The column erected in 113 AD to celebrate Emperor Trajan's successful wars against the Dacians was the first monument of ancient Rome to be freed from later additions and protected from further damage.
The first steps for its conservation were taken by Pope Paul III in 1545 when he cleared the area around the column and he appointed a custodian who was paid by the City of Rome. This 1752 etching by Giuseppe Vasi shows that later on a small area was excavated to unearth the pedestal (which contained the Emperor's funerary cell) and that a low wall limited access to it.
The view is taken from the steps of SS. Nome di Maria on the lower right corner of the etching (green dot in the 1748 map here below). In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Colonna Trajana; 2) S. Maria di Loreto; 3) Conservatorio (nunnery) di S. Eufemia; 4) Steps leading to SS. Nome di Maria; 5) Arco del Palazzo di S. Marco; 5) is covered in another page. The small map shows also 6) the site where Auditoria Hadriani were found in 2008. The dotted lines delineate the borders among Rione Pigna (upper left quarter), Rione Trevi (upper right quarter), Rione Campitelli (lower left quarter) and Rione Monti (lower right quarter).
The view in August 2009
The right side of Vasi's view is almost unchanged whereas the buildings on its left side have been removed. The first changes occurred in 1812 when Conservatorio di S. Eufemia and the adjoining Monastero dello Spirito Santo were pulled down to excavate Trajan's Forum (Basilica Ulpia). In the late XIXth century the appearance of the square surrounding the column was entirely changed by the construction of Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II. Eventually in the 1930s some remaining houses were demolished to open Via dei Fori Imperiali.
(left) The column seen from Basilica Ulpia; (centre) from Mercati di Traiano; (right) from Magnanapoli; the column and its reliefs were not meant to be seen from ground level, but from two tall buildings at its sides
It stands in a Small Square and the Ground
all about having been Rais'd as Usual in Length
Of Time, and Clear'd away at the Bottom, it
stands in a Hole, into which you descend by
several Steps if you would enter the Pillar:
This Hole is so Deep that at some Distance the Pillar seems to be without any Pedestal. It is pity all the Filth and Nastiness which is continually about it were not Prevented, or Remov'd. The Pillar it self has a Noble Look;
and not less so by being pretty much injured
by Time, and Otherwise; 'tis of a Darkish,
Grey Colour; the Work is extremely Good.
Jonathan and Jonathan Richardson - Account of Some of the Statues, etc. in Italy - 1722
have been assured that this Pillar
is composed of single Stones pil'd one upon
another like Cheeses, being hollowed. Richardson
The noble column placed in the middle, still preserves all its original beauty. It consists of twenty-three circular pieces of white marble, horizontally placed one above the other. (..) A staircase, consisting of one hundred and eighty-three steps, and sufficiently wide to admit a man to ascend, is cut out of the solid marble, leaving a small pillar in the middle, round which the stair winds from the bottom to the top. (..) The stairs are lighted by forty-one windows, exceedingly narrow on the outside, that they might not interrupt the connection of the basso relievos, but which gradually widen within, and by that means give sufficient light.
John Moore - A View of Society and Manners in Italy - 1781
July 23, 1787. In the evening I climbed the column of Trajan. Seen from that height and at sunset, the Colosseum, with the Capitol close by, the Palatine behind and the city all around, it was a superb sight.
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - translation by W. H. Auden and E. Mayer - Collins 1962.
This apparently fragile structure has withstood the impact of earthquakes with only some very minor disalignments of the reliefs.
(left-above) The Roman army crosses the River Danube on a boat bridge; (left-below) the Romans attack a Dacian fortress in a testudo (turtle) formation;
(right) reliefs on the pedestal showing the Roman eagle and a dragon, a military emblem of the Dacians
The stranger, at the first sight of the column,
naturally expects to find that the inscription
will refer to the virtues, or at least the victories,
of the prince whose exploits are sculptured upon
it, but he reads only that the pillar was raised
to show how much of the hill, and to what
height had, with infinite labour, been cleared
John Cam Hobhouse - Dissertations on the Ruins of Rome - 1818
The dedicatory inscription of the column says that the monument indicates "the height which this hill and place attained, before they were removed for such great works as these". It is a reference to Velia, a hill between the Quirinal and the Capitol, which was levelled to the ground to make room for Trajan's Forum. It is not the only monument by Trajan where the size aspect was emphasized as this was done for the cut of Pisco Montano at Terracina as well.
The 660 ft. spiral band of reliefs gives a detailed account of Trajan's wars against the Dacians. To learn more about them see a page on Two Roman Wars; another page provides information on Apollodorus of Damascus, the architect who designed the Forum and other monuments and facilities for Trajan.
