The monumental flight of steps that leads up to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli
was built in 1348 following the end of the plague known as the Black Death.
The stairway, which is made up of 124 marble steps (122 if you start from the right side), was commissioned as a gesture of thanks to the Virgin Mary, and created by Lorenzo di Simeone Andreozzi, as a small plaque on the facade of the church records.
The plaque proclaims (in translation): 'Master craftsman Lorenzo di Simone Andreozzi, son of Andrea Carlo, Roman builder of the Colonna district, as principal craftsman, carried out and completed this flight of stairs, begun in the year of the Lord 1348, on the twenty-fifth day of October'.
For centuries, it was the custom for women who were having difficulty in becoming pregnant to ascend the steps on their knees.
Santa Maria in Aracoeli stands on the spot where, according to a medieval legend, the Tiburtine Sibyl appeared to Augustus to announce the birth of the son of God, in whose honour, the emperor duly raised an altar on the Capitol; an altar (ara) to heaven (coeli).
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 walking tours of Rome.
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