A Tourist in Rome - Aurelian Wall and Gates

Location:Various locations, see text below
Metro:Various locations, see text below
Time:about 10 minutes per location
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time (except as noted below)

The Aurelian Wall (red wall on the map below) was a city wall built around Rome between 271 AD and 275 AD by Emperor Aurelius to replace the then-insufficient Servian Wall (black wall on the map below). By then, Rome had expanded much beyond its old Servian Wall, and although it had stood essentially unfortified for centuries because it was protected by its powerful armies, incursions by Germanic barbarians and Vandals (in 270 AD) and internal revolts forced Rome to rethink its defenses and construct the new, larger and taller wall. The wall enclosed all seven hills of Rome plus the Campus Martius and the Trastevere district across the Tiber River. The wall ran for a distance of 12 miles, surrounding an area of 5.3 square miles. It was 11 feet thick and 26 feet high, with a square tower every 97 feet. It was built from bricks, and featured a walkable passage on the inner side that fully protected soldiers on patrol. Aurelian died a few months before it was completed even though the construction only took 5 years. Part of the reason for the quick progress and low cost was incorporation of existing buildings into the new wall. Approximately 1/6 of the wall might have been composed of pre-existing structures. Places where you can see this still today are at the Pyramid of Cestius, and near Porta Maggiore where a section of the Aqua Claudia was used for the wall. An area inside the wall was cleared to enable the wall to be reinforced quickly in an emergency. The wall was effective against the hit-and-run raids which barbarians commonly used, but would probably not have been effective against a prolonged siege. A 4th century remodelling of the wall by Maxentius doubled its height to 52 feet and improved the watch-towers. In 401 AD, under Honorius, the walls and gates were improved by facing the brick gates with thick white stone, adding semicircular towers, walling up the second arch in two-arched gates, and by replacing gate doors on hinges into portcullises which dropped down from above. Despite these improvements, Rome fell to Alaric I, king of the Visigoths in 410 AD, whose army entered the city through Porta Salaria. Totila, king of the Ostrogoths destroyed 1/3 of the wall in 545 AD when he sacked Rome, entering the city through the Porta Asinaria. The wall was repaired and continued defending the city until 1870, when the army of King Victor Emmanuel II of the Kingdom of Italy breached the wall near Porta Pia and captured Rome. Today, several parts of the wall are still well-preserved, the best being along the northern edge from the Muro Torto (Villa Borghese) to Corso d'Italia to Castro Pretorio; along the eastern edge from Porta Maggiore to Porta San Giovanni; along the southern edge from Porta Metronia to Porta Ardeatina and from Porta Ostiense to the Tiber; and along the western edge near the Porta San Pancrazio on the Janiculum Hill. The Museo delle Mura near Porta San Sebastiano explains how the wall was built and defended. Most of the gates stand at their original sites but have gone through changes over the centuries, adapting their purpose according to the needs of the day.

    
Servian Wall (black) and Aurelian Wall (red)
Porta Maggiore
Location:East of Termini, along the southern edge of the tracks, and northeast from San Giovanni in Laterano, and along the route of my Southeastern Sights Walking Tour
Metro:Manzoni
Time:about 60 minutes (including the gate, the Aurelian Wall, the aqueducts, and the Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker)
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

