We take the metro to the Piazza del Popolo and get off at Flaminio. That takes us directly to the square that you have already visited earlier to see the Santa Maria del Popolo. We are now here to see the famous ‘trident’, that would get a European following (for example in Versailles). The three streets are: Via del Babuino in the middle the Via del Corso (aerial) and on the right the Via Leonina (renamed Via di Ripetta).
As described earlier, the city’s street pattern was radically altered in the 16th century. In contrast with other cities such as for instance Florence and Venice, the middle ages were not a period of prosperity for Rome. The popes were living in exile in Avginon from 1309 until 1377. After the western schism there were two popes and later even three. After his election, Martin V was the first pope to take up residence in Rome again. There was a lot of work to be done; the city had been badly damaged as the result of all kinds of feudal conflicts. The restoration of Rome was for the most part the work of artists from outside who came to live in the eternal city. The great importance of Martin V lies in his creation of the ‘magistri viarum’, an institution staffed by a group of specialists including architects and engineers who were granted broad powers. They were tasked with straightening the street pattern and building new ones when necessary.
Later popes would gratefully make use of the ‘magistri viarum’ or the bureau. As its powers grew, its influence grew along with them. The bureau raised taxes, made plans, expropriated houses and land, and oversaw the execution of its plans. External experts were often brought in for prestigious projects, for instance Sangallo the younger or Raphael. The bureau’s heads were often high-placed officials of the Curia or ambassadors.
In 1550 the inhabited area of Rome was only a fraction of the city’s size in antiquity. Entire districts within the old Aurelian walls were only sparsely populated. There were many large gardens, vineyards and areas full of rubble and classical ruins (see: G.B. Falda Map of Rome, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam). The residents were concentrated in a few precincts that were always centred on important Christian basilicas. Pilgrims visited their ‘stations’ consisting of the city’s main churches (Wikipedia the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome British Museum).
The popes of the second half of the 16th century wanted to make these areas more accessible by building new streets, improving old ones and creating the necessary new connections. This meant tackling the mediaeval street pattern and some of the roads dating back to antiquity. A new network of streets was superimposed on mediaeval and classical Rome. Most of these popes didn’t serve more than ten years at the most. City planning was therefore always an issue that involved many popes. Each of these pontiffs wanted to reconstruct or at least straighten ‘his’ street. There were two meandering arteries in this maze of winding streets: the Via del Governo Vecchio and Via del Pellegrino (partly still there today).
Ponte Sisto as connection between Trastevere and far side of the Tiber Old connection
Three ways were used to make better connections in the city:
- Straightening existing streets such as the Via dei Pettinari (ends at the Ponte Sisto, the street level was raised).
- Restoring a road from antiquity that had fallen into disuse, for example the Via della Lungara (leads to Trastevere past the Villa Farnesina entrance) and the restoration of the Ponte Sisto to create a better connection between Trastevere and the other side of the Tiber.
- Create a completely new passage. Pope Alexander VI created an open space measuring 450 meters in the Borgo district in 1500, a holy year that attracted many visitors. Julius II took things a step further, he built a new road, the Lungaretta (700 meters long) that cut straight through the working class district Trastevere and leads to the Ponte Palatino. Julius II also created a new connection to the Via Giulia. Finally, he widened the Via dei Banchi (Vecchi red line) to align this street of bankers with the Ponte Sant’Angelo.
See here for the map: the opening up of Rome in the 16th century through a pattern of straight streets and Sixtus V’s plan. New ideas are introduced to the street pattern, such as the trident, perfectly straight streets, and a grid of wide main streets. North of the mediaeval city centre was the practically empty Campus Martius. A street there was later extended and converted into the Corso. Sixtus V had made a start with building up the area. He had a district constructed on the edge of the city. Large groups of people from the southern Slavic coast who had fled for the Turks found a place to live there. Piazza del Popolo before the major reconstruction. Wikipedia: urban planning Rome.
New ideas are introduced to the street pattern, such as the trident, perfectly straight streets, and a grid of wide main streets (See here for the map: the opening up of Rome in the 16th century through a pattern of straight streets and Sixtus V’s plan). North of the mediaeval city centre was the practically empty Campus Martius. A street there was later extended and converted into the Corso. Sixtus V had made a start with building up the area. He had a district constructed on the edge of the city. Large groups of people from the southern Slavic coast who had fled for the Turks found a place to live there. Piazza del Popolo before the major reconstruction. Wikipedia: reforms in the city of Rome.
Sixtus IV also had a monastery built next to the Santa Maria del Popolo. The street plan of this new district to this day is determined by the famous ‘trident’, the first in history. The Corso was already there. There was one more straight street running next to it, later followed by a third, the Via Leonina (renamed Via di Ripetta, close to the Tiber). The Via Leonina was consecrated by Leo X in 1518. It ended at the Medici family’s Palazzo Madama (Leo X was a Medici). The new street enabled him to walk the 1200 meters from the Porto Popolo to his palace in a straight line via the Ripetta and Via della Scrofa. Just like the Via della Lungara, the first section of the Via Leonina led through gardens. The construction of this road took place under the supervision of Raphael and Sangallo the Younger. It was financed through a special tax for local residents, who reportedly consisted mainly of prostitutes. Major builders lent Julius II money, they had become rich as the result of his penchant for construction and could now afford to extend him a loan. When Clement VII is elected pope, the Via Leonina is only barely passable. Clement VII proposed to build a third street starting at the bottom of the hill: the Via Clementina, later renamed the Via del Babuino. It formed the third tine of the trident.
The Campus Martius is completely integrated into the city under Paul III (1534- 1549). The area was designated to absorb the population growth that occurred under Julius II, mainly in the Trastevere district. Two straight streets in the district created a good connection with the Campus Martius. Straight streets were constructed on both sides of the Tiber: the Via Giulia and the Via della Lungara. What’s more these two were connected by the Via della Lungaretta that led to the Ponte Palatino, allowing easy access to the other side of the Tiber. These connections started off quite modestly with the construction of the Via Paola, which created a good connection between the Ponte Sant’Angelo and the Via Giulia.
The Via Trinitatis (now Via Condotti; in line with the Spanish Steps) was constructed first, substantially improving the connection between the Vatican and the Campus Martius, more specifically the Trinità dei Monti. This plan created a good connection between the southern and northern half of the Campus Martius. Once completed, the further development of the trident could be taken in hand.
The Piazza del Popolo gained in importance as a result of the good connections. In 1589, Sixtus V (THE MET) marked the point of convergence of the thee streets with an obelisk. Another, smaller trident was constructed near the Ponte Sant’Angelo, including the Via di Panico, the Via Paola and the Via dei Banchi (The first section was renamed Via Banco San Spirito). Originally there was a beautiful jetty located at the end of the big triangle near the Tiber: the Porto di Ripetta. Unfortunately it later fell victim to the regulation of the Tiber.
The new streets ignored the slopes. They sometimes rise and drop 12 meters, and sometimes as much as 20 meters. In 1574, Gregory XII issued a papal bull (Quae publica utilia) that made it compulsory to demarcate the public space. Houses that did not range with the new streets were compelled to build a high wall along the building line, even if that meant having a wall right in front of your door and windows. Obelisks were used to mark the axes.
We take the left street of the trident, the Via dei Babuino (formerly the Via Clementina) walk past the Spanish Steps to end up in the narrow and busy Via di Propaganda Fide (to the right of the foremost façade of the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide)