Mirabilia Urbis: Rome Walking Tours

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The Quirinal Hill

After a string of devastating invasions in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., the Quirinal hill, its pleasure gardens, public baths, and senatorial villas were slowly abandoned.
In 537 A.D., when Goth assailants destroyed the aqueducts that furnished Rome with water, the Quirinal, Rome's tallest hill, was left literally high and dry--and would remain so for the next thousand years. In the mid-1500s, however, Cardinal Felice Peretti disrupted a millennium of neglect by constructing a villa on the untended hill. (Later on, after he became a busy builder-pope, his family insignia, a lion with pear leaves or pears (Peretti means little pear in Italian), would spring up all over town.)
As Pope Sixtus V, he restored an ancient Roman aqueduct in order to irrigate the neighborhood around his villa. Three fountains were then built along the Quirinal's ridge to celebrate the return of fresh, running water. These are the magnificent Dioscuri Fountain in Piazza del Quirinale (where we meet), the mediocre Quattro Fontane, and the confused Moses Fountain--we'll discuss all three.
The reconstructed aqueduct and sparkling fountains attracted new inhabitants and many religious orders start calling the Quirinal their home. The Carmelites refurbished a church, now called Santa Maria della Vittoria, near the Moses Fountain. Not only a Baroque gem in itself, it also boasts the pinnacle of Baroque statuary, the Ecstasy of Santa Teresa by Bernini.
Just down the road from Santa Maria della Vittoria is Borromini's masterpiece, the cozy church of San Carlo. In his early years, Borromini was so anxious to launch his career that he offered his architectural services to the poor religious order of the Discalced Trinitarians for free. The church was dedicated to the Counter Reformation hero, the Milanese Charles (Carlo) Borromeo, who also may have been a source of inspiration to Borromini. Although a difficult commission, Borromini was selflessly dedicated to the Trinitarians' project. Stark yet joyful, the church is a gem that expresses Borromini's and the Trinitarians' personal feelings about the Divine. We'll pay special attention to the church's hidden geometry: that marvel of lines that heightens our emotions and controls our gaze.
In contrast, almost as if he sought to snub his competition just down the road, Bernini constructed the lavish church of Sant'Andrea for the Jesuits several years later. Bernini, in his old age, would sit in his circular church and admire his own work for hours, enjoying the sunlight on gold sunbursts and the shifting light on the warm red marble lining the walls. Faced with some of the same spatial challenges as Borromini at San Carlo, Bernini opts for different solutions. Thus two prodigies of Baroque architecture produce two totally different Baroque masterpieces.