NAME
Parione comes from Latin paries ("wall"), with a meaning of "large wall": it likely refers to the remains of some ancient structure that stood somewhere in the district, but have never been identified.

via dei Cappellari
During the Middle Ages, this was the eighth district, called Regio Parionis et Sancti Laurentii in Damaso, after the aforesaid wall and St.Lawrence in Damasus, a church founded in the 4th century, standing next to the Chancery Palace (described among the district's features).

COAT OF ARMS
A rampant griffin in some versions, in others a standing griffin lifting its right front leg.

BOUNDARY
Corso del Rinascimento; piazza delle Cinque Lune; piazza Sant'Apollinare; piazza di Tor Sanguigna; via di Tor Sanguigna; via di Santa Maria dell'Anima; via di Tor Millina; via della Pace; piazza del Fico; via del Corallo; via del Governo Vecchio; piazza dell'Orologio; via dei Filippini; vicolo Cellini; via dei Banchi Vecchi; via del Pellegrino; via dei Cappellari; Campo de' Fiori; via dei Giubbonari; via dei Chiavari.

MAIN FEATURES
(the black numbers in brackets refer to the map below right)


This district is vaguely triangular in shape, with its sides matching the three neighbour districts (namely, Ponte, Regola and Sant'Eustachio), and it lies in the central part of the ancient Campus Martius, where three important structures stood: the stadium of Domitian, the Odeon (a small theatre for musical events, built under the same emperor) and the theater of Pompey. In its southern part, as well as in the neighbour Regola district, several streets still bear the name of the ancient workshops that once gathered there, such as via dei Cappellari (Hatmakers Street), via dei Baullari (Trunk-makers Street), via dei Giubbonari (Jacket-makers Street), vicolo dei Chiodaroli (Nail-makers Lane), piazza Pollarola (Poultry-sellers Square), largo dei Librari (Booksellers Square), via dei Chiavari (Key-makers Street), and so on.
Its description should start from its most famous plaza, piazza Navona [1], one of the largest in central Rome (it covers about one fifth of the whole area of Parione), but also one of the most interesting ones because of its history, and works of art that can be found there.

piazza Navona, with the Fountain of the Moor (centre)
and Palazzo Pamphilj (left) in the foreground

It stretches over the site of the ancient stadium od Domitian: its oval shape, long and regular, virtually matches the arena of the old establishment, still forming a curve at its northern end, while the southern one is straight. In this stadium athletic competitions (agones in Latin) were held.
For this reason, even in times when the the stadium was no longer standing, over the Middle Ages the place names referring to this area kept being de Agone or in Agone.

↑ the only surviving entrance of the stadium of Domitian and the fragment found in 1933;
at the back of the stadium (A) stood two theatres, the Odeon (B) and the theatre of Pompey (see further) →

Still in the 1400s, besides some remains of the curved end of the stadium (as suggested by the map by Pietro del Massaio, see picture below), there stood only a very ancient church dedicated to St.Agnes, recorded in documents since the late 12th century as ecclesia Sancte Agnetis Agonis, or de Agone, and another one on the opposite side, built around 1200, dedicated to St.James. When the latter was enlarged, during the second half of the 1400s, and private houses built over the ancient foundations gradually appeared along the outline of the stadium, the plaza began to grow populated. Its name in Agone was corrupted into Navone (i.e. "large ship", maybe because of its shape), eventually turning into its ultimate form, Navona, which already by the late Renaissance age had come into use.
At the back of one of the buildings that surround the northern end of piazza Navona, several meters below the present street level, the remains of one of the entrances of the ancient stadium [2] can be seen; other fragments are on display in a small museum, opened in 2014. A further fragment of the stadium was found in 1933 in corsia Agonale, the short street that leads to the square on its eastern side.

piazza Navona (Agon) by the late 1400s; old St.Agnes' is in the centre →
and, side by side in the bottom left corner, stand St.Augustine's and St.Trifon's

In piazza Navona, what attracts the visitor's interest at first sight are its three large fountains.

