Campo Marzio (Marzo is the archaic spelling) is the district named after the Campus Martius (Latin for "Field of Mars") in ancient Rome. It included the vast plains north of the Capitolium Hill, enclosed between the river Tiber to the west and the Pincian and Quirinal Hills to the east. Up to AD 275), when emperor Aurelian had the second set of city walls built, which considerably enlarged the urban territory, this area stretched outside the city boundaries. It was dedicated to the god of war because during the Republican Age, only military activities and sports were practised there.

view of the central and southern part of the Campus Martius during the Imperial
Age, already covered by several public buildings and crossed by via Lata (left)
During the Imperial Age, as the city kept growing beyond the old walls, several public buildings appeared, especially in the southern part of the area: stadiums for athletic games, gymnasiums, theatres, a naumachia (naval stadium), temples and shrines, dedicated not only to Mars, but also to other gods. By the end of the 1st century, the Campus Martius was already completely urbanized, as seen in the picture on the left.

The present Campo Marzio district occupies the northermost part of the ancient Campus Martius, stretching up to the heigths of the Pincio Hill (see map below). Therefore, it partly matches the Regio IX (Circus Flaminius) and partly the Regio IV (Via Lata, after the name of the main street, now called via del Corso, which from the Capitolium Hill reaches via Flaminia, running perfectly straight for about 1.5 km, or 1 mi).

The remaining part of the Campus Martius is now divided among several other districts, namely Colonna (R.III), Ponte (R.V), Parione (R.VI), Regola (R.VII), Sant'Eustachio (R.VIII) and Pigna (R.IX).

During the Middle Ages, the district was called Regio Posterule et Sancti Laurentii in Lucina, referring to the several minor gates (posterulae) of Aurelian's Wall that followed the course of the Tiber's bank, and to the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, which though today stands just beyond Campo Marzio's boundary, in the neighbour district Colonna.

A moon crescent, variously oriented.

Piazzale Flaminio; via Luisa di Savoia; lungotevere Arnaldo da Brescia; lungotevere in Augusta; piazza del Porto di Ripetta; lungotevere Marzio; via del Cancello; via dei Portoghesi; via della Stelletta; piazza Campo Marzio; via degli Uffici del Vicario; via di Campo Marzio; piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina; via Frattina; piazza Mignanelli; via dei Due Macelli; via Capo le Case; via Francesco Crispi; via di Porta Pinciana; viale del Muro Torto.

   size of the ancient Campus Martius
   size of the present Campo Marzio district

(the black numbers in brackets refer to the map on the right)

Over the Middle Ages, Campo Marzio fell into a long oblivion, which lasted almost one thousand years: on the steep Pincian Hill (called Collis Hortulorumi in those days (see Curious and Unusual), the villas of the wealthy ancient Romans were abandoned, while the public buildings in the plain area turned to ruins.
By the 1400s, a small community of immigrants from Illyria and Slavonia (today's Croatia and Slovenia) settled on the grounds by the river. In those days it was indeed a slum district, where early charity establishments were found, such as St.Rocco's Hospital for those who suffered from infectious diseases, and that of St.James of the Incurable, for the poor.
Then, when in 1570 running water became once again available in this part of Rome, the local population began to grow and Campo Marzio turned into an upmarket district, as testified by the many historical mansions of the same age that belonged to wealthy and aristocratic families.
The district's street plan has remained the same as in the 17th-18th centuries, with narrow streets, almost inaccessible to car traffic.

