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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Walking the (Aurelian) Wall (III): the Tame and the Wild Sides

A handsome portion of the wall, near the Pyramid, with a tropical look
This section of the Aurelian Wall, running from Porta San Paolo and the Pyramid to the Tevere (and Porta Portese), has two faces: one quite touristy and civilized, the other rather odd and possibly even a bit dangerous.  It is noted by some as one of the longer, intact stretches of this third century wall, once encircling all of Rome.  But the stretch has its limitations, as RST discovered. [Update: a Google map that includes this itinerary.]

To the left of the Pyramid, a short section
 of the wall, extending toward - but not to -
Porta San Paolo; here you also can see
where the wall  has been removed for traffic.

The tame, or civilized phase begins at the Pyramid (here, a part of the wall - another "existing structure" used to build the wall quickly in 271-75 AD).  Because this area is well known for armed resistance to Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943, the wall here is a resource for memories of that moment.

Remembering the dead

The pillar (photo right) remembers 471 people who died defending the city.  Just beyond, between the Pyramid and the wall proper, volunteers who care for the hundreds of cats that live in a special facility here, were closing up for the day.

And beyond that, the wall itself is impressive (see photo at the top of this post), even if the grounds on the outside of the wall are unkempt and full of evidence that a lot of drinking is done here: not only bottles but dozens of bottle caps embedded in a stump.  Though we're on the outside here, the inside of the wall is accessible in this area through two cemeteries: the well-known Non-Catholic Cemetery, which contains lots of important bodies, including that of the Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci, and the haunting (British) Commonwealth Cemetery just across via N. Zabaglia, just ahead (both, again, inside the wall).

Mailbox for wall "address"

Now things get a bit funky.  As we continued beyond the small turnabout/piazza, following the outside of the wall, we passed a man relaxing in the weeds, then came upon a locked gate to which was attached a mail box, as if someone had once (or still did) live inside. 

Street-cleaning/garbage truck facility restricts access to wall

At this point the wall continues as part of an Ama (trash-collecting, street cleaning) facility.  We decided we would not have been welcome inside.  So we tracked back, hoping to follow the wall from the inside, past the front of the Commonwealth Cemetery, then a bit downhill onto the road that curves (clockwise) around Monte Testaccio, with its cool collection of late-night bars.

The Aurelian wall is somewhere ahead.  To the right,
the wall of the ex-Mattatoio

Following the curving road, in a couple of minutes we ended up at the long, straight road that fronts the ex-Mattatoio (literally, Killing Center, what we call a slaughterhouse, once a stockyard).  Heading left, toward the Aurelian wall (not yet visible), graffiti covering a portion of the ex-Mattatoio, then right--there's just a glimpse of the wall here--along a row of houses occupied, we think, by new and poor immigrants, Romanians and others, perhaps Roma (Rom, "gypsies").

A glimpse of the wall, between the wall of the ex-Mattatoio (left) and housing (right)

NO TAV graffiti, inside the ex-Mattatoio
Dianne would go no further.  Bill took the first right, then a quick left, quickly observing a row of about ten home-made shacks and a big barking black dog (which was fortunately chained).  Bill, too, retreated--from danger and likely embarrassment--and our not-so-intrepid couple retraced their steps to one of several open entrances to the yards, heading to and beyond a heavily graffitied tower at the center of the complex (of the graffiti on the walls to the left, note the nice train with
the NO TAV sign: in northern Italy, especially, there's strong opposition to a proposed new high-speed train (Treno Alta Velocita) through the French and Italian Alps.

The wall ends--or appears to end.  Photo taken from train.
Despite the sign, we are still in Testaccio, not yet across
the Tevere in Trastevere.
At the far end of the large open area of the ex-Mattatoio there's another road, inside the complex, leading left.  Not useful, we decided, in locating the wall.  So we left the complex, ahead and just to the right, through an exit onto the Lungotevere Testaccio that wasn't open a year ago.  Walking left, the road ends abruptly after about 200 meters, at a railroad bridge over the Tevere.  We still can't see the wall, and-- from a train several days later--we saw why: the wall, too, ends abruptly before it reaches the river.

Along the Tevere.  If not part of the wall, what is it?

We're thinking that the wall planners didn't see any necessity for a wall along the river--a sort of natural barrier--but there is an existing wall-like section, including a tower, along the road that runs above the river here, and some - but not all - maps show the wall was indeed here.

Tent housing, along the bank of the Tevere

But (we're trying to think this through) if the Aurelian wall had been built along the expanse of river from the railroad bridge (to the south) to Ponte Sublicio/Porta Portese (to the north), then surely there would be visible remnants of the wall.  And there are none--except, possibly, that tower and related remains--or none to be seen from the road, anyway. Another theory - that the remnants of the wall became part of the now-high river embankments.  But, back to our trek: below the road, near a path that runs along the river bank, people are living amid weeds in tents and huts.  Not for tourists, not even us.

A favorite bar, at corner of via Galvani and via
N. Zabaglia.  Time for an aperitivo.  

Today's search for the wall at an end, we turned back into the ex-Mattatoio,  past the old stockyards and the giant Bambu' installation that is part of MACRO Testaccio, along the bars and clubs built into Monte Testaccio, to the next corner and one of our favorite bars.  We were lucky.  It was 6:05 p.m., and five minutes earlier happy hour had begun: an aperitivo and plenty to eat, a photo show of historic Testaccio, and all for Euro 4 per person.  What a city!


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