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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 May 2010.

S. Maria in Trastevere (Book 3) (Map C3) (Day 6) (View D10) (Rione Trastevere)

In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Today's view
S. Maria in Trastevere
Cappella di S. Maria della Clemenza
The Fountain
Palazzo S. Callisto
S. Callisto

The Plate (No. 60)

In this etching Giuseppe Vasi shows a luxury coach crossing Piazza S. Maria in Trastevere; it was however a rather rare event; the wealthiest families did not live in Trastevere, the quarter of Rome on the other side of the Tiber (trans Tiberim); the imposing palace to the left of the basilica belonged to the friars of S. Paolo fuori le Mura who lived there in summer, when the location of their monastery was unhealthy.
In the etching Vasi also portrayed aspects more in line with the mercantile tradition of Trastevere: two men carrying a large basket and a carriage entering the piazza from Via di S. Francesco a Ripa; they transported commodities unloaded at Porto di Ripa Grande and they were heading for Ponte Sisto and the city centre.
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) Palazzo S. Callisto; 2) S. Maria in Trastevere; 3) The deanery of the church. The small map shows also 4) Chiesa di S. Callisto; 5) Cappella di S. Maria della Clemenza; 6) the "smallest house of Trastevere".


The view in May 2010 (in the early morning)

The two small fountains shown in the plate, most likely troughs for horses and donkeys, do not exist any longer, the piazza has a modern paving and minor changes have affected the façade of the church. To take a photo of Piazza S. Maria in Trastevere which is evocative of the past, however is not always easy; during most of the day and late into the night a crowd sits on the steps surrounding the fountain and at dawn a "carpet" of bottles litters the square.
The inhabitants of Trastevere have always felt very proud of their rione, which even today retains a distinct character, also because its borders are clearly identifiable. In 366, at the death of Pope Liberius (the founder of S. Maria Maggiore), the inhabitants of Trastevere supported Ursinus against Damasus, who eventually became the next pope; the episode is described by Ammianus Marcellinus: "Damasus and Ursinus, being both immoderately eager to obtain the bishopric, formed parties and carried on the conflict with great asperity, the partisans of each carrying their violence to actual battle, in which men were wounded and killed. (..) Ultimately Damasus got the best of the strife by the strenuous efforts of his partisans. It is certain that on one day one hundred and thirty-seven dead bodies were found in the Basilica of Sicininus (most likely S. Maria in Trastevere), which is a Christian church. And the populace who had been thus roused to a state of ferocity were with great difficulty restored to order. I do not deny, when I consider the ostentation that reigns at Rome, that those who desire such rank and power may be justified in labouring with all possible exertion and vehemence to obtain their wishes; since after they have succeeded, they will be secure for the future, being enriched by offerings from matrons, riding in carriages, dressing splendidly, and feasting luxuriously, so that their entertainments surpass even royal banquets." (Roman History - Book 27 - Translation by C.D.Yonge).

S. Maria in Trastevere

(left) Façade; (right-above) detail of the bell tower; (right-below) detail of the deanery

S. Maria in Trastevere was rebuilt in the XIIth century by Pope Innocent II, who belonged to a family of Trastevere; because his appointment was challenged by an antipope who resided in the Vatican, he wanted S. Maria to be a church which could withstand comparison with the great basilicas; it was designed having in mind S. Maria Maggiore and gigantic columns from Terme di Caracalla were employed; the apse was decorated with a large mosaic and a tall bell tower was built to the right of the church; in the following century also the façade was decorated with a mosaic.
The entrance to the deanery has a reference (Fons Olei) to a miraculous event (the flowing of oil, probably petroleum) which occurred in 38 BC and which was interpreted by the Jews living in Trastevere as an announcement of the coming of The Messiah.

(left) Main door (open on the last morning of Festa de' Noantri); (right-above) medieval sarcophagus; (right-below) section of the medieval balustrade

In the late XVIth century Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps, nephew of Pope Pius IV, renovated the interior of the church; many medieval tombs, inscriptions and decorations were removed and affixed to the walls of the portico. You may wish to see the church in a 1588 Guide to Rome.

