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Campo Marzio (or Marzo, archaic spelling) is the Italian form of Campus Martius (Latin for "Field of Mars"). It was a vast plain area enclosed between the river Tiber on one side and the hilly part of the city on the other, located outside the city boundaries (until Aurelian built his new set of walls, around AD 275), dedicated to the god of war: in fact, in the very early years it was used mostly for military training and sports activities.
coat of arms of Campo Marzio district
Then between the late republican age and the early imperial age, as the city expanded, many public buildings and monuments appeared in the Campus Martius, especially in its southern part: circuses for athletic competitions, gymnasiums, a naumachia (naval stadium), several obelisks, temples of all kinds and shrines dedicated to Mars as well as to many other gods. By the end of the 1st century, emperor Domitian filled the last 'gaps' left unbuilt with the making of his circus (today piazza Navona) and of his Odeon theatre.
A detail of a 16th century map showing what the Campus Martius might have looked like can be accessed by following this link (size: 135 Kbytes).
coat of arms of Campo Marzio district

The medieval name of the district, Regio Posterule et Sancti Laurentii in Lucina, was inspired by the several minor gates (posterulae) of Aurelian's Wall, which followed the course of the Tiber's bank, and to the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, which though today belongs to the neighbour district Colonna.
piazza del Popolo
aerial view of piazza del Popolo at dusk, from the Pincio Hill
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.

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

Campo Marzio is the district which most inhabitants identify as Rome's 'centre' (i.e. the downtown).
It corresponds to the ancient Regio VII, crossed by via Lata (now called via del Corso, Rome's high street), running perfectly straight from the Capitolium for about 1.5 Km. (almost 1 mile) and reaching the old city's northern boundary.
Campo Marzio district's locator map

extension of the ancient Campus Martius
and of the modern Campo Marzio district
extension of the ancient Campus Martius
and of the modern Campo Marzio district
   extension of the ancient Campus Martius
   extension of the present Campo Marzio district
Despite being one of the largest among the fourteen historical districts, Campo Marzio is now considerably smaller than the ancient Campus Martius: in fact it only includes the northern part of the ancient grounds, and the Pincio Hill. Instead, its southern part is now split into several other districts, namely Colonna (Rione III), Ponte (Rione V), Parione (Rione VI), Regola (Rione VII), Sant'Eustachio (Rione VIII) and Pigna (Rione IX).

Very close to the Campus Martius training ground, the steep Pincio Hill, which now almost acts as a natural boundary along the whole eastern side of the district, used to be a suburban residencial neighborhood: many among the rich and powerful ancient romans had large villas built here, which often had vast gardens (horti) that covered most of the hill's extension. In fact, the Pincio itself was named after one of these families, the Pincii, who owned one of the largest estates.
The plains next to the Tiber were left abandoned almost throughout the Middle Ages, but then a small community from Illyria and Schiavonia (modern Croatia and Slovenia) settled in this area. Since then, the district started growing more and more populated.

By the end of the 1500s, the community also founded its own church on this spot, called St. Jerome of the Illyrians, still today belonging to the Croatian country.

The present look of Campo Marzio dates back to the 17th-18th centuries; many original buildings have survived, and several mansions once dwelt by rich or noble families are even older. Nevertheless, today the streets are crammed with thousands of trendy stores, shops, cafes, restaurants, pizza parlours, etc.
via Belsiana
In fact, throughout Campo Marzio commerce has become the main business; almost every old building in the district is now nested with commercial activities of all kinds, which in a few cases appear to be rather intrusive: for instance, in via Belsiana, next to the boundary with Colonna district, a small 18th century church was recently turned into the showroom of a posh firm that manufactures handbags; the front still bears the name of the archcongregation it once belonged to and the date, 1724.
via dei Condotti
(↑ above) the Caffč Greco, a historical establishment;
(← left) the small 18th century church in via Belsiana,
refurbished into a handbag showroom
Among the several establishments, there are also a few vintage ones, which date back to the 19th or even to the 18th century: the most famous one is the Caffé Greco in via dei Condotti, established in 1760, whose long list of famous patrons includes several celebrities mostly belonging to cultural fields, such as Hector Berlioz, Nikolai Gogol, Giacomo Leopardi, Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Wagner, Orson Welles, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Arthur Schopenhauer, but also William Frederick Cody (aka Buffalo Bill)!
via Borgognona
the Spanish Steps and the church of Trinità dei Monti
at the bottom of a crowded via Borgognona
The whole district becomes rather chaotic during business hours, especially on Saturdays, fortunately turning back to the original atmosphere when the same streets are empty. The best time to visit this district is therefore early on Sunday morning.

