June 3, 2013

The tower of the Monkey

Today, the writers of "Legendary Rome" are standing between via dei Portoghesi and via dei Pianellari, near piazza Navona, and, as usual, we are on the trail of fascinating history.  Pay particular attention to the tower rising at the end of via dei Portoghesi, the so-called Frangipane's tower (see photo).  Although the tower is surrounded today by modern buildings, we know it has stood here for over one thousand years (!). 
This tower is better known as  "The Tower of the monkey".  Here's why - according to the legend.
The tower in via dei Portoghesi
The tower in via dei Portoghesi

Centuries ago a family lived in the tower who, perhaps adhering to a frivolous and exotic fashion of the time, bought a funny pet monkey, named Hilda. Hilda was tame and was permitted to roam freely around her home and follow members of the family.  She would come whenever her owners whistled for her.

This family had had a new child for a few months and clearly the baby had attracted everyone's attention, Hilda included - even if the monkey was kept away from the child. But, as people know, monkeys want to mimic everything their owners do. Hilda wished to mimic the child's mother by changing the baby's nappy, but of course this wish was always denied her.

One day, in a moment of parental carelessness, the baby was left alone with the monkey. Hilda, making the most of the opportunity, picked up the child wanting to change him; but, probably thinking she would be interrupted, she decided to go out of the window and climb up onto the tower's battlement, carrying the little one!

The statue of Our Lady and the lighted lamp
The statue of Our Lady and the lighted lamp
As soon as the alarm was given, the parents were overcome by despair seeing their son suspended at the top edge of the tower in the monkey's hands! In that moment of terrible anxiety, the parents called upon the Virgin Mary, swearing that, if their baby was returned safely, they would build a statue of her at the point on the tower where Hilda held the baby, for gratitude to Her, with a forever lighted lamp.

What happened in the end?

Well, the legend tells that with the usual whistle call, the monkey laid the baby softly on the tower's ground and rushed to her owner.  The baby was saved.  But you could have figured out yourself there was a happy-ending with a careful examination of the tower, because the oath wasn't broken...in fact, on top of the "Tower of the monkey" of via dei Portoghesi, still today, there is the statue of Our Lady, and next to Her a forever lighted lamp (see photo).

The tower of the Monkey is here.

May 29, 2013

Via Mario De' Fiori

Via Mario de' Fiori
Via Mario de' Fiori
Those who enjoy walking near Piazza di Spagna likely know of or have walked along "Via Mario de' Fiori", one of the first roads leaving Via Condotti (see photo).

No one pays particular attention to the name of this street believing it was dedicated to some famous member of the family "De Fiori" ("Mario De Fiori" is an Italian name and is translatable to something like "Marius O'Flowers").  But the names of the streets of Rome, especially in the old city, often reveal some curiosity.  This is true for Via Mario de’ Fiori.

In the second half of the 1600s Mario Nuzzi lived on the street now known as Via Mario de’ Fiori.   He was a rather good painter from the Abruzzi region of Italy who specialized in portraying a single subject ... You may have already figured out the subject we're talking about: yes, the flowers!

Romans, always shrewd in spirit, were not particularly fond of the painter’s real name.  They preferred to pin a nickname on him, and as a result, the painter was referred to by everyone as the Mario "of the flowers" (in italian, Mario "dei fiori").  Thus, Via Mario de’ Fiori could easily have been called Via Mario Nuzzi.
A painting by Mario De' Fiori (Florence, palazzo Pitti)
A painting by Mario De' Fiori (Florence, palazzo Pitti)
Now that you know why the street is called Via Mario de' Fiori, you should know more about the painter and his work.  For instance, although his paintings were excellent works (see photo), the paint he used was likely of a poor quality.  In fact, after a very short time many of his paintings faded to grey or in some cases the paint melted entirely and ruined the painting.  So it's easy now to understand this joke cracked by the people of Rome: "the flowers painted by Mario wither like the real ones"!

For this reason, there are few "surviving" paintings by our friend Mario making them very highly valued and sought after works for collectors.

Via Mario de' Fiori is here.