Centered on the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, the Campus Martius is for good reason Rome’s most popular zone. Today we note its main sites to see.

Show Notes

 Our third full day will be devoted to the principal sites of the Campus Martius, the largest, most pleasant, but also the most difficult to visit of my Five Zones of Rome—I mean “difficult” simply because it is big and there is so much in it. Happily, many of the sites in this zone are free.

Highlights of the Campus Martius include the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, the Campo de’ Fiori, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Basilicas of the Gesù, San Ignazio, San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, San Andrea della Valle, and Santa Maria del Popolo.  Among the sites that have an entrance fee are the Palazzo Venezia, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Ara Pacis, and the Palazzo and Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Hard choices will have to be made!

This list is already impossibly long, and yet it also omits a lot. The best way to make it more manageable is to wander here in the evening. The evening is the best time, for example, to see the various piazzas in this Zone, and to see such public architecture as obelisks and fountains. An evening walk can also give you a hint of the location and shape of Pompey’s Theater, which was the site of Caesar’s assassination, and it allows for a visit to the Spanish Steps, where pickpockets or often more active than in other places, except for the 64 bus. The Campo de’ Fiori will be busy at night, but it is fact better in the morning, when the market is active and the Forno Campo de’ Fiori is open to sell its delicious pizza bianca. This is where you will find the statue of Giordano Bruno, which I take to be the statue most representative of Modern Ideas in Rome, by which I partly mean anti-Christian and anti-papal views.

As for daytime visits, since our apartment is to the south of this zone, our choice would be either to visit the main sites from south to north, and then take the metro home at the end of the day, or to start by taking the metro to Piazza Flaminio and working our way back home. The former has the advantage that we get to Campo de’ Fiori on the early side, so I’d then suggest a plan of attack from south to north. Nor is it really imperative to use the Metro, as a walk home directly down the Corso would not take that long.

Heading out from our Fixed Point, the Wedding Cake, I’d like to stop at the Basilica of San Marco and the museum in Palazzo Venezia, but doing so would mean cutting something else later, so we’ll note them from the outside and walk on by. Since the Basilica has an apse mosaic, I’ll have to find time on my own to get there without slowing the group down.

With the memory of Bernini’s Sant’Andrea al Quirinale still fresh in mind from yesterday’s visit, we’ll head first another Jesuit Church, the Church of the Gesù. This might even be called the Jesuit center of Rome, for in the same area is what used to be the Roman College, the home of Jesuit education. This College was seized from the Jesuits by the New Italy when they seized Rome from the Pope in 1870. It is also possible to visit the Rooms of St. Ignatius to the right of the Gesù, and I hope we have time for this. Another Jesuit Church, that of San Ignazio, or St. Ignatius, is very nearby, but it will save us time if we do this a little later. I keep mentioning the Jesuits because their history is so closely related to that of the Counterreformation, and several of our main episodes discuss them.

We are wandering our way toward the Campo de’ Fiori. The more direct route would take us past the Largo Argentina, an archeological site dear to Mussolini but which did not unearth any particularly majestic ruins. A slightly longer route would be to drop south, closer to the river, and pass by the Fontana delle Tartarughe, the turtle fountain, and its charming piazza, perhaps walking through the Jewish Ghetto. I prefer this.

A pause in the Campo de’Fiori will allow us to get some piazza bianca, enjoy the market, and view the statue of Giordano Bruno, which also honors eight other men who got into trouble with religious authorities. Nearby are the Palazzo Spada, Palazzo Farnese, and Basilica of San Andrea della Valle. Who knows whether we will have time for any of these, but the basilica is a good place to keep the theme of baroque art and architecture under discussion, as are also the Jesuit churches we visit, which are all baroque. It’s also a good spot to recall the opening scene of Puccini’s Tosca, which is set there. We’ll visit the site of its final scene tomorrow.

We might also note the Palazzo della Cancelleria, though we can’t pause for long. It’s Rome’s first Renaissance Palace and still belongs to the Vatican, one of only a handful of sites outside of Vatican City that still belong to the Vatican. As a navigational reminder, this palazzo is on the Via Vittorio Emanuele II, as is also the basilica of San Andrea della Valle. This is one of the “Four Streets” I encouraged you to get to know. It runs from our fixed point to the Vatican.

