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Point of interests in Rome

TitleAbbey Fossanova
Address04010 Lazio Latina 1 Via S. Tommaso d’Aquino Via
Timesec. XII d.C. (1100-1199)
DescriptionFossanova Abbey, located in the homonymous town sited in the Municipality of Priverno (province of Latina), is considered the first example of Gothic-Cistercian architecture in Italy, together with Casamari. The hardness of the Benedictine rule, reformed by Bernardo di Chiaravalle, resulted in the elimination of all decorative pinchbecks in churches, including paintings and sculptures. Fossanova was born from such strict application of mind and material, and had the great privilege to have excellent monks-architects working on it (maybe French, maybe Italian, maybe both nationalities), great carpenters and masters of the stone. Around 1135, the Cistercian monks arrived in Fossanova and received as a concession by Pope Innocent III an antique Benedictine monastery with the intention of restoring the marshland of Fosa Nova – indicating a drainage ditch. The whole abbey was built according to the rules of the monastic tradition that has in the cloister the focal point around which all other spaces rotate: the abbey church, the capitular house, the refectory, the kitchen and dormitories for the lay brothers, the house of pilgrims, the cemetery and the infirmary.The abbey church, begun in 1187 and consecrated in 1208, still retains the bare architecture which gives it a severe and grand look. The facade, originally probably preceded by a porch, is simple but stately, with its strongly splayed portal, with its pointed arch which lunette takes up the motif of the rose window, while in the lower part, a Cosmatesque mosaic replaces the inscription “Fridericus Imperator semper augustus hoc opus fieri fecit”, witnessing the economic support of Frederick Barbarossa in the building of the portal. Above the richly decorated portal, the façade is adorned with a large rose window. The octagonal oculus at the centre of the gable is a remake of an original oculus that was to be similar to the one of the apse. The might of the facade is accentuated by the presence of powerful buttresses.The structure of the church, entirely built of travertine, is a basilica. It has a cruciform plan: the longitudinal wing, which develops along a median axis and is divided into a nave and two side aisles, is perpendicularly crossed by the transept. At the centre of the transept there is the octagonal tower, two floors high and topped by the lantern, which replaced the bell tower. The bells were played from the choir with ropes hanging in front of the high altar. Four small chapels have been obtained in the two wings.Inside the church, a door on the right leads to the cloister: it is the door of the choir, so called because it was used by the monks when, suspending the works they were doing, going to the church for the Opus Dei. As the cloister is the centre of monastic life, in its perimeter, the environments where the monks lived are rationally distributed: the large and robust kitchen, the refectory, the capitular house, the armarium, the stair to the dormitories of the monks, the reading room, the halls of the monks, the calefactorium, the writing room and the auditorium. The fountain of the cloister (basin) is well-preserved and is located in front of the dining room for washing before meals, and was built in the thirteenth century.At the centre of the cloister’s eastern gallery there is the capitular hall flanked by two double lancet windows with pointed arches. Datable to the thirteenth century, it’s in Gothic style: composed of two aisles divided into six bays, it is covered with ribbed vaults and supported by two fascicular pillars (fascicular: made of a bundle of small columns). The refectory is a large rectangular room, perpendicular to the cloister: covered by a wooden ceiling whose two slopes rest on five broad pointed arches, square in profile, while thirteen windows (five of which walled up) had to give great light to the room. Detached from the buildings that orbit around the cloisters, there is the infirmary of the chorister monks. On the second floor there is the cell where S. Thomas died in 1274, now converted into a chapel. In the church there still is the empty tomb since the body was transferred by the Dominicans in Toulouse at the end of the fourteenth century. The tomb consists of a rectangular slab of marble or travertine.


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