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The hidden treasures of Trastevere

by Dario Morgante last modified 2008-06-20 15:10

Discovering Trastevere, with its hidden mosaics, miniature bells and a little-known museum of Roman poetsDiscovering Trastevere, with its hidden mosaics, miniature bells and a little-known museum of Roman poets

Our trip today takes us right into the heart of Rome, as we discover the hidden delights of Trastevere, one of the city's oldest and best-loved areas. The tour is suitable for even the shortest stay in Rome, so make the most of the Easter holidays and take an unforgettable walk through the winding alleys of Trastevere where you will stumble on some of the capital's most beautiful churches.

Poets' place
Our tour starts off in Piazza Gioacchino Belli. In the centre of the square the statue of Belli, a well-known Roman poet, seems to welcome us into his area. Indeed poetry lovers will enjoy a visit to the one of the square's little-known treasures - the Roman Poet's Museum.
Still on the square we stop to admire the Anguillara Tower, an ancient tower built by one of the most important noble families in Rome in the 13th century and commonly known as Dante's house. The first church on our route is the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Trastevere. Don't miss the impressive 9th century mosaic in the apse, the 12th century tabernacle and Stefano Maderno's sublime statue of Saint Cecilia. Leaving the church we head for Piazza dei Mercanti, once a focal point for Rome's Jewish population and now one of the most colourful squares in the area.

Saintly shelter
san francesco di ripaOur chosen route now takes us along Via Anicia where we will visit the beautiful church of S. Francesco a Ripa. Built in the 13th century the church was home to Saint Francis of Assisi during his trips to the Holy City.
We then continue to the nearby church of San Benedetto in Piscinula, known by locals as "San Benedettino" (the little church of Saint Benedict) because of its diminutive nature. The church, which still houses the cell where the Saint lived, was built on the ruins of the Domus Aniciorum, the home of the Anicii family, the ancient Roman family which Saint Benedict supposedly belonged to and which gave its name to the street.
The church has a magnificent Romanesque bell tower which was built in the 12th century. However, the real jewel is the bronze bell hanging inside the tower which was completed in 1069 making it the oldest bell in Rome, and, at a mere 45 cm in diametre, is also the smallest!
Inside, the church has an irregular form and it boasts a fine collection of works from the Mediaeval period including an impressive cosmatesque mosaic floor. Worthy of note are the pillars which date back to Roman times and what remains of the original 12th century frescoes - the Universal Judgement on the back wall and Scenes from the Old Testament on the right-hand wall.
Those wishing to visit the church should note that it is only open on Sunday morning for 9 am mass.

Magnificent mosaics
It's time to leave San Benedettino behind and cross Viale Trastevere towards the magnificent basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere . Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the most beautiful basilicas that you'll come across in the capital and is believed to be the oldest place of worship dedicated to Our Lady in Rome. Legend goes that it was built on the site of an oil font where Our Lord's birth was first predicted in 38 BC Now, it's safe to say, that it is one of the finest churches in Rome with its 12th century Romanesque bell tower and façade with a mosaic of the Virgin and Child. The church boasts some magnificent mosaics including one in the apse from the 12th century of the Triumphant Madonna and others, attributed to Pietro Cavallini, which depict episodes from the life of Our Lady.
Don't forget to ask to see the church's collection of Byzantine art, dating from the 1 D.C., which is stored in the sacristy

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