Rome Explained

Rome Explained

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In 1748 architect Giambattista  Nolli made this map of Rome. It was so accurate that by the 1970s, the  Italian government still relied on it as   the basis for maps of the city and used  it as a reference for urban planning. Rome is roughly divided into three main sections: the ancient part of Rome, where you’ll  find the Roman Forum, the Colosseum,   and other ancient sites like the Circus  Maximus and the Baths of Caracalla. Then there’s the Renaissance  and Baroque part of Rome, this is where the most famous  buildings and piazzas are located,   including the Vatican City and St Peter’s  square on the other side of the river. And then there’s this place called Trastevere,   which means “at the other side of the  Tiber”, which is the name of the river,   and here you will find a lot of palaces  and villas from the Renaissance period.

We’re going to focus on this part of the city  because thanks to Renaissance and Baroque artists   and architects these public spaces became not  only a focus for tourists and artists but also   a watershed of inspiration throughout the Western  world. Everything is within a walking distance,   and you’ll find the most wonderful buildings,  fountains, and streets that make walking in Rome   a more fascinating experience than walking  in pretty much any other city in the world.   This entire city is like a museum  filled with architectural masterpieces. 

If you think about the Renaissance, architects  in Italy had this one general thought: “we want   to be like the Romans”, but they were thinking  about that from an intellectual point of view,   they were looking at the forms of the  Romans: Domes, pediments, columns,   round arches, geometry, symmetry, but  they weren't so much looking at the   infrastructural technology of the Romans,  and in 1585, Sixtus V gets elected as pope,   and he picks up this other aspect of  what it is to be a Roman and he becomes   very interested in infrastructure, building  roads, building bridges, building aqueducts. The final form of Renaissance Rome owes  most to the pontificate of Sixtus V,   he was in the papacy for only five years,  it was a relatively short period of time,   but during that time he undertook all  of these projects to modernize Rome.  Medieval Rome was a mess, although it was home to  major centers of religious pilgrimage, the city’s   haphazard street system impeded circulation and  diminished spectators’ vantage on its monuments.  

Also, the city was sacked by invading armies  several times, and it had been sacked in 1527. So   a lot of the roads and aqueducts weren’t working  since Roman antiquity in the imperial period.  When Sixtus V assumed the papacy only one  ancient Roman aqueduct was still in service   delivering fresh water, it was the Aqua Virgo,  and it was bringing in water near the area where   we now have the Trevi Fountain, but water  was needed in many other parts of the city. 

So the pope had a competent architect, Domenico  Fontana, to whom he gave the task of restoring   the ancient aqueduct of Alexandrina and bringing  water in to other parts of Rome. So this fountain,   called Acqua Felice, might simply look  like another piece of pompous and grandiose   baroque architecture, but it is much more than  that. Acqua Felice is the head of the ancient   aqueduct of Alexandrina that was restored by  him to bring fresh water into 27 new fountains   situated across Rome, quite an accomplishment. With the restoration of the ancient aqueducts more   fountains could be made functioning in the city  of Rome and more people could have fresh water,   Sixtus V also drained marshes that had been  places for malaria mosquitoes to breed, and   he reestablished some roads and bridges that had  been broken and that had fallen into disrepair.  This outline represents the Aurelian Wall,  built by Aurelian the Roman Emperor in the   third century. So in the ancient  times of Rome, Rome was this big,  

and in the Renaissance and Baroque  time, Rome was about this big,   this is a big disappointment if you  happen to be the Pope, and so what   Sixtus V wanted to do was make Rome better,  and he undertook this big project of urbanism.  The main program of works made by Sixtus consisted  in connecting key points in the city. Rome was a   great pilgrimage city, so he opened several  wide long principal streets that provided a   link between the seven pilgrimage churches of  Rome - St Peter's; San Giovanni in Laterano;   Santa Maria Maggiore; San Paolo fuori  Ie Mura; and San Lorenzo fuori le Mura,   the original five churches,   and two accorded special veneration  later - Santa Croce in Gerusalemme   and San Sebastiano. This realized the ambition  to make Rome a worthy capital of Christendom.  Sixtus V was not, however, concerned only to  facilitate religious ceremonial. He was well   aware of the role the new streets could play  in generating growth in the largely uninhabited   districts. So he got built a series of fake roads  with fake facades, these incredibly thin walls   that you can observe in the Nolli plan, which in  reality had agricultural land behind with farm   animals like cows and chickens, and the ambition  with these fake facades was to define the street   edge, no matter what happens behind the street  edge. The city today is completely urbanized,  

