Campo de’ Fiori in Rome is one of the most lively squares of the city centre. Featuring every morning a market, rich in fresh, high quality food (yet expensive), the square becomes at night a meeting place for the young people of the city, as well as for the tourists. We visit the square with the market during our Classic Rome morning Segway tour, and we stop here to soak in its lively after-the-sunset ambience on our Evening Special Segway Tour of Rome.
However, precisely 418 years ago, on the 17th of February 1600, the square was the place where one of the cruelest executions of the story of Rome occurred: the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt alive for heresy. Who was Giordano Bruno? Monk in Italy, professor in Paris, spy in London, wizard and philosopher, he certainly knew how to think out of the box. There is no portraits of him, but the sources we have say he was a short, bearded 40-year old man when you was executed.
Born nearby Naples, he left Italy still in his youth, roaming all over Europe without settling down: first Switzerland, then France (Toulouse and Paris) and England. Afterwards he got back to Paris and moved to Germany, lived in Prague and finally (1591) returned to Italy, in Venice where he was arrested by the Inquisition in 1592.
He published several books, and his ideas were very controversial, almost subversive: harsh critic of the bigotry and of some important religious theories, such the Trinity and the geocentric model, he believed the universe could be infinite, with infinite different worlds. These thoughts were way beyond the tolerance of the Catholic Church.
The trial began in Venice, where Bruno showed the judges how remorseful and penitent he was. With his inmates, though, he used to say profanities and mock the stupidity of those same judges. Unluckily for him, the trial was soon moved to Rome, where the Tribunal of the Inquisition was less likely to find him not guilty. Furthermore, his Venice inmates testified against him, his theories were doomed heretical and the only way out he had left to save his life was the recantation. Bruno had to give up all his ideas. That, he wouldn’t do. He was sentenced to death by fire.
For a week, people from a special brotherhood (Arciconfraternita di San Giovanni Decollato) tried to make him change his mind. At least, as a real penitent, he wouldn’t have to be burnt alive, but the executioner would have strangled him before set the fire. Again, he turned them down and refused to admit that he was a heretic. On Campo de’ Fiori, the 17th of February 1600, he was literally burnt alive.
Only in 1889, the 9th of June, a statue of Giordano Bruno was erected in the middle of Campo de’ Fiori. The papacy was overthrown 19 years earlier, and the recent Italian kingdom wanted to pay homage to Bruno, thus making him a symbol of the freedom of thought.