St.Agnes in Agone
The central one is the famous Fountain of the Rivers by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1652), topped by an obelisk: despite the hieroglyphs that cover its shaft may suggest an Egyptian origin, it was in fact carved in Rome, in the early 4th century (see also the Obelisks monograph). The other two, instead, called the Fountain of Neptune and the Fountain of the Moor (at the northern and southern ends of the plaza, respectively), at a first glance appear almost twins, but they actually differ in their compositional elements, and especially in their date of construction; their rather complex history is described in detail in the Fountains monograph.
In the centre of the western side of the plaza stands the church of St.Agnes in Agone, which replaces a much smaller and ancient one that bore the same title; its enlargement took place between 1652 and 1672, by the will of pope Innocent X.
By tradition, Francesco Borromini is credited for the making of the church which, by chance, is located right in front of one of the masterpieces by his great rival Bernini. The story of these works, partly tinged with legend, can be read in the Legendary Rome section. Actually, the workshop was started by Girolamo Rainaldi, who was replaced by Borromini one year later; the works were then finished by Rainaldi's son, Carlo. St.Agnes is considered a gem of baroque art, despite its very short length, only about forty metres, or yards, not to obstruct the street that runs at the back, via Santa Maria dell'Anima.
It was conceived with a large convex fašade, so to emphasize the view of the dome and to prevent the flight of steps from projecting into piazza Navona. Just as the previous church, it stands on the very spot where, according to an ancient tradition, a young Christian girl named Agnes, who lived around year 300, suffered martyrdom for her faith. The prefect of Rome, Sempronius, wanted her to marry his son at all costs, but the girl resolutely refused to become the bride of a pagan. In retaliation for her opposition, she was taken by soldiers in a brothel housed in the basement of the stadium of Domitian, where she was tied and exposed naked to the clients. But her long hair prodigiously untied and covered her body, preserving her honour. Any further attempt failed: whoever touched her, was stricken blind at once. Even the wooden pire on which she was tied to be burnt refused to catch fire (according to an alternative version, the girl survived the flames). In the end, one of the soldier drew his sword and killed her.
Agnes was buried in a necropolis outside the city, along via Nomentana; but the funeral procession was disrupted by an attack, as on their way the Christians were thrown stones at (picture below). The young Emerenziana, despite being pagan, tried to stop the attack, but was killed in turn. So also she was proclaimed a saint, and buried side by side with Agnes, together with whom she is very often remembered.

the martyrdom of St.Agnes, by Ercole Ferrata

The church was furnished by outstanding artists of the second half of the 1600s, some belonging to Bernini's circle, such as Baciccio, Ercole Ferrata and Antonio Raggi, while Ciro Ferri (a pupil of Pietro da Cortona) painted the fresco of the dome's ceiling.
Pope Innocent X (Giovanni Battista Pamphilj), who commissioned the church, is buried below the main altar, while his memorial monument hangs above the main doorway; in piazza Navona he also had the large Palazzo Pamphilj built for his family, next to the left side of St.Agnes', now acting as the Embassy of Brazil.

detail of the high relief panel by Ercole Ferrata
featuring the martyrdom of St.Emerenziana
In the basement, some traces of the halls of the ancient stadium are still extant, together with a few fragments of medieval paintings.

On the curved wall to the right of the main entrance of the church, a curious inscription dated 1838 is now barely visible as the colour of the letters has completely faded (actually, very few know it's there). Following the carved letters with some effort, it reads:

BY COMMAND OF OUR LORD, AS OF AUGUST 16, 1838
THE ECCLESIATICAL IMMUNITY IN THIS CHURCH
IS RESTRICTED TO THE DOORWAY ONLY,
BEING THE STAIRS EXCLUDED

In the Papal State, churches were considered sacred places where by law nobody could be arrested by the police or by the military. Many outlaws took advantage of this facility, by seeking shelter after committing an offence. Therefore, it was very important to define the legal boundaries beyond which immunity could be claimed. We can imagine that the flight of stairs of St.Agnes' was constantly covered with criminals of all kinds, ranging from petty thieves to killers, who bedded down for weeks there, between the gate and the doorway, not to be arrested. So the measure of restricting the immunity to the door only (i.e. to the inside) was likely taken with the purpose of keeping the stairway free.
the ecclesiastical immunity notice, now almost invisible

