On February 3, 1871 a law proclaimed Rome the new capital of the Kingdom of Italy. The court, the parliament and the associated bureaucracy moved to their new location in the course of that year. It was the start of a booming period for the real estate market. In 30 years the population grew from 244, 484 inhabitants in 1871 to 462,783 in 1901.
Galleria Palatina - Florence: Caspar Van Wittel: View of Prati di Castello from Villa Altoviti (early XVIIIth century); in the background (left to right): Villa Medici, SS. TrinitÓ dei Monti and SS. Carlo e Ambrogio
The first town-plan (1871) suggested developing the area near the railway station and actually in the years which
followed ministerial buildings, hotels, large apartment blocks, new squares and streets shaped that part of Rome afterwards called
Roma Umbertina after King Umberto I under whose reign (1878-1900) the development took place.
However immediately after 1870 a former minister of the papal government, cardinal Francesco Saverio de Merode, in association with
some businessmen, bought most of the vineyards and farms (Prati, meadows) outside Porta Castello including Villa Altoviti, a large
estate near the river, opposite Porto di Ripetta.
The new owners of the area promoted its development by building at their expense a bridge which gave quick access to the centrerof Rome and put pressure on the municipal authority to include Prati in the town-plan; in 1873 their request was accepted.
The design of the new quarter followed a regular pattern (in Italy typical of Turin, the first capital of the Italian Kingdom) and it was intensively built. An interesting aspect of the street layout is that it does not allow viewing of the dome of S. Pietro: the Italian ruling class and the Pope were at loggerheads and in a way Prati turned its back to the symbol of the former government of Rome. Another effect of this confrontation led to dedicating the main street of the new quarter to Cola di Rienzo who in 1347 had tried to restore a sort of Roman Republic and had revived for himself the role of tribune of the people, an ancient Roman institution.
(left) Fontana di Piazza dei Quiriti (1928); (right) dome of S. Gioacchino (1891-1898)
The main thrust behind the development of Prati was to provide cheap accommodation to the employees relocated to Rome and in general
to the growing number of immigrants and therefore the initial town-plan did not provide for large squares, gardens or other amenities. Only at a
later stage and definitely after World War I the quarter acquired a higher appreciation and it was embellished with some nice buildings and monuments.
This short tour of Rione Prati starts in one of its few squares (Piazza dei Quiriti - No 1 in the map) and with a fountain designed by Arnaldo Serra: the design based on two basins has a vague resemblance to other historical fountains, while the fir-cone at its top is a clear reference to la Pigna, a fountain of ancient Rome.
In 1887 Pope Leo XIII reached his 50th year of priesthood and offers were made to build a church to celebrate the event. The Pope chose Prati as a suitable location to provide the new quarter with a large church. The church was dedicated to St. Joachim (the Pope's name was Gioacchino Pecci) and it was designed by Raffaele Ingami (Via Pompeo Magno - No 2 in the map).
The fašade, like those of many medieval Roman churches, was embellished with a very large mosaic. While in Fontana dei Fiumi and in the ceiling of S. Ignazio the world is represented by four continents, in this mosaic the continents are five and my Aussie friends will not feel neglected.
Eclecticism, or the combination of different styles, is the main characteristic of Prati. The photos above show two of the
most surprising buildings one can find in Rome. In 1887 a fire damaged the rear side of Palazzo Odescalchi; prince Baldassarre Odescalchi, influenced
by his Florentine wife, a Rucellai, asked the architect Raffaele Ojetti to rebuild it having in mind Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence
and Ojetti gave the same appearance
to a large block of apartments in Prati (Via Vittoria Colonna - No 3 in the map).
In 1893 Victor Jouet, a French missionary, founder of a brotherhood especially devoted to prayers for the Purgatory souls, managed to buy a small parcel of land in a very good position near the Tiber. Because of space limitations and following his taste he asked the architect Giuseppe Gualandi to design a church with a vertical thrust. The result is called by the Romans il piccolo (little) Duomo di Milano, for its many pinnacles (Lungotevere Prati - No 4 in the map).
Palazzo di Giustizia (1888-1910) seen from Ponte Umberto (1892-1895)
The triumph of eclecticism was achieved in the design of a colossal building aimed at housing all the different courts of justice (once in Palazzo di Montecitorio). The aim of the government was to build a monumental palace which would compete with those of the past. The winner of the competition was architect Guglielmo Calderini. The site chosen at the end of a new street which started from near Tor Sanguigna and across a new bridge, provided for the building a very fine perspective. It had however the disadvantage of being too close to the river and its marshy shore so that it took 22 years to complete it and the cost was enormous. The palace (Piazza dei Tribunali - No 5 in the map) assembled elements of Renaissance and Neoclassicism styles with a rather Baroque excess of decoration and statues.
Palazzo di Giustizia: (left) detail of the decoration; (centre) statue of Cicero; (right) not everybody dislikes it
Both for its destination and its appearance the Romans labelled it as il Palazzaccio (the ugly palace).
This late IIIrd century AD sarcophagus shows some traditional subjects of pagan sarcophagi, e.g. theatrical masks and river gods, but also some subjects, e.g. grape harvesting cupids which became a characteristic of early Christian sarcophagi, e.g. that of S. Costanza.