Campo Marzio includes one of Rome's most beloved sites by tourists, piazza di Spagna [1], renowned for its Spanish Steps (1726), which lavishly climb to the church of Trinitą dei Monti. Before it was built, only a steep and rather rough slope climbed up to the top of the Pincio Hill.
Below the stairway, the famous Baroque fountain known as the Barcaccia ("the old boat") by Pietro Bernini, father of the more famous Gianlorenzo, decorates the center of the square, sinking below the ground level (the reason for this is explained in Fountains, part III page 15).
piazza di Spagna
the Barcaccia fountain in piazza di Spagna

At the top of the stairs, right in front of the church, is an ancient obelisk, whose Egyptian-like shape is misleading: this is a roman copy, that mimics the several ones taken to Rome by the emperors. Infact, its carvings are rougher that those of any other 'original' spire from Egypt.

The building on the right, Palazzetto Zuccari (belonged to the late Renaissance painter Federico Zuccari), houses the Hertzian Library; on the side of the building looking towards via Gregoriana, don't miss the weird entrance shaped as a monster, flanked by two similar windows.

Instead on the other side of Trinitą dei Monti stands the beautiful Villa Medici [2], built in its present shape in the 1550s, named after the famous family who was among the owners it belonged to.
via Gregoriana
Palazzetto Zuccari, 18th century
giardini del Pincio
Bernini's bust, among those
of many national personalities
piazza Napoleone I
stunning colours at sunset
in the Pincio Gardens
In 1803, during Rome's occupation, it was taken by the French administration, and Napoleon chose it as the new see for the French Academy in Rome, an establishment founded by the king of France Louis XIV in 1666 for young artists of his country who studied fine arts in Italy.

viale Trinitą dei Monti
Villa Medici: rings for tying horses, a 'parking lot' of the mid 1500s

The villa is linked to a curious story, described in Legendary Rome page 3. Its vast estate reaches the northernmost boundary of Campo Marzio district, where it adjoins the public gardens that stretch over the top of the Pincio Hill [3]. Here a number of shady avenues are lined with hundreds of marble busts of famous all time Italian personages; among other features encountered there is an ancient roman obelisk, set here in the early 1800s by pope Pius VII, and a popular water clock built in the late years of the same century. In front of the gardens is an open area named after Napoleon, where a balcony overlooks piazza del Popolo: this is one of the most panoramic spots in Rome, with the huge dome of St.Peter's towering in the distance.

In the centre of the square stands one of Rome's tall Egyptian obelisks (see Obelisks for details), rested on top of a large platform with four lion-shaped fountains in the corners. The water-spouting lions were set in 1823, replacing a smaller though prettier fountain built in the late 1500s, a few years before also the obelisk was moved there.
piazza del Popolo
piazza del Popolo with its 'Trident' in the backgound

piazza del Popolo
the floor pattern of the Chigi Chapel
At one end of the square [4] stand Porta del Popolo (i.e. the northenmost gate of Rome's city walls, once called Porta Flaminia, see Aurelian's Walls part I and the historical church of Santa Maria del Popolo. The name 'Popolo' probably refers to a small wood of poplars (in Latin populi) that grew just outside the walls. It was a place where outlaws, prostitutes and non-Christians used to be buried, whence its ill-fame that caused the popular belief according to which the ghost of emperor Nero haunted this place. For this reason, around year 1100 a small chapel was built by the gate, which later turned into a church, enlarged and embellished into its present shape mostly during the late 1400s. Inside the church are works of art and architecture by renowned artists such as Bramante, Raphael, Pinturicchio, Bernini. Having been mentioned in the famous novel The Da Vinci Code, the marble-inlaid pattern on the floor of the Chigi chapel has become almost the hallmark of the church.

On the opposite side of the square [5] three diverging streets run straight towards the south, crossing the whole length of the district: together, they form the so-called 'Trident'. The two corners of the Trident are marked by a couple of twin churches, built in the 1600s, when the square was given a symmetrical shape.
The street on the left, via del Babuino (originally called Paolina Trifana, after pope Paul III), is named after a small fountain [6] described in Curious and Unusual, page 2 and Fountains, part II page 2; it leads again to the Spanish Steps.
In the same building by whose corner stands the fountain, in the early 1800s the famous sculptor Antonio Canova had a workshop; after his death, it was taken over by his apprentice Adamo Tadolini, by whom, in turn, it was handed down to his descendants, three generations of sculptors. After the death of the last Tadolini (1967), the atelier, still crammed with many original models, studies and sculptures, was closed; it was reopened in year 2000 and turned into a small museum, with a classy café on the ground floor.

