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Monday, May 26, 2014

Walking the (Aurelian) Wall II: Porta Metronia to Porta San Paolo

"City walls, to a properly constituted American, can never be an object of indifference; and it is emphatically 'no end of a sensation' to pace in the shadow of this massive cincture of Rome....even to idle eyes the prodigious, the continuous thing bristles with eloquent passages."  Henry James, 1873

The Aurelian Wall near Casa del Jazz.  Here, from the outside, a sloping giant, with doors and windows added
later, perhaps to serve "inside" residents

Thwarted. Inside of wall not accessible here
Each section of the 3rd-century Aurelian wall has its own pleasures and mysteries and delivers its own lessons.  RST blog readers may recall we are on a mission to walk the entire (once 19 km, or 12 mile) wall.  On this section, going (roughly) south and west from Porta Metronia, we discovered how much of the wall is inaccessible, especially from the inside. [Update:  a Google map includes this itinerary.]

That lesson was delivered immediately, when, exiting Porta Metronia, we found ourselves barred from the inside of the wall by a gate (and inside, a half dozen plastic dishes and cartons--someone is feeding the area's cats).

Seems like suburbia, except there's a wall

We returned to the outside, which here skirts one of Rome's newest and best kept urban parks: benches and fountains, joggers, walkers, thinkers.  How long, we wondered, could we sit on a park bench without a book, a newspaper, or a cell phone?

Old scaffolding inside the wall/no access
At Porta Latina, through which runs the ancient via Latina, we peek inside and hope for access, just a fence and yards of year-old scaffolding.  Outside, the wall is sometimes marred by a fence (presumably to protect passers-by from falling bricks) and marked by the Papal families who restored it at various times: here, the Barberini family, with their bees on the shield.

Remnant of an aqueduct
The next porta is a handsome one: Porta San Sebastiano, through which runs (well, not now, it's closed for repairs, to reopen in the next century), via Appia Antica.  Just inside (besides a guy taking a leak) is another arch, and a grand one.  Not part of the wall, it's one of few remnants of the Aquedotto Antoniniano, which once fed the baths of Caracalla.  On the porta itself, we found some chiseled crosses and the date 1622 - ancient graffiti?  This porta is the entrance to the one part of the wall where one can walk inside: the wall museum, an RST Top 40 site.

Maybe they own horses
The next opening in the wall is door-to-door automobiles, but it is, indeed, a porta: Porta Ardeatine.  EUR is a couple of miles to the left, connected by the multi-lane viale Cristoforo Colombo. The baths of Caracalla are a half mile downhill to the right.  We're still looking for access to the wall's inside, and we're still being denied: on this side, a fence guards a long, maintained field, someone's private estate we would guess, legal or "abusive" we can't say.

Homeless "shelter"/locked gate to inside of wall
And on the other side of viale Cristoforo Colombo, another locked gate, a cat, and a primitive plastic shelter used by the homeless.  On we go, still outside, past the Casa del Jazz (taken from the Mafia as part of a legal penalty, years ago).  The grounds on this section are better maintained, and the wall is designed differently, with wedge-shaped cutouts wedges at its top (see photo, top of this post).  We noticed several ground-level doors--certainly not part of the original defensive system, perhaps once used as exit/entrances by families living on the inside.

Florentine Pope advertising wall work

At a sharp right turn, more evidence of Papal interest, this time the Medici of Florence (all those fleurs-de-lys)  And further on, the brick façade removed to reveal the tufo--of different colors, perhaps different eras--beneath.

Stairway into upper San Saba

Finally, at the next porta, we can tuck ourselves inside.  Immediately, the wall shrinks--we're inside now, on higher ground.  As we follow the wall around the corner and down the hill, we enjoy peeks through the wall at soccer fields and, to our right, views of the little-known and curiously isolated community of San Saba, constructed in the early 20th century.

Porta San Paolo (and at left, the Piramid)

Ahead, the wall is simply gone, victim of Rome's automobiles, and then beyond, the magnificent Porta San Paolo, out of which runs via Ostiense (the road to Ostia); today this porta, too, houses a museum.  Historically, the piazza is well-known as the site of short-lived but furious resistance to the German occupation of the city in 1943.

Cafe' du Parc. Table service, but order inside.  

Even downhill, this wall-walking is hard work, and so we treat ourselves to a glass of wine at one of our favorite redoubts, the Café du Parc, with its long, now fenced-in outdoor space.  From our table, we enjoy a view of the Ostiense Post Office, one of four designed by noted architects during the Fascist era. This one--worth looking at from the front, and inside, too--is the work of Adalberto Libera and Mario De Renzi.  When it opened in 1935, Mussolini was there.


Inside the wall, San Saba just ahead; the wall seems short here, but it's because the ground is high.  The wall
is much higher on its "outside."


Anonymous said...

Great walk in and out of the walls...
Note: The locked gate at Porta Metronio leads to the Villa Hapsburg, now run as a bed and breakfast and banquet facility.

Larry.spqr said...

Great walk in and out of the walls...
Note: The locked gate at Porta Metronio leads to the Villa Hapsburg, now run as a bed and breakfast and banquet facility.