In 1561 Pope Pius IV (r. 1559-65) commissioned Michelangelo (1475-1564) to convert the ruins of the ancient Baths of Diocletian into the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. It was to be the master's last architectural work.
The cavernous body of the church (once the frigidarium) is 90 m long, 27 m wide and 28 m high. The eight colossal monolithic columns, nearly 14 m high, are ancient Roman and made of granite; the rest of the columns in the church are made of brick and plaster and painted to look like granite!
Embedded in the floor is a meridian, the work of Francesco Bianchini, which was inaugurated by Pope Clement XI on October 6th, 1702. It served to regulate the city's clocks until 1846.
In the middle of the 18th century, Santa Maria degli Angeli was radically restructured by Luigi Vanvitelli (1700-73), the Neapolitan architect and engineer.
The entrance to the church incorporates all that is left of the caldarium (hot room). The beautiful bronze doors (2005) are the work of the Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj (1944-2014), who also carved the marble head of St John the Baptist inside the church.
In addition to the church, Pope Pius IV also had part of the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian converted into a Carthusian monastery. The design of its beautiful Chiostro Grande (Great Cloister) is ascribed to Michelangelo.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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