Today was the first real day of the trip. It was still more introductory in nature, but we got to see more of the city outside of the bit near us.

First stop: Piazza della Repubblica

This plaza has distinctive curving buildings.

  • The ancient city of Rome imposes its shape upon the modern city.
  • Rather than altering the structural base, modern architects follow what is already there.
  • These particular curves follow those that existed in the 4th century.
  • Now the plaza serves as a roundabout with a fountain in the middle. This statue was scandalous at its time of creation for including the naked female form.

A nasone


Literally meaning “large nose”: a drinking fountain in Italy.

  • Cylinder with spigot
  • Fed from restored aqueducts
  • Runs constantly
  • The water is cold!

The modern neighborhood of Monti

  • Built in the physical space of what was once the Suburra.
  • In antiquity the Suburra was notorius as a red-light district: brothels, bars, rickety apartment buildings, and so forth.
  • According to literary sources: seedy and dicy.
  • But there are remains of nicer houses as well… you can’t always take the literary sources at face value. Need to balance with objective data.
  • The Suburra was not really considered a “public” part of the city. In many ways, it is quite a bit more residential than most of the other locations that will show up for this trip.

A big point: cognitive mapping

  • Building a map of your environment with your senses.
  • Sight dominates as a sense, for humans at any rate. So too does it dominate in forming cognitive maps.
  • Cf. giving directions by using visual landmarks.
  • But also other senses: aural landscape, olfactory landscape.
  • Smell of bread, cheese
  • Sound of water (fountains, baths)
  • Antiquity: feces out the window, cleaning wool with ammonia from human urine.
  • Also touch: Roman sandals had much thinner soles than modern footware.
  • Stones on roads vs. smooth marble plazas. Different groundfeel.

An example

  • The ivy wall draws attention, nearby steps.
  • The steps are broad – a more attractive, more convenient route.
  • Anticipation: coming up through the tunnel through the arch:
    • In antiquity: garden, the church of St. Peter in chains. One of the important churches in Rome.
    • Contains Michaelangelo’s Moses
  • Far quieter up stairs with limited access.
    • Enclosed space -> “urban oasis”
  • In antiquity, gardens were created (generally by private individuals for themselves – sometimes later opened to public).
    • Noise of city falls away
    • Green space
    • Sculpture and art to look at.
  • The building of such private spaces introduces element of tranquility into an otherwise chaotic city environment.
    • The sound reduction is more than you might expect. Wood, leaves, trees absorb sound – why forests can be so eerily silent.

Another big point: layers and time

  • Which Rome are you looking at – Rome evolves after classical antiquity, and all the old is not always replaced with the new.
  • Times when form of city massively charges:
    • 20 BC – 4th century: imperial
    • 1500–1800 Renaissance/Baroque
    • 1920s–1930s Fascist Italy/Mussolini
  • Groups of individuals with power (political and economic) were the driving force. The imperial authority, the Catholic church, the fascist government.
  • Multiple forms of the city affect how you perceive it.
    • Height as a predictor of age: lower is older, higher is newer.
  • Each layer is called a stratum (plural strata).
    • Stratigraphy = study of the layers
  • Relative chronology: not specific dates, but relationship between layers. “More recent vs. older.”

The palimpsest analogy

  • Palimpsest = erase old parchment and write new text on top it. But older text is not completely gone.
  • So too with the city of Rome: old structures poke up among the new.
  • 1st century Coliseum, 12th century Basilica di San Clemente, etc. mixed with modern architecture.

Basilica di San Clemente

  • There has been a church on this site since the 4th century.
  • Below the 4th century church, there is a 1st century house of sorts.
    • c. 200 AD – shrine to Mithras added
  • Mithraism = cult, only men.
    • Texts, communal meals
    • Celebration of Mithras’ birthday… December 25.
    • Priests called father (pater)
    • Note the similarities to Catholicism/early Christians
  • Continuity of use: same general purpose preserved over time for the same location.
    • Initially a shrine to Mithras, then a 4th century church, then a 12th century church, which is still used as a church to this day.
  • The granite in the context of medieval/renaissance/baroque: columns spoliated (= stolen/appropriated to reuse). The granite mines in Egypt from which the Romans derived most of their granite were no longer active at this late point.

