The area where the Palazzo Cenci stands was known as the Campo Judeorum in the Middle Ages because many Jews had moved here from Trastevere. For centuries the Cenci family had held power over the area between the Tiber River (today Lungotevere Cenci) and via Arenula.
By the 14th century, they were already one of the most important families in Rome. One of the family members, Pietro Cenci, was hostile to the papacy which had just been reinstalled in Rome after exile in Avignon. Pietro was later sentenced to death and then decapitated for having instigated and taken part in an insurrection against excessive papal power.
The papacy and the Cenci family were in strong opposition during another black episode.
This story inflamed the interest of the Romans at the time. The beautiful young Beatrice Cenci, together with her brothers, killed their father on account of his repeated atrocities. She was tried and decapitated in 1599 during the pontificate of Clement VIII, the same pope who condemne Giordano Bruno to death in the same year.
The pope showed not the slightest mercy towards the girl Beatrice; in fact, he was contravening the normal custom of applying comparatively light punishment to members of noble families. The fiery Roman populace gave vent to their feelings through the voice of Pasquino-the talking statue: they strongly suspected that the pope was less interested in Beatrice's punishment and justice than in the fortune of the Cenci family.
Though this was just considered to be the local gossip, the Cenci fortune did in fact pass into the hands of one of the pope's family members after the execution.