The hilly part is still mostly covered with parks, which include the Pincian Gardens [1], arranged over the 1800s, with a series of over two hundred busts of Italian personalities (see Curious and Unusual), which also offers one of the most breathtaking views over Rome.
images from the Pincian Hill: one of the busts, fantastic colours at dusk, and statues along viale D'Annunzio

The part of the district below the hill makes a striking contrast: it includes the most busy shopping streets, crowded by thousands of fashionable stores, bars, restaurants, night clubs.
Virtually anywhere in Campo Marzio business has become the true spirit of the district: the ground and first floors of many historical buildings now house various kinds of shops, which in some cases prove to be frankly intrusive.

the oratory turned into a showroom
A typical example is the small oratory of the Congregation of the Holy Sacrament [12] (1724), in via Belsiana, near the boundary with Colonna district, recently turned into the showroom of a famous brand of handbags.

the historical Caffč Greco
There are also a few historical establishments, such as the famous coffee bar Caffé Greco [13], in via dei Condotti, founded in 1760, which included among its patrons international celebrities such as Hector Berlioz, Nikolai Gogol, Giacomo Leopardi, Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Wagner, Orson Welles, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Arthur Schopenhauer and even William Frederick Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill!

During the working hours, Campo Marzio can be a real chaos, especially on Saturdays; but then, when the streets turn empty, fortunately the atmosphere becomes once again the original one. The best time to visit this district is in fact on Sundays, in the early hours of the day.

The focal spot of the district, from where three long and straight streets spring, crossing its whole length, is the wide piazza del Popolo [2], almost circular in shape. Its northern end is closed by the city gate Porta del Popolo (previously called Porta Flaminia in ancient Roman times, see Aurelian's Walls). The place name Popolo probably refers to a small grove of poplars (populi in Latin) that once grew over this area. In the days of old, the grounds just outside this gate were used for burying in common tombs all those who were not allowed to have a grave in a church or in a churchyard, such as bandits, prostitutes, non-Christians and even actors. It is easily understood how the grim fame of the place triggered the birth of legends.
view of piazza del Popolo from the Pincio Gardens
According to one of them, the ghost of Nero haunted these surroundings. Leaning against the gate, the historical church of Santa Maria del Popolo, i.e. St.Mary of the People (or of the Poplars, according to the aforesaid etymology) stands on the spot where originally was a large tomb belonging to the Domitii Ahenobarbi family. In AD 68, also the famous emperor, who was the son of Agrippina the Younger and Gneus Domitius Ahenobarbus, was buried there.

piazza del Popolo and its trident in the background
In the Middle Ages, the belief of Nero's ghost was so common among the people that in 1099 pope Paschal II had the ancient tomb taken down, and replaced with a small chapel, which later in time was enlarged into a real church. The present building dates back to c.1475, and boasts the record of being the first church in Rome with a dome. Renowned artists of the Renaissance age, such as Pinturicchio, Donatello, Andrea Bregno (who very likely also built the church) richly furnished it inside; the works include also two famous paintings by Caravaggio, and the lavish chapel that the rich banker Agostino Chigi had built by Raphael (c.1520), then finished by the middle of the following century by Gianlorenzo Bernini, under commission by pope Alexander VII, a member of the Chigi family himself.

the floor of the Chigi chapel (by Bernini)
In the centre of piazza del Popolo stands the tall Flaminian obelisk, described in the Obelisks monograph), resting on a large base with four Egyptian lions and four fountains in the corners, a work by Giuseppe Valadier, the architect who in c.1820 refurbished the square into its present look. A smaller fountain that stood by the obelisk since the late 1500s is now in piazza Nicosia, in the same Campo Marzio district (for details, see the Fountains monograph).
From the southern side of the square spring three long and straight diverging streets: together, they form the so-called trident, whose corners are marked by a couple of almost twin churches, built in the second half of the 1600s, by the time the ground was levelled and the square acquired its symmetric shape.