The other church on the opposite side of the plaza, almost at its southern end, is less striking than St.Agnes. Its original name was St.James of the Spanish, having been first built around year 1200 by one of the sons of the Spanish king Ferdinand III of Castile, to remember the Christian martyrs who, according to a belief in those days, were killed in the stadium of Domitian.

the two angels on the tympanum, signed 'OPVS PAVLI' and 'OPVS MINI'
This was the second building, besides the old St.Agnes church, that appeared in today's piazza Navona. Actually, both churches had their main entrance on the outer side.
Then, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of 1450, the Spanish bishop Alfonso de Paradinas had St.James' rebuilt and enlarged, so that since the second half of the 1400s, an entrance was added on the side that faces the plaza, whose tympanum was decorated with two fine angels signed OPVS PAVLI i.e. "a work by Paolo (Taccone)", and OPVS MINI, i.e. "a work by Mino (del Reame)"; the coat of arms they hold was apparently chiselled off, almost certainly by Napoleon's soldiers during the French occupation of Rome (1808-1814).

In those years the relations between Spain and Rome were particularly close, considering that two popes of that age, namely Callist III (1455-58) and his nephew Alexander VI (1492-1503), belonged to the Spanish family de Borja (Italianized into Borgia). Also the latter pope had improvements made to St.James', which a few years later, in 1506, was officially declared the national Spanish church in Rome.
But already during the 1500s, following the remaking of another Spanish church, St.Mary of Monserrat, in Regola district, the importance of St.James' slowly declined; the building's condition worsened, up to the point that in 1818 most of its furnishment and of its tombs were moved to St.Mary's, and the church in piazza Navona, left dismantled, was deconsacrated and sold.


view of the first half of the 1600s: the church of St.James of the Spanish can be
seen (top right); the Fountains of the Rivers was not there yet

No sooner than 1879, Virginio Vespignani restored it and refurbished it, so that it could be opened again with the new title Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, still borne by the church. Very few traces of the original building are left inside, among which an organ loft of the early 1500s, carved in marble and painted in bright colours.

the organ loft of the early 1500s


In 1931, when along the boundary with Sant'eustachio district corso del Rinascimento was opened in order to enable a faster traffic flow, several old buildings were taken down; the works affected also this church, which was shortened as much as needed, and provided with a very simple fašade, aligned with the new thoroughfare.

By the mid 1400s, the block that stands left of St.Agnes' church began to appear, now entirely occupied by the large Palazzo De Cupis, mentioned in Legendary Rome; this was the first group of houses built in the square, purchased over the years by the De Cupis family, who around 1550 unified them into the present mansion. When they merged with the Ornani family, in c.1730 at ground level the Ornani Theatre was opened, which became famous for its puppet shows (apparently, during the 1600s they were already held in the halls of Palazzo De Cupis). Around 1840 it was renamed Emiliani Theatre after the new owner, and it remained open until the second half of the century. Instead, the mansion was purchased by the Tuccimei family, whose two branches, by the time the Papal State fell (1870), went into a bitter feud, as one of them had remained faithful to the pope, while the other sympathized for the unification of Italy, up to the point that the inside of the building was split into two completely separated and independent halves.


"Saracen Joust in piazza Navona on February 25, 1634"
(A.Sacchi, F.Gagliardi and Vincent Adriaenssen a.k.a. Manciola)
Once the paving of piazza Navona was hollow; today it is barely possible to notice its concavity, but in the past it was deep enough to be filled with water and flooded. Since the 17th century, this became one of the popular attractions of the plaza: waterproof doors were fitted by its exits, and the drains of the three fountains were obstructed. The local aristocratic families even arranged shows in which fake ships in full-scale, likely mounted on wheels, were paraded through the square as if they were afloat, an idea inspired by the naumachiae (naval stadiums) of ancient Rome, which attracted crowds. Furthermore, other games and events were occasionally held in the plaza, such as the Saracen Joust (see picture on the right, in which one of the fake ships at rest is featured in the bottom left corner).
During the 18th and 19th centuries, amusements were limited to the flooding of the plaza, then crossed by carriages (below left), which took place on Saturdays and Sundays during the summertime; this custom was discontinued in 1866.