Porta Maggiore is one of the eastern gates in the Aurelian Wall of Rome. Two roads passed through it, the Via Prenestina, heading east, and the Via Labicana (now called Via Casilina) heading southeast. The gate was originally known as Porta Pernestina after one of those roads. Sometime after the Middle Ages the gate became known as Porta Maggiore, perhaps because the road that runs through the gate leads to Santa Maria Maggiore. It is a 32-foot-tall monumental double archway built of white travertine. The two archways are 46 feet tall and 21 feet wide. It was built next to the pre-existing Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker, which was built between 50 BC and 20 BC, and is still visible on the outside of the gate. Half of the aqueducts of ancient Rome came into the city at this point, and were distributed from here throughout the city. This is an easy site within the city at which you can gain an understanding of the ancient aqueducts, see a good long stretch of the Aurelian Wall, and see how the walls and aqueducts were incorporated into the architecture of the city. The original gate was built in 52 AD by Claudius and was built only to provide support for the Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus which crossed over Via Labicana and Via Praenestina. The two channels of these aqueducts, one above the other, are still visible today and can be seen in the attic when looking along the edge of the gate (3rd photo below). The lower channel was used for the Aqua Claudia and the upper channel carried the Aqua Anio Novus. The columns holding up the architrave and aqueducts look eroded by time, but they were intentionally created this way during the 1st century as a design choice by Claudius. It was kind of modern art of the 1st century. One of the inscriptions above the gate states "[In AD 52] the Emperor Claudius [etc.] had the waters of the Claudia brought to Rome from the springs called Caeruleus and Curtius at the 45th milestone, and likewise the Anio Novus from the 62nd milestone, both at his own expense." Subsequently, Vespasian restored the aqueducts because another inscription on the gate states "[In AD 71] the Emperor Vespasian [etc.] restored to the city at his own expense the Curtian and Caerulean waters, which had been led to the city by the deified Claudius but had fallen into intermittent use and disrepair for nine years." Just 10 years later, the third inscription tells that "[In AD 81] the Emperor Titus [etc.] at his own expense, had the Curtian and Caerulean waters, introduced by the deified Claudius and afterwards repaired for the city by Titus's deified father Vespasian, restored with new structures, beginning from its source, after the aqueduct was ruined to its foundations from age." In 271 AD, emperor Aurelian incorportated the gate into the Aurelian Wall, turning it into a true entrance gate into the city, and reducing the size of the openings in the arches. This is a good example of how the Romans reused existing structures for a new purpose. Emperor Honorius added a guardhouse in 405 AD, which has since been moved to the left side of the gate when viewed from the outside (4th photo below, and photo at bottom of page). Cross under the aqueduct that runs perpendicular to the gate at the south end to view this guardhouse. Honorius also rebuilt the upper part of the gate, but when the original gate was subsequently restored, his modifications were mounted to the wall a slight distance away (5th and 7th photo below). The ceiling of the arch to the left of the gate (from the outside) is interesting. That arch is at the left edge of the 2nd and 3rd photos below, and a close-up of the ceiling is shown in the 6th photo below. It is decorated with third-style paintings.

    
The inside of Porta Maggiore
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The outside of Porta Maggiore, with the Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker in front of it
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Side-view of Porta Maggiore, showing the channels the aqueducts passed through
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The foundations of Honorius' guard house, from outside the south end of Piazza di Porta Maggiore. The Inscription reads "Presented in Rome by the praetor Quintus Marcio three years after the destruction of Carthage, then restored a couple of days before the city became the capital of Italy, was released, now in the fifth year after the fall of the Austrian empire, the supply of flows along the old channel to the splendor, health, and the perpetual growth of the city, a partner is committed to prosper the affairs of Italy."
See all Porta Maggiore photos.
    
Remains of the upper part of Honorius' rebuild of the Porta Maggiore gate were moved here when the gate was restored.
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Archway just to the left of the outside of Porta Maggiore, with third-style painting on the ceiling
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Porta Maggiore, from the outside, with the Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker in front of it, the Aurelian Wall to its left, and the remains of the upper part of Honorius' gate have been moved to near the corner (mosaic of 4 photos)
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If you stand facing the inside of the Porta Maggiore (not the side with the Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker), you can see the Aqua Claudia and Aqua Anio Novus coming from the distance ahead of you and to your right. Peek through an archway and you'll see the aqueduct going off on the far side of the gate, slightly to the right. The water which reaches this point has flowed along that aqueduct for about 4 or 5 miles, from Aqueduct Park, where the Aqua Claudia is most impressive after having flowed quite a distance underground from its source. The water came from that distance, and made a sharp right turn to pass on top of the Porta Maggiore, then continued and turned gradually to the left to continue on along today's railroad tracks to the no-longer-extant settling tank near the Temple of Minerva Medici. At that sharp right turn, the Aqua Neroniano was built to split some water off the main flow of the Aqua Claudia. If you walk through the wall at this point and turn around to face back toward the now-hidden Porta Maggiore, you can see the view in the photo below.

    
Aqua Nero (left of the guard house), and Aqua Claudia (right of the guard house), from outside the south end of Piazza di Porta Maggiore. The foundations of Honorius' guard house are between them. Porta Maggiore is behind these walls.
See all Porta Maggiore photos.
See also:
Amphitheatre Castrense
Location:At the intersection of Viale Castrense and Via Nola, half way from San Giovanni in Laterano to Porta Maggiore.
Metro:San Giovanni
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Freely visible from the outside at any time, interior not accessible

Amphitheatre Castrense is a small amphitheatre, constructed of brick and concrete, dating from the reign of Trajan. Its name could either mean of the Imperial Court or of the military camp. It is too far from the Camp of the Praetorian Guard to be connected with that, so the imperial connection is usually accepted. In 271 AD the Aurelian Wall was constructed and the amphitheatre was incorporated into the wall. The ground floor arches were filled-in to form part of the defense and the upper stories were demolished.