but traces of these fake facades can still be  seen in the gardens of the Palazzo Quirinale,   or along this street going toward the Porta Pia,  where these baroque churches appear to respect the   continuity of the wall, but at the same time  get identified as a monument within the city,   and if you look at them from  the side, you see no church,   you see how completely autonomous the façade  is from the actual church that’s behind.  This diagram of Rome leaves so much out  that it shows you what the big idea is,   we have the main gates to the city, the Piazza del  Popolo and the Porta Pia establishing these major   axes, Porta Pia goes straight to the Palazzo  Quirinale, which is the Pope's Summer Palace,   and then we have the Trident, these three  roads coming off of Piazza del Popolo. The   first one was originally planned to link the  isolated Santa Croce in Gerusalemme directly   to the Piazza del Popolo, some 4 kilometers  distant, by way of Santa Maria Maggiore,   but the architect was forced to terminate  the street in front of the church of Santa   Trinita dei Monti because of the steep  slopes of the hill. But thanks to that,   a magnificent flight of steps -scalinata- was  built down the hillside to the Piazza di Spagna,   and from there, the street would continue  all the way to the Piazza del Popolo.  Aware of his own limited time, Sixtus V devised  a unique method of ensuring that his successors   would be obliged to continue to implement his  program of connecting the main points of Rome.  

He placed obelisks at points where, during  the coming centuries, the most important   squares would develop: in the future Piazza del  Popolo, at the intersection of the three routes;   at Santa Maria Maggiore;   in front of San Giovanni in Laterano; and, most  significantly in terms of its subsequent effect,   in front of the still unfinished St Peter's. Urban  design really doesn't have to do everything at one   moment, actually, the best thing that can  happen in terms of urban design is to set   a plan in motion and allow history to fill it  in. So more obelisks were added by later popes   at other intersections of the street system,  like the one at the top of the scalinata,   the one at Piazza del Quirinale, in front  of the Pantheon, and at Piazza Navona.   And what’s so amazing is that every single street  in Rome is terminated by a visual ending point,   whether it’s an obelisk, the façade of a church,  or the façade of an interesting building.  And if you’re moving through the  city, you know where you’re going   because every obelisk is visible  from the next, it's a big city,   it’s a tangled city, but we're moving  with direction and with understanding   about how the city works because of these  interventions placed there by Sixtus V. 

The middle street of the Trident  shoots straight to Piazza Venezia,   and to the Vittorio Emanuele II monument,  a national monument from the 20th century.   Behind this is the Campidoglio, the Capitoline.  The Capitoline is the hill where the temple of   Jupiter was located in Roman antiquity. Since the  beginning of Rome, it has always been this place   where power was centralized, the most important  hill among the Seven Hills in Rome. Throughout the  

Middle Ages and continuing into the Renaissance  it became the seat of secular government,   basically the Town Hall. In the Medieval  period, however, the Capitol was just as   disorderly as so many other places in Rome;  the famous hill had been plowed up by horsemen,   and bushes grew at random over the uneven terrain.  In 1537 Michelangelo got commissioned a project   for a monumental square on the site. Michelangelo  is arguably the most gifted of the many versatile   architects of the Italian Renaissance. As  the focal point of his plan for the Capitol,  

the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius, the only  surviving equestrian statue of ancient Rome,   was erected on a pedestal. The piazza is not a  completely enclosed space. The three buildings   form a trapezoid with the fourth side open  along the edge of the hill, up which the   monumental approach flight of steps has been cut,  slightly wider at the top than at the bottom.   It is a small space, 55 m across at  its widest and 41 m at its narrowest,   between the flanking buildings. This effect of  false perspective, forced on Michelangelo by  

the existing alignments, accentuates the  importance of the Palazzo del Senatore.  The unity and coherence of the design were  achieved thanks to the shape of the oval,   and its two-dimensional star-shaped pattern.  Immediately below the Capitoline stretches out  the Roman Forum, and immediately in front of it   in the other direction, you have the extent of  Rome moving towards St Peter's. so not simply   does the secular seat of power conceptually draw  a line between the two Romes, the Renaissance Rome   of the Vatican, and the pagan Rome of classical  antiquity, but it does so physically as well.  And the third street from the Trident would  have met this point called the Porto di Ripetta,   it was a riverport that was demolished in the  early 1900s because the river would flood all the   time so they put a big flood wall there, and it's  really tragic because the relationship of Rome to   its river is really awful now, and once there  would have been this kind of wonderful Baroque   opening up into the river, but you can still see  it in the Nolli map and in some old photographs. 

I mentioned how Sixtus’s plan is established by  these two major axes, and at some point, these   axes intersect, and the way Sixtus’s architect  Domenico Fontana marked this special moment within   the plan, was to chamfer all the corners at 45  degrees and stick a fountain in each corner,   hence the name of that intersection, Le Quattro  Fontane, the four fountains. And at this juncture,   we also have this little church stuck at  the corner by one of my favorite architects:   Francesco Borromini, probably one of  the most beautiful churches in Rome.  Here you can see a mapping of all the  obelisks and all the streets that Sixtus   put to connect the important sites in Rome.  If we see the way they all hang together,  