On weekdays, instead, as of the second half of the 15th century a food market was held in piazza Navona, but also books were sold, in the northern half of the plaza, by the unfinished Fountain of the Coppersmiths, which after its completion changed name into Fountain of Neptune. In 1869 the stalls were moved to Campo de' Fiori (see further), merging them with the local herb and flower market.
Two years later, the Epiphany Fair was moved here from piazza Sant'Eustachio, with stalls selling sweets and toys over the days immediately before this festivity. The historical tradition has been maintained, although since the the second half of the 20th century it was lengthened, so to include the days before Christmas, as well; for about one month, from December 8th, the day of the Immaculate Conception, to January 6th, Epiphany, the plaza is crowded with merry-go-rounds and sellers of decorations, toys, sweets, nativity cribs and the relevant figurines, which make a lively and colourful event that spans over the festivities.

the summer flooding, in a picture of the mid 19th century
Outside piazza Navona, by a crossing on the boundary with Ponte district, stands a 15th century tower [3], crowned with crenellation (now covered with a roof), originally belonging to the Mellini family, whose name is spelt in large letters on the upper part of the building. It is called Millina Tower after the family (with a slightly corrupted spelling), which is also the name of the street that runs below.

The district boundary along the aforesaid via di Tor Millina, which beyond the first crossing turns into via della Pace, reaches on the left piazza del Fico [4], a tiny square named after a very old fig tree that grows there; for half a century, a community of amateur chess players has chosen this square as a meeting place, where they are often seen engaging in matches, in the open air.

← chess players below the ancient fig tree


Millina Tower
From piazza del Fico, in the alley parallel to via della Pace, called via della Fossa, an interesting Reinassance house built for the Amedei family can be seen: it features a painted ashlar work-like pattern, which makes an amazing three-dimensional effect, with alternate graffiti flourishes along the string courses, although the latter are now unfortunately in bad condition.

Just outside the southern end of piazza Navona is a small triangular square, where since 1501 Pasquino [5], the most famous among Rome's 'talking statues', famous for its scorching satire, boldly speaks out the common people's gripes (see Curious and Unusual).

the Amedei house

From piazza Pasquino springs via del Governo Vecchio, a street with several ancient houses, among which an outstanding one is at no 123, Palazzo Turci [6], dating back to 1500 , also popularly yet wrongly known as 'Bramante's House'.
At the westernmost end of Ponte district stands another tower, completely different from the one previous described in shape and age of construction: the Clock Tower [7] (1647) is in Baroque style, and overlooks the square that bears its name; it is decorated in the top part with an oval mosaic featuring the Virgin Mary and Child on gold background, whose design is attributed to Pietro da Cortona. Below, in the corner at the base of the tower, hangs one of the finest small shrines (madonnelle) of the mid 1700s, a stucco work by Tommaso Righi with a painting by Antonio Bicchierai.

Palazzo Turci

the Clock Tower

The Clock Tower acts as a belltower for the building drawn by Francesco Borromini, the Oratory of St.Philip Neri, whose front faces piazza della Chiesa Nuova, along corso Vittorio Emanuele II. The imposing church that stands side by side is named St.Mary in Vallicella [8], and it rests over a natural depression in the ground, which in ancient Roman times was believed to be one of the approaches to the underworld; however, it is more commonly known as New Church.

the New Church, with the Oratory of St.Philip Neri on the left
It was built from 1575 to c.1600, in place of an older one, of the 1200s. It was managed by the congregation founded by St.Philip Neri, who was in fact buried in the church, in a chapel lined with beautiful marbles. The New Church is the only one in Rome that boasts an altarpiece by Peter Paul Rubens (it is also the only work by the famous Flemish painter not held by a gallery). A great number of other distinguished artists from the 17th and 18th centuries, among whom Pomarancio, Cavalier d'Arpino, Pietro da Cortona, Federico Barocci, Carlo Maratta, Alessandro Algardi, Guercino, and other, contributed to the inside decoration of this church, yet with minor works, making its appearance rather lavish.

