Sant'Angelo (rione of Rome)

Sant'Angelo (rione of Rome)

Sant'Angelo is the eleventh historic district or rione of Rome, often written as "rione XI - Sant'Angelo". Its coat of arms is an angel on a red background, holding a palm branch in its left hand. In another version, the angel holds a sword in its right hand and a scale in its left. [

The scale refers not to the symbolic scales of justice, but rather to the weighing of fish; Rome's fish market was located here throughout almost 1,400 years. In its first version, the coat of arms, the coat of Arms of Sant'Angelo displayed a silver fish on a red field.]

Sant'Angelo, the smallest of Rome's rioni, lies along the Tiber river east of Tiber Island. Rioni bordering this district, clockwise from north to south, include Regola, Sant'Eustachio, Pigna, Campitelli, and Ripa. Sant'Angelo's western border is the river.

The rione's terrain is low and flat and, until recent times, particularly susceptible to flooding from the river.

The historical significance of Sant'Angelo is mainly the result of the presence here of the Roman Ghetto.


Roman Age: "Circus Flaminius"

During the early Roman period, the territory occupied by Sant'Angelo lay outside the Servian walls, east of the island. This location, at a point where the river could be forded easily (at least in summer) had great strategic importance.

The Cestius and Fabricius bridges, built during the first century BC to connect the island with the right and the left bank, respectively, increased the importance of the area. [The oldest stone bridge of Rome, the "Pons Aemilius", completed in 142 BC, stood slightly south of the island.]

During the Empire, the district was part of "IX Circus Flaminius," one of fourteen Roman regiones. The "regio" was named after the Circus Flaminius, the second-largest circus of Rome, built here during the third century BC by Gaius Flaminius Nepos. The Circus [The Circus was the site of "Comitia Plebis" as well as the starting point for Roman triumphs. Staccioli, 208.] stood near the Capitoline Hill and the Forum.

Augustus intended the area near the Circus to be part of Rome's monumental center, with buildings devoted to dramatic performances (such as the theaters of Marcellus [The construction began under Caesar and finished under Augustus. The theatre, dedicated to Augustus' dead nephew Marcellus, could hold 15,000 spectators. Staccioli, 204.] and Balbus [Built by L. Cornelius Balbus in 13 BC, this was the smallest but the most exclusive of Rome's three theaters of Rome. It featured a cryptoportico, whose remains are still visible today in Via delle Botteghe Oscure. Staccioli, 208.] ) and temples.

Moreover, two magnificent porticos, both built in the tradition of Republican-era porticoes, were built toward the end of the first century BC: the Porticus Octaviae and the Porticus Philippi. The first was built by Augustus, who dedicated it to his sister Octavia, [The original portico was actually built by Cecilius Metellus Macedonicus in 146 BC, and was rebuilt by Augustus. It contained Greek and Latin libraries as well as a set of 34 bronze statues by Lysippos, portraying Alexander the Great with soldiers who felln during the battle of Granicus. The portico also contained the temples of Juno Regina and of Jupiter Stator. Staccioli, 206.] the second was erected by his stepfather Philippus. [The Porticus Philippi was rebuilt in 29 BC, on the site of a portico built in 168 BC by Gneus Octavius. The Portico contained the temple of Hercules Musagetes, erected by Marcus Fulvius Nobilior. Staccioli, 208.]

Part of the area used for these buildings was obtained at the expense of the Circus Flaminius, which was partially dismantled by Augustus. [Staccioli, 208.]

Middle Ages: "Sant'Angelo in foro piscium"

After the end of the Empire the monumental edifices collapsed, [The Emperor Valentinian I in the second half of the fourth century demolished part of the scaena of the theater of Marcellus to rebuild the Pons Cestius. Delli, 819.] but some of them were transformed into fortresses. Several factors played an important role in this transformation: first, the size and solidity of construction; then, the closeness to the Tiber (after the rupture of the aqueducts during the Gothic war, the river became the only source of drinking water for the city). Finally, the possibility of controlling the access to the right bank via the Pons Fabricius, Cestius and Aemilius, [Known later as"Ponte rotto" ("broken bridge").] the only bridges which were still in place inside the Aurelian walls by that time.

