Showing posts with label Castel Sant'Angelo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Castel Sant'Angelo. Show all posts

9 January 2018

Massimiliano Fuksas – architect

Brilliant designs illuminate cities worldwide


Massimiliano Fuksas is one of Italy's foremost architects of the modern era
Massimiliano Fuksas is one of Italy's foremost
architects of the modern era
The international architect Massimiliano Fuksas, whose work has influenced the urban landscape in more than a dozen countries across the globe, was born on this day in 1944 in Rome.

The winner of multiple awards, Fuksas sits alongside Antonio Citterio and Renzo Piano as the most important figures in contemporary Italian architectural design.

His Fuksas Design company, which has its headquarters in a Renaissance palace near Piazza Navona in Rome, also has offices in Paris and in Shenzhen, China, employing 140 staff.

Among more than 600 projects completed by the company in 40 years, those that stand out include Terminal Three at the Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport in China, the New National Archives of France at Pierrefitte sur Seine-Saint Denis, the Peres Peace House in Tel Aviv,  the Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg, the Armani Ginza Tower in Tokyo, the Italian Space Agency headquarters in Rome and the FieraMilano Trade Fair complex on the outskirts of Milan.

Ongoing projects include the new EUR Hotel and Conference Centre in Rome, the Duomo metro station in Naples, the Australia Forum centre in Canberra, Australia and the Rhike Park music theatre and museum complex in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Fuksas, who had a Lithuanian father and an Italian mother of Austrian heritage, wanted to be an artist and in the early 1960s would work in the studio of the painter Giorgio de Chirico, who had been the founder of the Scuola Metafisica in Italian art in the early part of the century, which had similarities with the Surrealism movement that emerged in Paris at around the same time.  

Fuksas's Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg resembles a giant paper lantern
Fuksas's Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg resembles
a giant paper lantern 
He spent time in London with Archigram, a group of avant-garde architects, and also visited Copenhagen before returning to Rome to enrol at Sapienza University, where he graduated in architecture in 1969.

Setting up a studio with his first wife, Anna Maria Sacconi, in the 1970s he worked on many public sector projects in Lazio, particularly in the towns of Anagni and Paliano.

Fuksas’s reputation began to grow after a leading architecture magazine in France ran a feature about his municipal gymnasium project in Paliano, famous for a façade that appears to have become detached from the main building and leans at a seemingly precarious angle.  It led him to be invited to exhibit at the Paris Biennial of 1982.

Since 1985 he has shared a professional as well as personal relationship with Doriana Mandrelli, a designer from Rome who graduated from Sapienza University in 1979. She became his second wife and is the mother of his three daughters, Elisa, Lavinia and Priscilla.

The FieraMilano site is notable for its undulating mesh roof
The FieraMilano site is notable for its
undulating mesh roof
By the 1990s, major international projects were keeping Fuksas continuously busy, including the Twin Tower office and residential development in Vienna, the Europark retail complex in Salzburg and the modernisation of the PalaLottomatica sports venue in Rome’s EUR district.

In 2004, the new headquarters and research centre for Ferrari at Maranello in Emilia-Romagna and the Nardini Research Centre at Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto were completed, followed the following year by the FieraMilano site between the suburbs of Rho and Pero.

With Doriana running the business, a lucrative deal was struck with Armani to revamp some stores and construct new ones, among the most eye-catching being the Armani Ginza Tower in Tokyo.

Although he has moved away from the bizarre and surrealistic, into which category the façade of the Paliano gymnasium fell, Fuksas still wanted his buildings to have a bold visual impact and would use conventional materials to create unusual effects.

For example, he wanted the roof of the FieraMilano to resemble draped cloth and achieved this with an undulating mesh of steel and glass.  With the circular Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg, the use of an irregular steel frame covered with a translucent textile membrane creates the impression, especially at night, of a giant lantern.

The terminal Fuksas designed for Shenzen Bao'an International airport in China
The terminal Fuksas designed for Shenzen Bao'an
International airport in China
The airport terminal in Shenzen, which Fuksas designed after winning a competition from a field that included the British architectural star Sir Norman – now Lord – Foster, itself resembles the frame of an aeroplane.

