ROME DAY 8: Bridges, Inscriptions, Cheeses

In Rome sunrise was at 7:14  and the Sunset will be at 18:40 and the poor Ave Maria bell is still set, in vain, to ring at 19:00 for the Curia.

Under one of these ROME posts someone mentioned a book I have in the past recommended warmly and with fervor. I renew my recommendation. It is an amazing window into the Rome of that time and, therefore, this.

The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini, and the Rivalry That Transformed Rome by James Morrisey.


I had a stroll over to Trastevere today, and on the way I went past the famous “Big Mask”, Mascherone fountain.  As it appears today.

As it appeared in the day of the artist Ettore Roesler Franz (+1907)

There was a lack of water in the area, so Paul V brought Acqua Paola to this fountain.  There are different waters that flow into Rome, identifiable from their sources.   I quite like all the Roman waters.  In times of celebration, however, the nearby Farnese’s would make this fountain to run with wine.

Now to the easily identifiable Ponte Sisto, with its single large “occhione” or “big eye” in the central pier.   That reduces the force of the water against the bridge when the Tiber is in flood stage.  Yes, it gets that high, which is why all over the center of the city you can see plaques and inscriptions indicating how high the waters reached in certain bad years.

Who wants to try their Latin hand?  I was with Fr. Reginald Foster on a walk with students once upon a time, and a very fancy classics prof at Harvard was somewhat stymied by one of these.

Pope Sixtus IV (Della Rovere), builder of the Sistine Chapel (thus, the name) built this bridge in 1475 to help the movement of pilgrims to Rome during a Jubilee Year.  Just up the street is St. Trinità dei Pellegrini where St Philip Neri’s congfraternity helped pilgrims.

There is a problem with the claim in this first inscription.

I like that “magna impensa” part.  Ol’ Sixtus paid for this bridge using taxes on the papal states sanctioned brothels.

So, let’s say a prayer for Sixtus.  All in all, of comparatively happy memory, considering….

On the other side of the Tiber you see a grand fountain which is actually connected to a huge fountain on the top of the Gianicolo Hill, looming over the neighborhood.  This fountain was once in a different place: set over to the right of this photo and into the wall of a building that was razed to put in the massive embankments around to keep the river in check.  Now it is a great place to find drunks in the evening, with their particularly mangy dogs.

I’ve been mentioned Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, the poet who wrote in brilliant Roman dialect. Here is a restaurant named in his honor.  Back in the day it was alright, though I have eaten there in years.

You see there “Der Belli”  which is Roman for “di il” or “del” Belli… “Belli’s Restaurant”.  Romans like r’s in place of l’s, so “del” becomes “der” and “il” becomes “er”.

Inside Santa Maria in Trastevere.  This is one of the oldest churches dedicated to the Mother of God in Rome, perhaps older than Mary Major.

You can see that it is in the clutches of the Sant’Egidiots.  They are obsessed with putting stuff – usually related to nothing in the style or architecture of the place – in front of altars.  It is as if they have no clue at all what an altar is, other than a place to prop stuff.

The mosaics by Pietro Cavallini date to the 13th century.  They depict moments in the life of the Virgin Mary.

They are of unrivaled delicacy, though they are hard to see from a distance.

More courtly sheep decorously processing to the Lamb and the safe pasture and place of refreshment (refrigerium).

Nice ceiling, if you like that sort of thing.  Painting by Domenichino.

Here is the tomb of Pope Innocent II (+1143).

He was originally in the Lateran, but one of the times when it burned, they moved him here.  Ironically, also in the this church somewhere (not sure where) is the tomb of an Anti-Pope, Anacletus II, who was Innocent’s rival.   Innocent was backed by St. Bernard who, when it came to anti-popes didn’t always get it right. There was quite the schism.  Of course back in the day things were done directly and not by ambiguity and innuendo.  Lateran II polished off the schism in 1139.

Lovely.  The columns and capitols came from the Bath’s of Caracalla.

In the porch, you see many fragments of inscriptions and tombs.

Some are in verse.  Anyone want to try this?

Vincere supplicibus properas qui sidera verbis
effusasque Deo tendis in astra preces,
hic pete quo Dominus praesentem commodat aurem:
hac nullus hominum tristis ab arce redit,
nullius hoc fructus pereunt sub culmine voti,
Iulius hic Christum quae cupis ille rogat,
hic duo pro populis Dominum suffragia flectunt,
cum pariter templum sancta Maria tenet.
Omnibus in templis quod iustis gratia praestat,
hic et peccantis impetrat alma fides;
hinc exauditus Crescentius addit honorem,
qui instructis aditis vota secunda tulit.

