Hidden Rome

The area bordering the Tiber between the only two bridges affording a crossing up until the end of the 19th century grew during mediaeval times from being a remote corner of the sparcely populated Campo Marzio to become a vital centre of the city. Here the Popes sited their financial affairs, pilgirms passed on their way to St Peter's, executions were carried out, cortesans and ambassadors intriqued in the palaces of the nobility and the nearby river was the lifeblood of tradesmen such as millers, tanners, butchers, rope-makers, fishmongers and others. On this tour we shall walk in their footsteps and use our cameras to tell a story of a fascinating slice of Rome which with its artisans' workshops, busy markets, quiet churches, palaces and tucked-away courtyards seems to hold the modern world at bay.   

Starting point. -  Piazza Sant'Angelo, i.e. by the statues St. Peter and St. Paul that stand either side of the beginning of the bridge on the opposite side of the river from the castle.

Start time. 9 am. Finish 1 pm.

Main points:- Ponte Sant'Angelo - Church of Saint John the Baptist of the Florentines and tomb of Borromini - Via Giulia -
Via Dei Banchi Vecchi - Oratorio of the Fraternity of the "Gonfalone" - Via Pellegrino - Campo de Fiori - Church of Saint Mary of the Dead - Piazza Farnese - Palazzo Spada.


We start at the Ponte Sant’Angelo, built by the Emperor Hadrian in 133 A.D. as a triumphal entrance to his impressive mausoleum on the right bank of the Tiber, which over the centuries became transformed as Castle Sant’Angelo. The bridge’s strategic importance until modern times as the only crossing over the river to Saint Peter’s has bestowed it a chequered history of tragedy and artistic showmanship. Along with the Piazza Ponte Sant’Angelo and the castle the bridge was a site of executions for centuries. Most famously that of Beatrice Cenci, beheaded at the age of 22 in the year 1599 for the murder of her violent father. Since the late 17th century the bridge has been adorned with the ten famous angels by Bernini symbolising the Passion of Christ.


We will then meander through mediaeval streets that were once bustling with pilgrims making their way to St. Peter’s and, due to the vicinity of the Papal Bank of the Holy Spirit and the Vatican mint, site of the old financial district of Rome, where Fiorentine and Sienese bankers, money-lenders and notaries set up their shops. The street names recall this function, Via del Banco del Santo Spirito, Via dei Banchi Vecchi and Via dei Banchi Nuovi.

We will also move along Via Giulia, a street built by Bramante for Pope Julius ll in 1508 and an innovation for its time, being the longest and straightest road in the city. Very soon the smartest and noblest families had their palaces built along it, with gardens down to the river. Also present were the embassies to Rome of various Italian states, and here they also built their respective churches, such as San Giovanni dei Fiorentini by Borromini and Saint Catherine of Sienna.

The narrow streets leading towards Campo de Fiori are a snaking labyrinth containing small shops, artisans’ workshops and hidden, tucked-away courtyards. We will also try and capture some interiors or maybe photograph people and craftsmen who are still using skills that have remained almost unchanged for centuries.

In the mornings Campo de Fiori is a bustling food market offering plenty of bright and colourful photo opportunities, and a popular haunt for people out for a drink and a bite to eat lunchtimes and evenings. In 1600 however the unpaved piazza was the site of the philosopher Giordano Bruno’s punishment for heresy by being burned alive at the stake.
Behind is Piazza Farnese, setting of Puccini's opera Tosca, with its 16th Century Palazzo Farnese (present French Embassy) built in part by Michelangelo, and two magnificent fountains made from two giant basins originally from the Baths of Caracalla.

Time permitting we can see the mannerist style Palazzo Spada and Borromini’s clever “perspective” vista, and possibly cross the river to Trastevere.

Please note that the churches and the Oratorio may not all be visitable due to variations in opening times.

Duration 4 hours. Approximate walking distance. 2.3 Kms.

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