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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 July 2010.

Porta Angelica (Book 1) (Map D1) (Day 8) (View C2) (Rione Borgo)

In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
 Today's view
 Porta Angelica
 Fornice di Via di Porta Angelica
 Casino di Belvedere
 S. Anna dei Palafrenieri
 The Walls between Porta Angelica and Porta Castello

The Plate (No. 19)

The etchings by Giuseppe Vasi were aimed at accurately depicting the monuments of ancient and modern Rome; in this plate however, probably because the design of Porta Angelica was not regarded as being very interesting, Vasi focussed on the light effects of the sunset behind Casino di Belvedere. In the vision of Pope Pius IV who opened the gate in the new walls surrounding the Vatican, Porta Angelica should have become a primary gate by being an alternative to Porta del Popolo as access to Rome for travellers coming from the north. Therefore he opened Strada Angelica, a new road going from the gate to Ponte Milvio; Vasi's view was published in 1747 and it shows that the pope's project was not successful: the two small side entrances were walled up, the bridge over the moat had a reduced size and the access of carriages was blocked by a small column.
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) Casino di Belvedere; 2) Corridors linking the Casino with Palazzo Vaticano. 2) is shown in another page. The small map shows also: 3) Porta Angelica; 4) S. Anna dei Palafrenieri; 5) Fornice di Via di Porta Angelica.


The view in June 2010

The development of Prati, a new quarter north of the Vatican, led in 1888 to the decision of filling the moat along the walls and of pulling down Porta Angelica; today most of the traffic coming from the western suburbs of Rome is channelled along the walls and the site could not be more different from the peaceful atmosphere of Vasi's plate.
The coat of arms on the corner of the walls belongs to Pope Pius XI and it was placed there in the 1930s.

Porta Angelica

Decorative elements from the gate

The statues portraying two angels, the coat of arms and the inscription which decorated Porta Angelica were rearranged along the busy road leading to the Vatican Museums. Pope Pius IV was born Giovanni Angelo de' Medici; he gave his papal name to Porta Pia and his personal name to Porta Angelica (he also commissioned the redesign of Porta del Popolo); the pope stressed the association of the gate with the angels by placing an inscription with a sentence taken from Psalm 91: Angelis suis mandavit de te ut custodiant te in omnibus viis tuis (He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways).
Porta Angelica knew its moment of glory on December 24, 1783, when King Gustav III of Sweden made his entrance into Rome through Porta Angelica (because Porta del Popolo was closed for repairs). He was the first Lutheran sovereign to visit Rome, in the footsteps of his ancestor Queen Christina of Sweden, who however came to convert to Catholicism. The purpose of his journey was not political or religious, but aimed at buying works of art and completing his education.

Fornice di Via di Porta Angelica

(left) Fornice di Via di Porta Angelica (external side); (right) the same seen from the colonnade of Piazza S. Pietro

Fornice is an arched opening in a wall which Pope Pius IV made in the old medieval walls which protected Borgo; he did so because Porta S. Pellegrino, the existing gate, was not in a straight line with Porta Angelica. The inscription celebrates the opening of Strada Angelica; the upper coat of arms belongs to Pope Urban VIII who covered the first section of Passetto, the secret passage inside the old walls. At the time of its opening the fornice directly led to Piazza S. Pietro, as Bernini's colonnade was built a century later.
Casino di Belvedere

Casino di Belvedere; in the foreground the tower housing the winding ramp designed by Donato Bramante

In the last book of etchings covering the monuments of ancient and modern Rome Giuseppe Vasi dedicated a view to the imposing niche of Casino del Belvedere, while in this plate he showed the older part of the building.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary says: belvedere, a summer house or open-sided gallery positioned to command a fine view. The definition fits perfectly with the casino built by Pope Innocent VIII in 1485-87; it had the appearance of a small castle because at the time it was located outside the walls. This part of the casino was designed by Antonio del Pollaiolo, while a few years later Donato Bramante added a winding ramp to allow Pope Julius II to reach his apartments by riding a mule.

Rooms of Museo Pio Clementino retaining coats of arms, symbols and the French motto of Pope Innocent VIII: LeautÚ passe tout = Loyalty exceeds all (virtues)

In the late XVIIIth century Pope Pius VI rearranged the old casino in order to house the papal collections of ancient sculptures there; the decoration of the rooms was entirely renovated, but the original references to Pope Innocent VIII were not erased, although we now see them inside later frames. You may wish to see some more images of the ceilings.

S. Anna dei Palafrenieri

(left) Fašade; (centre/right) details

Palafrenieri is just a pompous word for grooms, palafreno meaning in Dante's Italian a horse for parades. S. Anna dei Palafrenieri was built in 1565-73, most likely by Giacinto Barocci, son of Jacopo Barocci il Vignola, but it was given a baroque flavor by Alessandro Specchi who added the portal, the balustrade and the bell towers at the beginning of the XVIIIth century. The church is now inside Vatican City, but access to it is usually allowed without formalities.

The Walls between Porta Angelica and Porta Castello

(left) The street leading to former Porta Castello and Castel Sant'Angelo which was opened by pulling down the walls; (centre) coat of arms of Pope Pius IV in the courtyard of a modern building; (right) Porta di S. Anna

The perimeter of the walls was modified after 1929, when the territory of Vatican City State was agreed by Italy and the Holy See. In order to reflect the new border a wall was built between the site of former Porta Angelica and Fornice di Via di Porta Angelica; the section of the walls leading to Porta Castello was pulled down.
Porta di S. Anna, a gate opened in the new walls near the church by the same name became the main entrance to the Vatican. Every morning a flow of civil servants, priests and nuns go to work under the scrutiny of Swiss guards who have their barracks and stables to the left of the gate.
Porta di S. Anna was built during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, whose heraldic symbols (an eagle on top of three pills) are sculpted in the style which prevailed during the Fascist regime.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Chiesa di s. Anna de' Palafrenieri
La confraternita de' Palafrenieri, perchŔ aveva anticamente una cappella dedicata a s. Anna nel tempio vecchio di s. Pietro, e restandone privi per la nuova fabbrica nell'an. 1575. edificarono questa chiesa col disegno di Giacomo Barozzio, eseguito per˛ da Giacinto suo figliuolo.
Porta Angelica
Fu questa una di quelle fatte da s. Leone IV. e si chiamava Porta s. Petri, sebbene l'antica Porta s. Petri, prima di s. Leone stesse presso la chiesa di s. Gio. de' Fiorentini: ma dipoi essendo nell'anno 1563. rinnovata da Pio IV. si disse Angelica, non per gli Angioli, che si vedono scolpiti in marmo nelli stipiti laterali, ma perchŔ Angelo si chiam˛ quel Pontefice prima di essere eletto Papa.

Next plate in Book 1: Porta Castello
Next step in Day 8 itinerary: Chiesa di S. Maria delle Grazie