The page covers:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Fonte di Giuturna
Arco di Augusto
Rampa Imperiale di Domiziano
S. Maria Antiqua
New S. Maria Liberatrice
Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri
Tempio di Vesta e Casa delle Vestali
Giuseppe Vasi chose to include S. Maria Liberatrice, a minor XVIIth century building, in his 1753 Book which covered the oldest churches of Rome on the assumption that it stood on the site of a very ancient church, although at his time this belief was not supported by clear evidence. The choice allowed Vasi to depict the Roman Forum, or Campo Vaccino (Cow Field) as it was called at the time, which he had already shown in Plates 31 and 32 from another point of view.
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) Tempio di Giove Statore (now known as Tempio di Castore e Polluce); 2) Walls of Curia Ostilia and Basilica Porzia; 3) S. Teodoro; 4) Orti Farnesiani. 1) and 4) are shown in other pages. The small map shows also 5) S. Maria Liberatrice; 6) approximate site of Casa delle Vestali.
The view in June 2009 (in the lower right corner the site of Arco di Augusto)
In the late XIXth century the area was excavated for some twenty feet to unearth the remains of the ancient monuments which lay beneath the ground and eventually in 1900 S. Maria Liberatrice was pulled down. If it were not for the three columns of Tempio di Castore e Polluce and for the imposing walls in the background it would be hard to believe that the plate and the photo show the same location.
(left) 1883 map; (right) 1924 map
The excavations led to the identification of: a) the site of a triumphal arch; b) buildings related to the Vestals; c) Fonte di Giuturna, a basin which contained the water of a holy spring; d) Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri, a VIIth century chapel which was located in an ancient Roman building and e) S. Maria Antiqua, a church which was mentioned in ancient chronicles.
Fountain on the outer wall of Giardino degli Aranci near Santa Sabina
The fountain shown in the plate was designed in 1593 by Giacomo Della Porta who made use of a large basin found near Arco di Settimio Severo. In 1816 the basin was placed by Pope Pius VII below the obelisk of Piazza del Quirinale, while the upper part of the fountain ended up in Giardino degli Aranci near Santa Sabina, after having been used for Acqua Lancisiana.
Statues of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) at a 2015 exhibition inside Tempio di Romolo
Giuturna was the nymph of a spring where Castor and Pollux watered their horses on their way to announce the victory of the Roman army over King Tarquin the Proud at Lago Regillo. In the IInd century BC statues of Castor and Pollux were erected at the sides of the spring.
(left) Well dedicated to Giuturna by Marcus Barbatius Pollio (Ist century BC), an officer in charge of maintenance of public buildings; (centre/right) reliefs of a small altar showing Jupiter and the Dioscuri (early Ist century AD)
The spring was regarded as a holy site for many centuries and archaeologists have found evidence of embellishments/restorations until the early IVth century AD. Archaeologists have found evidence that Statio Aquarum, the office in charge of aqueducts and fountains was located near the spring.
(left) Reconstruction of the spring with the altar; (centre) "aedicula" (early IInd century AD), a small shrine which most likely housed a statue; (right) statue of Apollo which was found near the spring (Ist or IInd century AD, but based on an archaic way of depicting the god)
Musei Capitolini - Palazzo dei Conservatori: (left) Sala della Lupa (the she-wolf which milked Romulus and Remus); (right) inscriptions from Arco di Augusto with lists of triumphs related to some kings (above), the Second Punic War (centre) and Emperor Augustus
The Senate erected a triumphal arch to Emperor Augustus in 19 BC to celebrate the restitution of the Roman insignia the Parthians had seized at Carrhae. The side openings of the arches were decorated with inscriptions listing all the kings, consuls, generals, etc whose victories were celebrated with a triumph. These inscriptions were found in the XVIth century and in 1586 they were moved to Palazzo dei Conservatori. The late XIXth century excavations unearthed the site of the central opening of the arch, but no other decorative/structural elements were found.
(left) Walls of the entrance to the Palatine; (right) seen from Vicus Tuscus, the street leading to S. Teodoro
The walls that according to Vasi were part of Curia Ostilia, a building where the Roman Senate met before the construction of Curia Julia, were later on associated with the Athenaeum built by Emperor Hadrian or with a Temple to Augustus. They are now believed to be a large vestibule built by Emperor Domitian as a grand entrance to the Imperial Palaces on the Palatine from the Forum.
Sections of Rampa Imperiale (the public was allowed to access the ramp in 2016 on a temporary basis after the area had been closed for safety reasons for a very long time)
The guests of the emperors did not need to climb a narrow spiral staircase to reach the imperial palaces. A covered ramp made it possible for them to move on a carriage or by riding a horse or a donkey.
(left) Atrium of the church which was nested inside the vestibule; (centre/right) fragments of its frescoes
The church was built in the second half of the VIth
century when Rome (after the Greek-Gothic War) became part of the Byzantine Empire; it was the first to be dedicated to the
Virgin Mary and its location indicates it was used by the Greek officers who had their residence in the former imperial palaces.
