A Walkabout Renaissance


Renaissance Palaces

(Palazzi Rinascimentali). At the inception of the Renaissance in Rome, the scholar-Pope Nicholas V, having organized the great Jubilee of 1450, made an impassioned deathbed plea for fine buildings to awe simple people into accepting Catholicism: "Noble edifices, combining taste and beauty with imposing proportions would immensely conduce to the exaltation of the Chair of St. Peter. " He and his Tuscan architectural guru, Leon Battista Alberti, decided to replace the crumbling Medieval basilica of St. Peter's with a mega-church in the new Renaissance style.

However, in the succeeding century or two very few churches were constructed in Rome, other than St. Peter's, while enormous fortunes and energies were expended by the literati of the day, cardinals and bankers, on their private family residences.

They wanted to impress each other and the masses - including the Jubilee pilgrims sleeping in the porticoes of Rome churches and in the vineyards outside the walls. Renaissance architectural buffs, though inspired by Roman ruins, had no qualms about recycling ancient monuments that the Church considered pagan. In the year that this dying Pope launched a building spree, his contractors robbed 2.522 cartloads of travertine from the Colosseum!

Half a century later, Raphael, the painter, architect and ultimate Renaissance man, had the temerity to ask Pope Leo X Medici "How many Popes have allowed the destruction of ancient temples, statues, arches, and other buildings, the glory of ancient Rome?"

Palazzo della Cancelleria

Palazzo della CancelleriaThis is first large palazzo in Rome built entirely (1486-1513) in the new Renaissance style that had been nurtured by the Medici family in Florence.

Palazzo Venezia was built earlier, but is not 100% Renaissance. This gleaming white palace is made of travertine, much of which was stripped from the nearby Theater of Pompey, as were also all the great columns in the vast inner courtyard.

Since Riario was Vice Chancellor to his powerful uncle, his palace is the Cancelleria (Chancellery). In fact, after various other uses over the centuries, including the Rome residence of a Cardinal-Duke, the brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie, it now houses the Papal Chancellery, and is an exclave of the Vatican, not subject to Italian sovereignty.

The long facade with its double pilasters is Florentine in conception. Don't miss the Riario family roses on the upper windows and on the pavement inside. The inner court is one of Bramante's masterpieces.

With special Vatican permission you could view the enormous fresco that Vasari painted in a record 100 days. When he boasted of this to Michelangelo, the great master quipped "It looks it."

Palazzo della Cancelleria, courtyardPalazzo della Cancelleria


Epoca romana. Underneath this palace lies a tomb and (yet another) temple of Mithras

1486. Cardinal Raffaele Riario, Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere's nephew, built this vast pile thanks to the gains from one night's gambling with another pope's nephew. It englobed his titular Church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, the entrance to which is on the right side of the facade.

1513. It was finished just in time for the installation of the first Medici Pope, Leo X, who proceeded to seize the palace from the owners, punishing them for their part in the bloody assassination plot against the Medici elders.

Piazza della Cancelleria (Map E 5)
Open only by permit from Vatican

Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori, with the statue of G. BrunoThe world's most gorgeous food market is on stage here every weekday from before breakfast until lunch time. This too is a MUST.

Vegetable and fruit that are in season are displayed super-fresh and lovingly (and reluctantly when they are out of season). Bargaining is de rigeur, at least after 12:00 noon when the crowds thin and the prices start tumbling. Fish is at the far end by the Farnese movie theater while flowers (which give the place its name) are at the other extreme, where Via dei Baullari intersects this campo.

The central statue is Giordano Bruno, who was burned for heresy here on 17 February 1600, a child of the Renaissance condemned by the Inquisition.

Having become a Dominican monk at the age of 15, his fiery spirit led him on an endless physical trek around the Catholic and Protestant countries of Europe, as well as an equally eclectic philosphical quest in which he wrote theses and taught principles antithetical to the Catholic Church.

He accepted God only as the unifying and logical force dominating a world in which man has no obligation to pray but rather to live according to the moral virtues Truth, Prudence, Wisdom, Law and Universal Judgement. Even at the height of the Renaissance enlightenment, this was unacceptable, so he was tracked down in Venice, trapped, imprisoned for seven years and sentenced to the stake.

This, then, was the place of execution, at the very center of Papal splendor where the Borgias, the Farnese and the Medicis had ruled. Clement VIII Aldobrandini was Pope from 1592 to 1605 and he increased the severity of the Inquisition, which in his reign sent 30 "heretics" to the stake.

His apotheosis was the Jubilee of 1600 which brought millions of pilgrims to Rome - and some stayed to witness Bruno's auto da fe. A century earlier the 1500 Holy Year had netted the Vatican vast sums from the sale of indulgences.

About that time Vanozza Cattanei moved into n. 58 on Via Pellegrini (Pilgrims' Way - now an artisan street); it was then a narrow muddy lane, but her great and good friend Pope Alexander VI Borgia widened, straightened and paved it.
It was here that she gave birth to the infamous Cesare Borgia, who did so much to besmirch the family name.

When the Pope's attention strayed to the equally beautiful Giulia Farnese, Vanozza and her third husband became respectable proprietors of a Roman hotel chain, of which the flagship was La Vacca at the Western corner of Campo di Fiori.

Don't miss that hotel's marble logo over Vicolo del Gallo 13, an escutcheon uniting the armorial quarterings not only of Vanozza and her husband, but also, proudly, the crest of the Borgia Pope who had encouraged this entrepreneurial venture by exempting these taverns from the wine tax.

Campo dei Fiori (Map E 6)