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Curiosities of the Massimo Family

Palazzo Massimo Istoriato with its 15th century frescoes still visible
Gianluca Pica / Storyteller

Palazzo Massimo Istoriato with its 15th century frescoes still visible

The noble House of Massimo is historically one of the great aristocratic families of Rome, renowned for its influence on the politics, the church and the artistic heritage of the city. 

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

The picture above is one of the many curiosities of Rome, located very close to Piazza Navona. You're looking at the facade of the "Palazzo Massimo Istoriato" (‘istoriato’ means ‘with (historical) paintings’) and its frescos are still visible today. They have been there since the 15th century, and although they were restored two centuries ago it is very hard to see them, because they haven’t been very well preserved. They do have something to tell us about their origins, however. As you probably know, only the wealthiest families could pay to decorate their residences in this way, and one of these was the Massimo family.

The Massimo family was a powerful family and a member of the nobility, which owned several mansions in Rome during the 14th and 15th centuries. These villas and homes are still in Rome today- like Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, which houses a wonderful archeological museum of the same name. Moreover, according to legend, the forefather of this family was the Roman consul Fabio Massimo, "Il Temporeggiatore" ("The Procrastinator"), who was able to defend Rome from the fearsome Hannibal. To do so, he used a simple strategy with one rule: don't attack Hannibal on an open field. During battle, he made some raids on the enemy and waited for an opportunity to arise.

Another curiosity is the lonely column in front, which is a remnant of the ancient Odeon auditorium built by the Roman Emperor Domitian in the 1st century AD.

Moreover, the Massimo family owned the so-called Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, with its facade that is located just behind the palace that you can see in this picture. Its name comes from the ancient columns (‘colonne’), which embellish it. During the 16th century, this grand palace was divided into three small apartment houses, like this one with its frescos. These paintings illustrate some episodes from the extravagant marriage between Angelo Massimo and Antonietta Incoronati, a fashionable and famous event which was immortalized on this facade- a historical picture for a special wedding! Another curiosity is the lonely column, which is the only remnant of the ancient Odeon auditorium built by the Roman Emperor Domitian in the 1st century AD. That auditorium was used as a quarry during the Middle Ages, and some of its stone was likely used for the basements of the palaces built by the Massimo family.

The last curiosity is on the ground floor of the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne where, in 1467, the first print shop in Rome was opened by two German men, Corrado Pannartz and Arnold Sweynheym, followers of Gutenberg. According to legend, the first book printed in Rome was "De Civitate Dei" by Saint Augustine of Hippo!

About the Author

Gianluca Pica is an archeologist, art historian, tour guide and a story teller, born and raised in Rome. A graduate of Rome's oldest university, La Sapienza, Gianluca has a passion for sharing Rome's ancient history and little-known secrets with his guests.

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