The baronal families of the "Fabi" and later of the Savelli, which owned also the stronghold on the Aventine named "Corte Savella", nested inside the theatre of Marcellus, while inside the Theater and the Crypta of Balbus the Stefaneschi built the stronghold known as "Castrum aureum" ("golden castle"), which later was donated to the monastery of Santa Caterina.

The fish market moved from the Forum Piscarium, located near the Forum Romanum, into the ruins of the "Porticus Octaviae", which kept this function up to the end of the nineteenth century, becoming one of the most picturesque places in Rome.

During the Middle Ages the district got the name of "Vinea Thedemari", while its northern part was named "Calcaràrio", after the limekilns ("Calcàre"), which throughout centuries produced quicklime obtained by burning the marbles of the Roman Fora.

Later appeared also the appellation "Sant'Angelo", after the most important church of the rione, "Sant'Angelo in Foro Piscium" ("St. Angel in the Fish Market"). This church, erected in 770 AD inside the Propylea of the Portico of Octavia, had a great historical importance during the Middle Ages. From here, on the Whitsunday of 1347, the Romans, led by Cola di Rienzo, launched the assault on the Capitol, attempting to restore the Roman Republic.

Being a quarter inhabitanted mainly by people belonging to the working-class, Sant'Angelo, like the neighboring districts of Regola and Ripa, hosted many guilds: near the church of Santa Caterina were active the rope makers, [These gave the name to the church, which was called "Santa Caterina dei Funari" ("St. Catherine by the rope-makers"). This is actually the only church in Rome whose name does not come from the patronage of a Guild, but from the closeness of the workers which exercised this job to the church. Pietrangeli.] who twisted their ropes in the 60 m long porticoed yard of the "Crypta Balbi". Along the "Botteghe Oscure" ("Dark shops")—as the arcades of the Theater of Balbus were called— was produced quicklime, while smiths and coppersmiths had their shops inside the arcades of the theater of Marcellus. [The last coppersmiths worked there until the restoration of the theater in 1926.] Finally, carders and shearers worked near the church of San Valentino, [The church of "San Valentino dei Mercanti" was pulled down shortly after 1870. Pietrangeli, 66.] while fish mongers were placed under the Portico d'Ottavia, where they sold the fishes on marble slabs which were expensively rented by the noble Roman families. On the wall near the Portico is still visible a copy of the marble plaque (the original can be seen in the Musei Capitolini), whose length gives the maximum size of the fishes which could be sold whole. Those which were longer would have their heads cut off. These had to be given as a perquisite to the "Conservatori" (the town councillors of papal Rome), who used them to prepare a fish soup. [The inscription said "CAPITA PISCIUM HOC MARMOREO SCHEMATE LONGITUDINE MAIORUM USQUE AD PRIMAS PINNAS INCLUSIVE CONSERVATORIBUS DANTO" in English: "The heads of fish longer than the markings on this marble shall be given to the counsellors, up to and including the first fins.". Delli, 83. ] The most typical activity in the market was the fish auction, known as "cottío", which took place every night after 2 a.m. Particularly popular in Rome was the "cottío" on December 23. Many Romans attended it to buy the fish needed for the dinner of Christmas Eve, and many more just to watch the show. It marked the beginning of the Christmas holidays. [ Zanazzo, 160.]

Renaissance: "Serraglio delli Ebrei"

The Renaissance reached Sant'Angelo around the middle of fifteenth century. At that time Lorenzo Manili, a noble Roman antiquarian enthusiastic about his city, built his house with a façade containing Roman bas-reliefs and a long inscription in Latin, where he praises the re-birth of the Eternal City. [The house lies near the north end of "Via del Portico d'Ottavia". Above the windows can still be read the sentence "HAVE ROMA". Pietrangeli, 48.]

