A Tourist in Rome - Arch of Janus
|Location:||41.88938, 12.48276 at Via del Velabro and San Giovanni Decollato|
|Metro:||Circo Massimo and Bus #160, or see it on my To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour instead|
|Time:||about 20 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time, well lit at night, but closed off by fences so you cannot walk up to it or inside it|
The Arch of Janus, also called the Arch of Janus Quadrifons and the Arch of Maxentius, is the only four-sided arch preserved in Rome. This massive marble monument stands 52 feet tall by 39 feet wide and deep. The four-way arch was built in the late 4th century AD around the reign of Constantine. This was not a triumphal arch, but rather an honor to Janus, the god of passages and gates. The Temple of Janus was one of the three temples under the church of San Nicola in Carcere if you're following the To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour. The Arch of Janus might have served as a gateway between the regions of the Velabrum and the Forum Boarium. It might also have been used as a meeting point for the merchants of the cattle market at the Forum Boarium, providing cover against the sun and rain. Back in the day, there was an attic above what now remains, and a structure on top, possibly a low pyramid. The arch has twelve niches on each of its four sides, in which long-lost statues of the gods stood. Those statues were probably short-lived, because within a few years of construction the pagan gods were banned as Rome converted to Christianity. Small columns once flanked the niches but those have also been lost, and the top of each niche is an elegantly carved semi-dome made to resemble a clam shell.
At the top of each arch is a keystone. They depicted Minerva (1st photo below) and Ceres (2nd photo below) standing, on the south and north sides of the arch, and Roma (3rd photo below) and Juno seated, on the east and west side. Juno no longer remains on the arch (4th photo below). The original iron pins which held together each block of marble were stolen in the middle ages, resulting in the pock-marked look of the monument today. During the 1200s the archways were walled-up as the Arch of Janus became part of the fortifications of the Frangipane estate, but in 1837 those barriers were removed in an effort to restore the arch. Unfortunately, what was left of the attic and the structure on top of the arch was also removed, being wrongly believed to be a medieval addition as well. The arch stands over the Cloaca Maxima, the great ancient sewer which runs down to the Tiber River. In fact, you can see some remains of the Cloaca Maxima by looking through a gate into a private back yard behind the Arch of Janus. Also behind the Arch of Janus is the church of San Giorgio al Velabro and the Arch of the Money-Changers.
The arch is nicely lit at night.
We're lucky to be able to see this arch today, since Pope Sixtus V, who sought to improve Rome during the 16th Century but had no regard for the classical monuments, wanted to see it demolished so that his court architect, Domenico Fontana, could use its marble to make a base for the Lateran Obelisk in front of San Giovanni in Laterano.See also: