Piazza S. Apollinare: history and secrets

piazza storica centro di Roma

A few steps from Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori, Piazza S Apollinare it is a small jewel of history, which owes its name to Church and the Palace of Sant'Apollinare, the two oldest buildings here. The fame of the square, however, seems to be linked above all to the presence of Altemps Palace, which currently houses one of the four branches of the National Roman Museum. But, between one historic building and another, there is also no shortage of small shops and restaurants. Overlooking the architectural beauties of the square, Taste offers traditional Roman first courses, pizza and much more, in a location that smacks of art and history.

Let's discover the secrets of this incredible place, which often goes unnoticed, but which is really worth visiting:

Piazza S Apollinare: the Church

As anticipated, Piazza Sant'Apollinare owes its name to the splendid Church of Sant'Apollinare, also known by the nickname “in Archipresbyteratu“, because it has been subject to the control of an archpriest since its most ancient times. This is undoubtedly the "oldest" building in the square, if we consider that Pope Hadrian I founded the Church in 780, even having it built on top of Roman remains. It was a rather simple structure, preceded by a small portico and with an internal space equipped with an apse and divided into three naves. It may seem incredible to you, but the Church of Sant'Apollinare maintained this aspect for 1000 years.

The first rebuilding of the building took place between 1742 and 1748, when it was completely rebuilt by Fernando Fuga, on the orders of Pope Benedict XV. It was then that the Church took on the layout that it still retains today: an elliptical atrium, equipped with an altar, precedes a space with a single nave - with three chapels on each side - surmounted by a barrel vault decorated with a fresco depicting the "Glory of Saint Apollinare“, the work of the painter Stefano Pozzi. What raises curiosity regarding the history of the Church is the story of a sacred image of the Madonna which was covered in lime to escape the raids of Charles VIII and was then considered lost until 1648, when an earthquake detached the plaster and revealed that the icon remained where it had always been.

Piazza S Apollinare: the Palace

Right next to the Church is the beautiful palace of Sant'Apollinare, whose origins date back to approximately the fourteenth century, when the building was used as a home for members of the clergy who worked in the adjacent church. And, throughout history, the building never lost this function: between the 14th and 16th centuries it hosted a residence for cardinals - including Napoleone Orsini and Pietro De Luna, who later became the antipope Benedict XIII -, then the headquarters of a college for students of the nearby Roman University, then the seat of the Germanic-Hungarian College. In short, a building that boasts a completely institutional history. In 1811, for example, Napoleon moved the schools of the Accademia di San Luca there and in 1825 it became the seat of the Pontifical Lateran University. Its destiny thus changed year after year, until it became the seat of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, a function it still retains today.

Piazza S Apollinare: Palazzo Altemps

And here we are at the most famous building in the entire square, Altemps Palace, whose building is to be considered the result of a series of architectural interventions that have built its history. But before telling you what the origins of this structure were, it is worth pointing out that this area once hosted one of the two marble ports of Ancient Rome, in addition to the so-called "Statio rationis marmorum”, that is, an office dedicated to the imperial monopoly on quarries. It is no coincidence, in fact, that many scholars believe that the nearby Church of Sant'Apollinare was built on the remains of buildings from the Roman era. But the real construction of Palazzo Altemps began many centuries later, to be precise in the second half of the fifteenth century, when Girolamo Riario (nephew of Pope Sixtus IV) commissioned its construction to Melozzo from Forlì. The construction was finished in 1480: a three-storey structure, with a simple façade and marked ashlar work on the corners and in the pilasters of the arched portal.

But the story certainly doesn't end here. In the mid-sixteenth century, the palace first passed to the Cardinal of Volterra Francesco Soderini, and then was purchased by Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps, which required a complete renovation of the building. But the fame of Palazzo Altemps is above all due to Giovan Angelo Altemps, a well-known patron who dealt not only with rcollection of works of art, but also of establishment of a rich library and the construction of a theater in the basement of the building. This particular artistic vocation of Palazzo Altemps was then preserved by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, which purchased the building in 1981 and transformed it into one of the locations of the National Roman Museum. In short, a building rich in history, which has nothing other than to house some of the emblematic artefacts of the history of our city.