Centrale Montemartini: doll, toilet accessories and jewels which were found inside another sarcophagus (see a similar doll which was found in Spain)
In the early morning of May 12, 1889, I was called to witness the opening of a marble coffin which had been discovered two days before, under the foundations of the new Halls of Justice, on the right bank of the Tiber, near Hadrian's Mausoleum. As a rule, the ceremony of cutting the brass clamps which fasten the lids of urns and sarcophagi is performed in one of our archaeological repositories, where the contents can be quietly and carefully examined, away from an excited and sometimes dangerous crowd. In the present case this plan was found impracticable, because the coffin was ascertained to be filled with water which had, in the course of centuries, filtered in, drop by drop, through the interstices of the lid. The removal to the Capitol was therefore abandoned, not only on account of the excessive weight of the coffin, but also because the shaking of the water would have damaged and disordered the skeleton and the objects which, perchance, were buried inside.
The marble sarcophagus was embedded in a stratum of blue clay, at a depth of twenty-five feet above the level of the city, that is, only four or five feet above the level of the Tiber, which runs close by. It was inscribed simply with the name CREPEREIA TRYPHAENA, and decorated with bas-reliefs representing the scene of her death. No sooner had the seals been broken, and the lid put aside, than my assistants, myself, and the whole crowd of workmen from the Halls of Justice, were almost horrified at the sight before us. Gazing at the skeleton through the veil of the clear water, we saw the skull covered, as it were, with long masses of brown hair, which were floating in the liquid crystal. The comments made by the simple and excited crowd by which we were surrounded were almost as interesting as the discovery itself. The news concerning the prodigious hair spread like wild-fire among the populace of the district; and so the exhumation of Crepereia Tryphaena was accomplished with unexpected solemnity, and its remembrance will last for many years in the popular traditions of the new quarter of the Prati di Castello. The mystery of the hair is easily explained. Together with the spring-water, germs or seeds of an aquatic plant had entered the sarcophagus, settled on the convex surface of the skull, and developed into long glossy threads of a dark shade.
The skull was inclined slightly towards the left shoulder and towards an exquisite little doll, carved of oak, which was lying on the scapula, or shoulder-blade. (..) Proceeding further with our exploration, we discovered, close to the right hip, a box containing toilet articles. The box was made of thin pieces of hard wood, inlaid alla Certosina, with lines, squares, circles, triangles, and diamonds, of bone, ivory, and wood of various kinds and colors. The box, however, had been completely disjointed by the action of the water. Inside there were two fine combs in excellent preservation, with the teeth larger on one side than on the other: a small mirror of polished steel, a silver box for cosmetics, an amber hairpin, an oblong piece of soft leather, and a few fragments of a sponge. (..) Who was this woman, whose sudden and unexpected reappearance among us on the twelfth of May, 1889, created such a sensation? When did she live? At what age did she die? What caused her death? What was her condition in life? Was she beautiful? Why was she buried with her doll? The careful examination of the tomb and its contents enable us to answer all these questions satisfactorily.
Crepereia Tryphaena lived at the beginning of the third century after Christ, during the reigns of Septimius Severus and Caracalla, as is shown by the form of the letters and the style of the bas-reliefs engraved on the sarcophagus. She was not noble by birth; her Greek surname Tryphaena shows that she belong to a family of freedmen, former servants of the noble family of the Creperei. We know nothing about her features, except that she had a strong and fine set of teeth. Her figure, however, seems to have been rather defective, on account of a deformity in the ribs, probably caused by scrofula. Scrofula, in fact, seems to have been the cause of her death. (..) The story of her sad death, and of the sudden grief which overtook her family on the eve of a joyful wedding, is plainly told by the presence in the coffin of the doll and the myrtle wreath, which is a corona nuptialis. I believe, in fact, that the girl was buried in her full bridal costume, and then covered with the linen shroud, because there are fragments of clothes of various textures and qualities mixed with those of the white linen.
And now let us turn our attention to the doll. This exquisite pupa, a work of art in itself, is of oak, to which the combined action of time and water has given the hardness of metal. It is modelled in perfect imitation of woman's form, and ranks among the finest of its kind yet found in Roman excavations. The hands and feet are carved with the most skill. The arrangement of the hair is characteristic of the age of the Antonines, and differs but little from the coiffure of Faustina the elder. The doll was probably dressed, because in the thumb of her right hand are inserted two gold keyrings like those carried by housewives. This charming little figure, the joints of which at the hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows are still in good order, is nearly a foot high. Dolls and playthings are not peculiar to children's tombs. It was customary for young ladies to offer their dolls to Venus or Diana on their wedding-day. She was doomed to share the sad fate of her young mistress, and to be placed with her corpse, before the marriage ceremony could be performed.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Pagan and Christian Rome - 1892
Read more of Lanciani's account and see Crepereia's jewels in a page on Roman funerary rites.
Eclecticism yielded a better result in buildings of a smaller size: of these the best example is Villino Cagiati (Via Virginio Orsini - No 6 in the map), designed by architect Garibaldi Burba with the assistance of some skilled decorators. You may wish to see some buildings of Quartiere CoppedŔ which was built in approximately the same years.
Villino Cagiati: details; another detail is shown in the image used as background for this page