NAME
Regola is a phonetic corruption of Latin renula ("fine sand"), whence also Arenula - the name of both a street and a square - sprang from. Once the district was exposed to the floods of the Tiber, along whose eastern bank the whole length of Regola stretches. Another place name, vicolo del Polverone (more or less "Big Dust Lane") almost certainly can be explained . Since the late 1800s the river banks were fitted with tall walls to prevent further floods, but in earlier days such incidents were not rare at all.

During the Middle Ages the district was called Regio Arenule et Chacabariorum, where the second name was referred to the chacabariis, coppersmiths who made cauldrons and similar kitchenware. Also two nearby churches were named after them: Santa Maria in Cacaberis (later Italianized into Santa Maria de' Calderari), and San Salvatore in Cacabariis (in Sant'Angelo district, just past the boundary with Regola), whose name was turned into Santa Maria del Pianto in the 16th century.
COAT OF ARMS
A deer. Regola district was famous for its craftsmen; in particular, leather and suede tanners, who used mostrly deer skin for making garments, were particularly renowned, whence the choice of the rione's coat of arms. In Regola, as well as in the neighbouring Parione district, some street names remained connected to the commercial activities that were run there (such as comb-makers, crossbow-makers, basin-makers, and so on), a tradition consistent with the ancient name of the district (see above).


BOUNDARY
Via dei Banchi Vecchi; via del Pellegrino; via dei Cappellari; piazza Campo dei Fiori; via dei Giubbonari; piazza Benedetto Cairoli; via di Santa Maria del Pianto; via del Progresso (former piazza delle Cinque Scole); lungotevere de' Cenci; lungotevere dei Vallati; lungotevere dei Tebaldi; lungotevere di Sangallo; vicolo della Scimia; via delle Carceri.

16th century housebetween
via del Pellegrino and via di Monserrato


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


In ancient Rome, the area where Regola stretches was included in the Campus Martius (see Campo Marzio district for details), and matched the part of the Regio IX (Circus Flaminius), which in its lower half followed the river.

The heart of this district, long and narrow in shape, is piazza Farnese [1], which up to the first half of the 1500s was called piazza del Duca; it is decorated with two twin fountains obtained from ancient stone tubs coming from the Baths of Caracalla (see the Fountains monographs), and closed on the southwestern side by the superb Palazzo Farnese.


piazza Farnese, with Palazzo Farnese in the background
It was commissioned by cardinal Alessandro Farnese (the future pope Paul III) for his own family, and built over a rather long time, from 1515 to 1589, when the back was finished. The works were delayed also due to the sack of Rome (1527), which caused the workshop to shut down for no less than fourteen years. The project, resumed several times, was initially led by Antonio Sangallo the Young, and after his death (1546) it was taken over by his rival Michelangelo, who took care of the balcony and the cornice; finally, after 1564, Giacomo Della Porta completed the rear part of the building and the arch that spans via Giulia (see further).
The mansion is considered one of the finest Renaissance buildings of the city, not only because of its mighty appearance, but also for the lavish frescoes that decorate its halls, particularly those by Annibale Carracci; it is also popularly called the Farnese cube, referring to its proportions, as its width and depth are similar, and it is included among the so-called Rome's 'four wonders'.
The diamond-shaped pattern in the upper part of the fašade was obtained by using bricks of two different colours, yellowish (less baked) and reddish (baked for a longer time). The wonderful coffered cornice, that follows the edge of the rooftop, in the typical style of Renaissance buildings, features carved flowers, each one different from the others.
Following the death of the last Farnese member, cardinal Odoacre (1626), the mansion remained untenanted until the second half of the century, when it was dwelt for a few months by Christine of Sweden (with some consequences, described in Legendary Rome). It was then handed over to the Bourbons, the royal family of the Kingdom of Naples, and finally to the French government, which became the new owner in 1874.
one part of the floral cornice

The Italian government came into possession of Palazzo Farnese in 1936, destining it as the seat of the French Embassy in Rome, therefore maintaining its extraterritoriality, with a tenancy contract for 99 years, at the symbolic price of one euro per year (one thousand liras, before the common European currency came into use).

