Monday, March 28, 2016

A Quick Trip to Italy, Part VII

Across from the House of the Vestal Virgins is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina:


In July of 138, Emperor Hadrian died, leaving Antoninus as his heir. Antoninus's wife, Faustina, was widely admired and imitated among Roman women. When the Empress died in 140, Antoninus convinced the Senate to deify her and to build a temple to her in the Roman Forum. After Antoninus Pius died in 161 and was deified as well, Marcus Aurelius had Senate re-dedicate the temple to both Antoninus and Faustina. The inscriptions reads, "Divo Antonino et Divae Faustinae Ex S.C.", i.e., "To divine Antoninus and divine Faustina, by decree of the Senate". At some point in the early Middle Ages, the temple was repurposed as a church, the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. (Nobody knows the origin of the 'Miranda' part of the name.) In the fifteenth century, Pope Martin V gave the church to the Collegio degli Speziali, a guild of chemists and herbalists, giving it its full name of San Lorenzo de' Speziali in Miranda, and a descendant institution, the Collegio Chimico Farmaceutico, still makes use of the nearby guildhall. Not long after parts of the temple were hauled off to help repair St. John Lateran. The building was returned to its character as ancient temple for the visit of the Emperor Charles V in 1536, but the church still exists inside part of the temple, accessed from the other side. After that point, the general area became a cattle market, which is why one of its Italian names for the longest time was Field of Cows; the return to display of ancient remains began in serious in the nineteenth century.

One of the great architectural mysteries of the temple is why there are angle doubled grooves cut into the pillars of the temple; nobody knows why this was done. An old theory is that at some point in the Middle Ages this was done in a failed attempt to destroy the portico, the grooves being cut for ropes, but this is purely speculative, and, as some people have pointed out, it's unclear, if you were trying to pull down the pillars, why anyone would attempt to do it in this way -- or, indeed, why, failing to do it in this way, they would not have simply tried another until they succeeded. More recently people have suggested that they may have been cut to help support a temporary structure at some point, or that they might have been a side effect of the occasional building of other structures around the gateway.

A little farther on, also across from the House of the Vestal Virgins, you can see the remains of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine:


It was the largest building of its day, and the largest ever built in the forum, and its large groin vaults were closely studied by architects in the Renaissance who worked with large buildings. The effect of the size is quite impressive even now, but nothing of the Basilica survives except its north aisle -- as many large buildings are, it was vulnerable to earthquakes, and over the centuries it has had to endure a few. (Its only surviving great column was carted off in the seventeenth century after one of these earthquakes to St. Mary Major, where it still stands in the Piazza.)

Walking along in the general direction of the Colosseum one soon comes to the Arch of Titus:

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The Arch is an interesting monument in its own right. It was constructed by Domitian in the 80s to commemorate the victories of his elder brother Titus, and in particular the victory in the Siege of Jerusalem in AD 70. Thus the northward panel depicts Titus in triumphant procession, led by Valor and crowned by Victory:


But the southward panel is even more interesting, because it shows Titus bringing home the spoils, and one of the looted trophies is very, very recognizable:


Notice the Great Menorah from the Temple. Other objects that are identifiable are the golden trumpets, the firepans for the altar, and the Table of Shewbread. There's good evidence that these trophies in the panel were originally painted golden-yellow.

There are some inscriptions on the arch. On one side is, Senatus Populusque Romanus divo Tito divi Vespasiani filio Vespasiano Augusto, "The Roman Senate and People, to divine Titus Vespasian Augustus, son of divine Vespasian". Another is Insigne religionis atque artis, monumentum, vetustate fatiscens: Pius Septimus, Pontifex Maximus, novis operibus priscum exemplar imitantibus fulciri servarique iussit. Anno sacri principatus eius XXIV, "The monument, notable for religion and for art, had weakened with age: Pius VII, Supreme Pontiff, by new works in imitation of the ancient exemplar, commanded it to be reinforced and preserved in the 24th year of his sacred reign."

Soon after we came to the most famous sports stadium in the world:



The Flavian Amphitheater, the largest amphitheater built in the ancient empire, was begun by Vespasian in 72 and was finished by his son Titus in 80. It could hold approximately 50,000, perhaps as many as 80,000, spectators. Nobody knows how it got its most common name, the Colosseum (or Coliseum); the most common suggestion is that there was a statue, or colossus, associated with it at some point.



Domitian remodeled it and put in the hypogeum, the underground tunnels for the animals and slaves.



