Piazzale di Porta Pia, Rome

The Capture of Rome on September 20, 1870, was the final event of the long process of Italian unification, known as the Risorgimento. It marked both the final defeat of the Papal States under Pope Pius IX and the unification of the Italian peninsula under King Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy.

The capture of Rome ended the approximate 1,116-year reign (AD 754 to 1870) of the Papal States under the Holy See and is today widely memorialized throughout Italy with the Via XX Settembre street name in virtually every considerable town. Rome has a major thoroughfare named Via XX Settembre of course, and so does Florence.  I happen to live on the Florence street.

Of course it was important for this important event to be memorialized in Rome and the Piazzale di Porta Pia was the result.

Just outside the Porta Pia stands the Monumento al Bersagliere, erected in 1932 by Publio Morbiducci on a commission from Mussolini.  Moreover, the building between the two arches facades of the Porta Pia, the internal and external facades of the gate, houses the Historical Museum of the Bersaglieri, with the monumental tomb of Enrico Toti. The Bersaglieri (means sharpshooter in English) are a speciality of the Italian Army’s infantry corps.

A marble monument from 1920 and a commemorative column commemorate the event. Even today the signs of the fighting are visible on part of the Aurelian walls and on the door itself. In front of the external door, in eternal memory of the liberation of the city from the Austrian troops during the First World War, in 1932 a monument to the bersagliere was placed by the sculptor Publio Morbiducci.


Between the two facades that make up the door, connected by small buildings originally having a defensive function, there is a small courtyard which now houses the Historical Museum of the Bersaglieri, inaugurated on 18 September 1932 , which preserves memorabilia and memories related to the institution and the evolution of the Bersaglieri body.
In the courtyard of the Museum there are bronze busts of the most illustrious representatives of the Corps, including that of Enrico Toti , hero of the Risorgimento. In the Hall of Honor, among the various precious memorabilia, there is the original Proposition, a handwriting written by La Marmora to obtain the constitution of the Corps from King Carlo Alberto. The ground floor houses the Shrinededicated to the over one hundred thousand fallen for the homeland. At the center of the room is the saber that La Marmora wielded on 8 April 1848 in Goito. In the rooms on the first floor, memorabilia are exhibited, such as uniforms, firearms and side arms, documents and memories relating to the campaigns of the Risorgimento, from 1848 to 1866. The upper floor is dedicated to the colonial campaigns , from the first landing of the bersaglieri to Massaua, on February 5, 1885, to conquer East Africa in 1936. The lower floor is dedicated to the 1st World War with plaques, photographs, department pennants, celebratory statues, portraits and medals of commanders and simple bersaglieri, Italian weapons and Austrian. To the 2nd World Warthe ground floor where the memorabilia and objects relating to the numerous operational theaters in which the bersaglieri fought are dedicated and dedicated.


Santa Maria Vittoria, Rome

No visit to Rome would be complete without a stop at this august church to admire, among many things, the sculpture of Bernini.


I happened upon this favorite church on my recent visit just as mass was wrapping up and I had to surreptitiously take some of these pictures, which accounts for their poor framing. Luckily, my iPhone camera takes good pictures, in terms of color and sharpness, no matter how bad the aim.









What I had not realized on earlier trips is how the artist arranged this chapel as a theater box.  You must remember I spent most of my art history career studying American art, so I hope I can be forgiving for not knowing a lot of details of this great Italian Baroque period.  I am an avid student of the Baroque now, so I am filling in the gaps in my understanding, work by work.














The high altar of the church was later made to imitate Bernini’s spectacular sculptural group.




And, on the other side of the church, directly opposite to Bernini’s chapel, is this companion sculptural arrangement.  Bernini is a tough act to follow.







Before departing, I had a last long look at the amazing ceiling of this lovely church.


Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio, Rome

With the plethora of churches in Rome, you might think it would be hard to have a favorite.  But, for me, The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius is my favorite.

It is a Roman Catholic titular church dedicated to Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

What I love about it is the ceiling fresco:




The story of this incredible building and its surroundings begins with the gift, in 1560, from Vittoria della Tolfa, the Marchesa della Valle. She donated her family isola, which was an entire city block and its existing buildings, to the Society of Jesus in memory of her late husband the Marchese della Guardia Camillo Orsini. This was also the founding the Collegio Romano and the beginning of the building of a church with a different name from the one that is discussed in this post.

