part III

along the Janiculum Hill

~ page 2 ~

From Porta San Pancrazio, if you feel like making a 30-minute diversion, you can walk under the gate and follow via Garibaldi: about 180 metres - 200 yards downhill, the road reaches a famous fountain called Fontana Paola [map ref. h]: the name was given after pope Paul V, who had it built at the the end of the Aqua Traiana (Trajan's Aqueduct).

the Fontana Paola
The aqueduct was here since 109 AD, providing this side of town with drinkable water, drawn about 25 km. - 15 miles north of this spot. As other ancient aqueducts, the Aqua Traiana too had been damaged by the Goths during the siege of Rome, in year 576; after having been repaired and damaged several other times during the mediaeval years, it was finally reactivated by Paul V in the early 17th century; the big fountain was built in 1612, but its wide basin was added in 1690.
In those years, it was a common use to have lavish fountains, called mostre ("displays"), built by the output of ancient reactivated aqueducts: also the famous Trevi Fountain, in the center of Rome, is one of them.

The Fontana Paola has a small garden at the back, with a tiny balcony over the fountain's basin; the garden, though, is often closed to the public.
Don't miss the beautiful view over the city from the terrace opposite the fountain.
On the left side of the terrace, a flight of stairs leads to a dark lane: at the end of the steps, on the left side, are some remains of the old Aurelian's wall [map ref. i], now partially covered by trees and weeds.

via Garibaldi, once the site of Aurelian's wall

remains of Aurelian's wall

Keep following the lane, until you cross again via Garibaldi, which makes a bend and runs downhill towards the river, entering the popular Trastevere quarter. On both sides of the road the houses are quite old, and make a beautiful setting; some of them still conceil a few fragments of Aurelian's wall, which once ran along this direction.

Finally, by the crossing, we reach the only surviving gate of Aurelian's boundary on this side of town: Porta Settimiana [map ref. 11].
It was given this name probably after emperor Septimius Severus, who though lived about 75 years before the wall was finished; some sources suggest that one of the emperor's properties, or an arch dedicated to him, might have stood nearby, whence the name of the gate. Pope Alexander VI (late 15th century), and later Pius VI (late 18th century), enlarged it into its present shape, with embattlements above the archway. On the sides of the passage you can see the creases where a portcullis ran.
On the left side hangs an old painting, so spoiled by time that the religious subject featured can barely be told. A similar one, on the inner side of the gate, has completely disappeared.

Porta Settimiana

vicolo del Cedro, from above

Follow this winding road uphill, for a few metres; just before the sharp turn to the right, you will notice an iron gate leading to another stairway, decorated with scenes of the Via Crucis (or Via Dolorosa, the road travelled by Jesus to Golgotha). These steps climb towards an interesting complex: the Spanish Academy in Rome, and the adjoining church of San Pietro in Montorio [map ref. j].
To make your way back to the top of the hill, follow the road opposite the gate, via della Scala, which leads to the heart of Trastevere district. You will soon come to a small square, piazza di Sant'Egidio (from the name of the church); turn right, along vicolo del Cedro, which crosses a few typical lanes at the base of the hill, ending with a stairway. At the top of the stairs, you will find yourself again on via Garibaldi.

vicolo del Leopardo
The name "Montorio" is a contraction of the Latin expression mons aureus ("golden hill"), refering to the yellowish colour of the Janiculum's sand.

aerial view of San Pietro in Montorio and the
Spanish Academy; notice the small temple in the yard
When the church was founded, in the 9th century, this spot was wrongly believed to be the site where St.Peter had been crucified in the 1st century AD; the legend was still alive in the late 15th century, when San Pietro in Montorio was rebuilt.
In a courtyard on the right you can visit the famous Small Temple, by Donato Bramante (1502), one of the most beautiful specimens of Renaissance architecture. The spot where the saint's cross was supposed to stand is clearly marked by a stone, on the temple's floor.
On the wall behind the temple hangs a stone plaque, dating back to 1537: its Latin inscription says that plenary indulgence (the remission of all sins) is granted to anybody who visits this site every day, from Sunday before Easter up to the eighth day after the same festivity.

Keep climbing via Garibaldi to the Fontana Paola, and finally to Porta San Pancrazio. Here we follow again the main route, as the road gradually slopes downhill.
The next stretch of wall encircles the western and southern sides of Villa Sciarra, which used to be the garden of a noble mansion, and is now a public parc; between two bastions, a minor passage through the wall has been left open as a side access to the gardens [map ref. k]: walking under the narrow arch, which features a Barberini bee, you can realize the actual size of these walls: their thickness is amazing.

Soon after the next bastion, the road grows rather steep, reaching a small terrace from which you can take a view over the district. You may either follow the flight of steps, or walk along the road, to the end of via Aurelio Saffi, where modern buildings have taken the place of a short segment of wall; a small fragment appears again, just before the corner on viale Trastevere.

Villa Sciarra from the passage

Porta Portese: Rome's largest flea-market,
named after the gate, is held here on Sundays
Cross the wide avenue, and on the opposite side you will see the wall again, along via delle Mura Portuensi; this last stretch is rather low, because of the rising of the present ground level. Where the road slightly curves, turning your eyes opposite the wall you will see in the distance the church of Santa Sabina, on the top of the Aventine hill.
With a last turn to the right, the wall meets the southernmost gate of Urban VIII's boundary, Porta Portese [map ref. 12].
Its original name was Porta Portuensis, after via Portuensis: this road lead to Portus, the main harbour of imperial Rome, founded in the 1st century AD after the sand carried by the Tiber had gradually silted up the older harbour, Ostia (see map of ROME'S ANCIENT SURROUNDINGS).

You will notice that the crest hanging above Porta Portese has no Barberini bees: Urban VIII died shortly before the last part of the walls was finished, so his successor Innocent X, from the Pamphili family (to whom the crest belongs), got the credit for sponsoring this gate.

Also the old Aurelian's wall had a Porta Portuensis, but this gate stood about 750 metres - 800 yards further up via Portuensis, as seen in the picture on the left. In fact, Porta Portese is the only part of Urban VIII's wall which shortened the ancient boundary instead of enlarging it. This was due to strategic reasons: it would have been easier to protect this gate from the nearby Janiculum Hill than to do so from the spot where the old one was located.

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Porta Portuensis, in the bottom right corner, in 1590;
the circle marks the site where Porta Portese was built

Here the tour comes to its end.
To reach the closest public transport line, walk back to viale Trastevere, from where tram no.8 will take you to the city center (largo di Torre Argentina, not far from piazza Venezia). Otherwise, you can cross Ponte Sublicio, the bridge by Porta Portese, and walk straight down the wide via Marmorata for about 800 metres - ½ mile: it will take you to Porta San Paolo and Gaius Cestius' Pyramid, by the metro station "Piramide" (line B).

back to the MAIN INDEX along the Janiculum Hill - page 1 to the WALL INDEX

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