Rome Guides: San Pietro in Montorio
Perched atop the Janiculum hill looking out over the quiet Trastevere region of Rome sits San Pietro in Montorio. A ten minute walk away from the ancient Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, the brief climb up the steps off of Via Garibaldi features ornately carved stations of the cross. At the top of the staircase, you will see a unique view of the city of Rome. If you turn away from that view, however, you will see a long light-orange building with an unassuming exterior and what looks like a church mashed into the left end of it. But it is not this Church to which our attention is presently directed. Betwixt the Church on one end, and a sign reading "Reale Accademia di Spagna" (Spanish Royal Academy) is a gated entryway. Perhaps the gate will be closed when you arrive (as it was for me). Still, if you peer through the bars you will yet be able to see what looks like a circular temple with Doric columns surrounding it. This peculiar structure is in honor of Saint Peter - regarded as the site of his crucifixion. "Hold on," you might say, "I thought Saint Peter died on Vatican hill - where Saint Peter's Basilica is today?" While it is true that Saint Peter's body is buried at Vatican, underneath the altar and by the Vatican Necropolis (another recommended jaunt), the site of Peter's death has two claimants for the title. While Saint Peter's Basilica is the most famous of the two, other schools of thought regard San Pietro as the historical location of the first Pope's martyrdom (Freiberg 44). In 1472 Pope Sixtus IV made reference to this site during his efforts to renovate it saying that, "San Pietro in Montorio in the Trastevere region of the city [is] where it is said that Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles, suffered martyrdom on the Cross." You should have no trouble accessing the beautiful Renaissance Church (dedicated to Saint Peter) on your left, but if you wish to see the gated off circular shrine to the first Pope, you will have a tougher time of it. The area does not seem to be a popular tourist destination (as many of the best sites of Rome often are), and you will find that there are no English instructions to guide you. When I last visited two years ago the staff did not speak good English, but by entering the door under "Reale Accademia di Spagna" and using some expert gestures I gradually was directed in a roundabout way through the Spanish Academy to see the site of the crucifixion. Along the way were a few interesting looking plaques which seemed to tell the history of San Pietro in Montorio. Unfortunately, these too were left untranslated (it was after all housed by a Spanish school in Italy) so I was left to guess as to the details. Still, when I made it through the museum portion of the experience, I found the courtyard glimpsed through the gate. As if standing on the likely site of Peter's crucifixion were not enough, the temple-like building featured fascinating depictions of the four evangelists on its interior and lower level with more designs accessed by a narrow winding staircase. Should you find yourself visiting the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, or anywhere else in that region, it would be worth your time to pass by this monument to Saint Peter and to his martyrdom. Source: Freiberg, Jack. Bramante's Tempietto, the Roman Renaissance, and the Spanish Crown. Cambridge University Press, 2016.