Although the medieval era saw the demise of Rome’s military and political empire, it also saw the rise of the Roman Catholic Church which ruled over all of medieval Europe. Much of the architecture which survives in modern Rome was commissioned and built by this powerful institution. The Church also influenced such medieval literary masters as Dante as well as accomplished artists like Leonardo da Vinci.
A tour of the Isola Tiberina in Trastevere can reveal treasures from this important period that remain today. Due to the building practices of later eras, which incorporated these priceless relics into newer buildings, they may be hard to find. However, a thorough search will reward the traveller with a carefully preserved glimpse into the past. Fortunately, Trastevere is pedestrian-friendly, allowing visitors to wander narrow cobblestone streets while visiting these historical sights.
One relic that is easy to spot is the ruined Castle of Caetani, which was built in the 10th century. The tower contains a beautiful marble cast of the head of a young woman and is named Torre della Pulzella, which means the Tower of the Maid. Continuing on to the Church of San Bartolomeo, the traveller will see one of the most ancient relics in modern Rome, a marble curb that is made from a fragment of an ancient Roman column.
No medieval tour of Rome would be complete without stopping to see the Casa Mattei, located in Piazza in Piscinula. These are beautiful 14th century houses of noble Roman families and afford a rare glimpse into Roman medieval life.
Another interesting attraction is the beautiful basilica of Santa Cecilia with a Gothic tower built in 1293. The basilica also contains many 9th century mosaics along with a fresco by the most important Roman painter of the 13th century, Pietro Cavallini. The church’s ornate décor can be enjoyed even though all of the information panels are in Italian.
On the south side of Trastevere, the Piazza S. Francesco d’Assisi marks the reputed home place of Saint Francis, who was one of the fathers of the early church. Nearby stands the stately Paluzzi-Albertoni chapel which contains the statue of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni as well as relics from the ruins of Veii.
Of all the medieval sights to see in Trastevere, Piazza Santa Maria is the highpoint. This church is reputed to be the oldest in the city with a building date of 222 A.D. The columns which line the nave have been authenticated to be from ancient Roman architecture and contain some of the most beautiful mosaics in the city. The majority of these mosaics is believed to be the work of Petro Cavallini, in 1290, however the mosaics which decorate the upper apsis are much older and are believed to date back to 1140. At night, the façade of the Santa Maria is illuminated which make it a breath-taking sight. Most of the structure dates back to the 12th century when Pope Innocence III commissioned the building project.
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