Spanish Steps: Wikis

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The piazza di Spagna in an 18th century etching by Giuseppe Vasi, seen from south. The street on the left is Via del Babuino, leading to Piazza del Popolo.
The Spanish Steps, seen from Piazza di Spagna

The Spanish Steps (Italian: Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the church of Trinità dei Monti. The Scalinata is the longest and widest staircase in Europe.[1]

The monumental stairway of 138 steps was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, today still located in Palazzo Monaldeschi in the piazza below, with the Trinità dei Monti above.

Contents

Design and building

Following a competition in 1717 the steps were designed by the little-known Francesco de Sanctis,[2] though Alessandro Specchi was long thought to have produced the winning entry. Generations of heated discussion over how the steep slope to the church on a shoulder of the Pincio should be urbanized preceded the final execution. Archival drawings from the 1580s show that Pope Gregory XIII was interested in constructing a stair to the recently-completed façade of the French church. Gaspar van Wittel's view of the wooded slope in 1683, before the Scalinata was built, is conserved in the Galleria Nazionale, Rome.[3] The Roman-educated Cardinal Mazarin took a personal interest in the project that had been in Gueffier's will and entrusted it to his agent in Rome, whose plan included an equestrian monument of Louis XIV, an ambitious intrusion that created a furore in papal Rome. Mazarin died in 1661, the pope in 1667, and Gueffier's will was successfully contested by a nephew who claimed half; so the project lay dormant until Pope Clement XI Albani renewed interest in it. The Bourbon fleur-de-lys and Innocent XIII's eagle and crown are carefully balanced in the sculptural details. The solution is a gigantic inflation of some conventions of terraced garden stairs.[4]

The Spanish steps crowded with people, 2009

Today's uses

During Christmas time a 19th-century crib is displayed on the first landing of the staircase. During May, part of the steps are covered by pots of azaleas. In modern times the Spanish Steps have included a small cut-flower market. The steps are not a place for eating lunch, being forbidden by Roman urban regulations, but they are usually crowded with people. The apartment that was the setting for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) is halfway up on the right. Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged (1998) is also set in a house next to the steps. American singer/songwriter Bob Dylan refers to the "Spanish Stairs" in his classic "When I Paint My Masterpiece" (1971).

The Spanish Steps, which Joseph de Lalande[5] and Charles de Brosses noted were already in poor condition,[6] have been restored several times, most recently in 1995.

Piazza di Spagna

In the Piazza at the base is the Early Baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia ("Fountain of the Old Boat"), built in 1627-29 and often credited to Pietro Bernini, father of a more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who is recently said to have collaborated on the decoration. The elder Bernini had been the pope's architect for the Acqua Vergine, since 1623. According to an unlikely legend, Pope Urban VIII had the fountain installed after he had been impressed by a boat brought here by a flood of the Tiber river.

Fontana della Barcaccia, seen from the top of the Spanish Steps. The narrow Via Condotti, home to many of Rome's designer shops, runs up the picture.

In the piazza, at the corner on the right as one begins to climb the steps, is the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation. On the same right side stands the 15th century former cardinal Lorenzo Cybo de Mari's palace, now Ferrari di Valbona, a building altered in 1936 to designs by Marcello Piacentini, the main city planner during Fascism, with modern terraces perfectly in harmony with the surrounding baroque context.

At the top the Viale ramps up the Pincio which is the Pincian Hill, omitted, like the Janiculum, from the classic Seven hills of Rome. From the top of the steps the Villa Medici can be reached.

Events

On March 20, 1986, the first McDonalds restaurant in Italy was opened near the Spanish Steps. Protests there against fast food led to Carlo Petrini founding the international Slow Food movement three years later.[7]

On June 13, 2007, a 24-year-old Colombian man attempted to drive a Toyota Celica down the Spanish Steps. No one was hurt, but several of the 200-year-old steps were chipped and scuffed. The driver was arrested and a breath test showed his blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit for driving.[8]

On January 16, 2008, Graziano Cecchini, a right-wing artist, covered the steps with hundreds of thousands of multicolored plastic balls. He claimed that it was done to make the world notice the situation of the Karen people in Myanmar,[9] and as a protest against the conditions of artists in Italy.[10]

On 9 November 2009 to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a multimedia event was held on the steps which included the erection of replicas of parts of the wall.

Monuments and root places

Notes

  1. ^ Boyer Gillies, Linda (February 1972). "An Eighteenth-Century Roman View Panini's Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 30 (4): 176–184. doi:10.2307/3258528.  
  2. ^ Little is known of this architect, who was favoured by the French in the design process. De Sanctis' drawing was engraved by Girolamo Rossi in 1726 with a long dedication to Louis XV. (Gillies 1972:181f).
  3. ^ Gillies 1972:181 and van Wittel's tempera, fig 3.
  4. ^ The first such divided and symmetrical stairs were devised for the Belvedere Courtyard by Donato Bramante. Shaped and angled steps were introduced by Michelangelo in the vestibule to the Laurentian Library.
  5. ^ Lalande, Voyage d'un français en Italie (1769)
  6. ^ Gillies 1972:182
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ Officials unamused by Rome stunt
  10. ^ NY Times Coverage on the coloured ball cascade

References

  • Ferrari di Valbona, Carlo Alberto (1965). I viventi diritti dell’Italia a palazzo Farnese alla scalinata ed alla Trinità dei Monti in Roma. Rome: Edizioni d’Arte.  
  • Pecchiai, Pio (1958). "Regesti dei documenti patrimoniali del Convento Romano della Trinità dei Monti". Archivi (25): 406–423.  
  • Rendina, Claudio (2000). Enciclopedia di Roma. Rome: Newton Compton.  
  • Salerno, Luigi (1967). Piazza di Spagna. Naples.  

External links

Coordinates: 41°54′22″N 12°28′59″E / 41.905990°N 12.483183°E / 41.905990; 12.483183

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