During the Middle Ages,
the city of Rome was abandoned due to the transfer of the papal court to
Avignon, in France. The absence of the pope thus caused an economic
crisis that forced the population to abandon the city. This, reduced to
poverty, soon became a mass of ruins where herds of sheep and cattle
grazed. But after 1418, the year when Pope Martin V re-established the
Papal See in Rome, the city began to be born again and, at the end of
the 15th century, it returned to being the great capital it had once
This itinerary starts with the Vatican Museums, within which it is
possible to visit the Sistine Chapel, one of the most famous and visited
monuments in the world.
Ordered in the late 15th century by Pope Sixtus IV, from which it takes
its name, the chapel is the most emblematic example of papal patronage
during the Renaissance. It is decorated with extraordinary frescoes
executed by Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Luca Signorelli, Botticelli and
Cosimo Rosselli, who at the end of the 15th century were the most famous
painters working between Tuscany and Umbria. Later the chapel, to be
used by both the pope and the congregation, was adorned with the
extraordinary paintings done by Michelangelo in the 16th century. The
great artists - who was also of Tuscan origin - painted the frescoes of
the vault between 1508 and 1512, and those of the altar wall, with the
extremely famous Last Judgment, between 1534 and 1541. The approximately
four hundred characters crowding the Judgment scene are almost all naked,
and in some cases persons who were the artist's contemporaries are
portrayed. Minos, with his sides encircled by a snake biting his
testicles, has the features of Biagio da Cesena, a papal Master of
Ceremonies, while in the skin of St. Sebastian, who was skinned alive,
it is possible to recognise the face of Michelangelo. The nudes caused a
great scandal at the time and, when Michelangelo was still alive, they
were partly painted over with garments by Daniele da Volterra, earning
him the nickname of "Il Braghettone" (the "breeches maker"). The
restoration work to clean the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel was
completed in 1999 and made it possible to rediscover the vivid original
colours, darkened for so many years by soot.
From the Vatican Museums, where it is also possible to see Raphael's
Stanze, painted between 1509 and 1512, and the Borgia Apartment,
frescoed in the late 15th century by Pinturicchio, we can arrive in St.
The square is dominated by the largest church in the world: St. Peter's
Basilica. The dome was designed by Michelangelo, who also designed the
plan of the Renaissance church, rebuilt over the early Christian one as
ordered by papal architect Donato Bramante, who had the ancient basilica
For this reason Bramante was nicknamed "Mastro ruinante" ("ruining
master"). By Michelangelo there is also the beautiful PietÓ, kept in the
first chapel of the right aisle. It is the only work actually signed by
the great artist. It is said that the sculptor, angry because no one
knew who had done the masterpiece, decided to engrave his name on the
band encircling the Virgin's breast. Michelangelo also engraved his
monogram "M" in the folds of the Virgin's right hand, the one turned
towards the viewer.
From St. Peter's, by crossing the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II, we can go
for lunch at Lilli, a typical Roman trattoria, at Via Tor di Nona 26 (06
6861916). At Via del Governo Vecchio 28, on the other hand, is Da
Giovanni, a very popular food store specialised in pizza with various
Near Piazza Navona is the beautiful church of Santa Maria della Pace,
with a Baroque fašade by Pietro da Cortona. In reality it was built on
order from Sixtus IV, the same pope who had the Sistine Chapel, built,
in the late 15th century.
Inside there are frescoes by Peruzzi and Raphael (the Sibyls). The
cloister is an extraordinary example of Renaissance architecture, and is
the first work completed in Rome by Bramante.
To plunge completely into the Renaissance atmosphere, it is sufficient
to lose yourself among the alleys of the Parione quarter, between Piazza
del Fico, Via di Parione, Via del Governo Vecchio, Via di Monte Giordano
and Via dei Coronari, famous for its antique shops. Looking at the
fašades of the buildings is a real pleasure, often compounded by the
amazement over the unexpected discovery of a lovely courtyard.
The areas around Via della Pace, Piazza del Fico and Via del Governo
Vecchio come alive, in the late afternoon through to late at night, with
crowds of people that make the quarter one of the city's liveliest. For
eating or drinking there is a vast selection to choose from, although
for a "Roman" style pizza we recommend Baffetto on Via del Governo
Vecchio and Il corallo on the street of the same name. Also delightful
is the restaurant Ciccia bomba at Via del Governo Vecchio 76 (06
In Piazza Pasquino Piazza Pasquino there is the statue of Pasquino, the
most famous "talking statue" in Rome.