Churches borrowing imperial architecture

  • Church architecture was not a clean break from older architectural forms.
  • Outside the Basilica di San Clemente, there is an open courtyard, surrounded by covered pathways held up by columns (spoliated columns in this case).
    • An oasis from the city. Cf. above.
  • A roofed walkway, supported by columns, all around a courtyard: a peristyle. From greek περί, “around”, and στῦλος, “column.” The English word portico is a synonym.
  • This, a form of imperial architecture, is found in the medieval church.
    • Churches adopted architectural forms that were already accepted, traditions from the imperial period.


  • Most early Christian churches were based on an architectural form called a “basilica.”
    • This was originally an architectural type for law courts, economic centers, etc. Associated with authority.
    • Borrowing structure = borrowing authority connotations. Now, however, with more of a moral focus.
  • As to the main form:
    • Rectangular
    • The large central rectangular space: nave.
    • At the end of the nave: altar.
    • Curving space behind altar (to put the visual focus onto the altar): apse. Often has mosaics or paintings. v
    • Space in front of altar: choir.
    • There are side aisle(s) on either side of the nave.
      • These aisles have shorter roofs than the roof of the nave.
      • Windows between the nave roof and the aisle roofs: clerestory lighting.

The 12th century church

  • Dedicated to saint Clement, one of the first Bishops of Rome.
  • Saint Clement’s symbol is the anchor: he was supposedly martyred by being thrown into the sea.
  • Saint Cyril (of alphabet fame) supposedly brought the bones of saint Clement to the church here.

The 4th century church

  • Corridor from portico: narthex.
  • The Dominican order of monks who have maintained the above church since ~1670s also conducted the excavation.
    • Some it was scientific, and some of it was more haphazard.
  • Larger overall than the 12th century church from above.
    • The side aisles for the church below are actually outside the church above.
  • An example of how layers come to be formed: the 12th century people were doing repairs on the 4th century church to try and keep it upright (for example, reinforcing the columns on the edge of the nave with actual walls). Eventually it became too much work, so they filled in the older church and built on top of it.
  • It is common for older structures to build on the walls and supports of lower structures.
    • Cf. building on a foundation of stone vs. sand
    • So following the same architectural outline for a more stable structure makes sense when possible. It wasn’t done here likely because the later church was not as prosperous as the earlier one.
  • The altar in the later church is directly above the altar of this earlier church.
    • In turn, this altar was built on top of the altar from the Mithraeum below it (see below). Continuity of use.

The 1st century structure

  • Has a shrine to Mithras.
  • Mithraeum (pl. Mithraea): look like caves because Mithras was supposedly born from stones in a cave.
  • Mithraism is thought to correspond to astrology and astronomy.
    • Holes in a ceiling create a similar effect to lights in the sky.
  • The main thing that we know about Mithraic rituals is that they shared a communal meal.
    • Not surprising to find benches for dining reclined in the shrine then.

The Victor Emmanuel monument

  • Has not historically been as well-loved as monuments from Classical antiquity. Opinions are mutable, however.
  • In line with the propaganda of Mussolini, the monument is supposed to showcase the greatness of the Italian people.
  • In terms of scale, the cast bronze horse is big enough that the designer had a 14ish person dinner party in its belly.
  • This monument borrows many architectural elements from ancient monuments.
    • A good example of recasting the old.
  • Also houses the Italian version of the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Madama Lucrezia

  • Originally a statue of Isis, an Egyptian goddess who had a mystery cult.
  • One of the five “talking statues” in Rome.
    • These are used as anonymous “billboards.” A tradition began that you would write protests against the state, the church, the aristocracy, etc. and attribute the words to the talking statues.
  • Not continuity of use. An Isis statue with religious significance become a political object of sorts.
  • Not in the best shape due to acid rain, among other reasons.

Palazzo Venezia

  • Used by Mussolini, who sometimes gave speeches off of the balcony.