Tempietto at San Pietro in Montorio
Architectural Rules Containing Eternal Harmony
While exploring the city and preparing our tours off the beaten path, I often ride my bike. The city of seven hills is surprisingly forgiving for bike riding - the weather is good and the distances are short. However, the Janiculum Hill is a steep climb, and the Tempietto in the cloister of San Pietro in Montorio requires a certain dedication (fear not! We also offer clients an effortless glimpse on our panoramic golf cart tour).
Once I arrive at the eastern slope of the hill, I throw a glance from the railing of the cloister to the church decorated with all manner of Renaissance art, as well as to the chapel designed by the Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini. But only by setting foot in the cloister will you find out why we call the Tempietto a hidden gem.
The temple was commissioned by the Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile in the 16th century to mark the spot where it was said St. Peter was crucified. The construction started around 1510 under the design and direction of Donato Bramante. Towards the Jubileum of Jesus in 2000, an accord between the Spanish King and the Pope established the Real Academia de España en Roma here, which was designed to be a hub of spanish culture.
After entering the Academy, a path decorated with architectural prints brings me to the courtyard, and to the main event. Bramante loved mixing classical references and elegant ratios and was inspired by the circular Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, as well as the Pantheon, to design the Tempietto in the form of a single-chamber temple with a hemispherical, concrete dome at the top and a series of niches and pilasters on the main body. A ring of columns built in Tuscanic (a Roman offshoot of Doric) Form completes the exterior.
The circularity of the columns imply continuity inside the rectangular cloister with its feeling of finality and containment. By contrast, the encircling space composed of tiered, layered series of circles evoke a sensation of eternity and divinity. Bramante’s contemporary critic and artist, Giorgio Vasari praised this piece in a biography, saying “nothing more shapely or better conceived, whether in proportion, design, variety or grace, could be imagined.” The late-Renaissance architect and theoretician Andrea Palladio illustrated it in his books devoted to ancient temples, and the Tempietto was the only Renaissance building to be included. Today, modern critics consider the temple to be the prototype of the basilica of San Pietro in the Vatican.
Words and images are only an invitation - the full effect they have on you can only be
amplified to its full force once you set foot in the cloister and stand in front of this influential piece of art history designed by one of the most visionary architects.