Itinerary VII, Porta S. Pancrazio to porta Maggiore, fourth part

Starting point: S. Giorgio in Velabro


Einsiedeln instructions:

In sinistra:                                      In dextra:

Sancti Sergii                                       Palatinus. Ad sanctum Theodorum

                      Capitolium


Dear itinerarists, promenaders, poets, pilgrims, grand tourists and sightseers!

It is now time to approach one of the most interesting and complex areas of medieval Rome: the Forum. Long neglected in excavations, the medieval period in the Forum has in later years been rather well investigated (for example in publications such as R. Meneghini & R. Santangeli Valenziani, Roma nell’altomedioevo, Rome 2004). In fact, the Forum was in constant and active use up until the mid-ninth century, when inundations and earthquakes rapidly lay the valley in ruins and disuse, and new buildings were added up to that point and beyond, as we shall see. We only have to adjust our eyes to a somewhat more humble scale of buildings, and we will suddenly see that the Middle Ages – as always in our promenades – is visible all over the Forum, and also, that these remnants acutely points out what interests us, namely the medieval routes and nodes of importance where builders and inhabitants wanted to establish themselves. At the feet of the lofty marble of Antiquity, the solid medieval walls are proudly and neatly located. Aren’t you getting curious by now? Let’s move on, then!

But before we are getting close to Forum, we have some landmarks to observe on the right: the church of S. Teodoro and the Palatine hill. And moving straight ahead from S. Giorgio in Velabro, we reach via di San Teodoro with the church on our right side. By now, it would come as no surprise that the street we now are standing in has Roman origins: it is part of vicus Tuscus, the Etruscan street, which connected Forum Boarium with the Roman Forum, and thus is the logical continuation of our itinerary which, as you remember, started on the old via Aurelia which connected the Etruscan cities with Rome.

S. Teodoro in an engraving from Ridolfino Venuti, Accurata e succinta descrizione topografica delle antichità di Roma, Volume 1, Roma 1763 (Wikipedia).

S. Teodoro in an engraving from Ridolfino Venuti, Accurata e succinta descrizione topografica delle antichità di Roma, Volume 1, Roma 1763 (Wikipedia).

The church of S. Teodoro was built perhaps in the sixth century on Roman ruins, and has sometimes believed to have been the temple of Romulus, as in the engraving above. Apparently, a myth also states (as reported by Ridolfino Venuti, Accurata e succinta descrizione topographica delle Antichità di Roma, 1763) that the bronze she-woolf once was kept in the church before ending up in the Capitol in the 16th century, which is somewhat contrasting with the medieval sources that locate the bronze woolf by the pope’s Lateran palace – but more about these bronze mysteries in our next itinerary… If you would like to go inside the church, mosaics probably from the time of construction can be seen in the apse. The church became a deaconry in the ninth century, and the first deacon recorded in the sources is a certain Robertus in the eleventh century.

The church clings to the green slopes of the Palatine hill, the next landmark on our list. Interestingly, the hill is rather referred to as a single monument of its own – no other buildings are noted on it, and it is probable that a visit to the hill in this period would not be possible or preferred – full of ruinous buildings, the Palatine would not recover again until in the Renaissance, when for example the Farnese family had their gardens there. The hill with the hut of Romulus and Remus and the palaces of the Caesars had become a memory, a monument to be seen from below when passing by, just as the Capitoline hill, as we soon shall see.

If we now continue along via di San Teodoro, and turn to the left where the street ends, suddenly the whole Roman Forum is laid out before our eyes. We are at the south-west corner of the Forum, in the shadow of the Capitoline hill. And this is when it becomes a bit complicated for us itinerarists. Since the part of the itinerary we are now approaching is inside the area of the Forum, we have to circle all around the Forum valley to get to the entrance in Via dei Fori Imperiali on the other side. We could, for that part, walk it all with our eyes, as the viewpoints around and above the Forum would enable us to do so, but we would like to walk the route with our own feet, wouldn’t we? So the easiest way to get to the entrance is to walk up to the Capitoline hill on via monte Tarpeo and then down again on via di S. Pietro in Carcere towards via dei Fori Imperiali, and then locate ourselves in the very same corner where we are now.

Map of the Forum in Antiquity (Wikipedia).

Map of the Forum in Antiquity (Wikipedia).