The fortunes of the Colosseum went up and down throughout the Middle Ages, with the building being used at times for various odd functions and at other times for a quarry. A turning point was reached under Pope Benedict XIV in 1749; he argued that it was a site of Christian martyrdom, and thus forbade its use as a quarry and consecrated it to the Passion of Christ. There is in fact no evidence that any Christians were ever martyred there, although it is certainly possible that some were. It's even rare for there to be any attribution of martyrdom to the building in legend; Ignatius of Antioch, by a very late tradition, is sometimes said to have been fed to lions here, but that's almost all, and medieval pilgrimage guides tend not even to mention it at all. (Most Christians who were martyred seem actually to have been martyred at the Circus Maximus.) The association with martyrdom seems to have been an entirely modern idea, beginning to gain ground in the sixteenth century. However, the idea meant that people stopped using it as a source of stone and that money and effort were put into maintaining it. A cross was placed in it (fairly recently, I believe):


Pope Benedict XIV also began to do Stations of the Cross in the Colosseum, and every evening of Good Friday the Popes have continued the tradition. They were doing preliminary set-up for this when we were there.

After the Colosseum, we went searching for the Circus Maximus. We walked past the Arch of Constantine:


The Arch, the last and largest of the great Roman triumphal arches, was dedicated in 315 to celebrate Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. Famously it is a mix of new work and spolia from other arches, since, it is sometimes said, Constantine could not find sculptors up to his standards. In reality, there are any number of things that might be true here; the Arch may have been rushed into construction, so the spoliage could perhaps have been a time-saving maneuver. Some people have even suggested that the Arch was actually built by Maxentius, and Constantine just repurposed it after his victory, using parts from other monuments to get it together in short order. Because the Arch is such a mix of styles, it has long been a key evidence in attempts to reconstruct the history of art, and its possible decline, in the late Roman Imperial period. The main inscription:


It reads in English: "To Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine and by greatness of mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at one time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs."

And finally we came to the Circus Maximus. At one time it was the greatest entertainment venue in the world, although now it is little more than a large ditch:


Now a public park, it still functions occasionally as an entertainment venue for concerts, and it seems to be common enough for people to incorporate it into their evening walks.


Thus we had toured a bit of ancient Rome.

Map of downtown Rome during the Roman Empire large

Returning from the Circus Maximus to our hotel, we got turnd around a bit and passed by the Theatre of Marcellus:



It was originally planned by Julius Caesar, but he died before construction could begin, and it fell to Augustus to finish it. It was later used as a fortress and then as part of a residence for the Orsini.

In all the wandering, I also snapped a quick picture of some churches. Here is the Basilica di Sant'Anastasia al Palatino:


It is one of the stational churches for Lent. There has been a church on this site since the third or fourth century; the current one is a seventeenth century restoration. According to a very old tradition, Saint Jerome said Mass here. Despite its history, it almost ceased to exist in the early twentieth century because no one ever went there. A restoration in the 1960s revived it a bit. But it had to be closed in the eighties and nineties because its foundations were crumbling; they have since been restored. Since its re-opening it has become one of the most flourishing churches in the area.

Here is a relatively minor church, Santa Maria della Consolazione:


I didn't even know what church it was; I had to search online for it. It used to be near an execution site for criminals; an icon was put here to console them while they were being executed, and thus the name. That's a story you would never expect beforehand. It became a notable spot in the fifteenth century when someone was being hanged nearby; the man had claimed he was innocent, and when they tried to hang him, it somehow failed. So, as was common, since he had survived the attempt to kill him, they cut him down. He claimed to have had a vision of the icon, with the Virgin reaching out her hand and supporting him. So a church was built to house the icon. It was rebuilt in the sixteenth century, when it was connected to a hospital, which itself was associated with a number of saints. The hospital no longer operates and is now a police station; and the streets around it have been restructured, leaving this once flourishing church in a very bustling piazza no more than a very lonely and isolated church in the middle of a zigzag of narrow streets.


And above is the church of San Nicola in Carcere. Nobody knows for sure where it got the 'in prison' tag; since it incorporates the remains of previous temples, some have suggested that there was a jail associated with them. It is one of the stational churches for Lent and is famous for its celebrations of Our Lady of Pompeii and Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is said to have a reproduction of the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was sent here in 1773. Mussolini's meddlings with Rome and the twentieth-century passion for ancient remains led to the destruction of most of the medieval neighborhood of the church and a restructuring of the area that left this ancient parish church with almost no parish. So it was made a dependent church of Santa Maria in Portico in Campitelli.

It was by accident, but the three churches happen to make an interesting study of the lives of old churches.

One last picture for the day, the Quirinal Palace shining over the rooftops:


And that was Wednesday.

to be continued

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