Bits and pieces.  The little figures make our forebears more real to us.  They lived much as we do, even without our tech and advancements.  That’s the error that most libs make: they think that humanity has evolved into something more sophisticated, such that we don’t any longer have to do things like kneel before the flames of transcendence when we enter the sacred spaces to encounter the transforming mystery.

On the way to the island, I ran into a lone tribble, perhaps Andorian.  Not terribly chatty, so I went on my way.

Remember I said that the claim in that Latin inscription was weak?  This, or rather that, by the large, modern bridge is the “Ponte Rotto”.

This fragment of an ancient Roman bridge is what’s left of the monumental Pons Aemelianus built by in the 2nd c. BC, between Trastevere and the Forum Boarium where the ships docked and there were huge markets for vegetables and animals and all sorts of things.  It was a Greek quarter, too.  Just on the edge is the church where as a seminarian I served for a couple years and directed a Gregorian chant schola of women who sang ethereally.

St. Bartholonew. This was the titular church of Card. George, late of Chicago, who is deeply deeply deeply deeply missed.

Again, this is in the clutches of the Sant’Egidiots, who uses altars as shelves for stuff and are determined to make every view of every corner and prospect cluttered.

Got a beautiful apse painting?  Let’s put something in front of it!

This time, I must admit, there were interesting things littering the altars… every single side altar.  These are relics of various modern martyrs, each altar being a different region or persecution, such as “Americas” or “Communism”.   On the one for “Europe” (no… don’t mention Islam!), is the Liturgy of the Hours book of French martyr Fr. Hamel brutally slain by an Islamic terrorist.

Since I am doing bridge inscriptions… Here’s an innocent little offering, that you should not have too much trouble unraveling.  Note the reference to “FABRICIUM”.

Here is the PONS FABRICIUS, also called the Ponte dei Quattro Capi, for reasons that will be made clearer.

This bridge originates from 62 BC.  There was a wooden bridge here, eventually replaced by Lucius Fabricius.  Think, “The Great Roman Fabrizio” and you will remember also this bridge.   This comes from the western bank of the Campus Martius over to the island in the middle of the Tiber, where since antiquity there have always been hospitals.  In ancient times there was a temple to the healing god Asclepius here, named in the Hippocratic Oath.  You can see the ancient inscription on the arch of the bridge: “L(UCIUS) FABRICIUS C(AI) F(ILIUS) CUR(ATOR) VIAR(UM) FACIUNDUM COERAVIT”  The Bridge of Cestius goes from the other side of the island to Trastevere.  It has been rebuilt a bunch of times.

The “four heads” come from a pair of “Janus” herms, which look in both directions.   There weren’t original to the bridge, but rather moved here from a nearby church.

Over on the Viale Trastevere, before crossing the river, you see a large monument of a guy in a top hat leaning on a wall by a thing with faces sticking up.  That’s the Roman poet, Er Belli!

Errand report: I was able to get my sewing stuff and made a repair to my rather tired and worn light alb I travel with.  It is kept these days at Ss. Trin for mass.  Also, I was able to score yesterday a thing to suppress splatters from pans while cooking.  In Italian a – great word, this – paraspruzzi!

Here are my cheese guys in the Campo de’ Fiori.   The stuff is amazing.  They’ve taken to me and I’ve been learning and sampling.

Some of the soft ripened cheeses, various milks.  The Robiola is really good.

I tried one called Barrà.  Beh!  A cow milk cheese.  In the photo above, in the front there is Pagliette, of goat.  These are the two I took home for supper.

Greetings to Mary on the way home.

I concluded the day by heading to church for Mass.  I am making myself sketch a little.

I’m terrible, but… you know, this is an extended time in Rome when I haven’t been hard at a job or studies or something.  I’m just .. living.  So, I want to do a few things I haven’t ever had time to do.  Anyway, I’d very much like to have even part of the gene that brings drawing skills.

My apartment is furnished with the most elegant of drinkware for an evenings’s Aperol.

Puntarelle, dressed with anchovy, garlic, a touch of white wine vinegar, oil and pepper.

The main event with pizza bianca.

Cold report.  Not worse.  I had a good night’s sleep.  I’m blasting it with vitamins and using other nasal interventions.  Cough has not worsened.

This is longish, so I’ll conclude.  Today, Mass for Benefactors.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Markus says:

    Hey Fr., drawing skills are acquired and not genetic. Since you are drawing architecture, go to YouTube and check out “how to do perspective drawing” Once you learn the technique, including horizon points, your drawings will be great, with a little practice. Like everything, it appears to be hard until you learn the rules. Your “own style” will emerge.

  2. MitisVis says:

    I have wanted to visit Rome and surrounding cities my whole life, but I’m afraid I may never have the opportunity. Your guided tours are a blessing, including the dining experiences. I guess many of us are just speechless, but rest assured we appreciate any and all ramblings about the Eternal City.

