Montmajour Abbey was a fortified Benedictine monastery built between the 10th and 18th centuries. Until the late Middle Ages, Montmajour was an island, 43 meters above the surrounding terrain, protected by marshes and accessible only by boat. As early as the 3rd millennium BC the island was used as a cemetery, with individual graves carved into the rock. In the 9th and 10th centuries the island also served as a sanctuary for the local residents during invasions of the Saracens and the Normans. During the Middle Ages, several legends arose about Montmajour and its founding. One legend said that the island had been the sanctuary of St. Trophimus, who had been sent from Rome by St. Peter to convert the Gauls. After coming to Arles in 46 AD, he took shelter in one of the caves on the island and received disciples there.
In 949 a Frankish noblewoman, Teucinde of Arles, acquired the island from the Archbishop of Arles, and left it in her will to a group of hermits already residing on the island, with instructions to create a monastery following the Rule of St. Benedict. Pope Leo VIII raised it to the status of an abbey in 963. The first abbey church of was built between 1030-69. The second abbey church was built, possibly on the site of the previous one, in the 12th century. The abbey was at the peak of its influence and wealth.
The 14th century was the age downturn in Montmajour. in 1348 the Black Plague reduces by half the population of Provence. The Free Company, armies of French soldiers left unpaid after the defeat of France by the English army at Poitiers during the Hundred Years War, ravaged the countryside in 1357. It was pillaged again by marauders in 1357, and by the soldiers of Raimond de Turenne of Les Baux, who wage war against Arles from 1386 to 1398. The Abbot of Montmajour, Pons de L'Orme, then fortified the monastery with a massive tower.
During the Wars of Religion in 1593, the abbey was occupied by soldiers of the Catholic League, and the monks were forced to move to Arles for two years. When they returned, they monastery was ruined. In 1786 the abbey was officially secularized.
Built in the 12th century, the Notre Dame abbey-church is characteristically representative of Romanesque buildings. The buildings, including the chapter house, the refectory, the pantry, the library and the kitchen, can be reached by way of the cloister, restored in 1872.
St. Peter's Chapel is the oldest existing part of the abbey, probably built between 1030 and 1050. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was built to contain the most valuable relic of the abbey, a piece of the True Cross. It is located a few hundred meters from the abbey church, outside the monastery walls, to provide the monks with greater separation from the crowds of pilgrims.
The ruined Maurist Monastery was built in the classical Piranesian style on a huge scale; the building was originally five stories high, covering eight thousand square meters, with sixty windows and two grand staircases. The monks, lay brothers and novices lived on the top two floors, with their library, classrooms and archives. The building was largely demolished after the French Revolution for its building materials.
The rocky slope near St. Peter's Chapel has more than a dozen tombs cut into the rock in the shape of human bodies, with places for the head, shoulders and feet. The more recent tombs (14th century) were rectangular, and were probably covered with stone slabs.References:
The Palazzo Colonna is a palatial block of buildings built in part over ruins of an old Roman Serapeum, and has belonged to the prestigious Colonna family for over twenty generations.
The first part of the palace dates from the 13th century, and tradition holds that the building hosted Dante in his visit to Rome. The first documentary mention notes that the property hosted Cardinal Giovanni and Giacomo Colonna in the 13th century. It was also home to Cardinal Oddone Colonna before he ascended to the papacy as Martin V (1417–1431).
With his passing, the palace was sacked during feuds, and the main property passed into the hands of the Della Rovere family. It returned to the Colonna family when Marcantonio I Colonna married Lucrezia Gara Franciotti Della Rovere, the niece of pope Julius II. The Colonna"s alliance to the Habsburg power, likely protected the palace from looting during the Sack of Rome (1527).
Starting with Filippo Colonna (1578–1639) many changes have refurbished and create a unitary complex around a central garden. Architects including Girolamo Rainaldi and Paolo Marucelli labored on specific projects. Only in the 17th and 18th centuries were the main facades completed. Much of this design was completed by Antonio del Grande (including the grand gallery), and Girolamo Fontana (decoration of gallery). In the 18th century, the long low facade designed by Nicola Michetti with later additions by Paolo Posi with taller corner blocks (facing Piazza Apostoli) was constructed recalls earlier structures resembling a fortification.
The main gallery (completed 1703) and the masterful Colonna art collection was acquired after 1650 by both the cardinal Girolamo I Colonna and his nephew the Connestabile Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna and includes works by Lorenzo Monaco, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Palma the Elder, Salviati, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Pietro da Cortona, Annibale Carracci (painting of The Beaneater), Guercino, Francesco Albani, Muziano and Guido Reni. Ceiling frescoes by Filippo Gherardi, Giovanni Coli, Sebastiano Ricci, and Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari celebrate the role of Marcantonio II Colonna in the battle of Lepanto (1571). The gallery is open to the public on Saturday mornings.
The older wing of the complex known as the Princess Isabelle"s apartments, but once housing Martin V"s library and palace, contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, Antonio Tempesta, Crescenzio Onofri, Giacinto Gimignani, and Carlo Cesi. It contains a collection of landscapes and genre scenes by painters like Gaspard Dughet, Caspar Van Wittel (Vanvitelli), and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Along with the possessions of the Doria-Pamphilij and Pallavacini-Rospigliosi families, this is one of the largest private art collections in Rome.