    
Amphitheatre Castrense, between San Giovanni in Laterano and Porta Maggiore
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Amphitheatre Castrense, between San Giovanni in Laterano and Porta Maggiore
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Amphitheatre Castrense, between San Giovanni in Laterano and Porta Maggiore
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Porta San Giovanni (and Porta Asinaria)
Location:Steps away from the metro station San Giovanni, to the east-southeast from the church of San Giovanni in Larerano, and along the route of my Southeastern Sights Walking Tour
Metro:San Giovanni
Time:about 20 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

Porta San Giovanni (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 7th photos below) is a modern gate in the Aurelian Wall of Rome named after the nearby church of San Giovanni in Laterano. It is a single large arch built of travertine for pope Gregory XIII in 1574 to replace the neighboring and more imposing Porta Asinaria (5th and 6th photos below), which was part of the Aurelian Wall, which by the 1570s was unable to keep up with the high level of traffic and the rising street level in the area. Porta Asinaria is the gate by which the Gothic king Totila entered Rome in 546 during the Sack of Rome by the Ostrogoths in their war against the Byzantine Empire. Today's gate is not defensive, but rather more like the entrance to a villa. On the external side, a large bearded head is at the top of the arch.

    
Porta San Giovanni, from outside the city
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Porta San Giovanni, from outside the city
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Porta San Giovanni, from inside the city
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Porta San Giovanni and the surrounding Aurelian Wall, from outside the city
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Porta Asinaria, from outside the city
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Porta Asinaria, from inside the city
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Porta Asinaria and Porta San Giovanni and the Aurelian Wall
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Aurelian Wall beside Porta San Giovanni and Porta Asinaria
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Porta San Paolo
Location:Near the Pyramid of Cestius and the Piramide metro station
Metro:Piramide
Time:about 15 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Porta San Paolo is one of the southern gates in the Aurelian Wall. Originally it was called Porta Ostiensis because it is locate at the beginning of the Via Ostiense, the road that connects Rome with Ostia. It was later renamed to Porta San Paolo because it is the gate that leads to the basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls. The gate is massive, flanked by two cylindrical towers, and has two entrances which have been covered by a second single-opening gate built in front of the first between 530 AD and 540 AD. Maxentius had the gate built, and the two towers were made taller by Honorius. In 549, when Rome was under siege, the Ostrogoths of Totila entered through this gate. The Ostiense Museum is housed within the gatehouse. Nearby is the Protestant Cemetary, the Pyramid of Cestius, and the very worthwhile Central Montemartini Museum is a 15 minute walk south along Via Ostiense.

    
Porta San Paolo
See all Porta San Paolo photos.
    
Porta San Paolo
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Porta San Sebastiano
Location:At the north end of the Appian Way on Viale delle Terme di Caracalla where it is crossed by the Aurelian Wall
Metro:None, maybe Piramide, or take bus #118
Time:about 20 minutes
Cost:Free to view, €3 for the museum
Hours:Viewable at any time, museum hours are Tuesday - Sunday 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

Once called the Porta Appia, the now-named Porta San Sebastiano gate in the Aurelian Wall still stands with modern traffic flowing under it and a museum dedicated to the construction of the walls upstairs. The gate is made of brick and has imposing turrets. The Arch of Drusus stands just inside the city from the gate, visible through the gate in the 3rd photo below. The city's Wall Museum lets you go up into the towers and walk along the inside of the wall for almost a quarter mile, has a few exhibit rooms about the walls, and lets you climb on top of Porta San Sebastiano. The entrance is just inside the gate. The Viale delle Terme di Caracalla leads up to the gate, but the road's name changes when it passes under the gate into Via Appia Antica, the famous Appian Way which continues 400 miles to the south of Italy. The Fountain of Porta San Sebastiano is right across the busy street.

    
The San Sebastiano Gate in the Aurelian Wall, and the entrance to the Museum of the Wall
See all Porta San Sebastiano photos.
    
The San Sebastiano Gate in the Aurelian Wall, from the left side
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Porta San Sebastiano and the Arch of Drusus, from outside the gate
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Porta San Sebastiano, from inside the gate
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The ceiling of the gate of Porta San Sebastiano, from inside the gate, and the keystone above the arch. The Greek sentence below the Greek cross the keystone thanks the Lord and patrons of the army, placed in the 6th century by a byzantine general who conquered Rome during the Greek-Gothic war.
See all Porta San Sebastiano photos.
    