In the sixteenth century, the Savelli had built on the top of the Theatre of Marcellus a beautiful palace, the work of Baldassarre Peruzzi, later owned by the Orsini. In the meantime, in the north side of the rione, another powerful family, the Mattei, erected four palaces, [The four "Palazzi" are know as: "Mattei di Giove" (masterpiece of Carlo Maderno), of "Giacomo Mattei" (work of Nanni di Baccio Bigio), "Mattei di Paganica", and of "Alessandro Mattei" (now Caetani). Pietrangeli.] which together formed a whole block, named "Isola dei Mattei" ("Mattei's block"). [The view of the yard of Palazzo Mattei di Giove in spring, decorated with Roman statues and reliefs, and flooded with rambling roses, teaches us more than many books about the life in Rome during the Renaissance.] Other noble families too, like the Costaguti, Santacroce and Serlupi, chose to build their residences here in that period.

But, while the wind of the Renaissance was starting to blow around Rome, another event changed deeply the destiny of the rione: the arrival of the Jews. A Jewish colony was present in Rome since the beginning of the Christian era, but the Jews by then had been living in "Transtiberim", near the Port of Ripa Grande.

Because of the decay of the river trade, at the beginning of the XV century they left the right bank and scattered through the city. By that time, in Rome there were about 2,000 Jews: 1,200 were living in Sant'Angelo (where they totaled 80 per cent of the population), 350 in Regola, 200 in Ripa, while the others were distributed among the remaining districts. [Delli, 435.]

On 14 July 1555, Pope Paul IV, one of the champions of the Counter-Reformation, promulgated the Bull "Cum nimis absurdum", where he revoked all the rights of the Jewish community and enclosed them in a walled district, [The wall was built under the direction of the architect Giovanni Sallustio Peruzzi. The money for its construction – 300 scudi – had to be paid by the Jewish community.] the Ghetto. The Christians who were owners of the houses placed inside the Ghetto could keep the property but, thanks to the so called "jus gazzagà" (right of possession) they could neither evict the Jews nor raise the rents. [Around 1860 a large apartment in Ghetto had to be rented for 30 Scudi per month (the rent had remained the same since the reign of Urban VIII. The same apartment on the free market cost 450 Scudi. About, 96.]

The wall was interrupted by two gates, [Later in the sixteenth century the gates became three: under Sixtus V five, and finally, during the nineteenth century eight. These increases were caused by successive enlargement of the Area. Pietrangeli, 44.] which were opened at dawn and closed every night, one hour after sunset between November and Easter, and two hours otherwise. [Pietrangeli.] The area had a trapezoidal shape, and contained hardly any noteworthy buildings. The only important square – Piazza Giudea [On the square were placed the barracks of the gendarmes which controlled the ghetto, and there was practiced the torment of the strappado ("la corda"). Pietrangeli, 45.] – was divided in two parts by the wall. All the churches which stood in the Ghetto were deconsecrated and demolished soon after its construction.

The Roman Jews were allowed to practice only unskilled jobs, as ragmen, secondhand dealers [De Rossi, 222.] or fish mongers. They could also be pawnbrokers, and this activity excited the hate of the Christians against them.

In the lottery game, they were allowed to bet only on low numbers (from 1 through 30), and all belonging to the same group of 10. [This law was established because, since the Jews had the reputation of being sorcerers, the Romans believed that they could win by witchcraft. Otherwise, usually the Italian lottery is played betting on up to five numbers ranging from 1 through 90. Zanazzo, 143.] In case of a draw of five numbers of that kind, the Romans said that on that day in the Ghetto there was taking place a great feast. [Zanazzo, 144.]

When they went outside their district, the men had to wear a yellow cloth (the "sciamanno"), and the women a yellow veil (the same color worn by prostitutes). [De Rossi, 222.] During the feasts they had to amuse the Christians, competing in humiliating games. They had to run naked, with a rope around the neck, or with their legs closed into sacks. Sometimes they were also ridden by soldiers. [These habits were usual also before the erection of the Ghetto. For example, Pope Alexander VI was a fan of such competitions. He chose not to pave the new road named Borgo nuovo, which he opened in the year 1500 in Borgo, in ordered to keep a better ground for the runners.]

