A Tourist in Rome - Porta San Pancrazio

Location:41.88845, 12.46149 in Largo di Porta San Pancrazio on the Janiculum Hill, about 800 feet west of the Big Fountain
Metro:Piramide, see directions to the Janiculum Hill
Time:10-30 minutes

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. Everything that lay along the path of the wall was incorporated into the fortifications. 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 San Pancrazio is one of the southern gates in the Aurelian Wall of Rome. The road Via Aurelia Antica begins at the gate, giving the gate it's prior name of Porta Aurelia. The first version of the gate was built at the end of the Roman Republic (about 50 BC), and Emperor Aurelian incorporated it in the Aurelian Wall. During February of 537 AD, the gate gave in to the siege of the Goths led by Vitiges. The gate was rebuilt during the 17th century at its present location and orientation, which might not match exactly to it's original location. The gate now houses the Garibaldi Museum (Museo della Repubblica Romana e della Memoria Garibaldina) and is located 1/4 mile away from the Garibaldi equestrian statue at the peak of the Janiculum Hill.

Porta San Pancrazio (inner side)
See all Porta San Pancrazio photos.
Porta San Pancrazio (outer side)
See all Porta San Pancrazio photos.
See also:
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