Rione XI: Sant'Angelo Art & Culture

1/3/2008 by Friendsinrome Italy

Sant'Angelo is the eleventh historic district or rione of Rome. Its coat of arms is an angel on a red background, holding a palm branch in its left hand. In another version, the angel holds a sword in its right hand and a balance in its left. The rione's terrain is low and flat and, until recent times, particularly susceptible to flooding from the river. The historical significance of Sant'Angelo is mainly the result of the presence here of the Roman Ghetto.

The Jewish Ghetto of Rome

There has been a Jewish community in Rome since the 1st century B.C. In imperial times about 30,000 Jews lived and worked in Trastevere, just across the river from the city proper. After the fall of the Roman empire the population of the city diminished drastically. The number of Jews decreased, too, but they continued to play an important part in the economy of Rome.
In the Middle Ages the Jewish community moved to the eastern bank of the Tiber. At about the same time, the first signs of discrimination began to appear. In 1215 a law was passed obliging Jews to wear a yellow beret or shawl so that they could be easily distinguished. Hostility towards the community gradually increased, reaching its height in the 16th century, during the period of the Inquisition. In 1555 Pope Paul IV confined all the Jews of Rome to a small area which became known as the Ghetto, taking its name from the Jewish quarter of Venice. High walls were built around it and a curfew was imposed.
For three centuries, over 4,000 people lived and worked on this tiny scrap of land. They built high tenements on the river bank, but during the frequent floods the lower floors had to be evacuated. Living conditions were unhygienic in the extreme. Jewish citizens were allowed to trade only in rags and second-hand goods or to work as tailors. Only after the Unity of Italy in 1870 did the Jews finally acquire equal rights.
Soon afterwards, most of the old buildings of the Ghetto were demolished. The old synagogue, housing the Cinque Scole where different Jewish rites were celebrated, was left standing, but not for long: it was destroyed by a fire in 1893. Now the area is occupied by a school, a splendid new synagogue (inaugurated in 1904) and other buildings dating from the turn of the century. Many Jewish families chose to remain in the area. Some had already opened shops in the streets nearby; there were kosher butchers and bakers close at hand.
The ghetto of Rome was the last remaining ghetto in Western Europe until its later reintroduction by Nazi Germany. Now when Romans speak of the Ghetto they refer to the whole area that lies between Via delle Botteghe Oscure and the river, which includes some interesting sights.

Disappeared Ghetto: Arco delle Azimelle in a watercolour by Ettore Roesler Franz (1880 ca.). The Azimelle are jewish unleavened breads, which were produced in a bakery in this lane.

Sant'Angelo attractions

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Teatro Marcello

The Theatre of Marcellus (Latin: Theatrum Marcelli; Italian: Teatro di Marcello) is an ancient edifice in the rione of Sant'Angelo, Rome, providing one of the city's many popular spectacles or tourist sites. It was named after Marcus Marcellus, Emperor Augustus's nephew, who died five years before its completion. Space for the theatre was cleared by Julius Caesar, who was murdered before it could be begun; the theatre was so far advanced by 17 BC that part of the celebration of the ludi saeculares took place within the theatre; it was completed in 13 BC and formally inaugurated in 12 BC by Augustus. The theatre was 111 m in diameter; it could originally hold 11,000 spectators. It was an impressive example of what was to become one of the most pervasive urban architectural forms of the Roman world. The theatre was built mainly of tuff, cement and opus reticulatum brickwork, completely sheathed in white travertine. The network of arches, corridors, tunnels and ramps that gave access to the interiors of such Roman theaters were normally ornamented with a screen of engaged columns in Greek orders: Doric at the base, Ionic in the middle. It is believed that Corinthian columns were used for the upper level but this is uncertain as the theater was reconstructed in the Middle Ages, removing the top tier of seating and the columns. Like other Roman theaters in suitable locations, it had openings through which the natural setting could be seen, in this case the Tiber Island to the southwest. The permanent setting, the scaena, also rose to the top of the cavea as in other Roman theaters. The name templum Marcelli still clung to the ruins in 998. In the Early Middle Ages the Teatro di Marcello was used as a fortress of the Fabii and then at the end of the 11th century, by Pier Leoni and later his heirs (the Pierleoni). The Savelli held it in the 13th century. Later, in the 16th century, the residence of the Orsini, designed by Baldassare Peruzzi, was built atop the ruins of the ancient theatre. Now the upper portion is divided into multiple apartments, and its surroundings are used as a venue for small summer concerts; the Portico d'Ottavia lies to the north west leading to the Roman Ghetto and the Tiber to the south west. In the 17th century, the renowned English architect Sir Christopher Wren explicitly acknowledged that his design for the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford was influenced by Serlio's engraving of the Theatre of Marcellus.