via Margutta
the Fountain of the Artists
Parallel to via del Babuino, just below the Pincio Hill, runs the enchanting via Margutta, a charming street with a high concentration of artist studios housed in the penthouses of the many old buildings, whose peacefulness and silence make a striking contrast with the usual crowd and traffic of this district. Those who know the famous movie Roman Holidays will recognize this street as the one where at no.51 lodges the journalist played by Gregory Peck. Among the non-fictional personalities who lived here are movie director Federico Fellini, painter Renato Guttuso and several others. Here stands Campo Marzio's small district fountain, called the Fountain of the Artists (1927) due to the featured elements: brushes, masks, easels, etc.
via del Babuino
the Canova-Tadolini Museum

The central street of the Trident is via del Corso; during the ancient roman age this was the urban stretch of the Flaminian Way, but in the Middle Ages it was renamed via Lata; as of the Renaissance, horse races were held along this street during Carnival, whence the present name, from corsa ("race"). This custom ended in the late 1800s; now via del Corso is Rome's high street.

The third street of the Trident is via di Ripetta, which runs parallel to the river bank. Ripetta [7] (i.e. "small bank") was the name of Rome's minor river port, active since the 1300s, though particularly busy from the early 18th century, when a real wharf, in the shape of large semicircular staircase, was built along the river bank by using large travertine blocks fallen from the Colosseum after an earthquake. In the middle of the staircase was a balcony with a small fountain topped by a lantern.
Unlike the larger port of Ripa Grande (see Rione XII , Ripa), located further south along the river, Ripetta was reached by ships carrying goods especially from the north. The complex was demolished in the early 1900s, due to the works for the making of the large protective walls along the river banks and of a new bridge (Ponte Cavour): the only remains of Ripetta port are the small fountain (now dry) and a column that marked the water level reached on the frequent occasion of floods, both standing in front of Palazzo Borghese (they are featured in Fountains, part III page 18 and in Curious and Unusual, The Floods Of The River Tiber, respectively).
piazza del Porto di Ripetta
the old Ripetta port (18th century etching by Giuseppe Vasi); the church at the back
is St. Jerome of the Illyrians, and further right is the front of Palazzo Borghese

Midway along via di Ripetta, just before the spot where the old port once was, two important ancient roman monuments are found: the Mausoleum of Octavian Augustus [7] and the Ara Pacis (both first half of the 1st century AD).
The former is the enormous tomb built for Rome's first emperor; it consists of three concentric cylinders of different height, covered with earth and with trees growing over it; the innermost and tallest of the three encloses a chamber where the emperor's ashes were kept.
piazza Augusto Imperatore
the tomb of emperor Octavian Augustus today
The entrance of the monument was flanked by two twin obelisks, similar to Egyptian ones but carved in Rome, which today stand in other districts (see picture below and Obelisks, page 3).

detail from a map of 1575
the same monument in a map of 1575, featuring
the two obelisks as they stood in ancient times

The Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) [8], now standing opposite the emperor's tomb, was originally built not far from this spot, along the present via del Corso, to celebrate the peace that followed Octavianus Augustus' victorious campaigns in Spain and Gaul. In front of it stood the obelisk now located in piazza di Montecitorio (Rione III, Colonna), which acted as a sundial and on the emperor's birthday (September 24) threw its shadow in the very centre of the altar. The monument is one of the finest examples of ancient marble carving, as it is covered with reliefs of very high artistic level, some of which portray the emperor himself with members of his family during a ritual procession.
In time the monument collapsed and was buried under the rubble. Some of its fragments were found in the mid 16th century by the foudations of a building in the nearby via del Corso; many others were retrieved between the 19th and the early 20th centuries. A few missing fragments now belonging to other museums, such as the Louvre in Paris, have been replaced by moulds which faithfully reproduce the original parts.

piazza Augusto Imperatore piazza Augusto Imperatore
(from the left) the new and rather controversial Ara Pacis complex, and a detail of the frieze on the outer part of the monument

The monument is now housed in a snow-white building designed by the famous American architect Richard Meier, opened in 2006, which triggered a huge controversy for being 'too white, too modern and too bulky' for such a historical context. ...But now it's there!
via di Ripetta
Palazzo Borghese, the 'keyboard' of the 'harpsichord'
A last noticeable feature along the last stretch of via di Ripetta is Palazzo Borghese [9], the family mansion of the noble Borghese family. It was built here from 1560, and finished in 1610, during the pontificate of pope Paul V, who was a member of this family (Camillo Borghese). Due to its particular shape it used to be known as 'the harpsichord', and its front part was accordingly called 'the keyboard'.
via di Fontanella Borghese
the courtyard of Palazzo Borghese

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