The main street in central Rome is the Via del Corso, an important thoroughfare since classical times, when it was the Via Flaminia, the road to the Adriatic. Its present name comes from the horseraces (corse) that were part of the Roman carnival celebrations. From the foot of the Capitoline Hill, the Corso runs to the Piazza del Popolo and through a gate in the city wall, the Porta del Popolo, there to resume its ancient name. It begins spectacularly with the Vittoriano, the monument to Victor Emmanuel II, first king of united Italy. The nation’s unknown soldier was interred there after World War I. A Neo-Baroque marble mountain, it is the whitest, biggest, tallest, newest (1911), and possibly the most pompous of Rome’s major monuments. Useful as well as ornamental, it contains a museum of the 19th-century cultural revival.
Along the Corso among the smart shops are five churches, eight palaces (and one palazzetto), and the column of Marcus Aurelius. The first church is S. Marco, the first of Rome’s parish churches to be built (c. ad 336) on the plan of a classical basilica. The present church, third on the site, dates from the 9th century and was restored in the 15th by the Venetian pope Paul II, who built the Palazzo and the Palazzetto Venezia around the church in 1445, when he was cardinal, enlarging the residence when he became pope. Thereafter, the basilica’s priest was always a Venetian cardinal, sharing the palace with the Venetian embassy. Mussolini had his headquarters there and harangued the crowds from the balcony from which Paul II had cheered the carnival races and given his papal benediction.
The palace is now a Renaissance art museum and contains the Biblioteca dell’Istituto Nazionale d’Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte (Library of the National Institute of Archaeology and Art History).
While her son Napoleon languished on St. Helena, Madame Letizia languished in the Palazzo Bonaparte, now Palazzo Misciatelli. Across the way is the Palazzo Salviati, built by the Duc de Nevers in the 17th century, owned in the 19th by Louis Bonaparte. The Palazzo Doria is a late 15th-century building behind a 1734 facade. Four mornings a week the public is admitted—through a side door—to the state rooms and the art gallery, in which there are many Titians, Bruegels, and Caravaggios, a Bronzino, a Memling, and a Velázquez portrait and Bernini bust of the family pope, Innocent X. Behind S. Marcello, the Baroque reworking of a church founded in the 4th century, is the mid-17th-century Palazzo Ballestra, in which Bonnie Prince Charlie of Scotland was born in 1720 and to which he returned in 1788 to die.
The column of Marcus Aurelius, with reliefs showing his victory over Danubian tribes, was preserved from the assorted Christian looters of Rome because it was the property of a religious order. In the square around the column, the Piazza Colonna, are the Palazzo Chigi (1562), for many years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and now the official residence of the prime minister, and the Palazzo Wedekind. Although built in the 19th century, the Wedekind, which now houses a daily newspaper, is not without its plundered antique columns.
The Corso emerges onto the splendid oval Piazza del Popolo, which is monumental without being intimidating, a sort of toy theatre stage set magically magnified. Over a period of 300 years, it was constructed as the ceremonial entryway to Rome, and, although its elements are diverse in style and in age (13th century bc–19th century ad), a remarkable harmony prevails. In 1561 the Porta del Popolo, the medieval gate in the city wall, was rebuilt. Ninety-four years later its inner face was redone by Bernini for the grand entrance of Queen Christina, who had abandoned the Protestant throne of Sweden for the Catholic hospitality of Rome. In 1589 Pope Sixtus V punctuated the plaza centre with an obelisk (13th century bc) brought by Augustus from Heliopolis to the Circus Maximus. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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