On the opposite side of corso Vittorio Emanuele II stands the massive white Chancery Palace [9], whose front faces a narrow and long square; it is considered a masterpiece of early Renaissance architecture (it was finished in c.1495), attributed to an almost obscure architect, Antonio da Montecavallo, who may have been Andrea Bregno's brother, but with likely additions by Donato Bramante. The palace was commissioned by cardinal Raffaele Riario, one of the grand-nephews of pope Sixtus IV; apparently, the building was partly payed with a large sum of money (60.000 scudi) that Riario had won playing cards with Franceschetto Cybo, who was the illegitimate son of the ruling pope in those days, Innocent VIII, and the son-in-law of Lorenzo the Magnificent, having married his daughter, Maddalena de' Medici.
the courtyard of Chancery Palace

Some twenty years later, Riario had the palace confiscated, as he was held guilty of having taken part in a plot for poisoning pope Leo X. So it was turned into the new seat of the papal chancellery; but over time it also acted as the seat of the imperial court (as read on the building's front) during the Napoleonic occupation (1809-1814), of the Roman Parliament (1848) and of the constituent assembly of the short-lasting Roman Republic (1849). It is presently still the seat of the della Apostolic Chancery, of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, and of the Papal Academy in Rome of Archaeology, enjoying extraterritorial rights. The palace is famous for its large Hall of the Hundred Days, at the first floor, decorated by Giorgio Vasari around the mid 1500s, with frescoes that feature episodes of the life of pope Paul III that the author boasted to have painted in only one hundred days, but panned by Michelangelo, who commented "one can easily tell that"!
The enormous building encases at ground level the ancient church of St.Lawrence in Damasus, founded by the end of the 4th century.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II is lined also by other important historical buildings.

painted ceiling in the Small Farnesina (late 17th century)
Among them is the Small Farnesina [10], a mansion dated 1523, so called after the lily flowers in relief along the string course between the first and second floor (in Rome, the lily was the device of the Farnese family); "small" referred to the fact that a larger Villa Farnesina stood in Trastevere district (see the relevant page). Actually, the flowers had no connection at all with such family, but with the French crown; the first owner, cleric Thomas Le Roy, had been granted the right to add the royal lily to his family devices. The front, attributed to Antonio Sangallo the Young, faces via dei Baullari (the mansion is, in fact, also called Farnesina ai Baullari). Instead the side towards corso Vittorio Emanuele II dates back to the late 1800s when, during a demolition programme for the opening of the large street, the building was restored and freed from later additions, and was given a new side, consistent in style with the original front.
The Small Farnesina hosts the small but very interesting Barracco Museum of ancient sculpture, which offers at the same time the opportunity of visiting the inside of the mansion, on whose painted ceilings another heraldic device is featured, the scorpion, which refers to the Silvestri family that purchased the property in 1671.

A further beautiful building is Palazzo Massimo by the Columns [11], an architecture by Baldassarre Peruzzi (c.1535), the resedence of the Massimo or Massimi family. A smaller building belonging to the same owners stood there already in the 15th century, built over the ruins of emperor Domitian's Odeon (a small covered theatre for music and song events, dating to the end of the 1st century BC); its front was on the back, facing the present small piazza Massimo, where now the only surviving column of the theatre, rather restored, stands in the centre, set there in 1950.

Palazzo Massimo by the Columns

Palazzo Massimo of Pyrrhus and the only
surviving column from Domitian's Odeon
In 1467, in this building two German typographers opened the city's very first printing workshop. A fire during the sack of Rome (1527) almost completely destroyed it, so Peruzzi rebuilt it and enlarged it, by using the adjoining houses. Since its foundations rest over the remains of the ancient Odeon, the present front follows the theatre's curved shape. Its entrance has a fine small porch supported by columns (whence the name of the mansion, that distinguishes it from another Palazzo Massimo by the Baths of Diocletian), with a coffered ceiling.
The back (i.e. the original building) today is known as the Palazzo Massimo of Pyrrhus, because by the foundations a statue of Mars was found, wrongly interpreted as Pyrrhus, king of Epirus; after its refurbishment, the front was entirely decorated with fresco paintings by Daniele da Volterra, now rather poorly preserved.

