Friday, January 6, 2023

How Did Rome Impact St. Louis Architecture

St. Louis’ architecture has a rich and long history, stretching back to its 254-year existence.?Every time I visit Rome in Italy, I am always struck by the richness of the city’s architectural history and how the Eternal City has influenced Gateway City’s built environment.?There is much more to it than the obvious influence of the Colosseum on American modern-day sports stadiums.?Cass Gilbert, who was the architect of the Art Museum, and the Central Library, traveled to Rome for inspiration for centuries.?Many iconic St. Louis buildings are influenced by the beauty of the ancient Roman Empire and Italian Renaissance.

The Baths of Caracalla & the Saint Louis Art Museum

The Caelian Hill, southeast of the Forum, is home to the Baths or Thermae, which are a testament to the immense size and complexity of ancient Roman engineering.?In ancient Rome, bathing was a common public activity. The Baths of Caracalla were a facility that provided services for thousands of people in the southeastern area of the city.?Although time has had its effects, the ruins remain stunning and have inspired dozens of notable architects, including Leon Battista Alberti and Michelangelo.?These halls had hot, cold, and warm baths. They also featured groin vaults and barrels. The walls were covered with white marble or intricate mosaics that focused on aquatic scenes.?Cass Gilbert, who designed the Saint Louis Art Museum at the World’s Fair in 1904, looked to the immense spaces of the Baths of Caracalla as inspiration. The institution’s Sculpture Hall, which is St. Louis’s Roman-inspired piece, was also a source of inspiration.

Renaissance, Baroque Palazzi, and the Central Library

Cass Gilbert returned to St. Louis to design the new library. He turned to the legacy left behind by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Michelangelo Bernini’s wealthy patrons to find palazzi.?Partly, the Palazzo Farnese that is now the French Embassy of Italy was designed by Michelangelo to please his wealthy papal patrons. They also followed the Florentine sculpturer’s advice to purchase the ancient Roman sculptures in the Baths of Caracalla.?The Central Library’s beautiful and intricately carved wood ceilings recall the?Gran Salone?ceiling in Palazzo Farnese.?The palazzo’s magnificent interior is also reflected in the elegant main staircase with its Tuscan columns-bedecked halls.?The elegant entrance portals also recall Bernini’s Palazzo Barberini front entrance.

Paleo Christian Basilicas and Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church

The many periods of influence on the city’s churches of worship are one of the most fascinating aspects of Roman Catholic church architecture.?The 20th century began and St. Louis moved southwestward towards the city limits. As a result, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese constructed churches that resembled the Early or Paleo Christian basilica churches. Some of these churches have roots back in the patronage of Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century.?St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is a recreation of the 4th-century church that was destroyed by fire in Rome. However, the basilica shows the influence of its contemporaries at St. Louis’s Our Lady of Sorrows on South Kingshighway.?One major influence is the arcaded front door, which is wider than the nave behind, and the tall campanile (or bell tower) offset in the rear.?The beauty of Rome’s churches, such as St. Paul’s, is evident in the interior of Our Lady of Sorrows’ long, flanking colonnades, and flat, coffered ceiling.

The Roman Forum and the St. Louis Civic Center

The forum was created by the draining of the marshes between Rome’s hills. This sewer is still in use today. It has been a source of inspiration for many public squares, good and bad.?The most fascinating thing about the Roman Forum is the way it was built over the centuries, with a lot of spontaneity and haphazard construction.?It was not planned and was overcrowded by dozens upon dozens of temples, but it is still a great example of public space.?St. Louis tried to create its own public space at the corner of Market and Tucker as part of its City Beautiful Movement.?Planners tried to recreate the magic of great public spaces like the Roman Forum by creating massive, graystone Beaux-Arts structures over many decades.?In their rush to build huge areas of parkland and wide avenues, planners forgot the most important lesson from ancient Romans: Great public spaces are messy and often haphazard and require humans to make them memorable.

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