  3. ThePapalCount says:

    Fr Z I pray your cold disappears quickly. But, I want to thank you for these street “ramblings”. I greatly appreciate the photos and your commentary. I enjoy your restaurant pix also. I have been to Rome several times and am grateful to you for taking me back there through your photos and captions. I hope to return again. I pray that all those who would wish to go to Rome somehow have the opportunity to travel there. Please keep up the photo/travellogue and God bless your ministry Fr Z.

  4. PostCatholic says:

    Looks like a tremendous vacation. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. Benedict Joseph says:

    Your travel diaries this trip are, if I recall well, the best yet. I love Rome but I haven’t been since the canonization of S. Teresa Benedicta which was exactly twenty-one years ago today. Too long indeed, but I won’t be back until the restoration of sanity.
    Who would have believed twenty-one years ago that we would endure what we do today at the hands of Rome.

  6. teomatteo says:

    Father, your travel logs (for some reason) brought back memories of me sitting in front of the t.v. in the 1960’s and watching ‘George Pierrot’. A detroiter may remember him. Thanks for giving your time to us.

  7. acardnal says:

    Thanks so much for these photographic tours of Rome and the food, too. I really enjoy them. And they’re educational.

  8. Gab says:

    Outstanding travelogue, Fr Z. If I am ever lucky enough to visit Rome, I’ll be sure to refer to your daily missives and hopefully visit the places you mention, both grand and humble, avoiding any troubling tribbles.

    The fragment of the inscription for the deceased Maxisiminus (in your picture above) is so dear with his arms apart. Made me smile as it looks as though he’s making that Italian gesture of “Boh”.

  9. Speaking of great books, my copy of Christus Vincit (ordered via your link) arrived the other day and I am about a third of the way through it. It is superb. Everyone needs to get it!

  10. Spinmamma says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post, among many, that simultaneously teaches, entertains, raises spirits and reminds us of the long history of the Church. Those who came before, who guarded the Deposit of Faith, did great works, improved the lives of the people, built beautiful shrines and churches, and who cherished their culture and history. I can’t put into words how comforted I am this morning after turning from the shrieking carnival of the media and finding this lovely and peaceful offering. Bless you, dear Father Z. How often I thank our God for you and the faithful clergy, religious, and laity who continue to stand up for our Holy Mother Church.

  11. pbnelson says:

    Since it seems like you’re in the neighborhood, and in case you’ve never been there, and speaking of putting things in front of the altar…

    Allow me to recommend a visit to the Church of Saint Savior in Onda where the incorrupt body of San Vincenzo Pallotti is on full display in a glass coffin, Sleeping Beauty style, front and center afore/within the altar. Just one block West of St. Trinitas, at 56-58 Via dei Pettinari.

    A year ago when I popped out to see if I could get a morning cappuccino at Antico Bar Pasticceria Mariani. Outstanding cappuccinos at rock bottom prices! Anyway, I noticed the doors of the church open, stepped inside to look around and was astonished to discover a mass-in-progress, with Vincenzo right there in attendance. Back at the apartment I excitedly told the family all about it but every other time we passed by the doors were closed.

    [I am quite familiar with that church. Thanks for mentioning it.]

  12. JabbaPapa says:

    Today, I found the first actually decent cheddar I’ve tasted in about 20 years (last one was about the same time as my foot pilgrimage to, coincidentally, Rome in 2000).

    My !! But I’ve missed it !!!

  13. Andrew says:

    A truly engaging and enjoyable post. Please allow one additional comment on the “ponte rotto”. Two bridges were known as “ponte rotto”: Pons Aemilius destroyed in 1598 was one of them. The other was the Pons Aurelius (later knows as Antoninus and later as Valentinianus). It was destroyed in AD 792.

  14. Mario Bird says:

    Nice sketches! They remind me of Belloc’s in The Path to Rome. Sketches, history, poetry, food, Mass. This was a great post–thanks, Padre.

    PS, has any Catholic wag tried to institute a “pilgrimage” that retraces Belloc’s steps? They could call it “Boozy Halo International Tours.” I’d go.

  15. Kathleen10 says:

    Ah these are terrific! I’ve never been and don’t think I ever will, so these are lovely to see.
    I love all the pictures, all, and yes, the food, it is just so completely different from the good old states. I love my country, but Europe’s beauty and history. And today, I sketched too! We both sketched, you a beautiful bit of Roman architecture, me my purse and water bottle and the back of heads at a conference for work. Sketching is peaceful. We should probably all be sketching.
    I hope you continue to feel better. Keep at it, and don’t forget to get rest.

  16. jaykay says:

    Father: thanks. Just… thanks! Of all your Roman posts over the years, these are surely among the best, and I look forward to them each day. Do please have a most enjoyable time, and s swift recovery from the illness.

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