these early Christian churches form a cross,  and they come together in the Colosseum,   so the Colosseum itself becomes a point of  interest, and there was a project to put a church   inside the Colosseum, and that becomes interesting  because even though it never got built, the idea   of an ovalized courtyard, already suggested  here by the appropriation of the Colosseum,   is something that other people begin to operate  on: Bernini puts a giant ovalized courtyard in   the Vatican with obelisk in the middle, and  Valadier puts a giant ovalized courtyard at   Piazza del Popolo with obelisk in the middle. Piazza del Popolo was the main entrance place   to the city even since Roman times. And you can see here that two   twin-domed churches were built in the  angles formed by the three streets,   and this trapezoidal piazza that existed during  Sixtus’s time with the obelisk in the center, got   rebuilt much later to the ovalized space that  we have today, again, subsequent generations   fleshing out the implications of the early work. The scalinata, or the Spanish steps, were as well   built later, between 1721 to 1725, and they are  the only example in the history of city planning   where a staircase does not merely lead to a square  in front of a monumental structure that is the   church, but where the stairs themselves become the  visual and spatial center. Before they got built  

you had to go up these smaller stairs in the back,  but what happens here in the Spanish steps is an   example of this theatricality or the tendency of  the city to be seen as a stage set in the Baroque   period. You have a series of extended landings  that become like stages, and the rhythm is strange   because it stretches and it contracts over and  over again, and you’re constantly experiencing   different things, it’s about moments like these,  which redirect your view to other parts of the   city, and you’re proceeding on this very shallow  incline, so that you appreciate the materiality   of the stone and the changing aspects of this  topographically complex city, and also when you   get to the top you see Rome in a different  way, you don’t see the bases of churches,   you see the domes of churches, and the city  becomes almost like a field with ideal pavilions   in it, just the domes floating up there. They’re called the Spanish steps because   in the 17th century the Spanish embassy  was located at the base of the stairs.  The houses, palaces, and churches of the Piazza  Navona follow precisely the layout of the Roman   circus built by the Roman Emperor Domitian in  the 1st century AD; indeed the well-preserved   ruins of the seats and corridors are incorporated  into the piazza's foundations. You can see that   the plan of the piazza has the same shape as  the plan of a Roman circus. The final spatial  

organization of the piazza was carried out  by Bernini in the 17th century. The long and   narrow form of the space meant that all views  had to be designed as oblique perspectives.   The piazza contains three richly modeled  fountains whose cascading waters are enhanced   by the surrounding houses and the two churches  of San Giacomo degli Spagnuoli and Sant'Agnese.  There are more fountains in Rome  than in any other city in the world,   and this is the greatest of all the fountains in  Rome, La Fontana di Trevi, the Trevi Fountain.  

The original design was by Bernini and it  was eventually stopped at the death of the   Pope that commissioned it and was finished in the  18th century by Nicola Salvi. It's a great idea,   to make a fountain that’s part of the city,  and he does it by attaching the fountain to   the façade of a building. So the very concept  of the fountain is: building that collapses into   rustication. Rustication in architecture means to  give the rock a deliberately rough surface. So the   marble in the Trevi Fountain looks like the living  rock, and then water squirts out of the building,   and you've got these wild horses inside, and  these heroic classical figures all over the place,   but essentially what is going on in the Trevi  Fountain is, it gets its power by making this   direct confrontation between a natural condition  and a cultural condition, you begin to see how   architecture simply cannot hold its own in a world  where nature is so powerful, and the architecture   begins to dissolve into nature. And this is  something Bernini has done in other places,   for example, we saw the Fountain of the Four  Rivers in Piazza Navona, where he's very   interested in hyper-rustication, or in finding a  way that things carved by man become like nature.  The great church of St Peter's was built  between 1506 and 1626 but it lacked an   appropriate entrance forecourt until 1655 when  Bernini carried out the two major sections of a   three-part piazza complex. These spaces are the  piazza retta, directly in front of the church,  

and the vast piazza obliqua enclosed by the  semi-circular colonnades. The third section,   the Piazza Rusticucci, has never been finally  completed and is represented only in part by   Mussolini's avenue linking St Peter's with  the Tiber River. In preparing his layout,   which was successful in competition with his  leading contemporaries, Bernini had to incorporate   the central obelisk erected in 1586 by Sixtus V,  and the two fountains built by Maderno in 1613. 

The scale of both the church and the spaces is  vast: the piazza retta in front of the eastern   elevation is 125 m wide narrowing to 91 m where  it adjoins the piazza obliqua, and 98 m deep;   the piazza obliqua itself is not a true ellipse  but consists of two semi-circles of radius of   approximately 79 m, with a rectangle in  between giving a total width of 198 m.  Sixtus’s plan was so successful that a very  similar plan was executed in Paris about   three hundred years later, where many wide long  streets were opened through the messy medieval   layout of the city to connect important moments  within the city. And it has since continued to   influence other cities in the world, many of  which have been planned using this same scheme.  You can find a lot more of Rome on my channel,   so make sure you go check it  out, make sure you subscribe.

I really hope you enjoyed this  video, I really hope you learned. Thanks for watching, please leave a like  because it really helps me a lot to continue,   and I'll see you very soon in another episode. Goodbye!

2023-01-21 00:58

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