Each year, on the Campidoglio, the Rabbi had to pay homage to the chief of the city counsellors ("Caporione"), receiving by him in exchange for it a kick to his bottom. This "ceremony" meant that the Jewish community had been allowed to stay one more year in Rome. [This tradition was interrupted by Pius IX in 1847. About, 96.]

Every Saturday, the Jewish community was forced to hear compulsory sermons [It is told that many Jews closed their ears with wax in order not to hear the sermon.] in front of the small church of "San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi", just outside the wall. [On the façade of the church there is still an inscription of the prophet Isaiah (LXV, 2-3) in Hebrew and Latin, complaining about the stubbornness of the Jewish people.]

At the time of its construction, in the Ghetto – as almost everywhere in Rome – there was no fresh water. However, some years later the Popes built several fountains in the rione, [The most beautiful fountain, "La Fontana delle tartarughe" ("The fountain of the tortoises"), designed by Giacomo della Porta and built by the Florentine sculptor Taddeo Landini, was erected in "Piazza Mattei", in the north part of the rione. Its water comes from the aqueduct named "Aqua Felice", built under Sixtus V. Delli.] and one was placed in Piazza Giudea. [The fountain, another work of Giacomo della Porta, is now in "Via del Progresso".]

Of course, the great number of people living in such a small area, [The area of the Ghetto, after the enlargement under Sixtus V, was slightly larger than three Hectares. Pietrangeli, 44.] together with the poverty of the population, caused terrible hygienic conditions. The district, lying very low and near the Tiber, was often flooded. During the plague of 1656, 800 of 4,000 inhabitants died because of the epidemic. [Pietrangeli, 44.] Sant'Angelo, which was the rione with the smallest area, was also, thanks to the presence of the Ghetto, the one having the largest population density.

Modern Age

The seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries passed without noteworthy events: the center of gravity of the Church had already moved from the Lateran to the Vatican and Borgo, and the Capitol lost its importance as a residential area in favor of the Campo Marzio plain.

Things started to change again with the French Revolution. During the Roman republic, in 1798, the gates of The Ghetto were finally opened, and the "Tree of Freedom" was planted in Piazza Giudea. Unfortunately, the fall of Napoleon caused the compulsory return of the Jews to the walled district.

In 1848, Pius IX ordered the demolition of the walls but, because of the resistance of the Romans, the task had to be accomplished during the night.Anyway, it was only after September 20, 1870, that the Roman Jews ceased to be considered as second-class citizens.

After the unification of Italy huge transformations affected the district. Great walls were built along the river, in order to avoid prevent flooding, and this caused the demolition of the picturesque row of houses which were mirrored in the Tiber. The Ghetto, although the Jews were now free citizens, was always crowded with the Jewish community, [It was said that the Jews, who once had to live there against their will, now stayed there for love. Delli, 435.] but the hygienic conditions forced a radical solution. The whole quarter was pulled down in 1885, spending much more than the originally budgeted five millions Lire, and new buildings, whose style unfortunately doesn't match with the old ones, arose around the new Synagogue. The only part of Sant'Angelo which can still give an idea of the old Ghetto is that along the lane named "Via della Reginella", which was included in the walled district only during the nineteenth century. [The Rothschild family gave the capital necessary to buy this area.]

During the twenties of last century, Sant'Angelo was affected by the great demolition works started in the center of Rome by the Fascist regime. In 1926, the quarter around the Theater of Marcellus was pulled down, while the monument was isolated and restored. Many picturesque medieval structures, lanes and squares disappeared but, on the other hand, this work revealed certain Roman temples. [The temples of Apollo Sosianus and of Bellona were unearthed by the archeologists at that time.] Moreover, also beautiful medieval houses [The "house of the Vallati" and the "albergo della catena" were restored at this time.] up to then hidden under later accretions, could be carefully restored.

Then, in 1940, in the north side of the rione "Via delle Botteghe Oscure" was drastically enlarged, and there also churches and palaces fell victim to the pickaxe.

