Rione VIII: Sant'Eustachio Art & Culture

1/2/2008 by Friendsinrome Italy

Sant'Eustachio is the VIII rione of Rome. Its logo is made of the head of a deer (symbol of Saint Eustace) and of the bust of Jesus: the figures are golden on a red background.
The district of Sant'Eustachio (St.Eustachius) was named after the ancient church dedicated to this saint, which stands in the very center of the rione. Its mediaeval name Regio Sancti Eustachii et Vinee Tedemarii, when this was the sixth district, also refers to the vast cultivated estate (vinea) which once belonged to Tedemarius, a now obscure personage who probably lived around year 950.
According to a legend, in the 2nd century AD a soldier named Placidus was on a hunt when he saw a beautiful stag. But when he aimed at the animal, a cross appeared between its horns. The event caused the soldier to convert to Christianity, changing his name into Eustachius. For his conversion he faced martyrdom. In older versions of this coat of arms, a cross appears between the animal's horns, in place of the saint.
Due to its long and very narrow shape, this rione runs across many of Rome's historical areas, though its boundary does not actually enclose any of the city's famous highlights. In ancient Rome, Sant'Eustachio would have covered a part of the Campus Martis and a part of Regio IX, where several important public buildings stood, but none of them survived the turn of the first millennium.
During the late Middle Ages the whole district was rebuilt, with a high density of small private houses for the lower and the middle class. In 1303 Rome's first University was founded in this district, where it remained until 1935.
During the early 20th century, some heavy alterations of the old street plan, carried out for traffic reasons, deeply modified the original nucleus of the district.

Map with Sant'Eustachio attractions

Piazza Sant'Eustachio

Piazza Sant'Eustachio in the 18th_century

The heart of this rione is the charming square named after Sant'Eustachio's church, over whose front is a stag's head. Its present shape dates to the 1720s, but the belltower is still from the mediaeval structure (late 12th century). On one side of the building are two columns, survived from ancient baths which once stood here, first built by emperor Nero in 62 AD, while facing the church is a small building from the 1550s, richly decorated with wall paintings and carvings.

Piazza della rotonda

The district boundary cuts piazza della Rotonda into two halves: the southern part, where the Pantheon stands, belongs to Rione IX, Pigna, while the northern part, with a beautiful 16th century fountain supporting a small Egyptian obelisk from the Temple of Isis belongs to Sant'Eustachio. Before being moved here in the 18th century, this obelisk could be seen by the small church of S.Macuto, not far from this spot, in Rione III Colonna, on the same site where it had probably been unburied during the late Middle Ages. For this reason the obelisk is sometimes referred to as Macuteo.
The square is now literally surrounded by bars, cafes, and even by a fast food restaurant which, according to most historians and art lovers, should have never been opened right in front of an important historical site such as the Pantheon.
Also in the past centuries this square had been spoiled by several taverns and inns, up to the point of obstructing the view over the famous building. For this reason, in 1822 pope Pius VI had them demolished, restoring the original beauty of the site, as remembered by a large plaque in Latin, which reads as follows:
By coincidence, this plaque now overlooks the aforesaid restaurant, almost as an admonishment from the past, although none of the many customers are aware of the funny paradox.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza

The most beautiful feature of Sant'Eustachio is probably the nearby complex La Sapienza, whose main entrance is located along corso Rinascimento, though it may also be accessed from the back, on one side of piazza Sant'Eustachio. It includes a 16th century building with a large central courtyard (by Giacomo Della Porta), and the annexed 17th century church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza (by Francesco Borromini).
Since the late Middle Ages, this was the site of Rome's first University, called La Sapienza (the Knowledge); centuries ago, the teachers used to hold their meetings in the nearby church of Sant'Eustachio. Due to the growing number of students, in 1935 the University had to be moved to a much wider area, just outside Rome's historical nucleus, and this complex was turned into the State Archive.
Sant'Ivo's church, among Borromini's masterpieces, is famous for having the city's most elegant belltower, whose top part ends in a very ornate spiral, which can be seen from most parts of the district.

Italy's Senate

The large building next to the above-said complex is the see of Italy's Senate, Palazzo Madama [4], originally built for the Medici family in the 16th century.

Sant'Andrea della Valle

At the opposite end of corso Rinascimento is the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle (early 17th century), known for its huge dome.
The statue of an angel can be seen on the left side of the fašade, while on the right side its twin is missing. Actually, two angels had been committed to sculptor Giacomo Antonio Fancelli; but after the first one was set into place, it was bitterly criticised for its excessively long wing, and even the pope did not appreciate it much.
The resentful sculptor refused to carry on with the second statue, commenting that the pope could have made a better one by himself. So the right half of the fašade was left without an angel.
The pretty fountain in front of Sant'Andrea della Valle originally stood in a central square of Rione XIV, Borgo, demolished in the 1930s and moved here in the 1950s.
On the church's left side, in a corner, is the ancient roman figure popularly called Abate Luigi, one of Rome's talking statues.

San Luigi dei Francesi Church

Works by famous painters can be seen in two other churches, in the northern part of the district. One of them, San Luigi dei Francesi [6], built in the 16th century, is Rome's French church. In one of its chapels are three paintings by Caravaggio, inspired by episodes of the life of St.Matthew. On the church's fašade, instead, two large medallions in relief feature the curious device of the French king Francis I (1515-47), a dragon-looking salamander, an animal that was believed to survive the flames.

Sant'Agostino Church

The other church, Sant'Agostino, is one of Rome's earliest Renaissance buildings (1483); one of its pillars is decorated with a fresco painted by Raphael.


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