You’re bound to notice the difference with the stairs we just descended when you’ve reached the top and see the wall of the Santa Maria Aracoeli. The Santa Maria Aracoeli was, of course, built on the foundations of an old temple devoted to a heathen mother goddess (comparable to the Magna Mater Cybele; see Palatine). As the name indicates, the church is also devoted to a mother, namely the Madonna (Aracoeli Madonna). You will see a typical Roman church when we enter.
“In 1571, Santa Maria in Aracoeli hosted the celebrations honoring Marcantonio Colonna after the victorious Battle of Lepanto over the Turkish fleet. Marking this occasion, the compartmented ceiling was gilded and painted (finished 1575), to thank the Blessed Virgin for the victory.” […]
“Among its numerous treasures are Pinturicchio’s 15th-century frescoes depicting the life of Saint Bernardino of Siena in the Bufalini Chapel, the first chapel on the right. Other features are the wooden ceiling, the inlaid cosmatesque floor, a Transfiguration painted on wood by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta, and works by other artists like Pietro Cavallini (of his frescoes only one survives), Benozzo Gozzoli [Donatelo Giovanni Crivelli ], and Giulio Romano.” Source Wikipedia
At the Bufalini’s family chapel, to the right of the main entrance, you can see frescos by Pinturicchio. We will encounter more work by this artist in the Vatican museum. He painted a fresco cycle about the life of the holy Bernardinus of Siena (Bellini) that mainly depicted the servants of this holy man
The third chapel to the left also has a panel by Gozzoli about the St. Antonius of Padua. There is also seen a fragment of a fresco by Pietro Cavallini.
All twenty-two columns that separate the nave from the aisles are different. The third to the left still has the inscription: a cubiculo Augustorum. This indicates that this column likely comes from the emperor’s sleeping quarters. One of the tombstones is the one of Felice de Fredis. He was a gardener who, on January 14 1506, encountered a stone vault that was above the famous sculpture the Laocoon. Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo were present during this sculpture’s excavation which is now in the Vatican museum. They immediately saw that this was the sculpture that Pliny the Elder described as: “This is the case with the Laocoon in the palace of the emperor Titus, a work superior to any painting and any bronze. Laocoon, his children and the wonderful clasping coils of the snakes were caned from a single block in accordance with an agreed plan by those eminent craftsmen Hagesander, Polydorus and Athenodorus, all of Rhodes.” Pliny’s Natural History Book 36
“There is a curious letter not generally known, but published by the Abate Fea, from Francesco da Sangallo, the sculptor, to Monsignore Spedalengo, in which the circumstances of the discovery of the Laocoön are thus alluded to. The letter is dated 1509. He says, “It being told to the Pope that some fine statues had been discovered in a vineyard near S. Maria Maggiore, he sent to desire my father, (Giuliano da Sangallo) to go and examine them. Michael Angelo Buonarotti being often at our house, father got him to go also; and so,” continues Francesco, “I mounted behind my father, and we went. descended to where the statues were. My father immediately exclaimed, ‘This is the Laocoön spoken of by Pliny!’ [Wikipedia] They made the workmen enlarge the aperture or excavation, so as to be able to draw them out, and then, having seen them, we returned to dinner.” Source
At the back and to the right at the sacristy, there is a separate chapel. This holds the famed and beloved Il Santo Bambino.
This wooden sculpture was carved from a tree from the garden of Gethsemane. The depiction of the child is lined with gold and jewels and stands atop the altar in a glass box. Many letters from around the world adorn the sculpture, which mostly request divine help. On January 6, the night of the Epiphany, the Santo Bambino is placed on the plateau of the Santa Maria Aracoeli for the city’s holy ceremonial blessings. Every year during the Christmas holidays, the sculpture visits children wards in hospitals to provide comfort and possibly even a cure.
“It is custom to gift the Bambino jewellery after miracles or fulfilled prayers. If the patient would heal, the lips of the sculpture would turn a deep-red, otherwise they simply remained pale. Surrounding the Bambino are letters sent to him by people all over the world. The current sculpture is a replica; the original was stolen in 1994. A princess of the Borghese-family tried to steal it in the 18th century. She replaced the doll with a copy, but the following thunderous night, with self-sounding church bells and loud knocks on the door, the sculpture was allegedly found crying on the church steps.” Source: Wikipedia and English
We walk around the back towards the monument that was built for Victor Emanuel II in 1885.
We have a look behind the colonnade of this ‘wedding cake’ or ‘typewriter’ as this huge white marble construction from Brescia is often called in jest. If we descend down the steps of the cordonato and take a right turn towards the Via dei Foro Imperiale, we see the remnants of a Roman apartment building, a so called insulae (click here for Wikipedia).
We walk back and cross the Via dei Fori Imperiali, a road constructed by Mussolini (situation prior to Mussolini’s interventions). On our right hand side we can see the remnants of the imperial forums. Finally, we head into the Via Cavour. We’ll take a break at some of the affordable terraces on the right.
After the break we walk to the arch of Constantine