Fuksas and his family divide their time between homes in Rome, where they have a substantial apartment overlooking Castel Sant’Angelo, and in Paris, where their residence is on the fashionable Place de Vogues in the Marais neighbourhood.

Unlike some architects obsessed with modernity, Fuksas is respectful of history.  In fact, he says he would do nothing with the traditional historic centres of Italian cities except turn them into clean and airy pedestrian zones, empty of traffic except for metro trains and non-polluting buses and trams, beginning with Rome and Naples.

Fuksas's design for the facade of a gymnasium complex in the town of Paliano was bizarre but drew attention
Fuksas's design for the facade of a gymnasium complex
in the town of Paliano was bizarre but drew attention
Travel tip:

The medieval hill town of Anagni, full of steep, narrow streets offering shade from the summer sun, used to be popular with Roman emperors as a cooler, fresher place to which to retreat from the oppressive heat of the summer.  It also produced four popes, all from the Conti family.  Paliano is among the smaller, neighbouring towns and villages.

Rome's cylindrical Castel Sant' Angelo seen across the  bridge over the Tiber river
Rome's cylindrical Castel Sant' Angelo seen across the
bridge over the Tiber river
Travel tip:

Once the tallest building in Rome, the distinctively cylindrical Castel Sant’Angelo was originally commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian to be built on the right bank of the Tiber as a mausoleum for him and his family, although it was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle.  An urn containing Hadrian's ashes was placed there a year after his death in 138, together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius. The remains of subsequent emperors were also placed there, the last recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217, although after the building’s conversion to military use it became a target for Visigoth looters in the fifth century and most of the urns were destroyed and their contents randomly scattered.


10 July 2017

The death of Hadrian

Legacy of emperor famous for wall across Britain


A bust of Hadrian from the Farnese Collection in Naples
A bust of Hadrian from the Farnese
Collection in Naples
The Roman emperor Hadrian, famous for ordering the construction of a wall to keep barbarians from entering Roman Britain, died on this day in 138 AD.

Aged about 62, he is thought to have been suffering from heart failure and passed away at his villa at Baiae – now Baia – on the northern shore of the Bay of Naples.

Hadrian was regarded as the third of the five so-called "Good Emperors", a term coined by the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who noted that while most emperors to succeed to the throne by birth were “bad” in his view, there was a run of five - Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius – who all succeeded by adoption, who enjoyed the reputation as benevolent dictators. They governed by earning the good will of their subjects.

It is accepted that Hadrian came from a family with its roots in Hispania. His birthplace is thought to have been the city of Italica Hispania – on the site of what is now Seville.

His predecessor, Trajan, a maternal cousin of Hadrian's father, did not designate an heir officially and it is thought that his wife, Plotina, signed the papers of succession, claiming that Trajan had named Hadrian emperor immediately before his death.

Hadrian’s rule was just and largely peaceful. Immediately on his succession he withdrew from Trajan's conquests in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Armenia. Paradoxically, he spent a lot of time with his soldiers, usually dressed in military attire and ordered rigorous military training.

Although much of Hadrian's Wall has been dismantled over the years, some sections remain
Although much of Hadrian's Wall has been dismantled
over the years, some sections remain.
During his reign, Hadrian travelled to almost every corner of the empire but was a particular admirer of Greece. He wanted Athens to be the cultural capital of the empire and constructed many opulent temples in the city.

In 138, shortly before his death, Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius and named him as his heir on the condition that he in turn adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his own heirs.

Hadrian’s building projects are perhaps his most enduring legacy. He established cities throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece.  The city of Antinopolis in Egypt was founded in memory of Hadrian’s gay lover, a young Greek man called Antinous, who drowned in the River Nile.

In Rome he rebuilt the Pantheon, which had been destroyed in a fire, and Trajan’s Forum as well as funding the construction of other buildings, baths, and villas. He commissioned the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in 122 AD following a major rebellion against Roman occupation that lasted two years.

The ruins of the imperial complex at Baia, where Hadrian was probably living at the time of his death
The ruins of the imperial complex at Baia, where Hadrian
was probably living at the time of his death
The wall was originally three metres (10 feet) wide and 6m (20 ft) high, stretching 120km (73 miles) from east to west, from Wallsend in Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway, just west of Carlisle. Linking 14 forts, it formed a barrier between the northern limits of Britannia and the barbarian lands of Scotland. The Roman legions stationed in Britain took six years to build it and it became the most famous Roman defensive fortification in the world.

