THE POPES' WALLS
part III

along the Janiculum Hill


~ page 1 ~


In the mid 17th century, Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini, pope from 1623 to 1644), thought that Rome was in need of a new set of walls on the Janiculum's side; the hill itself already acted as a natural stronghold, as it overlooked the whole town from the west, but the old boundary built by Aurelian almost fourteen centuries earlier was in pretty bad condition, and would have no longer proven a solid defense.

the last part of the 16th century wall, ending with
Sangallo's bastion on the other side of the hill
The new wall was drawn along a straight line on the western side of the hill, starting from the southernmost bastion of the old boundary.

The whole length of this wall can be walked on its outer side; the starting point is from the site of Porta Cavalleggeri [map ref. 8]. If the previous part of the tour has taken you by Porta Santo Spirito, you should walk back to this spot through the tunnel.
On the right side of the tunnel's entrance, a road follows the last part of Pius IV's wall, where it makes a bend and crosses the Janiculum, to reach Sangallo's bastion and Porta Santo Spirito by the Tiber; a few metres beyond the corner marked by a crest of Pius V (diagonal stripes), the new 17th century boundary merges into the older one.
The road keeps climbing uphill, and becomes rather narrow: usually few cars drive along this route, but the turns are rather sharp, so always be aware of the through traffic.

There are no important features along this first stretch. Nevertheless, the long road winding around the many arrow-shaped bastions is interesting to walk because of the genuine aspect of the wall: four centuries ago, it would have looked almost the same.

crest of Pius V (1566-72), on the
southernmost corner of the old wall


a typical service passage; above the
arch is a small bee (Barberini family)


From the corner where an old house rests over a bastion, no more modern buildings face the walls, and the road becomes less steep; this is the most charming part of the walk.
But in those times it would have been rather unlikely for a traveller to be here, as there was no road nor gate (like on the western side of the Vatican); only a few service passages, now closed, were used to reach the outer parts of the wall needing restoration.

Nowadays, modern buildings have risen on the hill's side; you can tell how high the Vatican stood above the surrounding area: the road's level matches the 5th floor of these buildings.



cannons were fired from these placements,
where now birds build their nests


a shady stretch of wall built by Urban VIII
Very soon the tall monument dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi appears beyond the wall: the ground level on the inside is much higher than here, having been considerably raised when the area became a public park.

Just before the last bastion, on the side of the road, is a memorial dedicated to St.Andrew. As of the 15th century, the head of the saint was kept in St.Peter's, as a relic. In the 19th century, the head was stolen, and was found again by this spot: in memory of the finding, pope Pius IX had this memorial built, in 1848. The saint's head, though, is no longer in St.Peter's: in 1964, pope Paul VI gave it back to the city of Patras (Greece), where the apostle was born, as a gesture of goodwill towards the Greek Church.

Finally, round the corner, the road opens into a wide crossing. This is the spot where the ancient Porta Aurelia stood along the Aurelian way, the only main road connecting the city to the north-west.
It was later renamed Porta San Pancrazio after the nearby church of St.Pancras [map ref. 10].


Porta San Pancrazio (arrow), between two bastions
of the wall of Urban VIII (from a map of Rome of 1676)


the ancient Porta Aurelia, or San Pancrazio
(from a map of Rome dated 1625)

Some remains of Porta Aurelia were still here, when Urban VIII had a new gate built with his set of walls, just outside the old structure (see pictures).

But in 1849, during the battle between the army of the short-lasting Roman Republic and the French troops allied with pope Pius IX, also Urban's gate was badly damaged: a few years later, a third Porta San Pancrazio was built in the shape of a stout square archway, dated 1854, now standing in the middle of the crossing.
The two papal crests hanging on the sides of the arch belong to Pius IX and to Urban VIII.
The bastion on the left of the gate has been cut in recent times, as a through passage for the increasing traffic.

the new Porta San Pancrazio (19th century)


Michelangelo's House
A few metres inside the park, you will notice the fašade of a building... with nothing behind. This is known as "Michelangelo's House" [map ref. g]: it is the actual front of an old building, believed to be the artist's dwelling in Rome, as of year 1531. It originally stood in Macel de' Corvi, a street next to the Capitolium Hill. In 1902, this area was cleared to build the large memorial for king Victor Emanuel II, and Michelangelo's House was taken down along with other old houses, but its fašade was preserved. At first, it was relocated by the side of the Capitolium's stairway, and in 1941 it was finally moved to the Janiculum, where it now covers a water reservoire.




back to the MAIN INDEX along the Janiculum Hill - page 2 to the WALLS INDEX



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