A Tourist in Rome - 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.

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)

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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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