Although the Jesuits received the marchesa’s land, they did not get any funds from her for completing the church. They were able to build a church, but it would later be dismantled so that this current church could be built on the site and was used by the Collegio Romano. Over time, the old church became insufficient for over 2,000 students of many nations who were attending the College at the beginning of the 17th century.

Pope Gregory XV, who was a former student of the Collegio Romano, was strongly therefore attached to the church. Following the canonization of Ignatius of Loyola in 1622, he suggested to his nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, that a new church dedicated to the founder of the Jesuits should be erected at this site.

The young cardinal accepted the idea, asked several architects to draw plans, among them Carlo Maderno. Cardinal Ludovisi finally chose the plans drawn up by the Jesuit mathematician, Orazio Grassi, professor at the Collegio Romano itself.

The foundation stone was laid on August 2, 1626, four years later, a delay which was caused by the fact that a section of the buildings belonging to the Roman College had to be dismantled. The old church was eventually demolished in 1650 to make way for the massive Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which was begun in 1626 and finished only at the end of the century. In striking contrast to the earlier Church of the Annunciation, which occupied only a small section of the Collegio Romano, the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola took up a quarter of the entire block when it was completed.

The church was opened for public worship only in 1650, at the occasion of the Jubilee of 1650. The final solemn consecration of the church was celebrated only in 1722 by Cardinal Antonfelice Zondadari. The church’s entrance faces the Rococo Place of San Ignazio was planned by the architect Filippo Raguzzini.


Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit lay brother, painted the grandiose fresco that stretches across the nave ceiling (after 1685). The fresco celebrates the work of Saint Ignatius and the Society of Jesus in the world, presenting the saint welcomed into paradise by Christ and the Virgin Mary and surrounded by allegorical representations of all four continents.

Pozzo’s work seems to visually dissolve the actual surface of the nave’s barrel vault, arranging a perspectival projection to make an observer see a huge and lofty sky filled with floating figures.

A marble disk set into the middle of the nave floor marks the ideal spot from which observers might fully experience the illusion.

A second marker in the nave floor further east provides the ideal vantage point for the trompe l’oeil painting on canvas that covers the crossing and depicts a tall, ribbed and coffered dome. The cupola one expects to see here was never built and in its place, in 1685, Andrea Pozzo supplied a painting on canvas with a perspectival projection of a cupola. Destroyed in 1891, the painting was subsequently replaced.

Pozzo also frescoed the pendentives in the crossing with Old Testament figures: Judith, David, Samson, and Jaele.

Pozzo also painted the frescoes in the eastern apse depicting the life and apotheosis of St Ignatius. Pozzo is also responsible for the fresco in the conch depicting St. Ignatius Healing the Pestilent.


It is, of course, the depiction of the American continent that delights me the most. I never tire of craning my neck to look up at this masterpiece.






























Borromini’s Chiesa of San Carlo

I love the Baroque church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, by Francesco Borromini, which is located next to the fountain ensemble of the same name: Quattro Fontane.  I always try to make a drive by visit to this lovely, calm interior on any trip to Rome.  Here is evidence of my last drive by (walk by, in fact).



The church was designed by the architect Francesco Borromini and it was his first independent commission. It is an iconic masterpiece of Baroque architecture, built as part of a complex of monastic buildings on the Quirinal Hill for the Spanish Trinitarians, an order dedicated to the freeing of Christian slaves.

Borromini received the commission in 1634, under the patronage of Cardinal Francesco Barberini, whose palace was across the road. However, this financial backing did not last and subsequently the building project suffered various financial difficulties.

It is one of at least three churches in Rome dedicated to San Carlo, including San Carlo ai Catinari and San Carlo al Corso.


The Quattro Fontane, Rome

Yet more (see here, for example) gorgeous watery landmarks in Rome: The Quattro Fontane. Walking through this intersection is never easy, even shortly after Covid has cleared the streets.  But, I did my best.


The Quattro Fontane (the Four Fountains) is an ensemble of Late Renaissance fountains located at oblique angles at the intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale in Rome. They were commissioned by Pope Sixtus V, built at the direction of Muzio Mattei, and installed between 1588 and 1593.