The street on the left, via del Babuino [3], was created between c.1520 and 1535. It was originally called Paolina Trifaria, in honour of pope Paul III who officially opened it ('Trifaria' referred to being one of the three streets that spring from the square); in order to populate it, the pope granted the exemption from taxes to all foreigners who moved there. Very soon the street changed its name after a popular small fountain located about midway its length, known as Babuino [4] (Baboon), described in Curious and Unusual and in Fountains, which also belonged to the so-called talking statues. The fountain stands by the Byzantine Catholic church of St.Athanasius (1583), built by Giacomo Della Porta; the clock on its left belltower, now without arms, was a gift by pope Clement XIV, in 1771. Since the late 1700s, the building next to the church was the atelier of the famous sculptor Antonio Canova; after his death, in 1822, it was handed down to his most distinguished pupil Adamo Tadolini, from whom it was in turn bequethed to his own descendants, for three generations of sculptors. When in 1967 the last Tadolini passed away, the atelier, still crowded with original models, studies and sculptures, was closed. In 2000 it was opened again, and turned into a small museum, with a posh café on the ground floor.
Canova lived and owned a large workshop nearby, which is mentioned further in the page.

il Museo Canova-Tadolini

'100 Painters at Via Margutta' exhibition
Parallel to via del Babuino, just below the Pincio Hill, runs the lovely via Margutta [5], a charming street where most of the penthouses act as art studios; the silence and the stillness of this street clash with the usual crowd and chaotic traffic, so typical of the district. Those who saw the famous film Roman Holidays can tell this as the street where at number 51 lived the reporter played by Gregory Peck. The real personalities who lived in via Margutta include director Federico Fellini, painter Renato Guttuso and several others. Here stands the small district fountain of Campo Marzio (1927), known as the Fountain of the Artists, featuring theater masks, paint brushes, and easels. Since 1953, this street hosts every year a colourful and charming open air contemporary art exhibition, '100 Painters at Via Margutta'.

By the end of via del Babuino, at number 115, a small plaque remembers the birthplace of the famous dialect poet Trilussa.

Here the street reaches one of the spots most loved by tourists, piazza di Spagna [6], named after the old Spanish Embassy (now Spanish Embassy by the Holy See), established there by the mid 1600s. On one side of the square, the famous Spanish Steps scenographically climb towards the 16th century church of Trinitą dei Monti, in front of which stands the small Sallustian obelisk, a Roman copy in reduced scale of the one in piazza del Popolo.

The Spanish Steps in the background
of the crowded via dei Condotti
It was built between 1721 and 1725, to mark symbolically the peace between the French and Spanish communities, among whom there had previously been some friction; the former lived above the hill, while the latter lived below. Before the staircase was built, there was only a rough and steep pathway along the bare side of the Pincio Hill.

Below the Spanish Steps, the famous Baroque fountain known as Barcaccia, by Pietro Bernini, the father of the more famous Gianlorenzo, decorates the the centre of the square, sinking below the ground level (its story can befound in the Fountains monograph).

the Barcaccia fountain

In the nearby piazza Mignanelli stands the towering column of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1857 by the will of Pio IX to commemorate the relevant dogma, which he had proclaimed three years earlier. Here every year, on December 8th, the Fire Brigade climbs to the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of the column and lays a wreath of flowers and, in the afternoon, the pope too pays a visit to the monument, a popular tradition that started in the 1920s.

Above the Spanish Steps, just before the church, stands the Sallustian obelisk, a small Roman copy of the Egyptian one in piazza del Popolo.

Nearby spring the steep via Sistina and via Gregoriana, divided by Palazzetto Zuccari [7], a small mansion dated c.1590 that the famous late Renaissance painter Federico Zuccari built for himself. Overtime it changed owner several times; in the early 1700s it acted as the Roman residence of the queen of Poland, who had the small porch added, with a balcony above (the doorway still features the Polish coat of arms). But its most striking doorway is the bizarre one along via Gregoriana, in the shape of a monster with an open mouth, flanked by two similar windows. It is now the seat of the German library Bibliotheca Hertziana, that philantropist Henriette Hertz gave to Rome in 1913.