A curious coincidence is that the lily, or heraldic fleur-de-lys, was the device of both the Farnese family and the royal family of France; this flower is featured several times on the building (in particular, in the coat of arms of Paul III above the balcony), as well as on the uppermost element of the two twin fountains in the square.

At the back of Palazzo Farnese, almost parallel to the course of the Tiber, runs the renowned via Giulia [2], the earliest long and straight street that crossed Regola's medieval maze of narrow lanes, opened in 1508 by Donato Bramante under commission by pope Julius II, following the direction of a preexisting ancient Roman road. For a description of its northern part, see Ponte district; instead, in its southern part, belonging to Regola, most of the interesting buildings are concentrated by the back of Palazzo Farnese.

the fountain of via Giulia →
Leaning against a wall is a fountain of the early 1600s, known as via Giulia's Mascherone ("grotesque face") [3], built by recycling ancient Roman marbles; at its top stands one more Farnese lily, cast in bronze, which reminded passers-by who were the lords of this neighborhood.
Just a few metres/yards further, via Giulia is spanned by the Farnese Arch [4], an aerial passage that connects the back of the historical mansion to the buildings on the opposite side of the street. These low houses replaced an old complex known as the Farnese Cabinets, where the family kept a rich collection of statues and other works of art. The same cabinets were decorated with paintings by famous artists, such as Annibale Carracci, Domenichino and Giovanni Lanfranco; only three small frescoes by the latter painter were spared when the cabinets were taken down, and are now kept in the nearby church of St.Mary of Prayer and Death (see further).

the Farnese Arch that spans via Giulia
Actually, the Farnese Arch had been drawn as the first stretch of a real private bridge, which should have crossed the Tiber, connecting the family mansion to another rich residence located on the opposite bank of the Tiber, which the Farnese had purchased from the Chigi family in 1580, and was ever since called Villa Farnesina (see Trastevere district). But the project was never completed, ancd the arch was left merely as a passage leading to the art collection deposits.
Palazzo Farnese (right) and Villa Farnesina (left)
highlighted in yellow, should have been connected by
a private bridge (dashed line) that remained unfinished

Next to the arch stands the small church of St.Mary of Prayer and Death. The main deed of the congregation for which the church was originally built, in 1575, was to go into the countryside and collect the many corpses of the peasants and of the poor people that lay in the open air, to give them some kind of burial. The church itself was provided with a crypt that acted as a cemetery for the many brethren. The present shape of the building date back to 1733-37, when it was completely rebuilt and enlarged.
The decorations of the church make explicitly reference to the pitiful and rather gruesom activity run by the congregation, with a fašade scattered with skulls, repeated in the inside, while allegories of time (winged hourglasses) and of death (skeletons) are featured on the two old alms-boxes, still found along via Giulia.

skeletons and a winged hourglass over the doorway of the church
The cemetery once stretched below the church, almost reaching the nearby Tiber; then, during the early years of the 20th century, the works for fitting the large walls along the river banks, to prevent the frequent floods, required a drastic shortening of the crypt, most of which went lost.

one of the alms-boxes (1694)
Still today many skull are kept on display, and the lamps that light the vault are made of human bones. This should not be surprising: since the Baroque age, in Rome several institutions used to openly display glamorous symbols of death on the walls and ceilings of crypts; this custom lasted up to the early 1800s. Today only two churches in Rome maintain samples of such form of art, now considered bizarre and gruesome: one is the aforesaid St.Mary's church, the other one, more famous, is the Capuchin church in via Veneto (see Legendary Rome).

Next to the building, on the right, stands a 16th century mansion, enlarged during the following century by Francesco Borromini, whose ends are marked by pilasters topped by a falcon's head with a female bust.

a corner of the crypt
It originally belonged to the Ceci family, but it was soon sold to the Odescalchi, then handed down to the Farnese, and finally, around 1635, it was purchased by the Falconieri, whose family device was the aforesaid curious sculpture. Borromini was commissioned with the enlargement of the mansion by the latter owners.

one of the falcon's heads of Palazzo Falconieri
Some maintain that the female bust oddly featured by the falcon's heads was a reference to the female members of the Falconieri family, who were renowned for their physical appeal. During the early years of the 1900s, the property was sold to a Hungarian scholar, who then bequeathed it to his own nation; so since 1927 Palazzo Falconieri is the seat of the Hungarian Academy in Rome.

