Starting point: Ponte S. Angelo, east side
In sinistra In dextra
Circus Flamineus. Ibi sancta Agnes Sancti Laurentii in Damaso
Dear itinerarists, pilgrims, promenaders!
It is time, on this clear, crisp autumn morning, to begin a new itinerary, and this time, we’ll choose itinerary VIII, which will take us from ponte S. Angelo (where, as you remember, also itinerary II started out) and all the way to Porta Asinaria near S. Giovanni in Laterano. But before we get on our way, we must first decide which way to take from Ponte S. Angelo, something which will need some calculation, so I suggest that you find a peaceful spot somewhere near where you can sit down and consider the possibilities together with Rodolfo Lanciani, Christian Hülsen and some other scholars past and present.
The two first entries on this itinerary, Circus Flamineus to the left and S. Lorenzo in Damaso to the right, immediately indicate that the route from porta sancti Petri is a different one from itinerary II, where we had Circus Flamineus as the first entry to our right, and thus chose to turn left onto via dei Coronari. Then, we passed by piazza Navona (Domitian’s stadium, erroneously identified as circus Flamineus by the Einsiedeln manuscript) on the north side – and we were then also instructed to pay a visit to the church of S. Agnese, situated in the vaults of the stadium; now, we must proceed on its southern side instead. And since our first landmark to the right is the church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso, the navigable space narrows down considerably: we should aim at piazza Pasquino, in order to be on the south side of piazza Navona and to the north side of S. Lorenzo in Damaso – a church which today is found incorporated into the 15th century palazzo della Cancelleria just south of the modern Corso Vittorio Emanuele. This means that the nearest and most logical way to walk would be via dei Banchi Nuovi and its continuation, via del Governo Vecchio (marked with red arrows in the map below).
Actually, this stretch of the itinerary has been differently interpreted by several scholars in the past, partly because they assumed that the itinerary must have used via dei Banchi Vecchi and via del Pellegrino instead (marked with blue arrows in the map above), and thus choosing a more southern way, parallel to the one suggested above. It is a tempting alternative, because of the confirmed ancient Roman origins of the two streets (as documented on for example Forma Urbis Romae by Rodolfo Lanciani, constable online here), but the difficulty arising from this theory is that the present church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso would then not be situated to the right, but to the left of the itinerary. Since the earliest, late-antique structures of S. Lorenzo in Damaso long remained unknown, Rodolfo Lanciani, in his otherwise very accurate study of the Einsiedeln itinerary (see bibliography at the end of the blogpost), assumed that the first church may have been situated to the south of via del Pellegrino, and so did Christian Hülsen in 1907. However, the great champion of the early Christian basilicas of Rome, Richard Krautheimer, suggested in 1959 that some Roman walls excavated in the courtyard of the Cancelleria palace in the 1930s could very well indicate the site of the earliest church, and in a large-scale excavation in the 1980s and 1990s (a collaboration between Musei Vaticani, Biblioteca Hertziana and Max Planck Institute for Art History), it could be confirmed that the earliest church in fact was to be found under the Cancelleria palace. In the publication of the excavations, Massimo Pentiricci wrote an interesting section about how the finds served to identify the correct route of the Einsiedeln itinerary as via dei Banchi Nuovi and via del Governo Vecchio, although no excavations yet has shown any proof of ancient or medieval street paving there. However, as we shall see, the route shows exactly the same continuation of medieval and renaissance architectural structures that we have seen along the other itinerary routes, and so I find it fairly probable that this route actually is the one indicated by the Einsiedeln itinerary. Further, Pentiricci showed that on the map of Alessandri Strozzi from 1474 – which, quite in the Einsiedeln fashion, designed monuments as isolated islands more than the actual streets joining them together – a road can actually be seen as a line towards what is noted as piazza di Parione, which is todays piazza di Pasquino. To the right of the piazza, the church is located, and on the other side of the church, Campo de’Fiori.
Right, then! Everything settled, and we’re ready to start walking, our itinerary in one hand and a map, be it a modern tourist map or a print-out of a 17th- och 18th-century map, in the other. If you would like to refresh your memory about the monuments in the very beginning of the route – the bridge, the now lost city gate, the medieval portico in the house immediately to the right – take a look at itinerary II here, and let’s then start our walk right where via dei Banchi Nuovi begins.
