Itinerary VII, Porta S. Pancrazio to Porta Maggiore, sixth part

Starting point: Curia Senatus, Forum Romanum


Einsiedeln instructions:

In sinistra:                                                  In dextra:

                                     Sancti Cosmae et Damiani

                    Forum Romanum

Sancti Cyriaci et thermae Constantini                Palatium Traiani. Ibi ad vincula


My dear itinerarists!

When we last met, we were in the very heart of Rome, at the Forum Romanum, and there we have been abiding under a cherry tree since then, curious about where our next itinerary will take us. Today, we will at last leave the Forum (for this time), and start to follow a route which, on the streets of the Monti region of today, exactly follows the ancient as well as the medieval itinerary through this part of the city.

But first, we must look for our last landmark on the Forum: the church of SS. Cosma e Damiano which should be on our right hand side. And as we now are standing next to the Curia (or the medieval church of S. Adriano, which we explored in our last itinerary), facing north-east, via Sacra and Forum Romanum is extending on our right with the Arch of Titus as its far end point, as you can see below. And the church of SS. Cosma e Damiano is hiding just behind the first building on the left of the road (the temple to Antoninus and Faustina), so if we would like to take a look at the church, we must make a short deviation.

Via Sacra, Forum Romanum.

Via Sacra, Forum Romanum.

The church was created in the 6th century into what tradition has as the ancient temple of Romulus – not the founder of the city, but the son of emperor Maxentius in the early 4th century CE. The entrance was originally towards via Sacra, and even if it has now been moved to the opposite side of the church, towards via dei Fori Imperiali, the view from via Sacra is the more spectacular: the original bronze doors of the temple are preserved – the same that the late-Antique Roman as well as the medieval pilgrim passed through.

SS. Cosma e Damiano viewed from the Palatine hill (Wikimedia Commons).

SS. Cosma e Damiano viewed from the Palatine hill (Wikimedia Commons).

After having admired the bronze doors, it is now about time to leave the Forum Romanum. Along the side of the Curia, the ancient/medieval street has been excavated – at some point after the early 16th century, when the street was still open, as seen in the engraving by Etienne Duperac below, it was cut off by monastery buildings adjacent to the church of S. Adriano, but now, after the excavations of the Forum, it could once again be walkable, had it not been for the fences that very inconveniently forces us to a stop.

S. Adriano in the early 15th century in an engraving by Etienne Duperac (Wikimedia Commons)

S. Adriano in the early 15th century in an engraving by Etienne Duperac (Wikimedia Commons)

So, we could at least admire the initial part of the street winding away, as in the photo below, but then we have to leave the Forum at the exit on via dei Fori Imperiali.

The medieval street along the side of the Curia.

The medieval street along the side of the Curia.

But, luckily enough for us, there is a small viewpoint on via dei Fori Imperiali, from where the view of the street and some nice preserved medieval porticoes is actually quite satisfying – there is even an informative sign for our orientation. The street, which you see in the lower right corner of the photo below, is dated to the 8th century – thus, it is the very stones of the Einsiedeln itinerary; to the left and to the right of it are porticoes and buildings dated to the 9th century, the last period of use of the Forum after a continuous presence here from the archaic period and up the the Middle Ages. So, we have successfully crossed the medieval Forum Romanum – it is time to turn away from this fascinating sight and look ahead. There is only one slight problem: our itinerary now tells us that we should be passing straight over the ’Forum Romanum’, although we just left it. What are we going to believe from this?

The medieval street behind S. Adriano.

The medieval street behind S. Adriano.

When we look around, we face the remnants of the Forum of Nerva, with the remains of the temple of Minerva still standing to the right. This Forum was also called Forum Transitorium in Antiquity because of its character of a thoroughfare between the Forum area and the ancient Subura quarter – it was only just after the period of the Einsiedeln manuscript, in the ninth century, as the area started to get more densely populated (these medieval quarters remained up to the 1930s, when the opening of via dei Fori Imperiali mercilessly tore everything away). So perhaps we shall interpret the manuscript as if the Forum of Nerva equals the Forum Romanum, or – as several times in the itineraries – the author just got a little confused concerning the location of the ancient monuments. Perhaps he or she got a bout of the medieval equivalent of the Stendhal syndrome after the intense experiences on the Forum…

View from via dei Fori Imperiali towards via della Madonna dei Monti.

View from via dei Fori Imperiali towards via della Madonna dei Monti.

The next instruction from our itinerary is that we should have the church of Sanctus Cyriacus on our left side – from where we stand, it is hiding just behind the high brick wall on the left – so let’s just sneak past the old Minerva temple to get to the beginning of the modern via della Madonna dei Monti, which you spot in the middle of the photo above. And, as always, we are rewarded with a sign that we are on the right way: the medieval Tor dei Conti (to the right in the photo, and below) guards the beginning of this street, which in fact is nothing else than the ancient Argiletum, leading straight into the Subura district.

Tor dei Conti (Wikimedia Commons).

Tor dei Conti (Wikimedia Commons).

Even if the tower was built as late as the 13th century by the Conti di Segni family (to which the 13th century pope Innocentius III belonged), it still serves to show the ever-present importance of this precise route.

To our left, we now have the church of SS. Quirico e Giulitta, the medieval S. Cyriacus. The small church was founded in the 6th century, but nothing of its present state reveals its medieval origins – the medieval bell-tower is reported as built into the adjacent Hotel Forum! – so we’d better walk along on via della Madonna dei Monti.

We are now following the ancient road Argiletum, which takes us into the ancient Subura region. This is usually described as a lower-class area and a red-light district, filled with apartment blocks (insulae) with small shops and workshops (tabernae) in the ground floor opening towards the street. But what gained the special fame of Subura was that a certain Julius Caesar grew up right here: the street we are walking is Caesar’s back yard as well as the place where the Roman poet Martial bought his books; here, pope Vigilius hurried to the dedication of the newly built church we just passed, and here, the Einsiedeln pilgrim trod along on the way towards porta Praenestina. And here, mind you, are we, making our way through the midst of history.

The Baths of Constantine in an engraving from the 16th century by Etienne Duperac (Wikimedia Commons).

The Baths of Constantine in an engraving from the 16th century by Etienne Duperac (Wikimedia Commons).

Further to our left, the towering ruins of the Baths of Constantine was probably seen from afar in the time of our manuscript, although situated at a distance on the slopes of the Quirinal hill (seen above in a 16th century engraving by the usual suspect, Etienne Duperac); to our right, the majestic remains of the Baths of Trajan (called a ’palace’ in the text, but baths are often mistaken for palaces in the medieval Roman topography) are marked out in our manuscript, with the addition ’in Vincula’ – the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli, which is located a couple of blocks away in the modern via Cavour. The church was founded in the 5th century to house the relics of the chains of St. Peter – a gift from the empress Eudoxia to pope Leo I. The church was restored by pope Hadrian I around the time of our manuscript, and thus must have been a must-see for passers-by. We modern day pilgrims, however, walking in the footsteps of so many and over such a long period of centuries, may be excused if we skip the detour to S. Pietro, and instead pop into the Taverna dei Fori Imperiali on via della Madonna dei Monti 9, for a well-deserved total immersion into the present-day Roman cuisine.

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