In the IXth century it was damaged by the consequences of an earthquake which caused the partial collapse of the walls supporting the terraces of the Palatine. For this reason in 847 Pope Leo IV assigned its name and prerogatives to S. Maria Nuova (S. Francesca Romana) and the church was abandoned.
(left) Presbytery and apse; (right) "Palimpsest" fresco
During the three centuries of its existence the church was repeatedly decorated with frescoes. One of them is known as the "Palimpsest" with reference to the word used to indicate parchment books (or scrolls) where the text was scraped to reuse the page. Art historians have identified four layers of frescoes: the oldest two portrayed the Virgin Mary and an Annunciation. The most recent ones depicted groups of saints chosen among the Doctors of the Church, rather than the martyrs. This perhaps because they were painted in a period which was characterized by frequent theological disputes.
Left nave: frescoes commissioned by Pope Saint Paul I (757-767)
The decision to decorate the church with so many images was in itself a "declaration of independence" of the Bishops of Rome from the authority of the Byzantine Emperors. When Pope Saint Paul I commissioned a cycle of frescoes, Emperor Constantine V had just strengthened the laws against the veneration of images.
(left) Detached fresco portraying St. Agatha; (right) fresco portraying St. Solomonia, who according to tradition was put to death with her seven children by Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV for having refused to eat pork (ca 167 BC)
Some of the frescoes are not without artistic value; in some cases saints were portrayed as if they had been members of the imperial court as depicted in mosaics at Ravenna. Most inscriptions are in Greek which at that time was the official language of the Byzantine Empire.
Sarcophagi: (above) IIIrd century AD sarcophagus portraying two Victories holding the portrait of the dead; (below) early Christian sarcophagus depicting Jonah (left) and the Good Sheperd (right)
The Roman custom to bury the dead outside the city was forgotten in the VIth century. Churches became the preferred locations where the rich and the powerful wanted to be buried, because they usually housed holy relics which were thought to have a beneficial effect on the dead's eternal life. A number of sarcophagi were moved to S. Maria Antiqua and reused. They were found beneath the floor of the church.
The most interesting frescoes were found in a chapel to the left of the apse. It was decorated at the initiative of Teodoto. He was a primicerius, an important officer of the Byzantine government; his title means "primus in cera" because his name was the first which was written on the wax tablets containing administrative decisions. In these frescoes the names are written in Latin. Teodoto was the uncle of Pope Hadrian I who managed to free the Roman Church from both the Byzantine and the Longobard influences by appealing to Charlemagne for help.
Modern mosaic on the fašade of new S. Maria Liberatrice, based on the fresco found in Cappella di Teodoto. It portrays (left to right) Pope Zacharias (741-752), St. Judith, St. Paul, the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Quiricus and Teodoto
presenting the chapel. The inscription near the Virgin Mary explains the name of the church: "Sancta Maria libera nos a poenis inferni" (free us from
(left) New S. Maria Liberatrice; (right) the old sacred image
A new S. Maria Liberatrice was built in the main square of Testaccio, an early XXth century neighbourhood. The image on the altar of old Santa Maria Liberatrice was moved to the new church and the fašade was embellished with a mosaic reproducing frescoes of Cappella di Teodoto.
(left) Modern mosaic based on the fresco found in Cappella di Teodoto;
Jesus wears a "colobium", a tunic without sleeves which was originally reserved to the Roman senators and his eyes are open to
indicate his triumph over death; (centre-above) coat of arms of Monastero di Tor de' Specchi to which old S. Maria Liberatrice belonged: it is consistent with the traditional account which said the monastery was named because of mirrors (specchi) on
its roof; (centre-below) angel which decorated the old church; (right) detail of the fašade showing the reutilization of marbles coming from the old building
(left) View of Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri and of the western part of the Roman Forum from the Rampa Imperiale; (right) reconstructed building (only its lower part is original)
Archaeologists found evidence of a chapel which was housed in an ancient square building. Its actual use as a separate church or as an ancillary facility of S. Maria Antiqua is still to be ascertained. Because its frescoes are similar to those in the larger church, the second alternative sounds more likely.
The building has been named after the subject of its main fresco which shows the martyrdom of forty soldiers from Sebaste in the early IVth century. Because they refused to abandon their Christian faith they were forced to enter a small pond where they froze to death. The way the painter showed their bodies inside the water brings to mind mosaics showing the Baptism of Jesus Christ at Ravenna.
Other details of the decoration: (left) fresco portraying saints; (right-above) crosses holding sorts of medallions; (right-below) decoration of the floor
Access to Oratorio dei Santi Quaranta and to S. Maria Antiqua was not allowed for many years due to safety concerns. In 2016 the prohibition was temporarily lifted.
Casa delle Vestali seen from Orti Farnesiani (Tempio di Vesta is the round building on the left side)
The Romans believed that the fortunes of their city were determined by a sacred fire always kept burning. This task was entrusted to the Vestals, priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the fireplace. This cult derived from the need of a small community to have a reliable source of fire; for this reason the fire was kept burning in a hut to protect it from rain and winds.
