town and the papal garrison after a short resistance surrendered (that explains why the gate is today named after Garibaldi). A few days later the French troops sent by Emperor Napoleon III defeated Garibaldi at Mentana. Pope Pius IX celebrated the victory of Mentana by commissioning a monument to the fallen soldiers: he had in mind to place it in a Roman piazza, but because Rome was conquered by the Italian troops in 1870, the monument ended up in the cemetery of Rome.
Monterotondo was for centuries a stronghold of the Orsini and one of them is remembered by an elegant early Renaissance monument.
(left) Cathedral; (centre) Barberini coat of arms; (right) access to the Town Hall
In the XVIIth century Monterotondo was acquired by the Barberini and Pope
Urban VIII ordered his nephew Cardinal Carlo to provide the town with a large church.
The church, designed by Domenico Castelli, was completed in 1637 and the event was celebrated
in a lengthy inscription above the entrance. References to Pope Urban VIII
were erased from his coat of arms, most likely during Garibaldi's occupation of the town:
so the viewer more easily notices the masks hidden in its design.
The Barberini and Castelli modified the castle built by the Orsini at the top of the town: the side towards Monterotondo still conveys the image of a fortification, while the fašade towards the countryside (image below) has the appearance of a city palace.
Barberini Palace now the Town Hall
Palombara seen from S. Angelo Romano
Palombara is another town which can be seen from Rome, due to its position at the top of a hill. Giuseppe Vasi showed it in his Grand View of Rome between S. Angelo Romano (left) and Montecelio (right). In the morning, especially in winter, the inhabitants of Palombara are able to see the landmarks of Rome (obviously only those on high ground).
Views of Castello Savelli
The Savelli acquired Palombara during the pontificate of Pope Honorius III, a member of their family. In the XVth century the family split into three branches, one of which was named after Palombara. In 1637 the fiefdom was sold to the Borghese. A large villa near S. Eusebio was named after the Palombara.
(left/centre) Streets leading to Castello Savelli; (right) protected passage also leading to it
Palombara retains almost entirely the fortifications built by the Savelli: they included a protected passage which allowed the defenders to easily move between the fortress at the top of the hill and the walls surrounding the town.
Monte Gennaro seen from Palombara
The Grand View of Rome shows a mountain behind Palombara: Vasi did not design a generic mountain, but he actually engraved the profile of Monte Gennaro, the first mountain (4,000 ft high) near Rome to be capped with snow in winter.