Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Prince and the Elderly Lady.

The vecchietta romana, the Roman elderly lady is an institution in the Eternal City. They are famous for their strong character, you don't want to be against one, it would probably be the last thing you will do. They decide what goes on in churches and set up the prices in the mercato. They can be seen in the early hours of the day or in the late afternoon after returning from the market or church. There is one story that proves how great these women can be...

If you happen to pass by the grand Palazzo Altieri on the Piazza del Gesù, you should linger for a bit in the via Santo Stefano del Cacco. You will notice a narrow door and two small windows that are very much in contrast with the rest of the building. This is not a mistake of the great Baroque architect Giovanni Antonio De Rossi who designed the palace, but it is the result of a very funny anecdote.

In 1650 the Altieri, a noble papal family, commissioned a great palazzo to be built in the Piazza del Gesù. Many buildings, belonging both to the rich and the poor were sacrificed to make room for it, the prince spared no expense in buying all those houses to make room for his. In the end only one house was left, that of an elderly lady, widow of a shoemaker who did not want to renounce to her modest house in which she was born and in which she wanted to die. The lady declined all offers from the prince, he even offered her thrice the sum her house was actually worth. In the Papal States there used to be no laws regarding the expropriation of private property for public interest, therefore work on the palace stopped. The noble family made an appeal to the Pope who decided that work on the palace could proceed while respecting the house of the lady. Architect De Rossi was forced to incorporate the modest house in the huge palazzo, with its own private entrance, the prince even paid the renovation of the little house so that it would not clash with the rest of the palace. The little house can be still seen today and this story reminds us about the strength of Roman ladies. When you see one, think about the vecchietta that defeated one of the greatest Roman families of all time!

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