Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza

The exterior of Rome's Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza church, designed by Francesco Borromini.
The exterior of Rome's Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza church, designed by Francesco Borromini. (Photo by Benutzer:Fb78)

The swirling, curling lanterns atop the dome of this baroque church plays peek-a-boo with pedestrians on the surrounding streets—good thing, as the church itself is hidden in a courtyard

The courtyard church of Sant'Ivo
The courtyard church of Sant'Ivo, with its curlicue dome. (Photo by Enrico Viceconte)

Beyond a nondescript doorway halfway along the boulevard that parallels Piazza Navona, it a courtyard hiding one of the loveliest baroque churches in Rome, with a soft-serve ice cream cone of a swirling lantern perched atop an oval dome over the concave facade.

Borromini redesigned the courtyard of Giacomo della Porta's Palazzo della Sapienza between 1632 and 1667, surrounding three sides with porticoes and the back with the magnificent curved facade and glowing white drum, dome, and lantern of Sant'Ivo church.

(Palazzo della Sapienza means "palace of knowledge" and this was the seat of Rome's university from the 15th century until the school moved in 1935, originally dedicated to the schools of theology and law during the papal era, home to the philosophy department in the early 1900s, then the school of jursiprudence again until the university decamped to Castro Pretorio in the 30s.)

The culy-cue dome atop Sant'Ivo
The curlicue lantern atop the dome of Sant'Ivo. (Photo by Tokyorama)

It's the church you came to see, a geometrically complex and highly influential baroque playground of concave and convex curves is topped by a remarkable spiraling oval latern (atop a shallow dome) that looks an awful lot like soft-serve ice cream and subsequently inspired similar toppers on baroque churches throughout northern Europe.

The interior is nice as well, a lovely, light-filled baroque space with a fine geometric interplay of a triangle and six small circles—the exterior walls follow the concave curve of the circles where they intersect at the triangle's points, but the convex curves of the circles that intersect walfway along each of the three sides. This creates an interior pentagram of alternating curves, leading to an intriguing geometry where the floor plan melds into the equally complex oval of the drum above.

Sadly, the interior of Sant'Ivo is rarely open (just Sunday mornings, and in high summer not at all). However, do not let the church's scandalously brief open hours put you off visiting at all. The best part really is that facade and its unique dome lantern, and it's well-worth popping into the courtyard just for a minute to marvel at it.

If even the courtyard is closed—which, this being part of a government building now, it sometimes is—you can still get peeks of the dome and lantern from some parts of the surrounding neighborhood; see the tip below.

Tips & links

Details
ADDRESS

Corso Rinascimento 40
tel
. +39-06-686-4987
www.sivoallasapienza.eu

OPEN

Courtyard open irregular hours (roughly business hours), but closed Saturdays.
Church open Sundays 9am–noon (closed July–Aug)—this is not a big deal, since it's really the exterior you come to see.

TRANSPORT

Bus: 30, 70, 81, 87, 130F, 186, 492, 628, 116, 116T, C3, N7

TOURS
ADMISSION

Free
Roma Pass: No

How long does Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza take?

Planning your day: It's really all about seeing the dome and lantern, which takes all of 30 seconds. It's really just a "see it in passing" sort of sight—though worth going out of your way a bit to pass by.

The church itself is rarely open, and not worth bothering, so budget a grand 5–10 minutes for this one, most of which you will spend simply finding it.

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Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza tours

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Mass

Sundays at 11am (except July and August, when it is closed).

How to see it when closed

If the building's courtyard is closed, you can still see the cool dome lantern, peeking above the Roman rooftops, if you go to the west side of nearby Piazza Sant'Eustachio (home to the famous Caffé Sant'Eustachio coffee shop with fab cappuccino) and look up to the east.

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Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza
ADDRESS

Corso Rinascimento 40
tel
. +39-06-686-4987
www.sivoallasapienza.eu

OPEN

Courtyard open irregular hours (roughly business hours), but closed Saturdays
Church open Sundays 9am–noon (closed July–Aug)—this is not a big deal, since it's really the exterior you come to see

ADMISSION

Free
Roma Pass: No

TRANSPORT

Bus: 30, 70, 81, 87, 130F, 186, 492, 628, 116, 116T, C3, N7

TOURS


Useful links
SIGHTS

Tourist info: Turismoroma.it

Activities & tours: ContextTravel.com, Viator.com, SelectItaly.com, City-Discovery.com, Localguiding.com, Italy.artviva.com

Other useful sites: 060608.it, Vatican.va, Coopculture.it, Archeoroma.beniculturali.it, Museiincomuneroma.it, Comune.roma.it, Sovraintendenzaroma.it

LODGING
TRANSPORT

Public transport: Agenziamobilita.roma.it (all transit and driving/parking info); Atac.roma.it (bus & Metro/subway)

plane

Rome airports: Adr.it

Airport transfers: Trenitalia.com (express train: €14); Viator.com (private car: €14–€16.50); Terravision.eu (bus: €4), Cotralspa.it or Sitbusshuttle.com (bus: €5); Taxi: €45–€55

Airfares: Momondo.com, AutoEurope.comVayama.com, CheapOair.com, Cheapflights.comDoHop.com, CheapTickets.com, Priceline.com

train

Trains: Raileurope.com, Trenitalia.com, Seat61.com

automobile

Driving/parking: Sabait.it (Villa Borghese garage; €18/day), Atac.roma.it (outlying commuter parking lots; from €5 per day), Agenziamobilita.roma.it (more on the ZTL)

Car rentals:Autoeurope.com, Momondo.com, RentalCars.com, CheapOair.com, AutoSlash.com

ship

Cruise terminal: Port-of-rome.org (Civitavecchia)

Transport airport—cruise terminal: Viator.com (private car: 60–80 min, €29), Cotralspa.it (bus: 60–80 min, €4.30), Trenitalia.com (train, changing at a Rome station: 90–120 min. €11–€29),

Transport Rome hotels—cruise terminal: Viator.com (private car: 60–80 min, €29), Trenitalia.com (train: 60–80 min, €5–€15)

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Local info
National tourism authority: italia.it
Cultural patrimony: culturaitalia.it
Historic & cultural sites: beniculturali.it
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