For centuries the torso of the ancient statue has been used to post
satirical writings, the so-called "pasquinades", written by anonymous
citizens or famous poets such as Pietro Aretino and Gianbattista Marino.
There were at least six talking statues. Those that are still known are
Madama Lucrezia in Piazza San Marco; Marforio in the courtyard of
Palazzo Nuovo at the Capitol; the Facchino (the Porter) on Via Lata,
Abbot Luigi in Piazza Vidoni, and the Baboon on Via del Babuino.
Crossing Corso Vittorio Emanuele, we arrive at the Regola quarter, where
other Renaissance streets open out. Via di Monserrato, which takes its
name from the Spanish sanctuary of Montserrat, was called in olden times
Via di Corte Savella, after the prisons and tribunals under the
jurisdiction of the Savelli family. Along the street, there are many
buildings erected between the 15th and 16th centuries, including the
House of Pietro Paolo della Zecca, Palazzo Incoronati (n. 152), Palazzo
Ricci (n. 25) and the one at n. 117.
Used in the Renaissance by prostitutes, the building was restored in
1870 by the owner who, criticised for having wanted to modernise the
fašade too much, had the architrave engraved with the phrase "Trahit sua
quemque voluptas" (Everyone is moved by his own pleasure), thus
intending to claim his right to act freely. Via del Pellegrino is a
section of the straight medieval street that connected the zone of the
Porticus of Octavia with the Ponte Sant'Angelo.
Reorganised in the 15th century by Popes Sixtus IV and AlexanderVI, the
street still has several fašades of buildings painted in the 16th
century (nos. 64-66). At no. 58 lived Vannozza Cattanei, the lover of
Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, later pope Alexander VI, from whom were born
Lucretia and Cesare, called Valentino. At the end of the street, towards
Campo de' Fiori, on the right there opens a closed alley leading into a
very picturesque courtyard, the "Archetto degli Acetari", shown in
numerous paintings and prints.
At Via Monserrato 107 we find Hollywood, a store specialised in
videocassettes of quality films, with an extraordinary quantity of
cassettes to rent or buy. And on Via del Pellegrino the Libreria del
viaggiatore is the most well-supplied bookshop specialised in travel
books in Rome.
Among the largest and most important palaces of the quarter are, in
Piazza della Cancelleria the beautiful Palazzo della Cancelleria, built
in the 15th century by Cardinal Raffaele Riario.
The titular of the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso and nephew of the
late Pope Sixtus IV, Riario built his palace with money won in a dice
game against Franceschetto Cybo, son of Pope Innocent VIII. The
building, extraordinarily imposing for being the residence of a
cardinal, was built on the basis of a design by an unknown architect.
Today the plan is attributed to Andrea Bregno, probably helped by Donato
Bramante, who conceived the elegant courtyard (see Itinerary 17).
Campo de' Fiori is certainly one of the most characteristic squares in
Rome, with its open-air market and the statue of Giordano Bruno in the
centre. The Dominican philosopher was burned at the stake in Campo de'
Fiori on 17 February 1600 because he was judged a heretic (he supported
the heliocentric theory of Copernicus and Galileo, who were his friends).
The statue was executed by Ettore Ferrari in 1887.
At no. 22 of the square, there is a baker's shop that is worth a stop.
Its pizza, just out of the oven, is one of the best in Rome. In the
evening Campo de' Fiori becomes a meeting place, especially for young
people who go to the Vineria and the little restaurants of the zone. For
lovers of Roman cooking, we point out Carbonara (06 6864783) and the
Hosteria romanesca (06 6864024), which serves an excellent "amatriciana".
The most famous street of the quarter is undoubtedly Via Giulia which
can be reached by crossing Piazza Farnese. The palace which has given
the name to this great open-air drawing-room is the Palazzo Farnese,
built by Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese,
who became pope in 1534 with the name of Paul III (see Itinerary 17).
