Giuseppe Vasi included some views of the River Tiber in his fifth book on the Wonders of Ancient and Modern Rome which he published in 1754. They are the only landscape-type plates he made, because he definitely preferred to focus on buildings and their architectural details.
This all embracing view of the Aventine Hill shows the medieval walls which prevented its monasteries from being attacked and in particular those of Rocca Savella (they are shown in the image used as background for this page).
The title of the plate refers also to the ruin of Ponte Sublicio, the first Roman bridge to cross the river.
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 dei Cavalieri; 2) S. Alessio ; 3) S. Sabina; 4) Salara (salt-works); 5) Eremitorio di S. Anna; 6) S. Maria in Cappella; 7) Part of Trastevere; 8) Ruin of Ponte Sublicio. 1), 2) and 3) are shown in detail in other pages. The small map shows also 9) Casino di Donna Olimpia.
Galleria di Palazzo Barberini: Caspar Van Wittel - View of the Aventine Hill (detail - early XVIIIth century)
View in April 2009 from modern Ponte Palatino; (inset) ruin of Ponte Sublicio
After the very damaging flood of Rome which occurred in December 1870, the Italian government took steps to protect the city; these included the enlargement of the river bed and the construction of high walls. The view over the top of the Aventine hill however is almost unchanged, although a section of the monastery of S. Sabina which stood on the edge of the hill was pulled down when the church was restored in the early XXth century.
The eight ancient bridge at the
foot of the Mount Aventine, was of old called Sublicius, because it was built of wood, in the warre with
the Tuscanes, that it might be more easily broken and
repaired. And we read that the Tuscanes being Victors,
had taken Rome, if Horatius Cocles had not defended the bridge, till it was broken downe behind him, which
done, he saved himselfe by swimming. After that
Emilius Lepidus built this bridge of stone, and called
it Emilius; and when it was broken with floods, first the
Emperour Tyberius repaired it, and then Antoninus Pius
built it very high of marble, and condemned men were
cast from it into the water. (..) At the foot of Mount Aventine, (where the Jewes use to
fish) if you looke backe, you shall see the ruines of the
old bridge Sublicius.
Fynes Moryson - An Itinerary: Containing His Ten Years Travel Through .. Italy (in 1594)
Ponte Sublicio is associated with an episode of the war between Romans and Etruscans; at that time it was made of timber, but later on it was rebuilt in stone; it was maintained until the Vth century AD; the pillars which supported it were visible until 1878, when they were blown up to facilitate the flow of the river; today they can be seen only when the level of the water is very low.
View of the lower part of the hill from Lungotevere Aventino
7th November 1644. At the foot of Mount Aventine, are the
John Evelyn's Diary and Correspondence
The construction of the walls and of the lungotevere, led to the disappearance of small mills, salt-works and other establishments which made use of the river as a source of energy.
(left) Terrace of Giardino degli Aranci; (right) ancient walls supporting the top of the hill (now inside a private property which has been embellished with ancient statues and architectural elements)
The ancient Romans developed advanced construction techniques mainly based on the use of arches which allowed them to prevent landslides and to support large terraces. The Markets of Trajan are an example of how they prevented landslides falling on the nearby Forum. At Constantinople imposing structures supported one end of the Hippodrome on the edge of a hill.
(left) An ancient wall; (centre-above) detail of the plate showing this wall and Monte Testaccio; (centre-below) fragment of Baroque decoration; (right) coat of arms Pope Innocent XII Pignatelli, which once stood at Palazzo di Montecitorio with a large inscription
The detail of the plate shows an ancient wall which projected from the hill to improve its stability. Along the lungotevere a modern open air depot houses fragments from demolished/modified buildings of Papal Rome. It was probably meant to be a temporary solution to a shortage of space in the warehouses of the Museums of Rome, but it has been there for at least twenty years.
(left/centre) S. Maria in Cappella and detail of its bell tower; (right) entrance to the XIXth century hostel for the chronically sick (in Latin "Morbis Chronicis Curandis Xenodochium")
The small church of S. Maria in Cappella was built in the XIth century, but it has undergone too many changes; in the XIXth century its fašade was given a very unassuming medieval appearance.
In 1653 Pope Innocent X assigned the church to his own family and in particular to Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj, his sister-in-law.