Palazzetto Zuccari

On the opposite side of Trinitą dei Monti's church, about 200 m (or yds) away, stands the massive Villa Medici [8]. It dates between 1564, when its making started, over a preexisting building, to and 1576, when it was purchased by Ferdinando I de' Medici, a cardinal and the future grand duke of Tuscany; he enlarged both the mansion and the yet lavish garden at the back, now neighbouring the Pincian Gardens, forming together with the latter the whole eastern part of the district. The cardinal was very fond of ancient art, and gathered in the villa an extraordinary colection of Roman findings, partly unearthed in the grounds of his own properties, partly purchased.
The collection, though, was moved to Florence one and a half centuries later, whem the Medici branch whom Ferdinando belonged to became extinct, and the whole property was handed down to Leopold of Lorraine, the new grand duke of Tuscany. In 1803 Napoleon I wanted to turn Villa Medici into the Roman seat of the French Academy for young artists, an establishment still today housed in the building.

rings for tying horses: Villa Medici's 'parking lot' →

The central street of the trident is via del Corso [9]; in ancient Roman times this was the first stretch of the Flaminian way, which crossed an urbanized area north of the city boundary (up to AD 275 the city ended by the base of the Capitolium Hill). It was called via Lata, after which the Regio (district) was named, and it kept this name throughout the Middle Ages, until during the age of Renaissance, during Carnival (see Curious and Unusual) races began to take place along the street: the people started calling it il corso ("the raceway"), whence the following names Corso Umberto I and, finally, the present via del Corso. Today this is Rome's most important high street.

At number 18 is the house where the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived during his two-year stay in Rome (1786-88), now turned into a museum.

Once passed the church of St.James in Augusta, on the right springs via Antonio Canova, where the famous sculptor, previously mentioned, lived and had a rather large workshop [10], created by purchasing a number of houses, which previously belonged to the Dominicans who ran Santa Maria del Popolo's church, and joining them together into one complex.

ancient fragments by Canova's workshop and the sculptor's bust
The sculptor is remembered on the outside by a bust and a plaque dated 1871, surronded by several ancient fragments hanging from the wall. The workshop is now occupied by a private art gallery, but most of its halls have been turned into a day hospital. The latter is part of the historical St.James Hospital, which is housed in the long building on the opposite side of the street; it was founded in 1339, when this part of the district was still almost uninhabited, and it used to be called St.James of the Incurable because it admitted only those who suffered from diseases for which in those days no remedy was known, such as syphilis and sores. A plaque hanging along via del Corso remembers that the hospital boasts the earliest private connection to an aqueduct branch, in 1572, when running water became once again available in Rome (see also the Fountains monograph about this topic).

Further south along the street stands the large church of Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso [11] (often referred to as San Carlo al Corso), which belonged to the community of residents who came from Lombardy. In 1471 the community was granted a preexisting church, dedicated to St.Nicholas; the title was then changed into that of the saint patron of Milan, Ambrose. The second title was added after 1610, when the late cardinal Carlo Borromeo, bishop of Milan, was proclaimed a saint. On the same occasion the church was completely rebuilt, mostly by Onorio Longhi (son of the more renowned architect Martino Longhi the Elder), but Pietro da Cortona finished it, by building the large dome. The works spanned from 1612 to 1669. The inside, in late Baroque style, is particularly bright and glamorous, richly decorated with golden stucco work and fake marble; the nave's ceiling is almost entirely covered by a large fresco in vivid colours by Giacinto Brandi, depicting the rebel angels.

The third street of the trident is via di Ripetta [14], which runs towards the Tiber. It was named after the lesser of two wharves, taken down by the early 20th century (see There Once Was in Rome...), but in earlier times it was called via Leonina, having been opened by pope Leo X around 1520. Therefore, it is older than the aforesaid via del Babuino. In order to finish the making and paving of the street, the pope levied a yearly tribute on the large number of prostitutes (or 'courtesans') who lived and worked in this district, what has ever since been remembered as the whore tax.

painted ceiling of the church of
Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso
This solution should not sound strange, considering that a survey, conducted in 1490 by the will of Innocent VIII, had revealed that the number of prostitutes active in Rome at the time was 6,800, over 10% of the resident population. In 1526, a further survey substantially confirmed this rate; but the most surprising result came from the Campo Marzio district where, out of 4,750 inhabitants, 1,250 - over one fourth! - lived on prostitution (see also further).

