The Palaces of Rome

PALAZZO DELL’AMBASCIATA DI SPAGNA (Piazza di Spagna N.57)

Until 1653 a sixteenth century palace belonging to the Monaldeschi family stood in its place. It was bought by Philip IV of Spain to serve as the seat for his ambassadors and was thoroughly rebuilt by architect Antonio Del Grande following a project by Borromini. Late Baroque is well represented in a large part of the building, starting from the facade, continuing through the hall to the eighteenth century chapel that is dedicated to St. Lactantius. In the various rooms are apintings by Mario dei Fiori, Lopez, Gessner, Asprucci and remarkable sculptures such as two marble busts by Bernini (“The damned soul” and “The blessed soul”).

PALAZZO ALDOBRANDINI ( Via Panisperna N. 28)

It is one of the four/five buildings that can be attributed to the famous (also) papal family. It had been commissioned by the Vitelli family to Carlo Lombardi in the sixteenth century.

The latter enlarged the pre-existing building and built a casino. It was acquired by Pietro Aldobrandini, who was a cardinal and nephew of Pope Clemens VII, and it remained a property of the family (with the exception of a few periods) until 1929 when the Italian State, which had subsequently become the owner of the palace, gave it for present to the Municipality of rome and decided to use the building as the seat of the National Institute for the Unification of Private Law.

The facade overlooking Via Panisperna is in Baroque Style, with a classical seventeenth century triangular tympanum and console windows. The Via Mazzarino entrance was opened in 1930 with a staircase through the ruins of lucius Nevius Clemens’s warehouses (II and III century).

The nymphaeum in the garden is adorned with disfigured statues and, still in the garden, were the statues of the Four Seasons by Pietro and gian Lorenzo Bernini: today they can be admired in Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati. The building hosted also works by Titian (now the “Bacchanalia” is in the National Gallery in London), by Correggio, Giulio Romano, Parmigianino, that were scattered over the following centuries.

Also the so called “Aldobrandini Wedding” was there, the famous Roman wall painting dating back to the I century AD: it had been discovered on the Esquiline Hill and was then sold to Pope Pius VII (for 10.000 scudoes) and is now in the Vatican Library.

PALAZZO ALTIERI (Piazza del Gesù N 49)

It occupies a whole block and its grandness and solemnity are peerless. We owe the place to one of the best known families in Rome, the same having in its genealogical tree a pope (Clemens X), five cardinals and senators. The building was begun in the first half of the seventeenth century and was commissioned to Giovanni Antonio and Mattia De Rossi. The huge construction was literally built in a very short time – with due proportions. According to usual malicious remarks, “pasquinate”, haste was due, similarly to Nero’s project while building the Domus Aurea, to the attempt of making of Rome a sole house.

Among curious aspects concerning this colossus among seventeenth century buildings there is one concerning old Berta. This old woman had a little house just in the part presently overlooking Piazza del Gesù- Promises and threats had been of no use, there was nothing doing and Berta did not want to leave. And there, Clemens X (his bust in the archives is by Bernini) gave orders to continue the building and to include the little house. Nowadays you can still see Berta’s window in the facade of the palace. Besides Clemens X, who lived there before he became pope, the palace hosted Cardinal Paluzzo Paluzzi with all his large family.

The latter had been adopted together with Gaspare, who was married to Laura Caterina the last member of the Altieri family, not to let the family come to an end. However, other famous figures lived there also in the following centuries such as for example, Cardinal Angelo Mai, who gained everlasting glory thanks to Leopardi’s verses. And a celebrity lived there too: until September 1974, when she died, Anna Magnani had lived there for more than twenty years. There is one more historical detail: the palace was also the seat of the Quiriti Academy and of the Philharmonic Society; in 1863 among performed operas were also “Beatrice di Tenda” and “Semiramis” by Gioacchino Rossini, a member of the Society.

PALAZZO CAETANI (Via delle Botteghe Oscure N.32)

It was built in 1564 by Nanni di Baccio Bigio (or by Giovanni Mangone according to other sources) for Alessandro Mattei. Before it became a property of the Caetanis (1776) it had belonged to Marquis of Durazzo, to Cardinal Serbelloni and to others. The Caetanis originated from the Dukes of Gaeta (Gaetani, XI cent.) and in the XII century they were already divided in different branches: Naples, Rome, Pisa and Anagni. The latter, who, were also called “di Sermoneta”, had become extremely powerful when Boniface VIII (Benedetto Caetani) had ascended the papal throne.