Former Casino di Donna Olimpia (it stood on the site of the building marked with a green dot). The photo was taken from Rocca Savella (Giardino degli Aranci) on the opposite side of the river and it shows in the background: (left to right): 1) bell tower of S. Cecilia; 2) S. Giovanni Battista dei Genovesi; 3) bell tower of S. Grisogono; 4) S. Pietro and 5) bell tower of S. Maria in Cappella
Donna Olimpia built a casino (a small building) overlooking the river which was surrounded by a large garden. In 1846-1859 the Pamphilj modified their property by adding new buildings which were designed by Andrea Busiri Vici. The new facilities housed a hostel for the chronically sick. The redesign of the river bed in the 1880s entailed the pulling down of the casino.
View of the garden and of the loggia designed by Andrea Busiri Vici
Modern building near the previous site of S. Anna; (inset) detail of its "madonnella" (sacred image)
According to Vasi in 1761 S. Anna belonged to the monastery of S. Sabina and it was closed. Other sources indicate that it belonged to the hosiers' guild and that it was rebuilt in 1745 (see a directory of churches belonging to a guild). The modern building which replaced it retains some memory of the church in the madonnella which portrays St. Anne with the Child (you may wish to see other sacred images in the streets of Rome). It is situated at the beginning of Clivo di Rocca Savella, one of the silent streets of Rome.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
In questa spiaggia fa ora bel vedere il grande ospizio di s. Michele, con la dogana, ed il moderno sbarco de' navigli, che vengono dal mare, ed in mezzo al Tevere si vedono le rovine dell'antichissimo ponte Sublicio, cosý detto da ilex albero forte, e resistente all'acqua, o pure da' legni grossi, con i quali era costruito, che sublices dicevansi. Era questo formato tutto di legno fin da' tempi pi¨ antichi, e da esso solevano gettare ogni anno nel Tevere 30. uomini Greci; ma a persuasione di Ercole fu mutata tale usanza, ed invece di uomini vi si buttarono dipoi figure di uomini fatte di paglia. Questo fu quel ponte, che Orazio Coclite discese contro l'impeto de' Toscani, mentre dall'altra parte veniva tagliato da' Romani, e poi gettatosi nel fiume col suo cavallo pass˛ a nuoto da' suoi. E perchŔ un tal valore venne attribuito ad opera divina, e perchŔ in quella necessitÓ fu tagliato con difficoltÓ, fu dipoi rifatto senza chiodo alcuno, e fu dato in cura ad alcuni sacerdoti con ampia facoltÓ di ristaurarlo e rifarlo quando bisognasse, onde questi furono detti Pontifices, ed il maggiore tra loro Pontifex Maximus, la cui autoritÓ fu di tanta possanza, ed onore, che poi se l'appropriarono gli stessi Imperatori. Questo ogni anno si riattava con simile materia, e con grande superstizione; e per˛ fu ancora detto Ponte Sagro. Fin al tempo di Augusto, di Vespasiano, e di Antonino fu conservato di legno: ma perchŔ spello rovinava, fu alla fine da Adriano fatto di pietra, non giÓ nel medesimo sito, ma poco discosto, perci˛ a distinzione di quello, che egli fece presso il suo sepolcro, si disse ponte Emilio.
Nessuno ha saputo dire di che sorta di edifizj fossero le grosse muraglie, che si vedono appoggiate al monte Aventino; ognuno per˛ vede, che sono avanzi di opere magnifiche degli antichi. Poco pi¨ oltre camminando,evvi
E' questa una fabbrica, ove si purifica il sale, che si lavora sulla spiaggia del mare, e sta appunto dove erano l'antiche saline. Quivi sulla strada fu ancora un arco eretto per ordine del Senato al nome di Orazio per aver difeso, come dicemmo, il suddetto ponte, e conservata la libertÓ alla patria. Poco pi¨ avanti si vede a piedi della salita del monte Aventino la
Questa piccola chiesa, quando il Papa abitava nel palazzo di s. Sabina era custodita da' Palafrenieri: ma avendo poi edificata quella presso il palazzo Vaticano, rest˛ questa unita alla chiesa di s. Sabina, i cui frati vi tengono un Eremita per custodia.
In sito molto basso sta questa piccola chiesa, la quale da principio era dedicata al ss. Salvatore; ma poi essendovi da s. Francesca Romana aggiunto un piccolo spedale, prese l'uno e l'altra il titolo di s. Maria in Cappella. Quindi nel 1540. avendola ottenuta la confraternita de' Barilari, si disse ancora in cupella. Accanto di questa evvi l'amenissimo giardino del Principe Panfili con un casino sulle sponde del Tevere.