July 15, 2011

The Arch of Peace, Milan, Italy

This photochrome print of the Arch of Peace (Arco della Pace) in Milan is part of “Views of Architecture and Other Sites in Italy” from the catalog of the Detroit Publishing Company (1905). This 23-meter marble structure stands in the Piazza Sempione, at one end of the Simplon Road, the strategic route through the Alps taken by Napoleon I when he invaded northern Italy in 1800. Napoleon later commissioned the arch to commemorate his victories. Construction began in 1806 under the direction of the architect Luigi Cagnola (1762–1833), but the work was not completed during Napoleon’s rule. In 1826, Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria ordered that the arch be completed and dedicated to the peace that was restored in 1815 when Napoleon was defeated and driven from power. Construction was completed in 1838 under the direction of the architect Francesco Peverelli (1789–1854), who took over the work after the death of Cagnola. The neoclassical structure consists of three arcades and four marble Corinthian columns, with numerous sculptures by Pompeo Marchesi (1790–1858). At the top, the arch is capped by several bronze pieces, which include two figures on horseback at both corners, and the Sestiga della Pace, a sculpture of a carriage drawn by six horses by Abbondio Sangiorgio (1798–1879).

Vesta's Temple, Rome, Italy

This photochrome print of the Temple of Vesta in Rome is part of “Views of Architecture and Other Sites in Italy” from the catalog of the Detroit Publishing Company (1905). The temple is dedicated to Vesta (in Greek, Hestia), the goddess of the hearth. Located on the eastern side of the Roman Forum, the temple originally was built in circa the third century BC with reeds and a straw roof, the style of many Latin dwellings of the period. Because of its susceptibility to fire, the temple was rebuilt around the third century AD. The temple is a cylindrical structure with a colonnade of pillars and a simple, low metal-covered cupola. The guardians of the temple, the six Vestal Virgins, or priestesses, maintained the sacred fire that was said to represent the endurance and strength of the Roman state. The temple also contained the Palladium, the protective wooden statue of the goddess Minerva (in Greek, Athena), brought by Aeneas from Troy, that was said to have protected the city during the Trojan War. The temple was excavated and identified in 1877 by the Italian archeologist Rodolfo Lanciani (1845–1929).

Interior of Coliseum, Rome, Italy

This photochrome print of the inside of the Coliseum is part of “Views of Architecture and Other Sites in Italy” from the catalog of the Detroit Publishing Company (1905). In 64–68 AD the Emperor Nero built an extravagant palace in the center of Rome. After he died, his successor, Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus), had an amphitheater built on the site of the lake within Nero's palace. Construction began around 70 AD and was completed circa 82 AD under Vespasian's son Titus. The structure consists of three levels of arcades with alternating Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. It forms an ellipse, measuring approximately 190 meters long by 155 meters wide, and is about 50 meters high. The tiered seating could accommodate about 50,000 spectators who surrounded an oval-shaped arena that comprised the fighting stage. On this stage, gladiators, typically slaves, criminals, prisoners, or other individuals who had lost their rights as citizens, would fight to the death. The term “arena” comes from the Latin word for sand, which was spread on the stage to absorb blood from the fighters. Beneath the stage was an extensive complex that included tunnels and animal cages. Trap doors on the stage were used to add surprise to the spectacle. The Coliseum remained a center of Roman entertainment for nearly 500 years.

View of the Forum, Rome, Italy

This photochrome print of the Roman Forum is part of “Views of Architecture and Other Sites in Italy” from the catalog of the Detroit Publishing Company (1905). Located between Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill, the Forum was the nexus of political, business, and social life in ancient Rome. It contained a marketplace, temples, a senate house, and law courts. Visible on the left, on the west end of the Forum, are the massive ruins of the Temple of Saturn, the oldest temple in the Forum, dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture. The temple was consecrated in 498 BC, burned down by the Gauls in the early fourth century BC, and rebuilt in 42 BC under Lucius Munatius Plancus (circa 87 BC-15 BC). An inscription on the temple reads: "The Roman Senate and people restored what fire had consumed."

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice, Italy

This photochrome print of the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) in Venice is part of “Views of Architecture and Other Sites in Italy” from the catalog of the Detroit Publishing Company (1905). Made of white limestone and containing two stone-barred windows, the 11-meter-wide bridge was built in 1595–1600 by Antonio Contino (1566–1600). Greatly admired for its decorative Italian Renaissance architecture, the bridge connects the interrogation rooms and prison in the Palazzo Ducale with a newer prison, the Palazzo delle Prigioni, located across the Rio di Palazzo. The bridge’s name was coined in the 17th century, when it was said that convicts on their way to prison would sigh longingly as they took in the view of Venice for the last time. The name was popularized in the 19th century by the English poet Lord Byron, whose "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" includes the lines: “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; A palace and a prison on each hand."

Feeding Pigeons in St. Mark's Place, Venice, Italy

This photochrome print of Saint Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) in Venice is part of “Views of Architecture and Other Sites in Italy” from the catalog of the Detroit Publishing Company (1905). The square, or piazza, is framed by the Saint Mark’s Basilica, the marble Doge's Palace, the Procuratie, and the library of Saint Mark's. The basilica, shown here, was originally built in 832, shortly after the remains of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the patron saint of Venice, were said to have been brought to the city from Alexandria, Egypt by two Venetian merchants. The church was destroyed in a fire, rebuilt at the end of the 10th century, and again in the 11th century. The church's exterior is elaborately decorated with gilded bronze horses dating from the mid-13th century, numerous arches and domes, marble and carvings, and Byzantine mosaics. Visible on the left is the Renaissance-styled clock tower, which dates from the 15th century. The three massive bronze flag posts flying the flag of the Kingdom of Italy and the colors of Saint Mark date from 1505, and are by the Italian sculptor and architect Alessandro Leopardi (1482–1522). The 1906 edition of Baedeker's Italy: Handbook for Travellers informed readers: "A large flock of pigeons enlivens the Piazza. In accordance with an old custom pigeons were sent out from the vestibule of San Marco on Palm Sunday, and these nested in the nooks and crannies of the surrounding buildings. . . . Towards evening they perch in great numbers under the arches of Saint Mark's. Grain and peas may be bought for the pigeons from various loungers in the Piazza."