Ceiling; the design is reminiscent of the heraldic symbols of the Aldobrandini, the family of Pope Clement VIII

In 1617 Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini commissioned Domenichino, one of the most famous painters of the time, a new ceiling for S. Maria in Trastevere. In 1702 Carlo Fontana modified the portico for Pope Clement XI, but overall the façade retained its original appearance (the image used as background for this page shows a detail of the railings closing the portico).

Cappella di S. Maria della Clemenza

(left) Decoration of the entrance to the chapel; (right) painting portraying a session of the Council of Trent

Cardinal Altemps built a chapel to Madonna della Clemenza (Mercy) in memory of his son Roberto, put to death by Pope Sixtus V (you may wish to learn more about this episode). The chapel is located to the left of the main altar and it was decorated with frescoes by Pasquale Cati showing scenes of the Council of Trent during the pontificate of Pope Pius IV.
The chapel on the other side of the main altar is decorated with the coat of arms of Henry Benedict, Cardinal of York, the last of the Stuarts (Henry IX).

The Fountain

The fountain: in the background Palazzo Leoni

This fountain has a very troubled history, which is summarized in four inscriptions: a very old fountain was restored at the time of Pope Alexander VI; Pope Gregory XIV built conduits to supply the fountain with Acqua Felice; Pope Alexander VII built new conduits to supply the fountain with Acqua Paola; in 1692 Carlo Fontana redesigned the fountain for Pope Innocent XII; in 1873 the fountain was rebuilt using bardiglio (a grey marble), rather than travertine and the coats of arms of Pope Innocent XII (see the plate by Filippo Juvarra) were replaced by those of the City of Rome.

Detail of the fountain

Palazzo S. Callisto

Palazzo S. Callisto

The titular cardinals of S. Maria in Trastevere lived in a palace to the left of the church; it was rebuilt in the second half of the XVIth century by Cardinal Giovanni Morone; in 1608 Pope Paul V assigned it to the friars of S. Paolo fuori le Mura as a compensation for a monastery they had on the Quirinale hill, which the pope wanted to pull down in order to enlarge Palazzo Pontificio sul Quirinale; the design of the building was modified by Orazio Torriani, but it retained the appearance of a private property, with only some details of the decoration making reference to St. Paul and his sword. Today Palazzo S. Callisto belongs to the Holy See.

Detail of the entrance

S. Callisto

(left) S. Callisto; (right) the "smallest house of Trastevere"