On the other side of the street is the Museum of Rome, Palazzo Braschi, which we would visit if we were staying a little longer in Rome. From among its many holdings, I found it helpful to see paintings of Rome when it was occupied by Napoleon’s troops, and nationalist ceremonies replaced religious ones.

We are now close to several important sites grouped close together, including Piazza Navona, San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria della Pace, the Pantheon, and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.  I’d save the piazza for an evening visit and focus on San Luigi dei Francesi, the Pantheon, and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Or, if you need a break, coffee, or very simple lunch, consider the cafeteria inside the Cloister of Bramante next to Santa Maria della Pace. Tip: It’s on the second floor. Besides being pleasant, you can get to know better what a cloister is while relaxing in one.

It is a problem for both of us that I can’t pause to explain why I recommend the sites I’m singling out in this short series of Mini Pods. This grander challenge belongs to my Episodes, which generally attempt to interpret a site, monument, or work of art. All I can do at the moment is make a few suggestions and an occasional minor point.

So here is one such minor point: I emphasize San Luigi dei Francesi especially because it the home of three great Caravaggio paintings, all based on the life of Saint Matthew. So, this is a must stop, as the Galleria Borghese and Santa Maria del Popolo, if you have any interest in Caravaggio. I had no idea who he was when I first came to Rome, but he has certainly caught my eye.

As its name indicates, this church was tied to the French community in Rome, and you may remember that the French supported Pope Pius IX in the later stages of the Risorgimento, a marked change from France’s policy under Napoleon. Those were French troops against whom Garibaldi fought on the Janiculum Hill in 1849, as discussed in Episode 16, and there is a memorial in their honor in this church on the right aisle. It says in French, “To the French soldiers who died in arms under the walls of Rome in 1849,” and it is signed Pius IX. It’s at least worth noting that the New Italy did not block this honoring of the soldiers who had fought against its coming into being.

After this French church, head for the Pantheon and its piazza and then to the adjacent Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. These are both wonderful and important sites in very different ways, and I’m hoping my upcoming visit to Rome helps me write good podcasts on them. Mini Pod V takes note of the changed ground level in the area, which alters greatly the approach to and appearance of the Pantheon. So does the looting of its gilded bronze roof, the gilded bronze decorations of its portico, and the gilded bronze rosettes that once were placed in the coffers of its ceiling.

The two main attention-getters of the Basilica are Michelangelo’s statue of the Risen Christ and the Carafa Chapel in the right transept. There’s no risk you’ll overlook Bernini’s elephant statue in front of the church. But it’s also important to consider here the role of this church, and of the Dominicans that lived in its convent, in the Inquisition, including the trial of Galileo.

This is a great part of Rome in which to wander, but if we are still interested in an efficient visit to the Campus Martius, I’d head for the Church of San Ignazio, which belongs to the Jesuit grouping we got started on earlier. Since we have the Inquisition and the relationship between modern science and the church in mind, it’s worth noting that the dome visible from the inside of San Ignazio exists only in paint: the roof is flat, and this had the advantage that a telescope could be positioned there, and was.  For other reminders that the Church could be quite supportive of science, recall Episode 3, which discusses the Vatican Observatory in Castelgandolfo, and consider the Monument to Pope Gregory XIII in St. Peter’s Basilica.

We are now close to the Column of Marcus Aurelius and the obelisk that Augustus put in position as a giant meridian, as noted in Episode 36. Since we must be tired by now, we’ll focus on just one remaining stop, the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. We could march right down the Corso, one of our Four Straight Streets, to get there quickly, but I’d recommend the smaller streets that begin from the left of Palazzo Montecitorio, where the above-mentioned obelisk is positioned. Then try to find the pleasant church and piazza, San Lorenzo in Lucina. You are now in a good position to walk through the piazza that Mussolini built around the Mausoleum of Augustus and the Ara Pacis, all of which are the subjects of episodes. Hot links on my website will take you to them. So too with links on my interactive map.

And now it’s a straight shot to Piazza del Popolo, the northern entrance to Rome. It’s the home of Santa Maria del Popolo, which is filled with great art and architecture, including works by Raphael, Bramante, Pinturicchio, and Caravaggio, and it also grants access to the Pincian Hill and Park that rises up on the east side of the Piazza. A long walk in the park would take us to the Galleria Borghese, where we certainly want to go.

So we’ve now finished a walk through the Campus Martius, one which will have omitted much but perhaps also included too much.

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