Hadrian’s foreign policy was “peace through strength” and the wall, alongside which was a ditch 6m wide and 3m deep, symbolised the might of the Roman Empire.

After his death, Hadrian was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate that had once belonged to Cicero. Not long afterwards, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia. On completion of the Tomb of Hadrian by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138.

A submerged Roman statue at Baia
A submerged Roman statue at Baia 
Travel tip:

For many years, Baiae – now Baia – was something of a party capital for the rich and powerful Roman elite. It was famous for its healing medicinal hot springs and the emperors Nero, Cicero, and Caesar had holiday villas there.  Sacked by the Saracens in the eighth century it fell into disrepair and the abandoned remains were gradually submerged as water rose through the volcanic vents that were the source of its springs. Today, those ancient remains can be visited in one of the world’s few underwater archeological parks. Visitors can view the crumbled structures and statuary of the city through glass-bottomed boats and scuba divers can actually swim among the ruins.

Castel Sant'Angelo - the Mausoleaum of Hadrian - viewed from the Ponte Sant'Angelo at night
Castel Sant'Angelo - the Mausoleaum of Hadrian - viewed
from the Ponte Sant'Angelo at night
Travel tip:

The Mausoleum of Hadrian is better known as Castel Sant'Angelo, the towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano, on the banks of the Tiber. Commissioned by the Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family, the building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. It was once the tallest building in Rome.  Hadrian also built the Pons Aelius – now Ponte Sant’Angelo – which provides a scenic approach to the mausoleum from the centre of Rome across the Tiber. Baroque statues of angels were later added, lining each side of the bridge.





6 May 2017

The Sack of Rome

Mutinous army of Holy Roman Empire laid waste to city


Imperial forces attack Rome
Imperial forces attack Rome
An army loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, laid siege to the city of Rome on this day in 1527, at the start of the Sack of Rome, a significant event in the conflict between Charles and the so-called League of Cognac that had profound implications for Rome’s wealth and power.

Rome at the time was part of the Papal States, who at the behest of Pope Clement VII had joined the League of Cognac – an alliance that included France, Milan, Florence and Venice – in an effort to stop the advance of the Empire, which had its centre of power in the Kingdom of Germany, into the Italian peninsula.

After the Imperial Army had defeated the French at Pavia in the Italian War of 1521-26, it would have been a logical step for Charles to march on Rome but the attack is said to have come about not through any planned strategy but after a mutiny among his troops, many of whom were hired mercenaries, after it became clear there were insufficient funds available to pay them.

Pope Clement VII, depicted by Sebastiano del Piombo in 1531
Pope Clement VII, depicted by Sebastiano
del Piombo in 1531
Aware of the rich treasures they could seize if they stormed Rome and overthrew Clement VII, 34,000 Imperial troops, an army made up of Germans, Spaniards and Italians, demanded that their commander, Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, led them towards Rome.

They left Arezzo in Tuscany on April 20 and, with the army of Florence distracted by an uprising against the Medici, proceeded without too much resistance to the walls of Rome.

The walls were substantial physically but poorly defended. Under the command of Francesco Guicciardini, the city’s garrison numbered only 8,000 men, including the 2,000-strong Swiss Guard.

They had the advantage of artillery around the perimeter of the city but though the Duke of Bourbon was himself shot dead - legend has it by the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini - the ferocity of the Imperial soldiers overwhelmed the defending army, which crumbled rapidly. The invaders swept into the city, killing almost everyone they encountered, armed or otherwise. By sunset, Rome was under their control.

The Pope’s personal protection amounted to 189 of the Swiss Guard, who fought bravely on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. All but 42 were killed but they created enough delay to allow Clement VII to escape along a tunnel, the Passetto di Borgo, into the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo.

There he was besieged as the pillage of the city began. The Protestant Landsknecht – the 14,000 strong German core of the Imperial troops – are said to have harboured a particular hatred for Catholic Rome and its Renaissance treasures. Churches and monasteries, as well as the palaces of prelates and cardinals, were looted and destroyed. The rampaging soldiers would spare lives and properties only in return for ransom payments.