St. Callixtus I (pope in 217-222) was killed by being thrown into the well of a house near S. Maria in Trastevere. In the VIIIth century a church was built on the site of his martyrdom. In 1610 the friars of S. Paolo fuori le Mura rebuilt the church which was designed by Orazio Torriani and which is located very near their palace.
The "smallest house of Trastevere" is at the end of a narrow alley opposite S. Callisto.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Chiesa di s. Calisto Papa
Era quivi la casa di Ponziano nobile Romano, in cui il santo Pontefice, in tempo delle persecuzioni della Chiesa; ritiravasi spesso con altri fedeli per fare orazione, e per battezzare quei, che si convertivano alla Fede. Il Santo essendo poi fatto prigione, ed aspramente battuto, con un sasso legato al collo fu buttato nel pozzo, che era nella medesima casa, e che ora si conserva in questa piccola chiesa, la quale essendo da Gregorio III. rinnovata nell'anno 741. ancora si mantiene piuttosto in forma di oratorio, che di chiesa. Da Paolo V. fu conceduta ai monaci Benedettini insieme col palazzo eretto già del Card. Morone sul disegno di Orazio Torrigiani, in cui hanno formato un bel monastero, per abitarvi quando non possono stare in quello di san Paolo fuori delle mura, e ciò in ricompensa del monastero, che avevano sul Quirinale, ove ora è il palazzo Pontificio. Segue dopo la piazza e la
Basilica di s. Maria in Trastevere
Dalla contrada, o vogliamo dire Rione, in cui sta, prende il moderno nome questa antichissima e celebre chiesa: da principio però fu detta Fons olei, e poi ad Presepe, e vanta di essere stata la prima, che fosse eretta in onore della ss. Vergine.
Era quivi la taberna meritoria, cioè una grande osteria, che si dava in affitto, a cui concorrendo i soldati Ravenniti, spesso prorompevano al solito di quella gente in imprecazioni. Presso la nascita del nostro Salvatore sorse in essa prodigiosamente un fonte di olio, che scorse, come si legge, fino al Tevere, onde fu poi da' Cristiani guardato quel luogo, come distinto da Dio con quel miracoloso olio,che è simbolo della grazia. Dipoi col progresso del tempo mancata quell'osteria, i Cristiani la presero in affitto per formarci un oratorio, dove potessero congregarsi insieme, e liberamente lodare Iddio: ma oppostisi i tavernari, i quali pretendevano di rimettervi l’offerta, fu fatto ricorso all'Imperat. Aless. Severo, e questo favorì i Cristiani pronunziando la sentenza come si legge: ‘ Cum Cristiani quemdam locum, qui publicus fuerat; contra Propinarii dicerent sibi cum deberi, rescripsit, melius esse, ut quomodocumque ibi Deus colatur, quam Propinariis debeatur ’. Onde nell'anno 224. s. Calisto, che in quel tempo era Sommo Pontefice, vi eresse una piccola chiesa dedicandola al Figliuolo di Dio, e alla ss. Vergine sua madre. Ma dipoi nell'an. 340. fu con magnificenza edificata la chiesa da Giulio I. e Giovanni VII. avendola ristaurata, vi aggiunse la sua abitazione. Gregorio III. la fece dipingere l’anno 740. e 30. anni dopo fu riedificata da Adriano I. in forma di basilica a tre navi con grosse colonne di granito egizio, le quali per essere di varie proporzioni, mostrano d'essere state di tempj diversi. Gregorio IV. vi fabbricò un monastero, del quale fu poi Abate Anastasio Bibliotecario, ed Innoc. II. comecchè era nato in questo Rione, rinnovò tutta la chiesa l'an. 1139. vi aggiunse la tribuna con mosaici, ed ornò la confessione con quattro colonne di porfido, e poi consagrolla coll'intervento di tutti i Padri del Concilio III. Lateranense, e Urbano V. abitando quivi creò 2.9. Cardinali. Sopra la confessione sono molte reliquie insgni, e sotto l'altare i corpi di cinque ss. Pontefici, ed un Prete martire.
Il Card. Giulio Santorio fece il soffitto dorato nella crociata, ed il Card. Pietro Aldobrandini quello della nave di mezzo colla preziosa pittura del Domenichino dipinta in rame; e finalmente Clemente XI. vi rifece il portico, e rinnovò il fonte sulla piazza. Fra le molte cappelle, che sono in essa, evvi quella a sinistra dell'altare maggiore con architettura del detto Domenichino, il quale vi dipinse fra li scompartimenti un putto, che sparge fiori; le pitture sotto i mosaici della tribuna sono di Agostino Ciambelli, e quelle nell'altra cappella a destra, sono di Pasquale Cati da Jesi; i depositi sono antichi, e però di autori incerti. La cappella dopo la sagrestia è disegno di Antonio Gherardi, e del medesimo è il quadro di s. Girolamo; il s. Gio. Batista nella cappella contigua è di Antonio Caracci, e le istorie, di Niccolò da Pesaro; il s. Francesco nell'altra è del Cav. Guidotti, e i ss. Mario e Calisto nell'ultima, del Procaccino. Un tempo ufiziarono questa chiesa i Canonici regolari di s. Agostino; ma s. Pio V. vi eresse il Capitolo di Canonici, e Benefiziati. Più volte è stata sostituita in vece della Basilica di s. Paolo fuori delle mura per una delle sette, e qualche volta per una delle quattro Patriarcali in tempo di Giubbileo. Fra i personaggi sepolti in questa basilica, si possono annoverare i chiarissimi pittori Gio. Lanfranchi, e Ciro Ferri.

You have completed Book 3! Move to Book 4 - plate 61 ii Palazzo Augustale detto Maggiore
Next step in Day 6 itinerary: Chiesa e Monastero di S. Apollonia