The Ancient Tower

But who was Magister Stephanus?

He belonged to one of the richest Roman families of the XIII century, the Stefaneschi. This powerful family had among its members, poets, senators and cardinals, and was very much involved in Rome´s political life. And this is exactly why we become acquainted with the establishment of this family in Tor Vergata. One of the main branches of the family was that of the Ranieri de Marana (or Morena) called Stephanus, born in the XI century, son of Costanza II of Imiza Ildebrandi Stefaneschi and duke Giovanni called “Secundicerio”.

The historical events connected to the properties of the Stefaneschi de Marana in Tor Vergata date back to 1191. In this same year, Stephanus Rainerii de Marana was involved, being "
Senator Consiliarius", in the act of donating his property of the devastated Tuscolo area in favour of Pope Celestino III who rented part of the land to the church of S.Maria Nova. The Stefaneschi family was one of the first to benefit from it: on June 29th 1205 S. Maria Nova allocated half the northeastern part of the Tuscolo estate in the area of Tor Vergata to senator Petrus Rainerii, and the other half to Stefanus, son of Rainerii de Marana, senator in 1130.

A topographic comparison resulting from an act dated August 12th 1241 by which Henri Gulferame guaranteed the dowry to his bride, a very common practice in those days, to avoid the frequent appropriations of the dowry itself. The dowry consisted of a "tenimentum ad Buces Celi", a property located in the Grotte Celoni area, bordering Tor Vergata . In the act, the bordering properties are reported to belong to Johannes Cintii Pantaleonis and Stephanus de Marana thus indicating the site to be that of the ancient Turris Magistri Stephani.

Although the presence of the Stefaneschi family is documented for the area which was to be called “Tor Vergata”, we are unable to identify which Magister Stephanus of the Stefaneschi family the tower was dedicated to. It could have been the senator, who in 1191 sold the Tuscolo estate, or Stephanus who was Senator in 1190-93; another possibility is that the tower could have been built by any one of the above and was named after the founder of the Rainerii de Marana family. Today, we can not only read the epigraph of the founder, son of Costanza II and Duke Giovanni Rainerii de Marana in the church of the family, S.Maria in Trastevere, but also see the Turris Magistri Stephani or rather, “Tor Vergata”.

Let’s now go back to 1361 and to Tebalduccio Annibaldi. From this point onwards, the history of Tor Vergata is rather well documented. The Annibaldi had, as did the Stefaneschi, a very important role in the history of Rome during the XIII and XIV century.

It is not clear how the Turris Magistri Stephani became property of the Annibaldi family, but in 1240 Pope Gregorius IX designated Cardinal Riccardo Annibaldi della Molana as rector of the pontificial province of Campagna and Marittima. He turned out to be so clever at keeping relations between the Campagna, the city of Rome and the Church that he was considered a possible candidate after Pope Urbano IV’s demise in 1264.

The homonymous Riccardo Annibaldi, father of Giovanni I, became senator three times between 1288-1300, a period during which the Turris Magistri Stephani could have passed on to the Annibaldi family.

After 1361 the estate and hamlet of Tor Vergata were often fractioned and sold. Except for the smaller fractions of the estate, the remaining and larger portions belonged, for long periods, to the Palosci, della Valle, Giustizi, da Castello, del Bufalo and Borghese families.

On December 21th 1387 Cecco Gentile sold one third of the hamlet and estate of Tor Vergata to Lello della Valle for 18,000 florins while the rest continued to belong to the Annibaldi, Cerroni and de Surdis families.

In 1391 the Palosci bought part of the estate as a family and on behalf of the church of Sancte Pudentiane. In 1567 the estate was divided into two equal parts of a hundred "rubbi" (about 180 hectars) each: one belonged to Valerio Paolo della Valle and the other to Pompeo Giustini da Castello. Over the years, the Giustini family put back together most part of the estate which, as reported by Tomassetti, was then sold to Carlo Barberini on February 7th 1625. Not all of it was sold, however, since a portion was kept by Della Valle, the area where, according to the Alexandrine Land Registry, the ancient tower stood.

The noble roman family Della Valle who also owned part of the estate of Torrenova, merged with and became Del Bufalo, taking over the property in the XVIII century. During this same century, the ancient Turris Magistri Stephani and the Turris Virgate hamlet underwent progressive degradation.

The 18th century was a critical century for the Church denoting serious structural weakening of its socio-economic system. The decay of the large estates turned the land into slumps thus leading to the spread of malaria which reached its peak in the 19th century.

The empty and desolated Roman country side, dominated by the ruins of the aqueducts carrying engravings which refer to its steady decay, became the symbol of the past grandeur of Rome.
Today, we can find the ruins of the ancient Casalis Turris Virgate underneath Villa Gentile, an ancient seventeenth century hamlet, now completely restored and located on the university campus.

The last description of the ruins of Tor Vergata still emerging from the ground can be found in an XVIII century note which depicts it as "a small ancient tower in the middle of the fields near the fountain (of Carcaricola) with a tiled roof and in good condition”.