(left) A winged Victory writes the history of the Dacian Wars (it shows up in the image used as background for this page too - see a similar statue at Brescia and reliefs depicting military trophies at Orange); (right) bronze statue of St. Peter by Tommaso Della Porta and Leonardo Sormani (see it from a different point)
An image of Victory writing on a shield separates the accounts of the two campaigns Trajan waged against the Dacians. This image influenced many Baroque funerary monuments, including that from which the icon of this website was developed.
In 1589 Pope Sixtus V placed on the top of the column a statue portraying St. Peter, thus giving the ancient monument a Christian purpose, similar to what he did at Colonna Antonina. As a matter of fact Trajan, unlike the other Roman emperors before Constantine, was no longer regarded as a cruel persecutor of Christians, at least since the XIVth century. According to an account mentioned by Dante, Pope Gregory the Great prayed for the Emperor's soul. Trajan was resurrected, was baptized by the Pope and was therefore admitted to Paradise where Dante met him.
The reliefs had a
great influence on Renaissance and Baroque artists. The first artist who studied them in depth
was Antonio Averlino, known as il Filarete, who worked in Rome in 1443-1445 at the decoration of the main door of S. Pietro. At the
beginning of the XVIth century Jacopo Ripanda, a painter from Bologna, made a series of drawings
of the reliefs, including those at the top of the column. In order to make these drawings he was suspended from the column in a cane basket (see one of them - it opens in another window or his frescoes at Palazzo dei Conservatori). At that time most houses had a painted façade and the reliefs inspired many artists: this is still visible in
palaces in Via della Maschera d'Oro.
The detailed study of the reliefs showed that in origin the fighters held bronze weapons. This had an influence on the XVIIth century statues of the Apostles on the façade of S. Pietro: each saint holds a bronze symbol of his martyrdom. Plaster copies of the lower parts of the column were made by several artists in the XVIth century. In the XVIIth century Pietro da Cortona copied most of the column and Gian Lorenzo Bernini envisaged moving it next to Colonna Antonina. King Louis XIV, who saw himself as the "Trajan of France", ordered a full plaster copy of the reliefs for the pupils of Accademia di Francia in Roma which he founded in 1666. A second copy was sent to Paris.
In 1739 two columns similar to Colonna Traiana and Colonna Antonina were erected at the sides of Karlskirche in Vienna.
In 1810 Napoleon erected a bronze column in Paris identical to that of Trajan with reliefs depicting his victorious campaigns. Unlike Trajan, he was portrayed while personally leading his troops. The column was pulled down in 1871 and reconstructed in 1875.
S. Maria di Loreto (left) and SS. Nome di Maria (right) seen from Terrazza delle Quadrighe at the top of Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (between them Palazzo Valentini and in the upper part of the image the trees of Giardino Colonnese). The stone pine in the lower left corner was pulled down in 2008 when excavations were made which led to unearthing "Auditoria Hadriani"
Similar to S. Maria dei Miracoli and S. Maria in Montesanto in Piazza del Popolo, these two churches are often associated because of their appearance and proximity, but the histories behind their construction are very different.
S. Maria di Loreto was built in the XVIth century by the guild of the bakers, together with an adjoining hospital. Michelangelo lived for many years and eventually died in a modest house opposite this building.
SS. Nome di Maria was built in 1735-1751 based on a project by French architect Antoine Derizet who ensured the new church had some consistency with S. Maria di Loreto. The celebration of the Holy Name of Mary was instituted in the XVIth century, but it became a major feast after the September 1683 victory of John III Sobieski, King of Poland, on the Ottomans who were laying siege to Vienna; the victory was attributed to the intervention of the Virgin Mary.
In 1534 Antonio da Sangallo completed the lower part of the church which has a cubic shape; in 1573 Jacopo del Duca, a scholar of Michelangelo, built the high drum and the dome including the almost baroque lantern (you may wish to see the church in a 1588 Guide to Rome). The interior was designed and decorated in the XVIIth century when Gaspare de Vecchi created a long tribune/main chapel which was dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto.
S. Maria di Loreto: (left) XVIth century wooden crucifix framed by an XVIIIth century bronze reliquary; (right) late XVIth century painting by Nicolò Circignani, better known as il Pomarancio, portraying one of the donors who contributed to the decoration of a chapel
The earliest records of the bakers' guild are dated 1318. Confraternita dei Fornari, the brotherhood of the bakers, was founded in ca 1500. It continued to exist after the guild system was dissolved in 1800 and it still owns the church (see a list of churches belonging to a guild).