Clement VII escaped to Castel Sant'Angelo along a secret passage while the Swiss Guard fought on the steps of St Peter's
Clement VII escaped to Castel Sant'Angelo along a secret
passage while the Swiss Guard fought on the steps of St Peter's
Meanwhile, on May 8, Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, a personal enemy of Clement VII, entered the city, accompanied by peasants seeking to avenge the devastation to their land by Papal armies.

Clement surrendered in June, agreeing to pay a huge ransom and hand over substantial territory to Charles V, who was said to be shocked by the brutal conduct of his troops but happily accept the advantage he had gained.

The defeat effectively marked the end of the Roman Renaissance, damaging the papacy's prestige.  An estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people were murdered and the population of Rome declined in the years following from 55,000 to 10,000.

The pillaging lasted nine months, ending when there was no one left to ransom and food supplies ran out.  Ironically, many Imperial soldiers themselves died from from diseases caused by the large number of unburied bodies in the city.

Today, in commemoration of the Sack and of the Swiss Guard's bravery in protecting Clement VII, May 6 is the designated day each year for new recruits to the Swiss Guard to be sworn in.

The view across Rome from the Gianicolo hill
The view across Rome from the Gianicolo hill
Travel tip:

The Gianicolo – or Janiculum – is one of the hills outside the walls of ancient Rome from which the 1527 attack was launched. Today it provides one of the best locations to enjoy a scenic view of the centre of the city and its domes and bell towers. The Gianicolo itself is the home of the church of San Pietro in Montorio, built on what was once thought to be the site of St Peter's crucifixion. A small shrine, the Tempietto, designed by Donato Bramante, marks the supposed site of Peter's death. The hill is also the location of The American University of Rome, Pontifical Urban University, and Pontifical North American College. Other notable buildings include the Palazzo Montorio, residence of the Ambassadors of Spain, and the Villa Lante al Gianicolo, designed in 1520 by the Mannerist painter and architect Giulio Romano.

The swearing-in ceremony for the papal Swiss Guard takes place in the courtyard of San Damaso on May 6
The swearing-in ceremony for the papal Swiss Guard
takes place in the courtyard of San Damaso on May 6
Travel tip:

The protection provided to the pope by the Swiss Guard goes back to a 15th century alliance between Pope Sixtus IV and the Swiss Confederacy, which in turn resulted in the Swiss supplying a contingent of 200 mercenaries to be based permanently at the Vatican at the request of  PopeJulius II. The defence of the pontiff in 1527 remains their most significant military action. The loss of the 147 guards killed on the steps of St Peter’s is marked each year with a ceremony in the San Damaso courtyard inside the Apostolic Palace, open to members of the public, at which the year’s input of new recruits to the Guard are sworn in.


More reading:


Francesco Guicciardini - statesman, military leader, historian

How Rome was founded

Preacher Girolamo Savonarola's 'war' on the Renaissance


Also on this day:


1895: The birth of silent movie star Rudolph Valentino





6 February 2017

Beatrice Cenci - Roman heroine

Aristocrat's daughter executed for murder of abusive father



Guido Reni's portrait of Beatrice, in prison clothes, is thought to have been painted in 1662
Guido Reni's portrait of Beatrice, in prison
clothes, is thought to have been painted in 1662
Beatrice Cenci, the daughter of an aristocrat whose execution for the murder of her abusive father became a legendary story in Roman history, was born on this day in 1577 in the family's palace off the Via Arenula, not far from what is now the Ponte Garibaldi in the Regola district.

Cenci's short life ended with her beheading in front of Castel Sant'Angelo on 11 September 1599, with most of the onlookers convinced that an injustice had taken place.

Her father, Francesco Cenci, had a reputation for violent and immoral behaviour that was widely known and had often been found guilty of serious crimes in the papal court. Yet where ordinary citizens were routinely sentenced to death for similar or even lesser offences, he was invariably given only a short prison sentence and frequently bought his way out of jail.

Romans appalled at this two-tier system of justice turned Beatrice into a symbol of resistance against the arrogance of the aristocracy and her story has been preserved not only in local legend but in many works of literature.