The figure of one fountain is said to represent the River Tiber, in front of an oak-tree; a she-wolf, the symbol of Rome, was a later addition.

A second fountain represents the River Aniene, a tributary of the Tiber, called Anio in ancient Rome, which provided most Roman aqueducts with water. Pope Sixtus proposed to build a canal to bring the water of the Aniene to Rome.

The other two fountains feature female figures believed to represent the Goddess Diana; the symbol of Chastity; and the Goddess Juno, the symbol of Strength, but it is possible that they may also represent rivers.

The fountains of the Aniene, Tiber, and Juno are the work of Domenico Fontana. The fountain of Diana was designed by the painter and architect Pietro da Cortona.

The later Baroque church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, by Francesco Borromini, is located near the fountains, and takes its name from them.


It would so be nice if you could observe the fountains without risking your life from traffic, but I’ve never yet had that experience, despite visiting the ensemble at least 20 times one my lifetime! I had thought that right after Covid, but, no. Maybe someday…








The fountains of Rome: Fontana dell’ Aqua Felice

On a recent July visit to the Eternal City, I was wandering around the Quirinale section of Rome on a vert hot day and was delighted to bump into a number of glorious fountains.  I considered hopping into a couple of them, just to cool off.  I didn’t, but I dipped my hands into any that were reachable. It helped.

I was in Rome specifically to enjoy it while the hordes of tourists are not yet present.  The aftermath of the Covid pandemic has cleared the streets and galleries of the usual mass tourism.  I typically don’t travel to Italian cities in the summer, for I am not a fan of intense sun and heat.  But, the opportunity to see the landmarks with no crowds drew me.  Plus, after months of lock down, I was itching to get out and about.


Wandering around Rome, one of the first of these very interesting watery landmarks I encountered was the monumental wall fountain known as the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, aka the Fountain of Moses. This fountain marks the end of a Roman era aqueduct, the Alessandrina, which was restored by Pope Sixtus V. It was designed by Domenico Fontana and built in 1585-88.


When Pope Sixtus V (born Felice Peretti) began his reign in 1585, only one of the ancient Roman aqueducts, the Aqua Vergine, was still bringing water to Rome.

It is hard to believe, but anyone in Rome who wanted clean drinking water had to go to the single fountain near the site of today’s Trevi Fountain.

Pope Sixtus took on the responsibility of restoring other aqueducts, including the Acqua Alessandrina, which he modestly renamed Acqua Felice after himself. The Alessandrina was named for the Roman emperor Alexander Severus, under whose reign it had been built starting around 222 A.D., using water from springs present in the “Prati dell’osteria” and Pantanella, not far from Palestrina.

Before assuming that pope’s intention was wholly altruistic, however, we must keep in mind that part of his goal was to supply water to the city districts rising in the Viminale and Quirinale hills, particularly since his sumptuous and vast Villa Montalto stretched over both. To this end, the Alexandrain aqueduct was restored,



The aqua Felice fountain was the first new monumental wall fountain constructed in Rome since antiquity.


Architect/engineer Domenico Fontana constructed the fountain in the form of an ancient Roman triumphal arch. It featured, as ancient Roman fountains did, an inscription honoring its builder, Pope Sixtus, beneath angels holding the papal coat of arms.

The central arch features a large statue of Moses, created in 1588 by Leonardo Sormani and Prospero da Brescia. Why Moses, you might ask, for a Roman fountain?

The pope, as both religious and political ruler of the papal states, purposely identified with Moses: for as Moses struck a rock to cause water to flow (Exodus 17:5-7), Pope Sixtus likewise caused water to flow.

The left bas-relief panel by Giovanni Battista della Porta, may depict alternatively depict   miracles by Moses at Marah, where Moses removed the bitterness of the barely potable water of a spring in Sinai, or as a depiction of Aaron.


The bas-relief to the right, by Flaminio Vacca and Pietro Paolo Olivieri, has been identified as Joshua, but others claim the relief references Gideon in Judges 7:5, as evidenced by soldier’s gear and animals lapping water. It could also be founding of the ancient Roman Acqua Alessandrina by emperor Septimus Severus, based upon the Roman attire of the soldiers. In any case, the imagery speaks to the feat of restoring the aqueduct being compared to the achievements of ancient Rome. It refers to the restoration of the former glory of the city.



