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Medieval Rome
(VIII – XIV centuries)

porta san paolo medival wall

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During the 9th century Rome was invaded by the Arabic population of the Saracens. Their different religion, the Islamism, has provided them with a strong reason to sack and destroy many classical monuments.

During the two following centuries the city passed under the domination of the dynasties of Germany and French (the Normans).
In 1144, considered the date of the beginning of the Feudal Age, rises the Commune of Rome, which during the century strengthened its administrative position.
But soon the Commune loses its popular trend and passes under the control of the Pope and the aristocratic Roman families (Frangipane, Savelli, Colonna, Orsini), the greatest authorities of the city. Their power was administered and reinforced by subduing the population.

During the XI – XIII centuries, the Christian Western organises seven crusades in order to conquer the Holy Land and save it from the Islamic domination. The last one was headed by the French King Luis IX, in 1270.

In 1300, during the time of Giotto and Dante, pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the first jubilee, the Holy Year, which brought thousands of pilgrims to Rome from all over Europe, and provided a large income for the papal coffers.
For a long time this event was celebrated every 100 years. In most modern times, the Catholic word celebrates it every 25 years. During this festivity, those believers who visit the four major Roman basilicas would be forgiven their sins. In 1305 the papacy was removed from its original Roman seat, the Lateran Palaces, to Avignon, where it remained under the protection of France for most of the 14th century. This period is also known with the name of ‘Babylonian captivity’, in reference with the deportation of the Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after which they were then allowed to return.
Meanwhile Rome, and the surrounding countryside, was devasted by wars between the Roman aristocratic families. The local families took possession of the rests of the classical monuments and transformed them into their forts.

From the artistic point of view, architects developed a typically medieval style, which had two different and subsequent expressions: first the Romanic and then the Gothic.

The Romanic style, developed between the XI and XIII centuries, introduces a new architectural element, the wall-barrel vault, thought to substitute the old wooden vault. The Romanic style, widespread throughout Europe, has fostered the erection of beautiful churches, such as these of Caen and Vézelay in France, and these of Magonza, Spira, and Worms in Germany. Other beautiful churches in Romanic style roused in England and in north Italy.

During the XII century, in Rome were erected some beautiful churches that represent the pure Romanic style. One of these churches, the basilica of St Clemente, has a long story. Art and Culture in Rome: a famous Painting
Originally funded in the VI century over an older underground sanctuary dedicated to the god Mitra, the church was burned in 1084 by the Norman Robert Guiscard. Over its rests pope Pasquale II erected the new Romanic basilica, with two aisles and three apses, the central of which still keeps the wonderful golden mosaic of the Crucifixion.

S. Maria in Cosmedin, funded in the 6th century, was completely rebuilt in the XII century, according to the Romanic style, and assigned to the Greek populations escaping persecutions in the East. The mess celebrated inside this church follows still today the Greek-Orthodox rituals. The elegant bell-tower and present layout belongs to its major rebuilding in the 12 century.
Mounted on the wall at the left end at the entrance porch is the Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth), a large marble disc, originally a fountainhead, with the head o a river god in low relief, who will bite off the hand of those who tell lies.

S. Maria in Trastevere is the oldest Church of Rome. According to tradition, it was funded in 221 in a place where in BC 38 miraculously came out from the ground a jet of oil.
It was rebuilt during the Middle Ages, in the XII century, in a Romanic style, with one nave and two aisles separated by rows of columns, and embellished by precious mosaics in the apse.

One typical architectural element of the medieval churches was the bell-tower in Romanic-Lombard style. There survive 38 of them, all characterised by the typical squared form, by the presence of many floors, by the mullioned two and three-light windows, and horizontal frames with marble dentels.
Among the most beautiful ones, there are these of the churches of S Lorenzo al Verano, S. Maria in Trastevere, S. Crisogono, S. Maria in Cosmedin, S. Giorgio al Velabro, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, etc.

Most of the Romanic churches of the city is characterized by a pavement made up by coloured tesseras (white, green, red), disposed to form geometric figures. This particular kind of pavement was the typical sign of a family of artisans, the Cosmati who, during the XII and XIII centuries, was in charge for the architectural decorations of many monuments in Rome and in the countryside.
Another famous family of local marble worker is that of the Vassalletto, in charge of the rich decoration with marble and mosaics of the basilicas of S. Paolo outside the walls (1214) and S Giovanni in Laterano (1215).

The Romanic art was followed by the Gothic one, born in France in the XII century. The first realisation of this style is represented by the Abbacy of St Denis, in the nearby of Paris. Throughout the XIV century, this style has characterised the erection of many churches in Europe.
The new element introduced by the Gothic architecture is represented by the ogival arch, that allows the erection of the cross-vaulted shapes. With this kind of vaults it was possible to develop the building throughout its length enlighten the walls and insert the colourful stained-glass windows.

In France are very famous the Cathedral of Chartres, Reims, Rouen, and the Notre Dame self. In Germany are splendid examples the Dom of Colonia and the Cathedral of Friburg.

The Italian centre of the Gothic art was Lombardy, while in Rome it had not so much success as all throughout the 14th century the lack of the papacy has notably undermined the erection of new religious monuments.
Sole example of this style is represented, in Rome, by the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva, funded in the 8th century close to the temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva and successively rebuilt in 1280 according the new architectural models imported by North Europe. Gothic forms are exhibited also by the ciboria of the altars sculpted by Arnolfo da Cambio at the end of the ’22 and kept in S. Paolo outside the walls and S. Cecilia in Trastevere.


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