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From 1040 to 1065, Nicola dei Crescenzi built the Casa dei Crescenzi for his son David in the Rione Ripa’s Forum Boarium. The Crescenzi family later added a tower to their mansion, utilizing their strategic location to control traffic along the Tiber River and across the Ponte Fabrizio. While the structure is the oldest identifiable post-antiquity house still remaining in Rome, it also happens to be one of the last surviving examples of Roman medieval domestic architecture.
The Casa dei Crescenzi is often referred to as the Casa di Cola di Rienzo based on a series of possible misinterpretations. One of the dwelling’s inscriptions identifies “Nicola,” which happens to be the shared first name between its actual patron, Nicola Crescenzi, and the Cola di Rienzo. The similar location of the Casa dei Crescenzi and the Cola’s actual house, north of Tiber Island, as well as both figures’ desire to revive Roman antiquity, symbolized in spolia on both the Casa dei Crescezi and the Cola’s own statue, may also explain the misnomer.
Much of the Casa dei Crescenzi’s significance lies in this desire to restore the glory of Roman antiquity, as its architecture illustrates in the extravagant spolia of its volutes, coffering, putti, and sphinxes. At the time of its establishment, families throughout Rome attempted to rival one another in their use of appropriated antiquities to flaunt their Roman lineage. Yet Nicola dei Crescenzi directly contests this analysis by describing in one of the Casa dei Crescenzi’s inscriptions his own motivation for the use of spolia: “it was not vanity which motivated [Nicholas] to build this house, but the desire to restore the ancient dignity of Rome.”