Itinerary II, Ponte S. Angelo to porta Salaria, third part

Starting point: piazza Capranica


Einsiedeln instructions:

In sinistra:                                                      In dextra:

                 Sancti Laurentii in Lucina

Oboliscum                       FORMA VIRGINIS                  Columna Antonini


We are standing in piazza Capranica, a little confused since later buildings cut off our way from the beautifully straight stretch of the ancient street leading east all the way from Ponte S. Angelo and to the Corso. But, encircling the quarter of palazzo Capranica, we are soon on our way again, first straight ahead on via in Aquiro and then left on via della Guglia. Somewhat to our surprise, we now stand right in front of what would be our second next landmark to the left, Oboliscum.

The obelisc on piazza di Montecitorio.

The obelisc on piazza di Montecitorio.

And as we shall see, the itinerary here seems to have written down the monuments in a slightly odd order, since we are not yet very near the church of S. Lorenzo in Lucina, which according to the itinerary would come before the obelisc. But the confusion does not end there. In fact, we cannot be quite sure where the obelisc was located at the time of our itinerary – it is not entirely sure if it was in an upright position or not.

Let’s look a little closer into these intriguing circumstances! In Antiquity, the obelisc functioned as gnomon in the gigantic sundial laid out on the Campus Martius by emperor Augustus (gnomon being the rod-shaped object that casts the shadow on the surface of the sundial). The location of the sundial, west of Ara Pacis and south-east of the Mausoleum of Augustus, can be viewed here. The obelisc is supposed to have stood immediately north of piazza del Parlamento of today, which is on the other side of the monumental palazzo Montecitorio (seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies). The palazzo was built in the 17th century, so in the Middle Ages, it may have been possible to look straight ahead from where we stand and see the obelisc at a distance, if it was still upright. At some point of time, the obelisc crumbled and fell from its lofty position, was consequently buried in debris, excavated in the 16th century, and only to be placed in its current location in the 18th century. And it is our source, the Einsiedeln itinerary, that is taken to prove that the obelisc was still intact in the 8th/9th centuries. Once again we can remind ourselves of the huge importance of this text for the understanding of the topography of Rome, while reluctantly now leaving the obelisc and turning east on via della Colonna Antonina. This seems like a good choice, because the next monument to our right should be this very column, raised in honor of emperor Marcus Aurelius. If we are to have the column on our right, though, we cannot continue straight forward towards via del Corso, but will have to turn left when we reach piazza Colonna.

Piazza Colonna.

Piazza Colonna.

During the Middle Ages, the area around the column was gradually filled with buildings, such as for example a small church, S. Andrea de Columna, attached to the north side of column and connected with the nearby church of S. Silvestro (which we soon shall visit). S. Andrea is mentioned in the sources for the first time in the 10th century, so we do not know if it is actually there yet in our medieval time-zone, or if the entrance fee for climbing the inside of the column already is in operation (jealously administered by the church of S. Andrea). All of these buildings were removed when the piazza was laid out in the 16th century.

Let us now proceed a bit north on the Corso to get to our next landmark to the left: the church of S. Lorenzo in Lucina, built already in the fifth century, and in its present shape, with portico and campanile, it is an ultra-modern creation of the 12th century.

S. Lorenzo in Lucina.

S. Lorenzo in Lucina.

In the 8th century, the church was restored, and we know that a cemetery existed in the area of the portico, and a funerary inscription of the deacon Paulus from 783 was found in excavations here. As it happens, the Swedish Institute in Rome performed an interdisciplinary research project in this church in the year 2000, the results of which are published here (with a contribution of the author of this blog about the late antique and medieval inscriptions of the church – my first steps into what was later going to be my specialist field, namely medieval epigraphy). It is sometimes possible to visit the excavations beneath the church, and on your way down you will pass the inscription of Paulus which is mounted on the wall near the sacristy.

But what about the FORMA VIRGINIS in our itinerary, the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, which announces with capital letters in the midst of the text columns that we are supposed to pass right through it? Our itinerary may have passed close to the spot where this the most splendid of Roman aqueducts – which still serves Fontana di Trevi with water –crossed via del Corso (or via Lata, ’the Broad Street’ of Antiquity) a bit further south than piazza Colonna, in connection to a triumphal arch for emperor Claudius, and indeed some of the earlier research on the Einsiedeln itineraries believes that this is the spot that is referred to here. That would surely fit into the order of monuments that the itinerary presents, but as we shall see in the next part of our journey, one of the Latin inscriptions preserved in the manuscript will lead us to an even more wondrous part of the aqueduct which is still visible, even if unfortunately not possible to pass through anymore – but that will have to wait just a bit. And with that cliffhanger, I can only recommend that you try the ice-cream in bar Ciampini on via del Leoncino just behind the north-west corner of piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina. I will have the pesca-and-pinoli. See you on the next part of our itinerary!

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