About midway along via di Ripetta, in a wide square very close to the riverside, two important ancient Roman monuments stand one next to the other, the mausoleum of emperor Octavian Augustus [15] and the Ara Pacis [16], both dating to the early 1st century AD.

aerial views of the square taken in c.1925 (above) and c.1970 (below) show how the monument
was freed from additional parts, such as the roof of the concert hall, and the place was cleared
of houses; at the bottom of the 1970 picture is the first building that housed the Ara Pacis, with
St. Rocco's and St. Jerome's churches on the right, and the apse of San Carlo al Corso at the back
The huge tomb built for Rome's first emperor (left and below) consists of three concentrical cylinders made of bricks, of different heights, covered by turf; the innermost and tallest of the three contains the cell where the ashes of the emperor and many of his relatives and successors belonging to the Iulia Claudia dynasty were kept: in particular, his wife Livia (d. AD 29), his sister Octavia (d. 11 BC), his young nephew and son-in-law Marcellus (d. 23 BC, the first one to rest in the mausoleum), his second son-in-law Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (d. 12 BC) with his children Lucius (d. AD 2) and Caius (d. AD 4), his third son-in-law and second emperor Tiberius (d. AD 37), Drusus (the son of Livia by her first marriage, d. 9 BC), Germanicus (the son of Drusus, d. AD 19) and his wife Agrippina (d. AD 37), their son and third emperor Caius known as Caligula (d. AD 41), Claudius (the other son of Drusus and fourth emperor, d. AD 54). But also the urns of Vespasian (d. AD 79), Nerva (d. AD 98) and even Septimius Severus' wife, Iulia Domna (d. AD 217) were kept in the mausoleum. The only important missing member was Octavian Augustus' daughter, Iulia, who died in exile having been accused of adultery and betrayal.
The doorway of the mausoleum was originally flanked by two obelisks carved in Rome, which today decorate Quirinal Square and piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore (see Obelisks monograph).
Having been sacked of its contents already during the early Middle Ages, in the 1200s it was turned into a fortress by the Colonna family. During the Renaissance it was arranged as a garden, with hedges in an elegant display. As of the 1700s it was turned into an arena for public entertainment, such as bullfights and firework displays, called the Correa (or Corea) Amphiteatre. Then, during the second half of the 1800s its popularity declined, and it was used as a deposit for building material. In 1907 it was turned into a concert hall, until 1937, when all the modern parts were taken down, as well as several old houses that surrounded the structure. So the square finally achieved its present arrangement, and the mausoleum was declared a historical monument.
Only the ancient church of St. Rocco, rebuilt during the Baroque age, with a tall hydrometer on the outside (described in the Curious and Unusual section), was spared from demolition, and now stands side by side with another late Renaissance church, St.Jerome of the Illyrians, built by the Slavonic community that in the previous century had first settled in this district.

the mausoleum of Octavian Augustus, as it appears today...

...and its reconstruction (model in the Museum of Roman Civilization)

The Ara Pacis ("Altar of Peace"), now located in front of the emperor's tomb, was originally built about 150 m (or yds) off this spot, in the present Colonna district, to celebrate the time of peace that followed the victorious campaigns of Octavian Augustus in Spain and in Gaul (present France). On one side of the monument stretched the complex called Solarium Augusti, an enormous sundial, which the same emperor had built, in which the obelisk now standind in piazza di Montecitorio acted as a pointer; on September 23, Octavian Augustus' birthday, the shadow of the spire fell exactly in the centre of the Ara Pacis (for more details about the obelisk see the relevant monograph).
The monument is one of the best known specimens of ancient Roman marble work, as it is covered with reliefs of very high artistic quality, some of which depict the same emperor together with members of his own family, during a ritual procession.
Its original location corresponded to the present via in Lucina (in Colonna district, just beyond the boundary with Campo Marzio). Over time, the monument collapsed and was buried by rubble. Some of its fragments were found in 1568, by the foundations of a building by piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, along the southern district boundary; several others were retrieved in the same area over the second half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. Then the research for the missing parts came to a stop, as the local Olimpia Theatre (now a cinema) was endangered by the excavations.