A cast of the Greek cross on the inside keystone of Porta San Sebastiano, on display in the Museum of the Wall. The Greek sentence below the Greek cross the keystone thanks the Lord and patrons of the army, placed in the 6th century by a byzantine general who conquered Rome during the Greek-Gothic war.
See all Porta San Sebastiano photos.
    
Relief carved into the interior of the arch of Porta San Sebastiano, portraying St. Michael, with an inscription celebrating a victory
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Looking straight up from under Porta San Sebastiano reveals the groove from which the gate would drop down
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Looking from the top of one side the Porta San Sebastiano to the top of the tower on the other side of the gate, identical to the one I'm standing upon. This spot is accessible from inside the Museum of the Wall.
See all Porta San Sebastiano photos.
See also:
Porta Latina
Location:About 1.5 km southeast of the Circo Massimo metro station, where Via Latina crosses the Aurelian Wall
Metro:About the same distance from Circo Massimo, Pyramide, and San Giovanni. One way to get there is ride the metro to Circo Massimo, walk away from the Colosseum to the bus stop heading toward the Colosseum, get on bus 118 (P.LE Ostiense (MB)) 7 stops to Cameria. From there, it is a short walk to where Via Latina crosses the Aurelian Wall.
Time:about 15 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

Porta Latina is a single-arched travertine gate with a brick tower on each side in southeast corner of the Aurelian Wall. The gate is a short walk from/to Porta San Sebastiano, which houses the Museum of the Wall. When I happened to arrive at the spot during the fall of 2014, the gate was covered by scaffolding, being renovated. I just hate it when that happens! Now I'll need to go back to Rome and find it all over again! There's an alpha and omega in the keystone on one side or the other that I'd like to see someday. Anyhow, the two utterly fascinating pictures from my 2014 visit are below. I apparently have no shame at all, posting pictures like these. The 3rd photo is a cast of the chi-rho keystone of Porta Latina on display in the Museum of the Wall.

    
Porta Latina being restored, from outside the gate
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Porta Latina being restored, from inside the gate
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Cast of the cross carved on the arch outside the Porta Latina (it's a chi-rho)
See all Museum of the Wall photos.
See also:
Porta del Popolo
Location:On the northern edge of Piazza del Popolo, just south of the Flaminio metro stop
Metro:Flaminio
Time:about 20 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

Named Porta Fmaminia in ancient times because Via Flaminia, the road from Rome to the eastern coast of northern Italy passed through it, Porta del Popolo was once a gate in the Aurelian Wall but now simply stands at the northern edge of Piazza del Popolo. It is thought to have originally had two archways due to its use mainly to sort traffic entering Rome from the north rather than as a defensive gate. Until 1879, it also had two cylindrical side towers like the rest of the gates in the Aurelian Wall. The current Porta del Popolo was built by Pope Sixtus in 1475 on the site of the ancient Porta Flaminia which was partially buried because the level of the ground had risen since ancient times due to floods. The decoration of the outside of the gate was designed by Nanni di Baccio Bigio with the advice of Michangelo, taking inspiration from the Arch of Titus. The four columns surrounding the central gate came from the former St. Peter's Basilica. The circular towers from ancient times were replaced with square watchtowers. The decoration of the inside of the gate was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini to celebrate the entrance of Queen Christina of Sweden into Rome on December 23, 1655. The statues of St. Peter and St. Paul at ground level on either side of the main arch were added in 1638 by Francesco Mochi. Those statues had ben rejected for the basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls and given back to the sculptor without payment. In 1879, the square towers were demolished and the two lateral archways were opened to accomodate the increase in traffic.

    
The outside of Porta del Popolo
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The inside of Porta del Popolo
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Porta Settimiana
Location:At Via di Lungara and Via Garibaldi
Metro:None, take bus 280 from outside Stazione Ostiense (attached to Piramide) and get off a short way after it crosses the Tiber River
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

Septimius Severus had built a set of baths in Trastevere which have not yet been located exactly, but this spot held the entrance to those baths. When emperor Aurelian protected Rome with new Aurelian Wall in 275, it became a gate in those walls. Then the gate was rebuilt in 1498 by Pope Alexander VI in its current form. It is named Porta Settimiana after Septimius Severus. It marks the start of Via della Lungara, the 16th century road that connects Trastevere with the Vatican area. Since a parallel road carries most of the traffic, the gate has not needed enlargement and appears today as it was built in 1498.

    
Porta Settimiana
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Porta Settimiana
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Porta Pinciana
Location:
Metro:
Time:
Cost:
Hours:

Porta Pinciana is the gate where Via Veneto enters the Villa Borghese. It was the gate through which Aleric and his army of Goths entered Rome in 410 AD to sack the city.

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