In the autumn of 2014, this part of the Forum became accessible for visits – a very small area of the Forum, it would seem, but a giant leap for the understanding of it: the vicus Iugarius, one of the oldest streets of Rome, connecting the river and the center around Forum Boarium with the Roman Forum, and we are standing on its very paving stones. Well, unfortunately not on the original stones of Antiquity, but still remarkably enough on the stones of the early Middle Ages. But as excavations has confirmed (read about it in the press release of the Soprintendenza), the street level of the road had not changed at all between the archaic and early medieval periods, thanks to the continuous use of this thoroughfare, and thus we are standing on the same level as in Rome’s mythical regal period just after the foundation of the city. From the 7th century, the ground level was raised more rapidly in the Forum area, due to the gradual deterioration of the infrastructure, and when, in the 10th century, a building was constructed right by the street, it was around 1 metre higher than the original level. You can see the corner of the house, built in large tufa blocks, in the image below; in the 13th century, the house was rebuilt and brick arches were added (seen in the upper right corner), which later was filled in by small tufa stones, tufelli.

The corner of a tenth century house at vicus Iugarius.

The corner of a tenth century house at vicus Iugarius.

If we now turn from this wonderful medieval corner of the Forum and look ahead, we face exactly the same (although slightly altered) view that the Einsiedeln pilgrim saw of the vicus Iugarius towards the arch of Septimius Severus. In the middle of the image below, the marble side of the arch is seen (with the dome of the church of SS. Luca and Martina just behind it). To the right is the Roman senate house, the Curia Senatus, which in the period of the Einsiedeln itineraries had been turned into the church of S. Adriano, which we will meet again in the next part of the itinerary; to the left is the remains of the temple of Saturn, the inscription of which the Einsiedeln manuscript reports: Senatus populusque Romanus incendio consumptum restituit (The senate and the Roman people restored this [temple] which had been consumed by fire) (CIL VI, 937).

Vicus Iugarius towards the arch of Septimius Severus.

Vicus Iugarius towards the arch of Septimius Severus.

But there would also have been another church in this picture, our next landmark: the medieval church of S. Sergius, which disappeared already in the early 16th century. We do not know the exact location of the church: it might have been attached to the very arch of Severus, since we know that the arch was incorporated into other building structures in the Middle Ages, or it may have been placed slightly to the left of the arch from where we stand. The bell-tower of the church can be traced in a drawing by Heemskerck from the early 16th century, overlooking the Forum through the arch of Titus. The small bell-tower is depicted just to the left of the arch of Severus.

The church of S. Sergius as seen from the arch of Titus in a drawing by Heemskerck (1530s).

The church of S. Sergius as seen from the arch of Titus in a drawing by Heemskerck (1530s).

The fact that we should have S. Sergius to our left, while we are heading straight towards the arch of Severus, could perhaps indicate that the church was not attached to the arch, but that it was possible to pass in between the church and the arch.

But another landmark is also mentioned on our left: the Capitoline hill. And just as the Palatine hill, which we discussed before, also the Capitoline hill had, by this time, turned into a monument which you no longer mounted, but rather encircled and remained below. The Tabularium, the Roman building on the Capitoline hill facing the Forum, was at least in the tenth century, and probably even before, turned into a fortress belonging to one of the aristocratic families of Rome, and then it would obviously be a rather impossible mission to climb the hill for a visit. And so, the hill is only referred to as just that: a hill, the Capitoline hill, with no mention of the Roman remains of it that would have towered high above the Forum still in the time of the Einsiedeln itineraries.

Another interesting fact can be deduced from the collection of inscriptions in the Einsiedeln manuscript: it reports some inscriptions as located ’in Capitolio’, which could be interpreted as ’on the Capitoline hill’, but one of these inscriptions is actually the one on the temple of Saturn as described above – so in Capitolio should rather be taken to mean ’nearby the Capitoline hill’, which also strengthens our theory about the hill as a monument not longer possible to visit. And to the inscriptions and monuments in Capitolio, nearby the Capitol, we will return both in the next itinerary and in our promenades to come, since it is the most highlighted part of the Forum in the itineraries, and thus, probably, the most important area of the Forum in the period which interests us.

So for now, it remains only to sit and rest for a while on some comfortable broken Roman column in romantic dreams of lost churches and the vanity of all worldly things, while the flowery grass of the Forum continues to bloom unaware of the passing of the centuries in this the center of the Roman world. Alla prossima!

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