Text and pictures by Maria Teresa Tozzi*
Probably there was a primitive structure of the bishop’s palace since the Middle Ages, but there are few information about it. Raffaele Riario became bishop of Ostia in 1511 and he decided to enlarge the building. A new part was constructed on the right side of St. Aurea’s Church becoming a unique structure with it.
Outside there is a porch dated to the 17th century and the façade is embellished with bas-reliefs of Roman times.
The interior was decorated with frescoes attributed to Baldassarre Peruzzi and collaborators (1511-1513). The frescoes were whitewashed when the palace was used as a lazaret in the 17th century and covered by grotesques in the 18th century. The building was almost completely abandoned until 1914, when it was used by the Augustinians Fathers. However, the frescoes were re-discovered in 1977, when Father Geremia Sangiorgi began restorations following Vasari’s description.
The pictorial cycle is on all four sides and follows clockwise direction. The subjects imitate the decoration of Trajan’s Column, referring to contemporary facts: the Holy War that pope Julius II had declared on King Louis XII of France.
The first scenes on the east side have been lost and there are panels with grotesques of the 18th century.
The south side is decorated with Riario’s coat of arms and ancient panoplies.
The west side is better preserved. The decoration is composed by three parts: the lower section is frescoed with geometrical motifs; the central part is decorated with Trajan’s heroic feats; the last one is embellished with an allegorical frieze.
On the north side there are frescoes with the escape of the Dacians and Trajan’s funeral. This last one is very interesting because the original panel on Trajan’s Column does not exist.
*Archeologist and official tour guide