One of the things that never ceases to amaze me when I travel is discovering aspects of art or history that I never knew before, but continue to notice everywhere after I’ve learned about them. That’s the experience I had after taking this Cosmatesque mosaic style walking tour in Rome.
I don’t know if other travel bloggers experience a similar dilemma. But when I’m really in awe of something I’ve come across while travelling, it takes me a while to pluck up the courage to write about it on this blog.
One reason for this is that I don’t want to do an injustice to the information I’ve learned, and the people I’ve received it from. This was definitely the case when it came to writing about the incredible Cosmatesque Walking Tour I took in Rome with Personalized Italy.
Which is why it’s taken me so long to write about the tour. Despite taking it way back on the 21st January 2017!
Cosmatesque Mosaic Style & A Path To Knowledge
I took part in the Cosmatesque Walking Tour as a guest during my Winter in Rome weekend with The Beehive Hostel. Personalized Italy is run by an infectiously enthusiastic American expat called Annie and her Italian partner, and offers bespoke private tours across Italy.
And yes I said bespoke, not budget.
Their tours are a little on the pricier side for those of you who prefer to travel on a tight budget. But I’m still desperate to share with you the history of the Cosmati family. Mostly because their iconic Cosmatesque mosaic style has endured throughout centuries of history.
So for those of you who would rather tour yourselves, I’ll be naming the Churches we visited and giving you some background on the Cosmatesque style.
However, I really don’t have the words to express why, if you can, you should take the tour. But the main reason comes down to one person…
Discovering the Cosmatesque Mosaic Style with Alessandra
The Cosmatesque walking tour in Rome is led by Alessandra Segatori, a born and bred Italian who is passionate about her country’s history. She is also one of a handful of unique Cosmatesque mosaic style experts in the world!
But it was Alessandra’s friendliness that lured our group into the world of Cosmatesque.
It was clear that art history was Alessandra’s passion. The way in which she weaved her passion in amongst an in-depth understanding of the topic had me completely spellbound!
I’ve taken many tours and had a fair number of awful tour guides. But few have made me want to research further into the content of the tour. Thanks to Alessandra, I have continued exploring the Cosmatesque mosaic style wherever I might find it!
Thanks to Alessandra, I have continued exploring the Cosmatesque mosaic style wherever I might find it!
What is the Cosmatesque Mosaic Style?
Once you see a Cosmati floor, it’s impossible not to notice it the next time you encounter it.
Some people refer to the flooring as Cosmatesque pavements. But they’re actually far more mystical than that! Many of the floors in Roman Churches actually tell a story. The circles represent the divinity, and the squares represent humanity.
Many of the floors in Roman Churches actually tell a story. The circles represent the divinity, and the squares represent humanity.
What I like the most about the intricate designs is the material that composes them. The majority of elements inlaid into the floors of the Churches are reused from Ancient Roman remains.
Bright pieces of recycled glass lie side by side with marble. And the marble once belonged to large stone pillars that upheld Ancient Roman temples. Including the perfectly circular slabs. As Alessandra explained the old pillars were literally sliced like salami.
Which blows my mind as I have no idea how the architects accomplished this in the 12th and 13th centuries without the machinery that we have today!
Who Is Behind The Cosmatesque Mosaic Style?
As I mentioned, the Cosmatesque mosaic style was established in the 12th Century. It began with the work of Lorenzo Cosmati, and was developed by the next four generations of Cosmati architects and sculptors.
What is most incredible about the family is just how revered their artwork became during the 12th Century.
During the walking tour with Alessandra, we visited floors in some of the most venerated Churches in Rome! Including the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano which is the official seat of the Pope in Rome!
Alessandra also told me that you can find the Cosmatesque mosaic style in Westminster Cathedral in London!
The Cosmati family became that admired that when the Abbot of Westminster visited the Pope in the 13th Century, he returned with the materials and craftsmen skilled enough to create their very own carpet of stone in what is now one of the most well-known religious buildings in Europe!
Historic Examples Of The Cosmatesque Mosaic Style in Rome
I mentioned in the intro that I would be letting you in on a few of the places we explored on our incredible tour with Personalized Italy.
But as I said before, if you really want to bring these mystic pieces of art history to life, then you need Alessandra! So click here to find out more about the Cosmatesque Tour!
The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
Our first stop on the tour was meant to be at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.
However, the Pope was having a meet and great there and we arrived to an assembly of nuns and priests crowding the entrance! These kinds of invite-only events are kept super secret (even from tour guides) to stop people trying to sneak in to see the Pope!
Nevertheless, I was in Rome again a month later and decided to check out the floors for myself. And I have to say, even if you’re not into Churches or mosaics, you have to step inside San Giovanni in Laterano!
I just wish I’d had Alessandra with me to tell me more about it! My favourite part was spotting this intricate drain, that had been incorporated into the surrounding Cosmatesque mosaic style…
The Sancta Sanctorum
By far the most mystical place we visited on the Personalized Italy tour was the Sancta Sanctorum. The name of this chapel translates to the ‘Holy of Holies’, in reference to the bones of saints that are said to rest within this chapel.
In fact, an inscription above the altar reads “Non est in toto sanctior orbe locus” which translates from the Latin into “In the whole world there is no place holier than this.”
Used as the Pope’s personal chapel long before the Sistine Chapel was built, the first mention of the Sancta Sanctorum was in 772 BC!
But it was in the 13th Century, under the Papal rule of Pope Nicholas III, that the Cosmati floor was created. You can even see an inscription left on the wall by the Cosmati artists, under the previous section titled “Who Is Behind The Cosmatesque Mosaic Style?”
Further Tour Details
➤ Prices for the Cosmatesque Mosaic Style Walking Tour with Personalized Italy vary depending on group size. Click here to book.
➤ The tour takes you into some of the most religious sites in Rome. So you should dress accordingly. Mostly this means covering your shoulders and knees
➤ Rome is full of cobbled streets and this tour takes roughly three hours. So comfortable shoes are advised! During the tour, I wore my favourite Forever 21 Faux Leather Chelsea Boots and had no problem. I also travel with a pair of Adidas running trainers that are perfect for all-day walking!
➤ Some of the Churches and sites you’ll visit don’t allow photography inside. Specifically, you’re not allowed to take pictures in the Basilica di San Clemente and the Basilica di Santi Quattro Coronati.
Ready to experience the Cosmati style for yourself?
Not surprisingly, and quite obviously, I fell in love with the Cosmatesque mosaic style while on this tour.
The intricate combination of coloured glass and marble is dazzling. And the geometric shapes that the Cosmati family used are mesmerising.
If I had the chance, I would take the tour all over again!
P.s. Remember Annie, who I mentioned in the intro to this piece? She and her partner Giovanni also run Scooteroma – the Roman Vespa tour company I wrote about earlier this year after taking their street art tour!
As with the street art tour, I was a guest on the Cosmatesque walking tour during the ‘Winter in Rome’ weekend run and hosted by The Beehive Hostel Rome. However, and as always, all opinions are honest and my own.
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Lots of love,
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