Finished by Michelangelo, who did the central window, the cornice and
the third floor of the court, since 1871 the building has been the seat
of the French Embassy. If the French so permit, it can be visited by
reservation, calling 06 686011. Entry into the palace is a true
privilege considering that, up to a short time ago, the ambassadors did
not appreciate visits. Inside the building are the Galleria dei Carracci
and the Sala dei Fasti Farnesiani, frescoed by Salviati.
Nicknamed "il Dado" (the Die) because of its shape, the palace has
recently been restored. The cleaning of the fašade brought out the
original polychromy of the losenge-shaped bricks decorating the surface.
Via Giulia takes its name from Pope Julius II, who had it opened, after
a plan by Bramante, in the early 1500s, in order to establish the seats
of the palaces of power there.
However, the ambitious project was never carried through, even if work
was begun on the construction of the tribunal of which it is still
possible to see today, between Via del Cefalo and Via del Gonfalone,
several large marble blocks, nicknamed by the Romans "the sofas of di
Via Giulia", which formed the base of the fašade. On via Giulia is the
Cavalcavia dei Farnese, a large arch which creates a romantic view of
It was constructed in 1603 to unite, by crossing the road, Palazzo
Farnese with other buildings across from it. This part of the street was
the side of several Roman festivals, including the "palio de barberi e
cavalli" (competition of barbarians and horses) in 1638.
To cross the Tiber we go over the Ponte Sisto, the origins of which date
from the 2nd century A.D.
The present-day bridge, which until 1999 underwent a major restructuring
and reinforcement operation, was erected in the second half of the 16th
century, over the foundations of the ancient one, by Pope Sixtus IV
della Rovere, from whom it took its name. On the occasion of the Jubilee
of 1475, the bridge was to connect the two banks of the river, allowing
the Trastevere quarter to be directly connected with the rest of the
In Trastevere, from Piazza Trilussa, we arrive on Via della Lungara
passing underneath the Porta Settimiana.
Constructed, in the 3rd century, as an arch honouring the emperor
Septimus Severus, the gate was later incorporated into Aurelian's wall
and enlarged in the 15th century. It owes its present appearance to Pope
At Via Santa Dorotea 19 it is believed that Fornarina, Raphael's lover,
loved. The woman, also immortalised in the famous painting kept in the
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica of Palazzo Barberini, supposedly also
lived in another house at Via del Governo Vecchio 48, as remembered by
the inscription in the lobby. At Via di Porta Settimiana 8 there is
Romolo (06 5818284), one of the most characteristic restaurants in
Trastevere. With its internal garden, it was Trilussa's favourite eating
The Renaissance itinerary can only end with Villa Chigi, known as La
Farnesina, at Via della Lungara 230.
An architectural masterpiece by Baldassarre Peruzzi, the suburban home
was built in the early 16th century for the rich Sienese banker Agostino
Chigi. Insied are frescoes by Peruzzi, Sebastiano del Piombo, Sodoma and
Raphael. It is an extraordinary place which is an absolute must to visit.
The banquets organised by Agostino Chigi are famous for their pomp. At
the end of a banquet in 1518, to the amazement and dismay of the guests,
all the plates and gold tableware which had been used for the food were
thrown into the Tiber. But Agostino Chigi's astuteness was such that
numerous nets, arranged beforehand on the riverbed, made it possible to
recover the valuable objects afterwards!
Along Via della Lungara is the Regina Coeli prison, founded in the late
19th century, whose name derives from the pre-existing church of Santa
Maria Regina Coeli. It is said that there are no Romans "de Roma" who
have not descended, at least once, "er gradino der Coeli", i.e. the
steps leading into the prison.
To wind up the evening we can eat at La scala, a pleasant bistro where
it is also possible to listen to live music, Via della Scala 60 (06
Hours of museums and monuments: Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel,
Viale del Vaticano, hours 8.45 a.m.- 3.45 p.m., closed Sundays.
Admission fee. Villa Farnesina alla Lungara, Via della Lungara 230,
hours 9 a.m.- 1 p.m., closed Sundays. Admission fee.
PASSEGGIATE ROMANE A CURA
DELL'AZIENDA DI PROMOZIONE TURISTICA DI ROMA
Via Parigi, 11 - 00185 Roma
Tel. 06-488991 - Fax 06- 48899238