The iconography of the sculptures beneath the arches mingles both biblical and political motifs.


Water flows from the statues into basins, where four lions spout water. These lions were originally ancient Egyptian sculptures, but they have been replaced now with copies. The antique lion sculptures were once a part of a monumental fountain dedicated to Marcus Agrippa in front of the Roman Pantheon. The columns flanking the arches are also said to have derived from that structure.


For the truly intrepid reader, the following interesting information comes from the Italian wikipedia and translated by Google Translate: https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fontana_dell’Acqua_Felice

On May 28, 1585, in the same month of his elevation to the pontificate, Sixtus V purchased the land where those waters flowed from Marzio Colonna for the sum of 25,000 scudi. The project for conveying the water was entrusted to Matteo Bortolani, from Città di Castello, “expert architect of that time and in such paid business”, whose faulty calculations on the slope of the aqueduct pipes prevented the regular flow of water. These miscalculations, in fact, “made itself retrograde to its design, going back”.  The water apparently flowed backwards.

After having spent 100,000 scudi in vain, the pope then entrusted the project to the architect Giovanni Fontana, brother of the better known Domenico. Fontana wrote, in his report on the works, that he was “forced to seek other waters from those mountains of greater level, making many thousands of keys, as long as in number of 50 and more places I found the desired amount of water, otherwise the said Pontiff had thrown away all the expenses,” which would eventually add up to almost 300,000 scudi.

In August 1586, Camilla Peretti brought to the pope the bottle with the first water from the new pipes which, analyzed by the pharmacists of Castel Sant’Angelo, was found – perhaps with some courtesy – to be the best of the drinking water flowing in Rome. In October, the fountains of his Villa Montalto, on the Viminale, spurted with the new water and at the end of the year Felice water reached the highest of the Roman hills, the Quirinale, so that work could be started on the fountain of Montecavallo, between the two colossal statues of the brothers Castore and Polluce, and for the fountain of Santa Susanna, in the current Piazza San Bernardo.

The fountain was built near the vineyard of Orazio and Matteo Panzani in Termini (ie at the baths of Diocletian ), next to the monumental rusticated portal of the villa, perhaps the work of Jacopo Del Duca. A small eighteenth-century façade was later built between the portal and the fountain; the portal was dismantled in 1907 for the construction of the Grand Hotel and was reassembled in 1911 in room VIII of the baths of Diocletian, in the National Roman Museum.

Here, although the work was still unfinished, the monumental exhibition designed by Giovanni Fontana himself was finally inaugurated on 15 June 1587, with three empty niches and punctuated by four Ionic columns, two of cipollino marble and two of gray breccia, in correspondence with four Egyptian-style stylized lions that pour water from the mouth into three adjacent rectangular tanks. The columns hold the architrave on which the attic is topped, surmounted by a shrine containing the papal coat of arms supported by two angels and flanked by two small obelisks (added two years after the inauguration). To protect the tanks is a travertine balustrade from a building erected under the pontificate of Pius IV .

The inscription placed under the large frame of the attic reads:

Inscriptions on the fountain
while the self-celebratory inscription of the pontiff on the huge attic (whose height, including the shrine with the coat of arms, is almost half of the entire monument) attests that


“Pope Sixtus V Piceno, from the agro Colonna on the left of via Prenestina, collected water from many springs from the twentieth to the twenty-first mile, for a sinuous line and called it Felice from the name he had before becoming pope.”

Immediately under another inscription specifies that

( LA )

(English) «(The work) began in the first and ended in the third year of the pontificate 1587.»

Much of the travertine comes from the nearby thermal baths of Diocletian, “looted” for the occasion. The original lions, two of porphyry and two of light marble – bearing the inscription of the pharaoh Nectanebo I – came from the Pantheon, where they were found, together with other ornaments, in the excavations conducted during the pontificate of Pope Eugene IV ( 1431 – 1439 ), and from the central entrance of the basilica of San Giovanni in Lateran, where they supported the columns next to the door.