Portico d'Ottavia

The Porticus Octaviae (portico of Octavia; Italian: Portico di Ottavia) is an ancient structure in Rome. Built by Augustus in the name of his sister, Octavia Minor, at some time after 27 BC,[1] in place of the Porticus Metelli, the porticus enclosed within its colonnaded walks the temples of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina, next to the Theater of Marcellus. It was burned in 80 and restored, probably by Domitian, and again after a second fire in 203 by Septimius Severus and Caracalla. It was adorned with foreign marble, and contained many famous works of art, ennumerated in Pliny's Natural History. Besides the pre-existing temples, the enclosure included a library erected by Octavia in memory of her son M. Caludius Marcellus, the curia Octaviae, and a schola. Whether these were different parts of one building, or entirely different structures, is uncertain. It was probably in the curia that the senate is recorded as meeting.[3] The whole is referred to by Pliny the Elder as Octaviae opera. In the medieval era, it was used as a fish market, which lasted up to the end of 19th century. this role is remembered by the name of the annexed church of Sant'Angelo in Pescheria (Italian: "St. Angelus in the Fish Market"). The portico, which lies in rione Sant'Angelo, represents the center of the Roman Ghetto.


The Great Synagogue of Rome (Italian: Tempio Maggiore di Roma) is the largest synagogue in Rome. The building was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870, when the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome from the Napoleonic regime, which backed the Papal States. Victor Emmanuel II dismantled the Roman Ghetto and granted the Jews citizenship. The building which had previously housed the ghetto synagogue (a complicated structure housing five scolas in a single building) was demolished, and the Jewish community began making plans for a new and impressive building. Designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni, the synagogue was built from 1901 to 1904 on the banks of the Tiber, overlooking the former ghetto. The eclectic style of the building makes it stand out even in a city known for notable buildings and structures. This attention-grabbing design was a deliberate choice made by the community at the time who wanted the building to be a visible celebration of their freedom and to be seen from many vantage points in the city. The aluminium dome is the only squared dome in the city and makes the building easily identifiable even from a distance. Plates honor the local Jewish victims of Nazi Germany and of a Palestine Liberation Organization attack in 1982. On April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II made an unexpected visit to the Great Synagogue. This event marked the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue since the early history of the Roman Catholic Church. He prayed with Rabbi Elio Toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome. This was seen by many as an attempt to improve relations between Catholicism and Judaism and a part of Pope John Paul II's program to improve relations with Jews. The synagogue celebrated its centenary in 2004. In addition to serving as a house of worship, it is also serves a cultural and organizational center for la Comunità Ebraica di Roma (the Jewish community of Rome). It houses not only the offices of the Chief Rabbi of Rome as well as the Jewish Museum of Rome. On January 17, 2005, 13 cantors, in conjunction with the Jewish Ministers Cantors Association of America (the Chazzanim Farband), performed in a cantorial concert for the first time in the synagogue's history.

Piazza Mattei

Piazza Mattei is one of the most central squares in Rome. It is named after the one of the noble family families of Rome- the Mattei family who had extensive property bordering the square. They were an important family of the Middle Ages who controlled the left bank of the Tiber river. The Turtle Fountain or the Fontana delle Tartuge is in the middle of the piazza. It was commissioned by and built for the Mattei family. It is one of the most beautiful and elegant fountains in Rome. Between 1581 and 1584 Giacomo della Porta designed it using bronze sculptures by T. Landini. Originally four dolphins occupied the place of the four turtles. In 1648 Gian Lorenzo Bernini added the turtles. Unfortunately the turtles were often stolen and are now replaced by copies. However three of the original turtles can be found in the Capitoline Museum. During the 1400's the Jews grouped themselves around the Tiber in an area around the square, which is presently called Piazza Mattei. The Mattei family used the Jews to construct important buildings for trade and commerce in this area. In return they offered them whatever protection they needed. Between 1555 and 1844 the Turtle Fountain was the only source of water for the residents of the Jewish Ghetto nearby. Currently there still remain a few fragments of the Ghetto near Piazza Mattei.


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