Just as when we walked via dei Coronari in Itinerary II, we will recognise the so typical features of the Einsiedeln itinerary routes: narrow, medieval houses with only two windows on each floor, sometimes spolia as columns or other marble pieces mounted into the façades, Renaissance remakes of the medieval structures, with square or rounded smallish portals and the occasional decoration, which all in all points to the continuity of importance of these routes from the Middle Ages and up to the 16th century. With the Baroque period, however, whose expressions need grander scale and more spacious room, these routes tend somehow to be transformed into back streets of less importance: on our way, we will for example pass by the back side of the magnificent Chiesa Nuova from the 16th century.
And on via dei Banchi Nuovi, it is above all from the narrow alleyways on our left side that we will get this general medieval feeling, as for example vicolo delle Campanelle and vicolo di S. Giuliano. And if a portal happens to be open along the street, be sure to have a quick glance inside: you will always be rewarded by the sight of a courtyard, a sculpture, or a possibly medieval column as in the image below from via dei Banchi Nuovi no. 24.
And on our left hand side, we will also find a place where we sooner or later will want to have more than a quick look inside: the mythical restaurant Da Alfredo e Ada, which – at least until recently – had no written menu, and the check was written on the paper table cloth. It is quite probable that something similar was to be found along the way already in the Einsiedeln period…
It is still a little early for lunch, so we will continue towards the modern Piazza dell’Orologio, where the route continues in via del Governo Vecchio. Here, the medieval alleyways continue to the left, for example vicolo dell’Avila och vicolo Cieco. On no. 124 on the right hand side, a perfectly beautiful little isolated palace can be seen, the so-called Palazzetto Turci (also named ”the small Cancelleria” because of its likeness in style to the Cancelleria palace, which we will soon pass by). Although built around 700 years after the Einsiedeln manuscript was written, we cannot resist to stop and read its Latin inscription: Petrus Turcius Novariensis a litteris apostolicis scribendis dictandisque anno saeculari MD fecit, where we learn that Petrus Turcius from Novara, a scribe of apostolic letters, had this house made in the year 1500 – and so we have made use of the age-old practice of consulting inscriptions as ”local” guidebooks, revealing the secrets of their neighbourhood to those who are able to decipher them.
Soon, piazza Pasquino opens before us, named after the much worn antique sculpture in one of its corners, a sculpture that under the name of Pasquino was – and still is – one of Rome’s ”speaking” statues in the sense that poems and pamphlets traditionally have been attached to this poor ghost of a statue. It is not much of a square, just an assymmetric open space, and one would not believe that it had other historic value than the Pasquino statue – but, as we saw earlier, this was piazza di Parione already in the end of the 15th century, along one of the most important routes through Rome during the Middle Ages, and I would love to believe that Pasquino (who’s real name appears to be Menelaos) was around already then (he wasn’t, though: the sculpture was found and put up in 1501). A low column showing in the façade to the left, at no. 76, tells us, like a pendant to Pasquino, about the medievality of the neighbourhood. I won’t show you an image of Pasquino – you may be familiar with him already, or you will have to wait and see for yourself what he looks like – but how could anyone refrain from indulging in photographs of medieval columns?
Piazza Navona, our first landmark to the left, is now just around the corner, the church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso is near, on our right side – but before we continue, I suggest that we have a coffee at Caffè della Pace, which we will find close by if we walk up via del Teatro Pace (named after a wooden theatre in existence between 1691 and 1853) to the left just before piazza Pasquino – one of the most medieval of all the alleyways we have passed so far, where an old, minuscule man parks his even smaller car in the tiny vicolo de Cupis just as we are going to take a photograph of this unusually deserted and almost illegally picturesque area, so close to piazza Navona, so little visited and so worth exploring. See you in an instant, we’ll meet at Pasquino!
Hülsen, Christian, La pianta di Roma dell’anonimo Einsiedlense, Roma 1907.
Krautheimer, Richard, Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Urbis Romae, II, Città del Vaticano 1959.
Lanciani, Rodolfo, ”L’itinerario di Einsiedeln e l’Ordine di Benedetto Canonico”, Monumenti Antichi pubblicati per cura della R. Accademia dei Lincei, Vol. I, Punt. 3a, 1891, 438–551.
Pentiricci, Massimo, ”Il settore occidentale del Campo Marzio tra l’età antica e l’altomedioevo”, L’antica basilica di S. Lorenzo in Damaso (Monumentae Sanctae Sedis 5,1), vol. I – Gli Scavi, a cura di C. L Frommel & M. Pentiricci, de Luca Editore MMIX, 14–75.