San Pietro in Vaticano

    In the spring of 1988 I visited Rome for the first time. The "eternal city" highly fascinated me. But the one thing that impressed me the most was the churches of Rome. In Rome there are at least eight hundred churches, chapels and oratories (small prayer chapels). Most architectural styles are represented.

    During the first centuries A.D., when persecutions of Christians took place, the Christians of Rome gathered in private houses, so-called tituli, where a place of worship was arranged. When Christianity was tolerated and later enacted by the Roman imperial power, several basilicas and symmetrical churches were erected. Some of the preserved basilicas are Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Sabina and Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura. Santa Costanza and Santo Stefano Rotondo are two examples of symmetrical churches. The analysis of the medieval sacral architecture in Rome is a difficult chapter. Many medieval churches were rebuilt and/or enlarged during the baroque era. Well preserved are the churches of San Clemente, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, San Giorgio in Velabro and Santa Maria in Trastevere. Santa Maria sopra Minerva has the only Gothic interior, even though it for some time had a baroque appearance.

    The renaissance style is well-represented among the city's churches, e.g. Santa Maria del Popolo, Sant'Agostino and San Pietro in Montorio with the Tempietto. The biggest church building of Rome and as well of the world is the basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano, Saint Peter's. The basilica was begun in 1506, but it wasn't consecrated until 1626. Consequently it displays both renaissance and baroque architectural and sculptural elements. However the baroque is the most common style regarding the churches of Rome. From about 1575 and for approximately 150 years on a great number of baroque churches were designed and erected in Rome. The mest characteristic feature of a baroque church is its imposing screen-like fašade. The fašade of the church of Il Ges¨, completed in 1575, became the prototype for the continuing development. The city silhouette of Rome is indeed dominated by baroque cupolas. The catalogue of baroque churches in Rome seems unfathomable, but here I will only mention a few of them, i.e. Sant'Andrea della Valle, Santa Susanna, Sant'Agnese in Agone and Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso.

    The style of the rococo is allegedly only represented by one church, Santa Maria Maddalena, but I am of the opinion, that the small Santa Maria della Quercia displays obvious rococo features as well. Neo-classicism is discernible in the fašades of Santa Maria del Priorato, San Pantaleo and San Rocco. Modern church buildings are to be found especially in the suburbs of Rome. One example is Santi Pietro e Paolo at the E.U.R. Accordingly one may assert, that the churches of Rome offer examples of most styles of architecture from early Christian times to the modern era.

The Selection of the Hidden Churches of Rome

    In Rome there are many more or less hidden churches, but my selection is based solely on subjective grounds. So, what defines a hidden church? Well, if the church isn't visible from the street then it is hidden, e.g. Sant'Ambrogio della Massima, San Gregorio Nazianzeno and Santi Michele e Magno. In addition to this I have included several of the off-the-beaten-path churches, which are situated in narrow streets between high building walls.

Photographs and Maps

    The photographs of this website are the property of yours truly, unless otherwise mentioned. To find out the source of the pictures, that don't belong to me, hover with your mouse over the picture in question.

    In 1748 pope Benedict XIV commissioned the architect and engraver Giovanni Battista Nolli (1701-1756) to create a figure/ground map of Rome. Nolli's inventive map-making strategy was to show all public spaces in white and private inaccessible spaces in black. The visual "footprint" is defined by not only streets and pathways, but also by lobbies, courts, and interior public spaces of buildings. The "Nolli map", as it is known, was the result of seven years of measuring and recording by a group of surveyors. It depicts the Roman network of medieval and baroque streets along with views of great monuments, drawn by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778). Initially prepared for purposes of tax assessment, it is a potentially useful document for studying how the relationship between public and private spheres is inscribed in urban space. I use some small portions of this map to illustrate some of the churches of Rome and their immediate surroundings.