The church was built to house the meetings/ceremonies of a brotherhood founded in 1642. In 1688 Pope Innocent XI gave the title of Arciconfraternita (Superior Brotherhood) to the brotherhood in recognition of the prayers of its members to help the Christian victory at Vienna. The construction and decoration of the church was delayed by financial difficulties. While the bakers decorated their church with real marbles, the members of the brotherhood of SS. Nome di Maria were often compelled to use painted marbles and stuccoes. Vasi criticized the excessive size of the dome, something which can be noticed also at SS. Andrea e Claudio dei Borgognoni, another church by Derizet.
A view of the Auditoria Hadriani and Palazzo Venezia aka S. Marco in the background
The presence of some ancient walls beneath the Bakers' Hospital was uncovered when part of the building was pulled down to enlarge Piazza Venezia in the late XIXth century, but the area was hidden again by a small garden. More in-depth excavations were made to identify a suitable location for a new underground station in 2007 and they soon led to unearthing the structures of three large halls. Construction techniques and materials suggested that they were built at the time of Emperor Hadrian. Historic records indicated that the Emperor built an Atheneaum, an institution for the promotion of literature and science, in Rome, similar to that he built in Athens of which the library still exists. The location of the Roman Atheneaum was unknown because historic records did not provide clues about it, but now it is believed to have stood near S. Maria di Loreto and to have included three auditoria (lecture classrooms).
(left) A view of the excavated area showing the unusual bell tower of S. Maria di Loreto by Del Duca; (right-above) a rendering of one of the halls; (right-below) steps and the pedestal of a statue of Fabius Felix Passifilus Paulinus, Praefectus Urbis, governor of Rome in the late Vth century AD
Next plate in Book 2: Piazza S. Marco.
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Palazzo Colonna.
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Palazzo Odescalchi.
Start your tour of Rione Monti: next step: Sepolcro di Caio Publicio Bibulo.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Il Senato e Popolo Romano inalzò questa gran colonna in mezzo al celebre Foro di Trajano in onore del medesimo Imperatore, e però vi furono scolpite mirabilmente le gesta della guerra Dacica contro Dacabalo. Aveva in cima , secondo alcuni , la statua di metallo dorato del medesimo Imperatore, secondo altri , le di lui ceneri entro una palla di metallo dorato. È questa composta di 34. pczzi di marmo , cioè il piedistallo ne contiene 8. la base uno, il fuso della colonna 23. , ed il capitello uno , in tutto è alta 128. piedi ; e vi si sale fino alla sua cima per 180. gradini incavati nel medesimo marmo, e riceve il lume da 43. finestrini. Silsto V. avendola ristaurata , e scoperta fino al suo piantato , vi pose sopra la statua di s. Pietro Ap. similmente di metallo. La magnificenza del mentovato Foro fu sì stupenda, che Apollodoro, che ne fu l'architetto, acquistò tanto onore, che tirossi la gelosia , 1'odio , e l'invidia di Adriano successore dell'Impero, e però gli dette indegnamente il bando, e poi tirannicamente gli levo la vita. Costanzo figliuolo di Costantino venendo a Roma , andò a vedere questo foro, e restò così attonito dalla magnifica struttura di esso, che del solo cavallo di metallo, sopra cui sedeva la statua di Trajano disse , che a lui solamente bastava l'animo di farne uno simile; ma Ermisda gli rispose con bravura , che prìma bisogna fare la stalla degna di un simile cavallo.
Sulla detta piazza era prima una piccola chiesa dedicata a s. Bernardo, e ne aveva cura una compagnia di Fedeli , i quali avendo poi promossa la devozione del ss. Nome di Maria, nel 1740. eressero la nuova chiesa col disegno di Monsù Alisè Francese, il quale vi fece la cupola doppia, che starebbe bene ad un gran tempio. Fra i quadri , che sono in chiesa , evvene uno con S. Anna dipinto da Agostino Masucci , ed altro con S. Bernardo, di Niccolò Ricciolini. Incontro a questa evvi il conservatorio di s. Eufemia, come diremo fra poco , per le povere fanciulle orfane.
Nella medesima piazza fu eretta questa chiesa sopra un'altra molto antica nell'anno 1507. da una compagnia di Fornari Italiani col disegno d'Antonio da Sangallo; il cupolino però fu fatto col disegno di Giacomo del Duca Siciliano, e allievo del Buonarroti. La prima cappella a destra lavorata a mosaico è opera di Paolo Rosetti, e 1'altra de' Re Magi dipinta a fresco è di Federigo Zuccheri , e del Pomarancio. Ne' laterali dell'altare maggiore sonovi due quadri dipinti dal Cav. Cesari , e due Angioli di marmo, i quali sono opere di Stefano Maderno; la s. Susanna però nella nicchia è di Francesco Fiammingo , e la s. Cecilia di Giuliano Finelli. II ss. Crocifisso nella cappella , che siegue è de1 Baldini, la ss. Nunziata , e la Presentazione al tempio sono di Filippo Micheli.