An unexpected treasure in Rome, by Lorenzo Iocco

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One evening about six months ago I was struck by some news I heard on TV: a 16th century building of incredible value situated in the center of Rome, just a few steps from the Coliseum, was seeking funds for an intensive restoration to save it from ruin. Living in Rome, I had passed along Via dei Fori Imperiali many times, but I had never noticed the Palazzo Silvestri-Rivaldi (see photo #1).

Then, in January 2017, the Agenzia del Demanio, an authority involved in the revaluation of Italy’s public real estate, started a campaign to change the building’s sad destiny (story in Italian here). For this reason, during the entire month of April, they promoted a series of open days where it was possible to visit the Palazzo, which very few people had had the opportunity to see in previous years. When I learned about this initiative, I quickly applied and, on 10 April 2017 Palazzo Silvestri Rivaldi opened its door to me. Me and other ten people were accompanied during this tour by Alessandro Cremona, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage for the City of Rome, who showed us the incredible yet unexploited potential of the place.

The construction of Palazzo Silvestri-Rivaldi began under the impulse of Eurialo Silvestri, secretary to Pope Paul III (1534-1549) during the first half of the 16th century, and involved architects such as Antonio Sangallo, who also designed Palazzo Farnese, and Michelangelo’s pupil Giacomo del Duca, at a time when Silvestri aspired to become a cardinal, which never happened. After his death, the Palazzo’s next heirs and tenants were members of the most important families of the 16th and 17th century such as the Farnese, Medici and Savoia. This until 1660, when the building was bought, with funds inherited from Monsignor Ascanio Rivaldi, by the Istituzione Pia delle Mendicanti, becoming a boarding school for orphans or destitute  girls. The school continued its work until 1975, when its activities and the Palazzo were both shut down. The building was then occupied during the 1980s by various leftist groups. After that, very few had the privilege to set foot in Palazzo Rivaldi.

The Palazzo is also full of important works of art. For example, Alessandro Cremona told us that the initial restoration work conducted almost 10 years ago showed that in some rooms the original frescos of the 16th century can still be found – and in great condition – beneath the current decorations. Some of these frescos could be attributed to Raphael’s pupil Perin del Vaga, who also decorated some of the chapels in Castel Sant’Angelo. Images #2 and #3 show two of the 16th century frescos that resurfaced during the initial restoration work. One of the most extraordinary aspects of the building are the coffered ceilings (Images #4 and #5), designed and built by Sangallo, which are also in very good condition. But our visit covered only the ground floor, since the top floors and the gardens are inaccessible due to structural damage. During the past forty years, attempts have been made by the various administrations to restore the Palazzo, none of them successful. A joint private and public effort would be most desirable, since restoration costs continue to rise (now estimated at more than 20 million Euros, as can be seen here), and a place as historically and artistically important as Palazzo Rivaldi cannot be sold to private investors only, since this might result in private use only. Ideally the place could become a venue for exhibitions or conferences.

Unfortunately, the state of decay of Palazzo Rivaldi is one of the clearest examples of the ineptitude that has governed Rome in recent years. Nobody knows how much longer this incredible building is going to remain closed and derelict. Let’s hope not much longer.

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