Transferred to the Vatican Museums under Pope Gregory XVI ( 1831 -1846 ) to remove them from possible damage, they were replaced by copies made by the sculptor Adamo Tadolini.
The “ridiculous” Moses:
In the central niche is Moses which indicates the waters miraculously flowed from the rock, by Leonardo Sormani , with the collaboration of Prospero Antichi, called Bresciano, to whom the exclusivity of the work was long attributed, with the false legend that, because of the shame he felt for the ugliness of the statue, he would have committed suicide. In addition to the anachronism of the presence of the Tables of the Law, which Moses had not yet received at the time of the miracle of the waters, the statue, although it intends to refer to Michelangelo’s models, is squat and emphatic, so much so as to be called by the Romans the ” Ridiculous Moses “and be subject to pasquinate such as:

I look with a grim eye
the water that flows to the feet
thinking horrified
to the damage that he did to him
a stunned sculptor
or also

Fresh water is good and the fountain is beautiful
With that monster above, however, it is no longer that
O you, Sixtus, who cares so much for your word
The new Michelangelo hangs himself by the throat
In the side niches there are two high reliefs, depicting biblical episodes connected with water: on the left, Aaron leads the Jewish people to the water that came out of the desert, by Giovan Battista Della Porta and on the right the Gideon chooses the soldiers observing their way of drinking by Flaminio Vacca and Pietro Paolo Olivieri, authors also of the angels holding the coat of arms of Sixtus V.

It was the first of the Roman fountains purposely built as water exhibits, but its grandeur does not redeem the disharmony between the frontispiece and crowning, the meanness of the two small obelisks and, of course, the unhappy success of the statue of Moses, which also of the fountain it had to be the main artistic reference, as well as the two lateral reliefs. It is not improbable that among the causes of the modest quality of the monument there could also be a certain hurry that the pope imposed on Fontana for the conclusion of the work. Such a hurry could also justify, among other things, both the confusion already existing in the same documents of the time that define the panel of the right niche also as Joshua who leads the Jews across the Jordan, an event very different from what it actually appears to be, is the use of a balustrade taken from a previous monument from the time of Pope Pius I, without even bothering to cancel or cover its name.

The fountain was recently restored thanks to the contribution of the Fendi company : the works were completed on 26 November 2019.

See also: http://www.sovraintendenzaroma.it/i_luoghi/roma_medioevale_e_moderna/fontane/fontana_del_mose_mostra_dell_acquedotto_felice 


On the Michelangelo trail in Rome

I’m in Rome!  Woo hoo!  All roads lead here and I couldn’t wait to follow one of them and to enjoy the city without the usual summer hordes of tourists.

I spent the lockdown refreshing my study of Michelangelo and I’m on his trail here in Rome.  I started my visit today by admiring the beautiful Porta Pia.


The elaborate Porta Pia is a gate in the Aurelian Walls of Rome, designed by Michelangelo for Pope Pius IV.  Construction began in 1561 and ended in 1565, after the artist’s death. A 1561 bronze commemorative medal by Gianfederico Bonzagna shows an early plan by Michelangelo, very different from his final design. 



A new gate was needed because by the mid 16th century,  the newly developing urban area outside the walls couldn’t gain access through the nearby ancient Porta Nomentana from the Via Nomentana. It was decided to add a new gate to the walls, and, according to Vasari, Michelangelo presented three different designs to the Pope, which were beautiful but too extravagant, and the Pope chose the least expensive of the three. Unfortunately, the drawings are not extant and it is not known if  the work was actually carried out to Michelangelo’s original plan.

The gate was, however, Michelangelo’s last architectural work.  He died shortly before the structure was completed. The work was carried out by Giacomo Del Duca, who also built Porta San Giovanni, seen below.





The Porta Pia is one of the 18 gates inserted in the defensive Aurelian Walls.








Interestingly, the opposite side of the Porta Pia is also quite interesting. It was constructed in 1869 in the Neo-Classic design by Virginio Vespignani.



The Aurelian wall was breached during the Risorgimento.  This fabulous vintage photograph, dating to after 1870, shows the breach to the right of the gate.


It was through an artillery-opened breach – known as the “Porta Pia breach” – that on September 20, 1870 Bersaglieri soldiers entered Rome to complete the unification of Italy. A marble and bronze monument is to be found at the exact point of the breach.

This painting by Carlo Ademollo, 1880, shows the Kingdom of Italy troops breaching the Aurelian Walls at Porta Pia during the Capture of Rome.

Here also, on September 11, 1926, the antifascist activist Gino Lucetti threw a bomb against the car transporting Benito Mussolini.  It was without effect.