After the demolitions during the Fascist period, it was decided to modify the historical borders of the rione, established in 1743 under Benedict XIV. Sant'Angelo then spread out, incorporating small but important parts of the adjacent districts of Campitelli and Ripa. [ Among other things, the churches of "Santa Maria in Campitelli" and of "San Gregorio della divina Pietà" became then part of the rione.]

During the German occupation of Rome in World War II, the Jewish community was forced to pay 50 kg gold to the SS, in order to avoid the deportation to the Nazi concentration Camps. Sadly, on October 16, 1943, despite the payment of the ransom 2,091 Jews were deported, and most of them died in Germany. Many others were also killed on March 24, 1944, at the Fosse Ardeatine. [Pietrangeli, 44.]

Sant'Angelo today

At the dawn of the twenty-first century Sant'Angelo remains one of the most characteristic districts in the old Rome. While the northern part of the rione, with its web of narrow, lonely lanes which protect it from the traffic, keeps a mainly residential character, the southern part is always characterized by the strong Jewish presence. The roads around the Portico d'Ottavia keep the atmosphere of a village, and host several small shops (also run by Jews) and many "Trattorie", which, with their fried artichokes and filet of stockfish, perpetuate the tradition of the Jewish roman cooking.

The presence of a strong Jewish community makes necessary a continuous – albeit discreet – presence of Police and Carabinieri, deployed above all near the Synagogue in order to prevent attacks.

Sant'Angelo hosts also several cultural institutions, such as the "Enciclopedia Italiana", the "Discoteca Nazionale" and the "Centro di Studi Americani", which holds the most important library of Americana in Europe. [Pietrangeli, 12.]


*Pigna: via Florida, via delle Botteghe Oscure
*Campitelli: via dell'Aracoeli, vicolo e piazza Margana, via dei Delfini, via Cavalletti, via della Tribuna di Campitelli, via Montanara, via del Teatro di Marcello
*Ripa: via del Foro Olitorio, via di Monte Savello
*Tiber: Lungotevere dei Cenci
*Regola: via del Progresso, piazza delle Cinque Scole, via di santa Maria del Pianto, via in Publicolis
*Sant'Eustachio: via dei Falegnami, via di Sant'Elena, largo Arenula

Noteworthy things in the Rione


* piazza Mattei
* piazza delle cinque Scole


* Via del Portico d'Ottavia


* Theatre of Marcellus
* Portico di Ottavia
* Palazzo Mattei di Giove
* Palazzo Mattei di Paganica
* Palazzo di Giacomo Mattei
* Palazzo Costaguti
* Palazzo Caetani
* Palazzo Santacroce
* House of the Vallati
* House of Lorenzo Manili
* Albergo della catena
* Palazzo Orsini Savelli


* Santa Caterina dei Funari []
* Sant'Angelo in Pescheria []
* Oratorio dei pescivendoli
* San Gregorio della divina pietà
* San Stanislao dei Polacchi
* Santa Rita da Cascia
* Santa Maria in Campitelli
* San Nicola in Carcere
* Sant'Ambrogio alla massima []

Other monuments

* Synagogue
* Fountain of the Tortoises
* Fountain of Piazza Giudea


ources and references

*cite book
author=Baronio, Cesare
title=Descrizione di Roma moderna
publisher=M.A. and P.A. De Rossi, Roma

*cite book
author=About, Edmond
title=Rome contemporaine
publisher=Hetzel, Paris

*cite book
author=Zanazzo, Giggi
title=Usi, costumi e pregiudizi del popolo di Roma
publisher=Torino – Roma

*cite book
author=Delli, Sergio
title=Le strade di Roma
publisher=Newton Compton, Roma

*cite book
author=Pietrangeli, Carlo
title=Sant'Angelo. Guide rionali di Roma.
publisher=Fratelli Palombi, Roma

*cite book
author=Staccioli, Romolo
title=Roma entro le mura
publisher=Fratelli Melita Roma

External links

* [ Artistic Guide of Sant'Angelo (from, in English)]
* [ History, maps and images of the rione]

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