the controversial modernist complex that now encloses the Ara Pacis
In 1937, on the 2000th anniversary of Octavian's birth, the works were resumed, and one year later the fragments were assembled into a monument, on the ground cleared of houses between the emperor's mausoleum and the river. Some missing fragments, now held by other museums, among which the Louvre in Paris, were integrated by using moulds that faithfully reproduce the missing parts.
The Ara Pacis was enclosed by an outer building made of glass and concrete; having become unfit for protecting the monument from smog and thermal shock, over the years 2002-2006 it was replaced by a complex in modernist style drawn by the famous U.S. architect Richard Meier. The new building, though, immediately triggered a great controversy, having been deemed 'too white, too modern, and too bulky' for the context where it stands.

← a detail of the reliefs on the side of the monument

A few metres further stands the massive Palazzo Borghese [17], still the residence of the Roman branch of the aristocratic Borghese family. The mansion is considered one of Rome's 'four wonders' because of its architecture. The early nucleus, a work by Vignola (Jacopo Barozzi), dates back to 1560. But the following enlargement, which Martino Longhi the Elder, Flaminio Ponzio and Carlo Maderno worked at from 1590 to 1613, took place when cardinal Camillo Borghese (the future pope Paul V) became the owner. Palazzo Borghese is also called the harpsichord because of its peculiar shape, an asymmetric rectangle. On its shortest side it features a double balcony (the keyboard); the front of the building, with its main entrance (usually closed), marks one whole side of piazza Borghese.
the keyboard and the front looking towards piazza Borghese

the courtyard of Palazzo Borghese
A further entrance is in largo della Fontanella di Borghese; when the door is open, the wonderful courtyard, surrounded by one hundred columns, statues and fountains can be seen, unfortunately only from outside. The important collection of paintings once housed in the mansion is now almost entirely on display in the Galleria Borghese (which once belonged to the same family, together with Villa Borghese).

As previously mentioned, during the 1500s Campo Marzio was crowded with people who lived on prostitution. During the second half of the century, pope Pious V, prompted by the Counter-Reformation movement, decided to pursue a moralizing campaign, and thought of driving out of Rome all sex workers. But the city administrators complained that the loss of the large income that came from the yearly tax levied on prostitution would seriously harm the city's finances. So a law was issued that all prostitutes of the city should be secluded in a restricted area of Campo Marzio, the district where they were more numerous. And since many proved reluctant to comply with such rule, in 1569 the neighborhood was enclosed within walls, just like the Jewish Ghetto had been by the previous pope, about fifteen years ealier (see Curious and Unusual).
The red light district enclosure stretched around the present piazza Monte d'Oro, between a hostel for Slavonic women adjacent to the church of St. Jerome, and the convent of Santa Monica dei Martelluzzi, no longer extant, which bordered the aforesaid Palazzo Borghese. All women who lived there were obliged to return to the enclave before sunset, when the doors were locked. Anybody was forbidden to enter the secluded neighborhood during Lent, not to be distracted from religious practices (but during daytime the women were free to leave the enclosure, making this measure useless).
By the end of the century, the sex workers had become so numerous that calls were made for extending the enclave to other streets of Campo Marzio. But since many wealthy and aristocratic families had already built their mansions throughout the district, the enlargement proposal was rejected. Shortly later, the enclave ceased to exist.