San Bernardo alle Terme: a little Pantheon in Rome

Pantheon of RomeThe Pantheon is one of the symbol of the ancient Rome, despite of its transformation in a Basilica, since the beginning of the VII century.
This wonderful and impressive monument has inspired many artists over the centuries, due to its beauty and its huge dome.
This is the reason why in Rome, on canvas or walls, we could observe decorations very similar to the ones who covered the dome of the Pantheon.

Moreover, in Rome there’s also a XVI century church, erected for the order of the Cistercensi, in which we could find a copy of the Pantheon dome.

Facciata San Bernardo alle Terme

I’m speaking about the

Church of San Bernando alle Terme

which stands not far from Via Nazionale and Piazza della Repubblica, so in the real city centre.
This sacred place has a round shape because it was built just above the remains of one of the ancient angular tower of the majestic Diocleziano’s Baths, which stood in there.
That enormous building, plenty of marble decorations, vaulted rooms and swimming pool, covered a large area, was used over the centuries for many things and aims: first of all, it became the perfect place to take materials, as marble or rock. Then, inside its rooms, was created a basilica (Santa Maria degli Angeli), and a museum (Museum of the Terme di Diocleziano). Moreover, the beautiful Church of San Bernardo alle Terme, which means Bath in italian, is the result of hard works on the ancient walls.

What do the church hosts?

Cupola - San Bernardo alle TermeA wonderful reproduction of the Pantheon dome, with its coffered ceiling and its oculus, the hole set in the centre which create a connection between the ground and the sky, the home of the Gods.
Getting into the church of San Bernardo alle Terme means to do a time travel, where we can observe how the model of the Pantheon was so famous that in Rome, after many centuries, wanted to reproduce it.
The relaxing and calm atmosphere which we could breathe here, without the crowd that each day fills the Pantheon, is a wonderful experience.

Sometimes in Rome what could seem normal or without importance can hide something special.
How it’s amazing!

.. before ending this story

Cupola 2 - San Bernardo alle TermeInside the church try to search the tomb of Johan Friedrich Overbeck.
Who was he?
He was an artist lived during the XIX century who found the artistic movement of the “Nazareni”, a sort of group of dandy who loved so much the Renaissance.
For this reason he wanted to depict in their paintings the pure figures and profiles of the Italian art of the XV century, when the R
enaissance was going to bring to the light.
A man who was inspired by the beauty of Rome, as the architect of the Church of San Bernardo alle Terme was inspired by the enormous heritage of the Ancient Rome…

Interno circolare - San Bernardo alle Terme

The “Pulcino della Minerva”: an elephant in the City Centre

Piazza della Minerva a Roma e il Pulcino del BerniniUsually Rome conceals hidden treasures which aren’t so easy to see. But there are also other monuments or little art masterpieces that everyone can look. For example, very close to the Pantheon, the famous ancient Roman temple changed in a Basilica, there’s a tasteful obelisk which surmounts an…elephant!
This is the history of the “Pulcino della Minerva”, that we could translate in English like “Minerva’s chick”.

Where is it?

We stay in Piazza della Minerva, a little square surrounded by a great and graceful Basilica, named Santa Maria della Minerva, a famous hotel and other two palaces.
In order to understand the history of that crazy sculpted group set just in the centre of this square, I’m to explain something about the palace which stands just next to the Basilica.
It was one of the headquartes of the Holy Inquisition, the sacred tribunal of the Christian Church that was born during the XVI century.
The main purpose of the Inquisition was to change and “improve” the mistakes in the faith of the heretic people. Sometimes this institution used to tortured that men and women who didn’t want to change their way to believe in God.
Piazza_della_Minerva_con_il_Pulcino_e_il_Pantheon_2880_banThe palace was erected during the XIII Century for the Dominican order and in the XVI century was chosen like the place in which had to take place the trials against the heretics. Also Galileo Galilei got in it, forswearing what he claimed about the Universe… Moreover, according to the Christian theology, there was an aspect that leads the Inquisition deeds: the Knowledge. So, during the XVII century, when the Pope Innocenzo X decided to restore the square, embellishing Rome and his city centre, he called one of the best artist in that period: Bernini.

The Pope commissioned to the great master of art something which could underline how the Knowledge, mainly in that place, could lead the Church. And Bernini projected this graceful and brilliant sculpted group. The dynamic and wonderful Elephant, with the strong trunk moving by the wind, represents the Mind, while the obelisk symbolizes the Knowledge. The famous Egyptian artifact was brought to light after some excavations made in that area: it represented one of the decorations of the ancient Temple of Iside, one of the goddesses in Egypt, which stood there during the Roman Empire.

Pulcin_della_Minerva_2006_n2_banBernini took his inspiration by an arcane book, very famous in Rome, named “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili”, which translates as “Polifilo’s Dream”. In one of his dreams, Polifilo saw an elephant with an obelisck, claiming: “We need to a strong mind for support the burden of the Knwoledge”. And Bernini managed to change the dream in reality, using marble and rocks.

Bernini was used to thinking about new escamotages for his creations…but we are quite at the end of the history. Ther’s just a question. Why is the name so strange? If we look the statue maybe you could think that it is a bit heavy, mainly the elephant dressed with this caparison that looks like a curtain. Why did Bernini choose it? Because the artist had many troubles with the Pope and his way to understand and live the art. Bernini in fact wanted to insert between the elephant’s paws simply an opens space. He desidered to create a sort of feeling of lightness…but the Pope denied it and Bernini changed his project. The name takes his origin from the word “Porcino”, that means a sort of insult, which develop over the centuries in the modern “Pulcino”.