One of my favorite examples of Italian Renaissance is located in between the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome and the Vatican. It’s Bramante’s Tempietto. I highly recommend that you go to see it when you visit the eternal city.
First thing you need to know is that it is not the easiest structure to find. You need to climb up one of Rome’s famous hills, the Gianicolo Hill (also known as the Janiculum). This hill is located in Trastevere, west of the Tiber river, but since it is in the outskirts of the ancient city, it is not considered one of the famous seven. This hill alone is worth a visit. When you reach the summit, you will be rewarded with some of the best views of Rome (bring your camera). If you head up there at noon time, you will hear a cannon explode…this has been going on since the 19th Century. There are a few other amazing monuments here, but let’s stay focused and get to our subject: Bramante’s Tempietto.
Once you’ve made the climb up the hill (great for your tush & a nice way to stay fit and eat all that delicious pasta without guilt), look for the the Church of San Pietro in Montorio. The church was built next to the site where it is said that St. Peter was crucified upside down, and Bramante’s Tempietto marks the spot of the crucifixion. When you get there, you may wonder why you don’t see the Tempietto. If you’re looking at the Church of San Pietro in Montorio, look to the right. That building is the Real Academia di Spana. Look at the front door, you will catch a glimpse of the Tempietto.
What I absolutely adore about this structure is that it is tiny. The Tempietto is minuscule compared to most religious buildings in Rome; but it feels so incredibly larger than life, powerful, and everlasting. This is high Renaissance at its peak. It has bulk, solidity and mass that the fragility of the early Renaissance does not have. The building even plays with light, it feels as if Bramante was thinking of Chiaroscuro when he chose each geometric element.
This type of building is a Martyrium, a building or structure erected to mark the site of a martyr’s death or one that houses his or her remains. The tradition goes all the way back to Constantine. These buildings are perfect circles that like a target hone in on the spot where the martyr died. It’s actually concentric (circles sharing the same center), drawing even more attention to the martyr’s sacrifice. When you are inside, look down at the center. That will give you a peek into the Martyrium.
You may ask why Bramante would choose Pagan architecture as his inspiration for one of Christianity’s holiest sites. Bramante was in love with the past and looked at writings by people like Vitruvius’ Treaty on Architecture. He learned from these writings, and chose to ignore the history attached to the architectural language. Bramante appropriate it so it would speak the language of the church. These perfect architectural forms were to mimic the perfection of heaven. Bramante was literally bringing a piece of heaven to Rome. When you look at the Tempietto, it is built as a perfect circle, the most ideal of geometric forms. Circles are perfect. Circles have no beginning or end. Circles are all encompassing.
One thing to note is that Bramante does not adhere to classical language strictly, he merely quotes it. The columns on the Tempietto are not fluted as they would have been during the Roman era. This gives them a feeling of even more severity and power. The metopes are even interrupted with liturgical instruments. So, you can see that Bramante is not copying the language, but appropriating it to fit the new climate.
On the day we visited, we were the only people at the Tempietto. We arrived early and were able to walk in. There was nobody there. We walked in and saw liturgical elements ready for mass. What was even cooler was the bas relief in front of the altar. It depicted St. Peter’s crucifixion, he is shown upside down. The four evangelists sit in niches each with his attribute: Matthew’s Angel, Luke’s Ox, John’s Eagle, and Mark’s Lion.
We were unable to enter the actual Martyrium down below, but you can view it quite well from the entrance (the stairs are in the back of the structure).
Tips for Visiting the Tempietto
- 1. Wear comfortable shoes – especially if you are making the climb up the hill
- 2. Wear Sunscreen – this is especially true if you go there in Summer. There’s not much shade in the area
- 3. Remember to cover up. This is a highly respected Christian site, and a church in its own. Make sure your knees and shoulders are covered.
- 4. Bring a snack. There aren’t so many restaurants up here, so if you get hangry like me…it is a good idea to have a snack with you.
Bramante’s Tempietto is located at Piazza San Pietro in Montorio 2
Hours of Operation
Church: Mon-Fri 8:30am-noon & 3:00pm-4:00pm
Tempietto: Tues-Sun 9:30am-12:30pm & 2:00pm-4:30 pm
Getting there: If you don’t feel like walking up the hill, grab the 870 bus at Via Paola.