Their power grew in the following centuries as well as their culture. Michelangelo Caetani was the one who took the plebiscite from Rome to Victor Emmanuel II who was staying in Florence; his son Onorato was mayor of Rome and then Minister of Foreign Affairs and his son established the Caetani Foundation, when its seat in the palace, and started the magazine “Botteghe Oscure” together with his wife.

It is a three storey building with a mezzanine and it shows Sangallo reminiscences: frescoes dating back to the sixteenth century (by the Zuccaris), to the seventeenth century (Francesco da Castello), to the eighteenth century (Antonio Cavallucci) decorate the interior of the palace.

PALAZZO DELLA CANCELLERIA (Piazza della Cancelleria)

The history of this palace is long and complicated. It was originally built as a palace by Pope Damasus (IV Century), it was designed to host the archives of the near S. Lorenzo Church. It was restored in the fifteenth century, in 1483 it was demolished by Cardinal Camerlingo Raffaele Riario, one of Sixtus IV’s nephews, in order to build a new one with his…gambling gains. In fact he won a large amount of money dicing and, despite the pope’s request (who in the meantime had become Innocent VIII and was father of the loser), he did not want to give it back as he had already incurred debts to build the new palace.

In 1517 Riario, subsequent to his involvement in a cospiracy against Pope Leo X, was jailed and had to leave the palace where the Apostolic Chancery was moved. In 1798 it was also the seat of the Court of the Roman Republic and, in 1810, of Napoleon’s imperial Court until Pius VIII moved there the offices of the cardinals’ congregation after the fall of the French Emperor. In 1848 it was the seat of the Chamber of Deputies of the Papal States (practically the Parliament of Rome) and a year later it became the seat of the Contituent Assembly of the Roman Republic. Ever since 1870 it has been the seat of the Cardinal Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church.

Its history is quite complicated also from the architectonic point of view: Vasari mentions Antonio Montecavallo (who critics identified as Andrea Bregno called “da Montecavallo”, about 1465), but some mentioned Bramante too. In the XVII century Bernini was involved too. In the twentieth century consolidation works were carried out. The main facade is particularly interesting, it is faced with travertine ashlar-work, which was a classical esthetical scheme of the time and was furthermore preserved for a large part of the buildings that were planned later on.

The most striking element, however, is the courtyard on three orders, the first two are porticoes on columns and the third one has walls divided by pilasters and windows. Another small courtyard is at the back of the S. Damaso Church that is included in the palace. The facade of this church, which was designed by Vignola following Pope Damasus’s request, was demolished to make room for the palace and, probably, rebuilt by Bramante to incorporate it in the lateral facade. The material of the first church was used for the courtyard, while the travertine for the facade was supplied by the Coliseum and by other ancient monuments.

PIAZZA CAPRANICA AND COLLEGIO CAPRANICA (Piazza Capranica N. 101)

This palace marks the passage from Romanic to Renaissance architecture: as a matter of fact it is made up by the union of two buildings of different times. On the right we owe the older building (1451) to Cardinal Domenico Capranica for the college that took the same name, while the one on the left was added by his brother Cardinal Angelo after his death (1478).

Domenico who was the author of a work published after his death entitled “Arte di morire” (The art to die) did not go to Rome for his investiture as a cardinal (Pope Martin V had bequeathed the title to him) and therefore could not take part in the conclave where Pope Eugene IV was elected. The latter refused then to recognize his cardinal’s hat. Later on the Council of Basel acknowledge his investiture but he was anyway forced to throw himself to the Pope’s feet who then, ratified the investiture and gave him his property back.

In his testament he provided for his brother Angelo, who in the meanwhile had been made a cardinal by Pius II, to stay in the palace on condition that he would not interfere with the activity of the College.

Angelo, then, built an adjoining seat for the institute and kept the palace for himself. Unfortunately the palace underwent many changes over the centuries: today on the facade overlooking the square there are six windows on the first floor (three double lancet windows and three cross-shaped windows); on the left a tower, with a covered loggia and graffiti traces on it simulating ashlar work, was united to the palace.

The facade was raised in the seventeenth century when also the theater was built, which has now been transformed into a cinema by the same name.