Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Le Vie di Roma: What's in a name?

One of my favorite curiosities about Rome is its street names. While many seem silly and random, on the contrary, almost all have very specific reasons behind them. It delights me to no end learning just how a particular street got its name. (Yes, I am very easily amused.) Every Wednesday I will endeavor to discover and share with you a new one.

OK, let's start with a kind of obvious one: Via del Mascherone. Street of the Big Mask. I love how literal Italian can be. There's no dressing this up, or trying to make it sound mysterious. One glance at the fountain at the end of the short street, and the reason for its name becomes blatantly clear.

The fountain was built in 1626 and is attributed to Girolamo Rainaldi. It incorporates a couple of different ancient artifacts: a granite tub, a small shell-shaped basin, and, most noticeably, the "big mask," which, in ancient times, had led a humbler existence as a drain cover. It is one of the many showcase fountains built by the Farnese family shortly after the canalization of the Pope's newly repaired aqueduct, the Acqua Paola. According to legend (and you know how I feel about legends), during Farnese family festivities, this fountain ran not with water, but with wine. The popes really knew how to party back in those days.

This lucky street connects one of Rome's loveliest squares, Piazza Farnese, to one of its most elegant streets, Via Giulia. (It is on my preferred route home to Trastevere after a rowdy evening out in Campo de' Fiori.)

Photo sources: 1, 2
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  1. Particularly interesting to know the history of this street after I had just passed a group of study abroad students in that location discussing the fact they thought Farnese was a corporate chain. Perhaps more people should be reading your blog! Thanks for the great information!

  2. Have read this and enjoyed it. PLM (Mom)


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