About 250 metres (or yards) further north, by the boundary with Ponte district, a mighty building has its windows closed by thick iron bars. These were the New Prisons [5], "that pope Innocent X had built in 1650 for justice and mercy, for a safer and milder custody of the convicts", as a large plaque hanging above the doorway says in Latin. But the building came into actual use as a jail only since 1658, beacause shortly after its making a plague broke out in Rome, and for several years the New Prisons were used as a quarantine station where to keep the sick people isolated from the rest of the population. Today the building houses the headquarters of the police Antimafia Investigation Department.
Also the following building has windows closed by iron bars, but it lies just beyond the district boundary (see Ponte district).

Another historical street that springs from piazza Farnese is via di Monserrato, parallel to via Giulia, lined with many tall and narrow houses, most of which date to the 1500s, or even earlier.
One of them catches the eye more than the others because of its typically medieval look: the house of St.Catherine from Siena (14th century); a plaque above the doorway, though, says that this building is but a faithful replica of the original one, dwelt by the saint in Siena, and carries the date April 30, 1912.

On the opposite side of the street, a plaque dated 1999 remembers that five hundred years earlier, on that spot stood Corte Savella, an ill-famed law court, with a jail in the basement, feared all over Rome for the harsh treatment received by the convicts, both during the trial and the detention. It was closed when the aforesaid New Prisons building was opened, in via Giulia. Later in time, Corte Savella was taken down, to cancel any trace of such a grim establishment.

the New Prisons in via Giulia

At the opposite end, via di Monserrato reaches the small piazza dei Ricci [6]; there stands the fine mansion built in the 16th century that bears the same family name, whose fašade is decorated with frescoes, now rather faint, and whose back faces via Giulia.

Palazzo Ricci
More than for the Ricci family, the building is remembered especially for having been the place where Paul III, according to backbiters, met with his own daughter Costanza Farnese, with whom, it is said, he had an incestuous relationship. There is no historical evidence of such rumour, which was likely sparked by the great influence that the lady had on the pope, her natural father, up to the point that the 16 thcentury writer and poet Pietro Aretino accused him of being "both father and grandfather to your daughter's children". Two hundred years later, the rumour was still lingering, as Benedict XIV commented about his predecessor, with striking humour: "Exorbitant was his love towards his family".

At the back of the building, towards the end of a lane that from via Giulia leads towards the Tiber, stands the smallchurch of St.Eligio of the Goldsmiths [7], drawn by Raphael in 1516 for the guild of the goldsmiths, which can be easily told by its pretty hemispheric dome.

← St.Eligio of the Goldsmiths

In a nearby tiny square, called piazza della Quercia (Oak Square) after the centuries-old tree that grows in the centre, stands a further important and richly ornate building, Palazzo Spada [8], whose fašade is decorated with friezes and statues of famous personalities of ancient Rome. It was built for cardinal Capo di Ferro in 1540, and one century later it was purchased by another cardinal, Bernardino Spada, who commissioned Francesco Borromini with the enlargement and the refurbishment of the original mansion. It holds an important collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings: the Spada Gallery.

Palazzo Spada is famous especially for its perspective gallery: it consists of a short passage opened by Borromini in order to connect the external courtyard of the mansion to an outer space that was obtained by enlarging the building; its actual length is about 9 metres (10 yards), but designed and arranged in such a way that an optical effect makes it appear four times longer. Another consequence of the perspective effect is that a person standing at the bottom of the gallery seems a giant. This simple yet amazing optical effect shows how the Baroque architects knew how to please their clients, by blending originality with technical and scientific skills; to build this gallery, Borromini was in fact assisted by a distinguished mathematician.
Palazzo Spada
Opposite the mansion is a pretty fountain (see Fountains), a work by Borromini, as well, consisting of a niche in which a nymph rests on an ancient sarcophagus; the wall at the back is painted as a fake ashlarwork, a theatrical trick of typical Baroque taste.


