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MAY 25
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The Renaissance & Counter-Reformation

As time went on, power gradually became concentrated in a handful of families , who swapped the top jobs, including the papacy itself, between them. Under the burgeoning power of the pope, the city began to take on a new aspect: churches were built, the city's pagan monuments rediscovered and preserved, and artists began to arrive in Rome to work on commissions for the latest pope, who would invariably try to outdo his predecessor's efforts with ever more glorious self-aggrandizing buildings and works of art.

This process reached a head during the Renaissance ; Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo all worked in the city, on and off, throughout their careers. The reigns of Pope Julius II (1503-13), and his successor the Medici pope, Leo X (1513-22), were something of a golden age: the city was at the centre of Italian cultural and artistic life and site of the creation of great works of art like Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Raphael's Stanze in the Vatican Palace and fine buildings like the Villa Farnesina, Palazzo Farnese and Palazzo Spada, not to mention the commissioning of a new St Peter's as well as any number of other churches. The city was once again at the centre of things, and its population had increased to 100,000. However, in 1527 all this was brought abruptly to an end, when the armies of the Habsburg monarch, Charles V, swept into the city, occupying it - and wreaking havoc - for a year, while Pope Clement VII (1523-34) cowered in the Castel Sant'Angelo.

The ensuing years were ones of yet more restoration, and perhaps because of this it's the seventeenth century that has left the most tangible impression on Rome today, the vigour of the Counter-Reformation throwing up huge sensational monuments like the Gesł church that were designed to confound the scepticism of the new Protestant thinking, and again using pagan artefacts (like obelisks), not to mention the ready supply of building materials provided by the city's ruins, in ever more extravagant displays of wealth. The Farnese pope, Paul III (1534-50), was perhaps the most efficient at quashing anti-Catholic feeling, while, later, Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) was perhaps the most determined to mould the city in his own image, ploughing roads through the centre and laying out bold new squares at their intersections. This period also saw the completion of St Peter's under Paul V (1605-1621), and the ascendancy of Gian Lorenzo Bernini as the city's principal architect and sculptor under the Barberini pope, Urban VIII (1623-44) - a patronage that was extended under the Pamphili pope, Innocent X (1644-55).

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