part II

all the way round the Vatican

~ page 2 ~

Between the sharp bastion and the following one, the road grows wider: here stands another old gate, known as Porta Pertusa, more or less "Through Gate" [map ref. 6], almost suggesting a minor entrance on the side of the wall facing the wilderness, which was least likely to be used by the popes. In fact, this gate has often remained closed. The most interesting feature, though, is the tall round St.John's Tower inside the Vatican grounds, which can be clearly seen from the outside: it was one of the several towers built in the 15th century by pope Nicholas V along Leo IV's boundary, as a further protection (the original wall was already 500 years old); quite recently (1950's), the tower has been turned into a habitable outbuilding, for important guests of the Vatican State.

the dome, peeping from beyond the wall

the small Porta Pertusa, on the outer wall, just below
the mighty St.John's Tower, overlooking the whole area

We keep following the road downhill, where it becomes narrow again, and rather steep. Very soon, the famous dome of St.Peter's comes into sight through the pine trees above the wall, a very beautiful view.

By a triple crossing, it becomes impossible to walk along the wall, because here the railway enters the Vatican state (you can barely see the crest above the entrance); follow the flight of steps on the right, and then take the first road on the left, a second stairway leading back to the wall.
Round the next corner, a modern gate cut straight through the wall by the side of the basilica offers the best view of St.Peter's dome, both for light and distance: the enormous white mass looks really impressive from here, especially when the weather is fine, making a sharp contrast against the sky.

Porta Fabrica, or delle Fornaci,
barely told from the rest of the wall

the best view of St.Peter's dome

Along this same stretch of wall, about 50 metres (or 60 yards) further down, you will notice an old passage marked by a crest of pope Clement XI (1700-21). The low archway is completely walled up, and now partially buried because of the rising of the modern ground level: this used to be Porta Fabrica, more or less "Building Gate" [map ref. 7], also known as Porta delle Fornaci ("Kilns Gate"), through which all building materials needed for the making of St.Peter's basilica were carried inside the Vatican. The whole district facing the gate was named after the many kilns which stood here, providing thousands and thousands of bricks.

Soon after the basilica had been finished, Porta delle Fornaci was forever closed. This small gate, though, has left a curious memory in spoken language: in those times, all goods entering the city gates were taxed, but materials used for the basilica were exempted from paying; to obtain such a privilege, they carried the mark "A U F" (Latin expression Ad Usum Fabricae, meaning "to be used for the building"): roman dialect corrupted it into auffa, used for "free of charge, for nothing", while in official Italian the similar expression a ufo has the same meaning, yet with a negative sense (i.e. "avoiding the payment of a ticket, a charge, a fee, etc.").

Porta Cavalleggeri today

Porta delle Fornaci, in the center, in front of the furnaces
(note the piles of bricks), and Porta Cavalleggeri
by the round tower, in a 17th century map of Rome

The Janiculum hill comes into sight just round the corner. We pass by a small fountain, whose basin was obtained from a roman sarcophagus; the Latin text credits pope Pius IV (16th century), and pope Clement XI for reactivating it in 1713. Just next to the fountain, there is a blind archway: this was another old gate, originally called in Latin Porta Turrionis ("Tower Gate"), from the big Nicholas V's tower whose remains can be seen on the opposite side of the road; it was later renamed Porta Cavalleggeri, "Cavalrymen Gate" [map ref. 8], after the barracks of this corps, which stood nearby. In the early 1900's, when the traffic on this side of town became heavier, the wall was breached up to the tower, to provide a larger passage, and the old archway was simply walled a few metres to the left of its original site.

If you feel like walking another 200 metres - 300 yards, the tour has one last feature to offer, on the opposite side of the Janiculum Hill.
Follow the tunnel in front of you, recently widened.
Once you have reached the end of the tunnel (the nice dome of San Giovanni de' Fiorentini, on the opposide side of the river, appears in the background), on the left side of the road you will notice another mighty bastion, whose recess encloses a tall archway: Porta Santo Spirito [map ref. 9]. Pope Paul III had both the bastion and the gate drawn by an important architect, Antonio da Sangallo, specialized in military architecture. Michelangelo came into bitter conflict with him, strongly criticizing the plans of the wall. Actually, the gate remained unfinished.
How thick the bastion is can be told from the depth of a window on the right side of the gate: surely this was the most invulnerable entrance to Leo's City, among the ones belonging to the 16th century boundary.

Porta Santo Spirito and the bastion by Sangallo

If you wish to end the tour here, you can follow the road beyond Porta Santo Spirito, and reach St.Peter's Square along via della Conciliazione.

back to the MAIN INDEX all the way around the Vatican - page 1 to the WALLS INDEX

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