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Santa Maria degli Angeli: a jewel on the remains of the Baths of Diocletian

When speaking of the “Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri“, the name is usually abbreviated to “Santa Maria degli Angeli”. But the martyrs are the true protagonists of Michelangelo’s work.

Located in the heart of the “Terme di Diocleziano”, the largest in ancient Rome, its founding idea was born from a vision.

Michelangelo Buonarroti and Luigi Vanvitelli are the architects of a place of worship rich in masterpieces

Antonio del Duca – uncle of Michelangelo’s disciple Giacomo – had a vision of seven martyrs bathed in a “whiter than snow” light. Antonio then asked Pius IV to build a temple dedicated to them, and in 1561 the pontiff commissioned the elderly Renaissance artist.

Michelangelo carried out a general rearrangement of the entire Baths. Creating a large space with a cross-shaped plan that was wider than it was long, unlike the norm.

In the 18th century, Luigi Vanvitelli made several changes.  Bringing many famous works from St. Peter’s (threatened by humidity) to the basilica and making aesthetic changes to the architecture. Restorations in 1911 returned the facade to its original state. Adding two large bronze portals by Igor Mitoraj depicting the Annunciation and the Resurrection.

The main wonders that attract the interest of enthusiasts and tourists

Several funerary monuments are enshrined in the church. That of the painter Carlo Maratta, creator of several paintings on site. Of Cardinal Parisio and of the celebrated artist Salvator Rosa forerunner of Romanticism. The side chapels and other rooms house several masterpieces by artists including: Giacomo della Rocca, Niccolò Ricciolini, Giacomo Muziano, Giovanni Baglione, and many others. But immediately catching the attention of visitors is the splendid Darkroom Sundial commissioned by Clement XI for the Jubilee of 1700.

The purpose of the installation was empirical control of the correctness of the Gregorian calendar, determining the date of Easter according to the motions of the Sun and Moon. On the bronze line drawn on the floor, and nearly 45 meters long, a sunbeam falls from a hole in the wall.

A plaque commemorates its use as a sundial until 1846 when it is replaced by the cannon on the Gianicolo.

The solemnity of the Basilica makes it the church of official ceremonies of the Italian Republic

Another notable attraction is the monumental organ built by Bartolomeo Fomentelli, inaugurated in the Jubilee of 2000 as a gift from the Romans to John Paul II. Twelve meters high and 11 meters wide, it has about 5,400 pipes and can be heard during ordinary masses and in Italian state ceremonies.

In this respect, the Basilica has a long pre-Roman tradition. It hosted the wedding of Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III of Savoy to Princess Elena of Montenegro. Recently it has been increasingly used for state funerals due in part to its vast size as well as its unparalleled prestige.

The facade overlooks Piazza della Repubblica, a name that has replaced that of Piazza Esedra by which Romans still familiarly call it. In the center of the square is the beautiful “Fountain of the Naiads” by architect Rutelli (grandfather of the city’s former mayor).  In front of it the very long Via Nazionale that leads to Piazza Venezia.

The combination of history, art and culture with the urban location makes it an absolutely unique tourist destination.

With the Blog of Rome and Latium Region Around Rome guides you to discover places and territories for the pleasure of satisfying curiosity and putting culture at the service of people and businesses.

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Edited by il NETWORK | text Andrea Franchini | photo  Ezio Bocci
 

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