In the early 19th century, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was living in Italy, was so moved by her story that he turned it into a drama in verse entitled The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

Subsequently, the story has been the subject of at least a dozen plays and short stories, including works by Stendhal, Alexandre Dumas, Antonin Arnaud, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Alberto Moravia. It has also inspired at least two full-length novels and five operas or musical dramas.

The Palazzo dei Cenci, off Via Arenula, was the Cenci family's palatial home in the 16th century
The Palazzo dei Cenci, off Via Arenula, was the Cenci
family's palatial home in the 16th century
The Mannerist painter Guido Reni painted a portrait of Cenci that is on display at the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica  in Palazzo Barberini. A sculpture of her carved by the American sculptor Harriet Goodhue Hosmer in 1857 can be found at the University of Missouri-St Louis.  The Italian director, Lucio Fulci, made a film of her life in 1969.

According to the legend, Francesco Cenci, one of the wealthiest men in Rome, abused his first wife Ersilia Santacroce and his sons and repeatedly raped Beatrice while living in the Palazzo Cenci. He was jailed for incest among other crimes but always freed early.

Beatrice's elder sister, Antonina, escaped when she was granted permission by the papal authorities to marry without her father's consent. But Beatrice was sent away, along with Cenci's second wife, Lucrezia, to live in the family's country castle at La Petrella del Salto in the Abruzzi mountains, together with his son by his second marriage, Bernardo.

There the abuse continued, leading Beatrice to write to her brother, Giacomo, in desperation.  When he joined them at the castle, in 1598, they devised a plot to kill Francesco.

With the help of two servants - one of whom, Olimpio, was thought to have been Beatrice's lover - they drugged Francesco and then bludgeoned him to death with a hammer, before throwing him off a balcony in the hope it would look like an accident.

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer's sculpture of Beatrice Cenci at the University of Missuori-St Louis
Harriet Goodhue Hosmer's sculpture of Beatrice Cenci
at the University of Missuori-St Louis
However, the papal police decided to investigate what had happened, found blood in Francesco's bed and placed the family and Olimpio, under house arrest, where they were subjected to interrogation and torture.

Olimpio died without revealing that Beatrice was the mastermind but the others confessed one by one. All were sentenced to death with the exception of Bernardo, who was told he would witness the executions, serve a prison sentence and then live his life as a galley slave, although in the event he was released from prison after a year.

A protest on the streets of Rome by people who knew the circumstances behind the murder gained a short postponement of the execution. Yet Pope Clement VIII, anxious not to legitimise familial murders, showed no mercy.

Following the executions, Beatrice was buried in the church of San Pietro in Montorio, on Gianicolo hill in Trastevere.  The legend has it that every year on the night before the anniversary of her death, she comes back to the bridge where she was executed, carrying her severed head.


The plaque commemorating Beatrice Cenci on Via di Monserrato in Rome
The plaque commemorating Beatrice Cenci on
Via di Monserrato in Rome
Travel tip:

Evidence of how much the story of Beatrice Cenci means to Rome can be found on Via di Monserrato, along the route the Cenci family members took on the morning of their executions, from the Corte Savella prison to Castel Sant'Angelo, accompanied by members of the Brotherhood of St. John the Decapitated. On the 500th anniversary of her death, the city put up a plaque, bearing the inscription: "From here, where once stood the prison of Corte Savella, on September 11, 1599 Beatrice Cenci was taken to the gallows, an exemplary victim of unfair justice."


Travel tip:

Some of the relics of the day of the execution have made their way to the Museo Criminologico in Via del Gonfalone, off the Lungotevere dei Sangallo. These include the so-called “sword of justice” that killed Lucrezia and Beatrice, as well as clothes worn by the monks who accompanied them. There is also a replica of a stripped man being drawn and quartered, which was the fate of Giacomo.


More reading:

How a dramatic storm took the life of the poet Shelley

The tragic nun whose funeral brought Rome to a standstill

The work that turned Alberto Moravia into a major literary figure

Also on this day:

1778: The birth of the poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo

1908: The birth of six-times Italian prime minister Amintore Fanfani

(Picture credits: sculpture by Quartermaster; plaque by Lalupa; via Wikimedia Commons)


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