Present state


Historical context

Today it is not possible to precisely reconstruct the image of the internal area of the cloister before Antonio Muñozís restoration. Some information regarding this has emerged from the stratification identified in the excavation surveys carried out along the north wall and in the south-west corner. The first excavation uncovered a rectangular basin with a mashed brick base that is probably related to an installation, perhaps a fountain, which precedes/of an earlier date to the central one created by Muñoz (see Archaeological Appendix, Saggio IV, tavv. 1- 4). The second excavation brought to light an ancient channel that perhaps drained the water from the garden and collected other waste water. Both excavations indicated that 15 cm below the present level, on the band of intonaco of the base of the coupled orders there is evidence of an external pavement level that does not appear to have been altered by Muñozís subsequent works.

The only iconographic source that records the situation inside the cloister before the works began, is a photograph taken by Muñoz in 1906 that depicts part of the garden towards the south side (see Iconographic Appendix): both a perimeter and a central path can be clearly seen, bordering neglected flower-beds, where a few rose-bushes and low shrubs are recognizable. Large pots of citrus trees are untidily positioned on overturned capitals and other archaeological pieces are placed here and there on the ground. A tree, of which only the trunk is visible, stands at the center of the south side, quite close to the colonnade. Munozís photographs taken after the work commenced show the same side in a similar state as that of 1906, where, however, the little vegetation and tree have been removed, the vases emptied and taken off the capitals and the ground covered with loose soil and debris that has fallen from the cornice. The final arrangement of the garden by Muñoz is instead well documented by contemporary photographs. The focal point of his project is the central fountain. Inside a square basin at ground level with re-entering corners and framed by a 30 cm high peperino rim, Muñoz positioned two precious marble bowls, originally parts of a cantharus dating perhaps from the 4th century, one inside the other, the lower of which, adorned with leonine protomes and mascarons, rests on a high pedestal made from a piece of fluted column. In his notes, accompanied by a photograph, he refers to the discovery of the two bowls on the pedestal inside a circular basin that is today still situated in the cloister and of their re-use in the new fountain; A few years later, Muñoz decided to lower the pedestal of the cantharus, perhaps to eliminate the visual barrier that it presented within the overall impression of the colonnade This is evident when comparing the 1914 photograph with those taken at the completion of the restoration works. Around the central basin he designed a square gravelled area, rotated with respect to the latter with two corners pointing towards the points of access and the other two towards the short sides of the cloister, without however reaching its walls. In this way the path delimited four triangular flower beds, one in each corner, planted with grass. Close to the north-west corner Muñoz reconstructed a small piece of the wall of the side aisle of the Carolingian basilica, whose foundation he had uncovered, using it as a stand for a large terracotta vase. In the center of the other three beds, he also built mounds on which he placed pots or capitals, in order to create a symmetrical composition that would otherwise be upset by the fragment of Carolingian wall. Apart from grass, he planted two palm trees in the corners of the north side and several other species, of which clumps of daisies, citrus trees in pots and a bergamot tree planted in the earth are recognizable. The photographs of the Sixties show how the beds later underwent certain, though not substantial, modifications from a botanical point of view. The uncovered area of the cloister, transformed into a garden, therefore maintained its visual continuity from 1914 up until those years.

In 1970 the Augustinian nuns transformed the garden to its present state, radically altering Muñozís design (fig.1). A cobbled path in small porphyry blocks runs the entire length of the colonnade and four right-angled paths lead to the points of access on the long sides and the center of the short sides. These paths delimit four flower beds in the corners and an octagonal one surrounding the fountain, all bordered with peperino edges and planted with grass, currently with Convallaria Japonica. The palm trees and bergamot planted by Muñoz have remained, while camellias were planted symmetrically in each bed, three of which are still there today.





Fig. 1 - View of Cloister garden from the upper floor: in the center the fountain whit the Cantharus.










































The deterioration of the image

The present arrangement of the garden conflicts with the historically established image of the uncovered area of a cloister. The space is generally covered with flower beds planted with grass or medicinal herbs usually separated by gravel paths or, alternatively, paved with the gradient sloping from the center towards the outer limits where perimeter channels see to the collection of water and its transport into cisterns.