Tempio di Vesta vaguely resembled a hut: it was circular and it had a conical roof with a hole to let the smoke out. It was rebuilt several times, the last time in 191 AD by Giulia Domna, wife of Emperor Septimius Severus. You may wish to see a page on the Persian worship of fire.
Casa delle Vestali
The Vestals were chosen when they were aged about eight; they lived for thirty years in a house near the temple; for ten years they learned their duties, for ten years they attended the fire and for the last ten years they taught the novices. After having completed their period of duty they were free to leave the house, but in general they preferred to remain. They were bound by a vow of chastity; the penalty for breaking it was to be buried alive in a field outside Porta Salaria, known as Campus Sceleratus.
Statues of Head-Vestals and (right) dedicatory inscription of a lost statue of Flavia Publicia, Head-Vestal in ca 265 AD
The Head-Vestals held great prestige and they usually came from families of the senatorial rank. They were able to influence decisions on public appointments. The dedicatory inscriptions of their statues often make reference to their benevolence and help, in addition to celebrating their pious lifestyle.
The chief decoration of the court consisted in the statues of the Head-Vestals (virgines Vestales maximae), which stood in the portico and were accompanied by inscriptions on the bases, celebrating the virtues and the merits of each person portrayed. (..) Most of the bases and statues were discovered at the close of 1883, at the west end of the Atrium. They were heaped up in such shape that it is clear they were intended to be thrown into a mediaeval lime-kiln. The stones containing the inscriptions lay flat upon the ground, upon them rested the torsos of the statues, and the arms, hands, feet, and all projecting parts had been hacked off, and the fragments used to fill up the spaces between the statues.
Christian HŘlsen - The Roman Forum - Its History and Its Monuments - Ermanno Loescher & Co 1906. You may wish to read more of this book at Bill Thayer's website (it opens in another window).
The Vestals were also in charge of guarding Palladion, a wooden image of Athena Pallas, which Aeneas brought with him from Troy: notwithstanding the unlucky end of Troy, the Romans believed the safety of their city depended on this image. It was kept in the adytum, the innermost part of the temple, and no one was allowed to see it apart from the Vestals and the Pontifex Maximus. It is said that the Vestals destroyed it in 394, after the last attempt to preserve the ancient religion failed as a result of the Battle of the River Frigidus.
(left) S. Teodoro seen from the Roman Forum; (right) detail of the dome
S. Teodoro is still visible from the Forum. The building was originally one of the granaries (Horrea Agrippiana) built by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. The circular walls are to a great extent the result of a XVth century restoration by Pope Nicholas V; the dome was designed by Bernardo Rossellino in 1453 and it was the first Renaissance dome of Rome (you may wish to see a page on the domes of the city).
The church was built in the VIth century and the much restored mosaic of the apse is of the same period. It is thought that the two saints at the sides of Jesus Christ, St. Paul and St. Peter were added when the church was restored. The portrait of St. Theodore was based on a mosaic at SS. Cosma e Damiano (it opens in another window). The blonde saint could be St. Cleonicus, a friend of Theodore. You may wish to see the statue of St. Theodore in Venice.
(left) Front of the church; (right) the church seen from the Palatine; (inset) coat of arms of Pope Nicholas V
Pope Clement XI restored the church in 1702 and Carlo Fontana designed the fine circular courtyard leading to it. The heraldic symbols of this pope (three mountains and a star) can be seen in the railing on the street level (unfortunately a few years ago, when S. Teodoro was given to the Greek Orthodox Church, the star was replaced by a cross).
(left) The circular courtyard designed by Carlo Fontana; (right) the heraldic symbols of Pope Clement XI before (above) and after having been modified (below)
The image used as background for this page shows a detail of Vasi's etching.
Next plate in Book 3: Chiesa di S. Giorgio in Velabro.
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Anfiteatro Flavio o Colosseo.
Next step in Day 5 itinerary: Circo Massimo.
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: Chiesa di S. Maria della Consolazione.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Fu quivi anticamente una chiesa detta s. Salvatore in lacu forse dal lago Curzio, che ivi presso alle tre gran colonne si crede essere stato. Riedificata poi la nuova chiesa, fu dedicata alla ss. Vergine, e vi risedettero alcune Monache Benedettine, le quali essendo trasferite altrove, nell'anno 1550. Giulio III. la concedŔ alle Monache di Tordispecchi, le quali ne hanno cura, mantenendovi de' cappellani: e vi sono de' quadri moderni, fra' quali la ss. Vergine, e s. Francesca Romana Ŕ opera di Mons¨ Subleras; ed Ŕ molto ricca d'indulgenze.
Pochi passi a sinistra si vede l'antico tempio rotondo, mezzo sotterra, il quale in oggi Ŕ dedicato a s. Teodoro; e si crede essere stato quello eretto a Romolo, e Remo in memoria di essere stati ivi portati dalle onde del Tevere, essendo stata presso a questo trovata la lupa con i due gemelli lattanti fatta in metallo, che ora si vede in Campidoglio nel palazzo de' Conservatori.