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
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.