Stay tuned for some Florence heavy posts in the next little while (Duomo! Brunelleschi! Michelgangelo! Giotto! Botticelli! Uffizi!) . We just retured from three days in Firenze, a great change of pace and scale from the hustle and bustle of Rome. We took the Frecciarosa (“Red Arrow”) train from Roma Termini to Santa Maria Novella Stazione in Florence on Thursday morning and got in late last night.
Back in Rome today, we took the morning to get re-acquainted with the city and convened in the afternoon at the Piazza del Campidoglio for a lecture by art historian extraordinaire, Paolo Alei. The focus today was on two of Rome’s great urban spaces – Michelangelo’s Piazza (the first consciously designed piazza in Rome since antiquity) and Piazza Navona, with Bernini’s Fontana de Quattro Fiumi and Borromini’s facade and towers for St Agnese en Agone.
We began behind the Palazzo Senatoria, looking over the Forum at the first of Rome’s great urban spaces, then continued through the Campidoglio, learning about the context and history of the site, its importance as part of the Via Papalis, and how “The memory of Rome overwhelms the reality of Rome – and how this overwhelming memory drives Popes and their architects.” It was a fantastic lesson in how cultural, social, political and religious attitudes drive architectural and urban space as a way to re-configure associations with history, time and place. We connected, through the Campidoglio, how, architecture, design, landscape were used to connect Biblical Power to Temporal Power – from St. Peter’s to Constantine’s throne at St. John the Lateran. We learned how there is as much palimpsest and appropriation in memory and history as there is in physical space. We learned about il Divino (Michelgangelo) and his radical break with the established architectural canon in his genius at the Campidoglio; from the new Capitoline – now the heroic shield of Alexander the Great – and of Michelangelo’s assertion of the body as a necessary imprint in space – how his architecture is full of “bones and nerves and energy.” I think that Mark Twain said something like “God made Italy from designs by Michelangelo.”
We walked the Via Papalis (in reverse), heading back to Piazza Navona and discussed the connections now across geographies – to Constantinople as the New Rome, to Rome as the New Byzantium (hippodromes, circuses, obelisks and kathismas). We concluded at Bernini’s fountain (our guest lecturer’s favorite in Rome) and learned about how the monuments of the city (inspired in part by the Pax Romana) are, like its architecture and landscape, in full service of this overwhelming memory. Oh, we also taked about Wunderkammern, Athanasis Kircher and armadillos, but we’ll save that for another post.
It’s nice to be back in Roma.