← the perspective gallery by Borromini and its cross section scheme ↑


From piazza della Quercia springs the narrow vicolo delle Grotte. [9]
In the 18th century here stood a brothel where the famous esoterist Giuseppe Balsamo, Count of Cagliostro, met his future wife Lorenza, who on moonlit nights still brings back his ghost (for more details see the section Legendary Rome). At number 10 of the same lane the popular movie actor Aldo Fabrizi was born, remembered by plaque.

Leaving Palazzo Spada along the narrow via Capo di Ferro, on the left is a house with a bare brick wall at ground level, and ancient columns inserted in the simple and rather rough texture, an architecture scheme very common in medieval buildings.
By turning left just past the house, the street runs below an arch, and reaches the square where the large Palazzo del Monte di PietÓ [10] stands, housing Rome's main pawn shop. It was established in Rome as a public institution in 1539 (in other Italian and European cities similar institutions were already extant), in order to prevent the many cases of usury. Who was in need of cash could obtain a loan by pledging personal belongings, that could be redeemed by returning the loaned sum, without any interest. It was managed by a religious congregation, and the initial capital was raised by means of alms and charity. This initiative proved rather successful, so a few decades later the pawn shop's seat had to be enlarged once again, using for such purpose one part of the building on the northwestern side of the square, where up to c.1635 the Barberini family lived, before the making of the famous mansion in Trevi district. The connection with the main body of the pawn shop was provided by the aforesaid arch, an aerial passage that spans the street below, which is named via Arco del Monte after it. The fašade of the main building is decorated with a fountain of the early 1600s.

medieval house in via Capo di Ferro
The institution was first established in via dei Banchi Vecchi (at the northernmost end of the district); then in 1585 it was moved to via dei Coronari (Ponte district); finally, in 1604 pope Clement VIII moved it once again in Regola district, in its present location; the coat of arms of the Aldobrandini family hanging on the front of the building refers to the aforesaid pontiff. The structure occupies a whole block, consisting of two large houses of the second half of the 1500s, whose previous owner was a cardinal.

the house of Alessandro Lancia
Since the deposits where the pawned goods were kept were absolutely safe (the thick bars that the windows were fitted with are still in place), and thanks to the surveillance constantly provided by a squad of Swiss guards, specifically assigned for this duty, the pawn shop started working also as a deposit bank where to keep money and valuables.
Such activity was maintained in time, even when the Papal State came to an end. By the late 20th century, it was still a common custom by many Romans to pawn their most precious belongings to the Monte di PietÓ before leaving for the summer holidays (instead of taking them to a security storage company, or hiring a safe-deposit box, undoubtly more expensive), and then redeem them once they came back.


Nearby, at number 23 of the narrow via San Salvatore in Campo, a nice Renaissance house [11] features at the first floor an enormous coat of arms with the six fleur-de-lys of the Farnese family, painted between two round-arched windows. It belonged to Alessandro Lancia, a courtesan of Paul III, who had the pope's heraldic device painted on his own house, to honour the pontiff. The name of the owner is inscribed on the lintel above the door. The same Lancia owned also a second house, at number 9 of via di Marforio, that vanished by the late 1800s for the making of the Vittoriano memorial (see Campitelli district).

Shortly further, at the end of via Santa Maria in Monticelli named after a small medieval church, stands an interesting complex of of medieval houses of the 13th centuries, known as "houses of St.Paul" [12], after the common belief that they had been dwelt by the saint.

the so-called houses of St.Paul
Next to this complex is the Ministry of Justice, a large building drawn by Pio Piacentini, built between 1914 and 1932, with the front facing via Arenula, prtly built in ashlarwork.

the arch at the back of Palazzo Cenci
Via dei Cenci can be reached by crossing the busy via Arenula; here, next to the boundary line with Sant'Angelo district, stands Palazzo Cenci-Bolognetti [13]. It was built in the mid 1500s over the remains of a preexisting fortress. Beatrice Cenci, the young popular heroin whose grim story is now part of Rome's history, was born and raised in this mansion (see Legendary Rome for details).