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Giuseppe Vasi's Digression - Genzano

Genzano was a small town on the top of a hill overlooking the lake of Nemi when in 1564 it was acquired by the Cesarini family (later on united with the Sforza). The Sforza Cesarini redesigned Genzano by following the model of the Tridente of Piazza del Popolo in Rome with large streets linking its main monuments.

Fontana del Vino
Fontana del Vino

At the entrance of Genzano three streets start from a round square: they lead to S. Maria della Cima, the main church of Genzano, to the Cesarini Sforza palace and to the church of the Capuchins which are all located at a higher level. In the lack of a Roman obelisk the starting point of the three streets is marked by a fountain with a tall column decorated with wine branches and thus called Fontana del Vino (Wine Fountain) and which actually sprouts wine once a year. It is a 1776 work by Virginio Bracci, son of Pietro Bracci one of the most celebrated Roman sculptors in the first half of the XVIIth century.

Twin fountains in the main street
Twin fountains in the main street

Virgino Bracci designed also two fountains on the street leading to S. Maria della Cima, which are called Fontane Clementine after the large coats of arms of Clemens XIII and Clemens XIV on their top.

S. Maria della Cima, SS. Annunziata and a detail of house
S. Maria della Cima, SS. Annunziata and a detail of a house

The cathedral of Genzano is located at the top (It. cima) of the crater surrounding the Lake of Nemi. A medieval church was most likely built upon a Roman temple overlooking the lake. The current building has a different orientation (towards Via Appia) and it was designed in 1636 by Giovanni Antonio De Rossi.
SS. Annunziata is another historical church of Genzano. Its 1786 fašade shows already some elements of Neoclassicism.

Infiorata
Preparations for the Infiorata

On the first Sunday after Corpus Domini the street leading from Fontana del Vino to S. Maria della Cima is covered with petals of flowers to form a sort of tapestry. It is a tradition which dates back to the end of the XVIIIth century and it is called l' Infiorata (It. fiore, flower).

Palazzo Sforza Cesarini
Palazzo Sforza Cesarini

At the beginning the Cesarini lived in a sort of castle controlling the entrance to the town. Over time the building was enlarged until in 1713-30 the duke Gaetano Sforza Cesarini entirely reshaped the family palace with the assistance of the architects Ludovico and Domenico Gregorini. The fašade shows the use of some optical "tricks" to give the building a taller and larger appearance: the vertical elements become progressively thinner moving upwards, while the horizontal distance between the windows gets smaller moving from the center.

Lake of Nemi
Lake of Nemi

The dark and deep waters of the lake of Nemi were called Specchio di Diana (Diana's Mirror) by the Romans, because the woods surrounding the lake seemed a perfect setting for the hunting goddess. In the XVth century parts of two Roman ships were found and their presence in the closed volcanic lake was attributed to the holding of naumachie (fights between ships). In 1928 the ships were excavated and restored: experts came to the conclusion they were used during religious ceremonies in honour of Diana, to whom a nearby sanctuary was dedicated. Unfortunately in 1944 war events led to the loss of the ships.

XVIIth century and today's alleys
XVIIth century and today's alleys

Genzano was renowned in the past for its tree-lined alleys called olmate (after olmo, elm), which only in part have survived the damages of World War II and the needs of modern life.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:


Gensano castello amenissimo
Il nome di questo secondo castello, se provenga dal suddetto tempio di Diana, la quale fu detta ancora Cintia, cambiandosi poi da Cintiano in Gensano, non si sa indovinare, mentre alcuni popoli, che andavano a quel tempio, non trovando ivi luogo sufficiente, e compiacendosi dell'amenitÓ del sito, quivi si fermavano, e poi forse vi abitarono. Egli Ŕ sommamente delizioso questo castello, oggi posseduto dalla nobilissima famiglia Cesarini; non solamente per il salutare clima, e per l'abbondanza di frutti e vini squisiti: ma ancora per l'amenitÓ delle strade industriosamente formate come di verdeggianti e lunghi viali di giardini.
Vicino al luogo, ove si apre il profondo condotto del lago, che sgorga verso il basso della Riccia, era la famosa villa di Ottaviano Augusto, ora quasi sepolta; ma rimangono ancora alcuni maravigliosi avanzi di sassi quadrati, e di altre stupende reliquie di quella imperiale delizia. Poco lungi, ove ora Ŕ il convento de' frati Cappuccini, furono scoperti diversi acquedotti antichi creduti del tempo di Augusto e di Tiberio, e nel fondo di quel lago furono scoperte per opera del Card. Prospero Colonna, nel Pontificato di Martino V. due gran navi, e cavatane la poppa di una, si riconobbe l'ammirabile struttura di esse, e da alcune grosse lastre cavate dal fondo dell'acqua fu riconosciuto il nome di Tiberio, e che in quel lago si facessero de' combattimenti navali per delizia della nobiltÓ, e per esercizio della milizia Romana.

Next step in your tour of the Environs of Rome: Civita Lavinia

See my Home Page on Baroque Rome or my Home Page on Rome in the footsteps of an XVIIIth century traveller.




All images © 1999 - 2003 by Roberto Piperno. Write to romapip@quipo.it