Another landmark in Parione district is Campo de' Fiori [12]. Originally, this was an area where, since the 1400s, herbs and flowers were sold (whence its name, "Flower Field"). Only during the second half of the 1800s the range of goods on sale started to include also foodstuffs, which were previously sold in piazza Navona.
In the morning, a bustling market is still held in the square; since the evening hours, instead, crowds of young people hang around Campo de' Fiori and its surroundings till late at night.
the statue of Giordano Bruno

← the market in Campo de' Fiori

During the Age of Counterreformation, Campo de' Fiori was one of the spots where death sentences were carried out; in its centre, where once was the fountain now found in front of the aforementioned Oratory of St.Philip Neri, stands the dark hooded figure of Giordano Bruno, the philosopher burnt in this square by the Inquisition, in year 1600, with the allegation of heresy. Since the late 1800s, when the statue was set, the freethinkers chose Campo de' Fiori to be their own symbolic meeting place.


the small neighborhood of Arco degli Acetari
From the northern side of the square spring two narrow streets, via dei Cappellari and via del Pellegrino; just a few metres along the latter, on the left side, an archway leads to a small inner courtyard, extremely charming, surrounded by old traditional houses, with the typical outer staircase: this is the neighborhood of Arco degli Acetari [13], one of the district's gems most concealed to tourists.
Slightly further, another archway passage, called Arco di Santa Margherita, whose corner is decorated with a very tall vertical madonnella shrine of the 1700s, links via del Pellegrino with via dei Cappellari, which on the left leads once again towards Campo de' Fiori.

Instead by the southern end of Campo de' Fiori, in ancient roman age stood the Theatre of Pompey (mid 1st century BC), the first of its kind built in masonry, i.e. permanent; in earlier days, theatres were built in wood and, after some time, they were disassembled.
It was also the largest among Roman theatres, richly decorated with statues, frescoes, and lined with precious marbles; it even had a small temple dedicated to Venus at the top of the semicircular seating section for spectators. The latter part of the building followed the direction of the present via di Grotta Pinta [14], where the buildings are still arranged in a semicircular shape, consistent with that of the ancient theatre, almost as a mould; traces of its foundations have been found in their basement.
(↑ above) detail of Palazzo Pio (17th century), and
the curved buildings in via di Grotta Pinta (right →)

A narrow public passage on one side of the tiny deconsacrated church of St.Mary of Grottapinta (very likely, the place name grotta pinta = "painted grotto" refers to the passage itself) crosses the base of one of the aforesaid buildings, connecting via di Grotta Pinta with piazza del Biscione; in this square, the house on the left of the passage, dating from the 17th century, has a front still featuring pretty decorations painted in the upper part; the large mansion on the right side of the square, instead, is Palazzo Pio (its name in full is Palazzo Orsini Pio Righetti), built in 1450 on the spot where the Temple of Venus stood above the theatre; it was then refurbished according to the Baroque style, in the mid 1600s, when the Orsini family handed it down to the Pio di Savoia family. In 1864, in the courtyard of the mansion a fine bronze statue of Hercules was found, now on display in the Vatican Museums.

← floor plan of the Theatre of Pompey (in blue), overlapping the present
street plan; the numbers match those of the locator map of Parione district

The name of piazza del Biscione (Grass Snake Square) was due to a coat of arms of the Orsini, which includes, among other heraldic devices, a grass snake.

On the outer side of the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey, on the side where now runs via dei Giubbonari, also the small church of St.Barbara was built. It stands at the bottom of Largo dei Librari [15], a tiny square, triangular in shape, located almost at the very southern tip of the district. On its right side, a very popular restaurant, opened over half a century ago, sells fried cod fillets to take away: in the early hours of the evening, people of all ages can be seen in the square nibbling on this delicacy.

largo dei Librari, with the church of St.Barbara