The Albergo Santa Chiara in Rome is a hotel with a history.
It started out as a wine shop in 1839, then morphed into a convent, then a 10-room inn. Now it’s 96 guest rooms contained in three contiguous buildings behind the Pantheon. One of them contains the Saint Catherine from Siena Chapel – and a petite opera house.
“Its original building dates from the sixth century,” says owner Flavia Corteggiani. “This one (containing the lobby and gathering spaces featuring her own mosaics) dates from 1700.”
The hotel has been in the same family for a century. That’s five generations. “For us it is a house – it’s our home,” she says. “We’re always here – me, my cousins and son, and we have a lot of friends.”
Some of them are quite well-known. The Chiara’s guests have included Paul Sartre, Isabella and Antonio Allende, Giovanni Pascoli, General Edward H. Thomas (in 1943, the first American officer to enter Rome), Bellisario Bettencourt (former president of Colombia), Pope Paolo VI (before becoming Pope), Dario Fo (Nobel Prize-winner), painter Giorgio Morandi and painter/sculptor Modigliani.
Surely they each enjoyed a drink at the hotel’s quiet and private open-air bar overlooking Minerva Square and Bernini’s last work, “Pulcino della Minerva,” or “Minerva’s Chick” – a small elephant balancing an Egyptian obelisk on its back.
Pope Alexander VII commissioned the sculpture after the obelisk was discovered in a Dominican monastery’s garden in 1665. Bernini submitted a number of sketches, one of them with an elephant as a symbol of fortitude: “A strong mind is needed to support a solid knowledge,” reads the inscription on one side of the base for the sculpture.
Today, “Pulcino della Minerva” serves as the symbol of the Albergo Santa Chiara.
It is an apt and fitting logo.