The medieval tower in Via dei Portoghesi is known as the Torre della Scimmia (Tower of the Monkey), on account of a rather strange and ancient tale.
The tower was once part of the Palazzo Scapucci and, at some point in the 16th century, the Scapucci family owned a pet monkey. One day the creature stole a new-born baby from its crib, climbing to the top of the tower with the hapless infant. The distraught family fervently prayed to the Madonna for help and the monkey duly returned the baby to the arms of its mother.
In thanks, the family had a marble statue of the Virgin and Child placed at the top of the tower. A lamp was also erected. Both statue and lamp are still in place, hundreds of years later. The only thing that has changed is that the lamp is now lit by electricity!
The tower plays a major role in The Marble Faun (1860), a novel by the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64).
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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