The present pavement in new porphyry blocks with polished surfaces, laid in a diagonal design with rectilinear margins, and furthermore sloping in the opposite direction to that of tradition, gives an incongruous perception of the open space. The high peperino edges that border the beds only add to the impression of a heavily structured space with a design that interferes with the continuous harmonious rhythm of the coupled orders.

The central octagonal bed, modified in 1970, replaces the design of the lower basin of Muñozís fountain, today invisible beneath the grass that covers it, nullifying the proportional equilibrium between the basin and cantharus, which Muñoz had planned so carefully.

Also the four stone lids outside the basin, symmetrically positioned at the center of each side, introduce a further design, with their drain holes in the shape of flower petals. Finally it must be noted that the four rain water pipes in the corners represent another incongruous element and conflict with the architecture of the cloister.

Today these drainpipes are of a considerable size and the necessity to run them across the cosmatesque cornice creates an obstruction that damages the perception of the cornice and the pilasters and interrupts the balance of the composition.






















Restoration work

The results to be pursued through the restoration of the garden are of two types:

  1. To eliminate the causes of deterioration due to humidity and contribute to establishing the necessary conditions for the overall restoration of the cloister and its future conservation.

  2. To regain a perception that is consistent with its historical and figurative context.

With the choices made we have tried to find solutions that guarantee the pursuit of both objectives, or where these conflict, to find a reasonable compromise.

The first objective can be linked up with the overall dehumidification treatment that involves the whole perimeter area. For further technical specifications, refer to the report on this subject.

However, certain interventions that concern the improvement of humidity conditions have also been taken into consideration here as a result of their aesthetic and figurative components.

The following interventions are proposed:

  • a reduction in the quantity of water collected in the cloister through the modification of the rainwater drainage system.

  • the lowering of the level of the garden to that of Muñozís project uncovered during the excavations, in order to re-establish the correct relationship with the levels of the central fountain.

  • the creation of a deep loose stone foundation for perimeter drainage at the base of the walls with a drain at the bottom that conveys the water from the beds and the rain water from the four roof edges; this intervention is also made possible by the reinstatement of the ancient drain in the garden that runs from the north-west corner to Via dei Querceti, making it possible to lower the level at which the water is collected considerably.

  • the creation of a drained and waterproofed ring-shaped basin, of the type used in hanging gardens, in the whole central area of the garden between the perimeter drainage system and the basin of the fountain; this solution would impede water from rain and watering from penetrating the ground, but at the same time allow the ground below to breathe through the sloping walls of the perimeter drainage system.

  • the replacement of the cobbled paths with gravel to provide a pavement with natural drainage in case of rain and allow the walls and ground to breathe; this solution, apart from assisting the problem of humidity would also make it possible to re-establish a system of garden paths much more appropriate to its historical and figurative context.

  • the removal of the two palm trees that could be relocated within the monastery enclosure; this intervention has been made necessary as the surveys have clearly indicated that the roots of the palms are damaging the foundation structures; furthermore, the leaves are thrashed against the intonaco and roof of the north gallery when the wind is strong, causing material to fall.

  • the installation of an automatic watering system that ensures the distribution of the correct quantity at regular intervals avoiding the possibility of stagnation or over-watering.

  • the removal of the porphyry pavement and creation of a square-shaped area rotated 90į around the basin (in a similar way to Muñozís arrangement around the fountain) and a perimeter path, both gravelled, bordering the four triangular flower beds planted with Convallaria Japonica (fig.2).

  • the relocation of the three camellias to where they were originally and the addition of a fourth positioned symmetrically in relation to the others.

  • the removal of the four corner drainpipes and of the gutters from the four roofs covering the gallery corridors; the collection of rain water is ensured by the channel positioned at the base of the perimeter drainage system.

  • the planting of a box-tree hedge that simulates the wall from the Carolingian aisle as an extension of the masonry fragment reconstructed by Muñoz; the hedge would run diagonally across the north side of the garden terminating at the east perimeter path.










© 1999 Coordination Monica Morbidelli
© 1999 Altair 4 Multimedia
© 1999 All the material on this site is under the copyright of the Augustinian Community of
the Monastery of Ss. Quattro Coronati





Fig. 2 - Plan of the garden in the present state.


Fig. 3 - Project plan of the garden.

Fig. 4 - Drainage stratification of the garden.