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Monday, March 28, 2016

Aurelian Wall Walk VII: Piazza Fiume to the Gianicolo with the Vatican Thrown In: The Finale

One of the majestic portions of the wall past Piazza Fiume.  We are walking INSIDE here.  Note the use of the wall
for rooms inside (windows), but also the fence, in theory protecting passers-by from the deteriorating wall.  The sign
reads:  "Danger, Access Prohibited."
Spoiler alert - Yes, RST completed the trek all the way around the 12-mile circumference of the third century Roman Aurelian Wall.  Some caveats.  Only about half the wall is still intact (but isn't that amazing!); we sometimes could not follow where it was or should have been because it went onto government or private property.  We have a few places where we could have done a better job of following it.  But that aside, let's have a victory lap!  Or maybe just a virtual one.  And for this post, you'll have enough to do just to follow this final stretch - with about 50 well-culled photos - a stretch no doubt that should have been broken into 2, but one of us did not understand the enormity of the Vatican and how many kilometers it would be to go around it (which IS the wall these days).

For those of you who just joined us, or who weren't paying attention, RST made it a project to walk the entire circumference of the Aurelian Wall.  We did it in 7 stretches, 2 with unsuspecting visitors along. [The links for the previous 6 walks are given at the end of this post. And here are the links to 2 Google maps that give the routes for all 7 walks: Walks I - V and Walks VI and VII.]

The weather this day, somewhat unusually cloudy, and the first stretch (left) both were inauspicious.  We found the wall here cradled in orange fencing, in other words, a deteriorating wall and likely an overly optimistic repair zone. But of course we soldiered on (get used to that phrase, it's a repeated refrain).  And, I should add, walking on the outside is not an option here, because of the Corso d'Italia tunnels AND the racing viale del Muro Torto (below).

And (right) we found even more creative repair work, allowing Roman vehicles (pedestrians are on their own) continuing use of the passages through the wall.

Some principles we learned:  The wall has clearly been chopped off for traffic in many places, and it also has been used for monuments of varying ages and types.  We can't recall the name of the memorialized young man in the picture below, but no doubt a loyal reader will fill us in.

Below, a particularly lovely set of passages through the wall between Villa Borghese and the beginning of Via Veneto.  At left, in white, a war memorial we had never noticed before (small photo right, large photo below).  This is the very old Porta Pinciana, though the "largo" here is named for Federico Fellini.
We were sailing along here, and then the wall disappeared onto private property (photo left, below), at least on the inside.  We think these are, yet again, private church gardens.

The outside was not particularly inviting either, with the wall disappearing alongside the entrance to the famous Villa Borghese parking garage (right),

and then blocked by a sports center (photos left and above).  You can't knock us for trying!

The above and 2 photos below are our attempts to follow the wall as viale del Muro Torto plunges down from the heights to Piazzale Flaminio (way) below.  If you look hard, you can see - but not touch -  the wall in all these photos.

Re the photo at right, we're fairly certain the wall here (on the other side of the weeds) encloses the private gardens of the French-owned Villa Medici, above the Spanish Steps.  And, for a price, one can tour these gardens, but we have not.

We gave up on trying to follow the wall at this point and went straight into the Borghese gardens. Good pick! We found people enjoying the afternoon in the park, including this young boy tipping a quite good saxophone player (right).  We saw statues we hadn't noticed before (above).

Perhaps best of all, from a bridge across the viale del Muro Torto (photo below) we found a great perspective of the wall, again illustrating some wall walk principles, besides what an incredible engineering feat this is and was: 1) There are sections that are simply too dangerous to walk (the outside here), 2) the wall often is high on the outside but low on the inside (the better to pour boiling oil down on one's enemies), 3) one discovers monuments hidden in the bushes, 4) the Fascists were everywhere and had some audacious civic projects (that structure with glass windows is part of a 1920s elevator that would have taken one up and down between viale del Muro Torto - presumably walkable then - and the Villa Borghese). (An aside, there's a Web site that lists the viale del Muro Torto as "very walkable" and then shows a photo with absolutely no place to walk!  Check it out for a laugh.)

Left, the Fascist-era elevator (and another no trespassing sign).

Right, was this designed to keep people from falling onto the Muro Torto below?

This section of the wall also is called the "Muro Torto" (crooked wall) and in the old Papal state days, prostitutes, thieves, homeless people, and suicides were buried in the wall, it is said.  And so the "net" was constructed. This portion of the Aurelian wall actually was here before the 3rd century; it was built in Republican Rome to hold up the Pincio gardens above it.

And, right, a (yet another) monument to the one-legged World War I hero, Enrico Toti, this one in neo-Roman, aka Fascist style, discovered for the first time by us along the wall in the Villa Borghese.

Below, view of Piazza del Popolo from the Pincio (Villa Borghese) - We couldn't resist this lovely view once again (St. Peter's dome in background).

Right, heading down to Piazzale Flaminio from the Pincio/Villa Borghese.  That low wall to the right IS the wall, from "inside."
And, left, this lovely statue of the Borghese griffin, on the "roof" of a ceremonial entrance to the Villa Borghese in Piazzale Flaminio, seen well from above as we wandered down. And, below, the majestic "porta" or gate to Piazza del Popolo, again, a gate as part of the wall.  The inner side of this porta (as in the photo) was majestically redesigned by Bernini, commissioned by Pope Alexander VII, for the 1655 visit of Queen Christina of Sweden.

We seem to be running out of wall here, but this fountain outside the porta and next to a flower stand - all in Piazzale Flaminio -  is a nice flourish.  And here (photo below, left) we look up the Tevere, because we have truly run out of wall and now must cross the river.  Any sane folks would have called it a day here, but one of us thought it was just a hop, skip and a jump around the Vatican; so we both soldiered on.

Once across, we meander for awhile before picking up the wall as part of the moat around Castel Sant'Angelo (right).  And, of course, the wall between the Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican property itself gets interesting.  Here is the walkway that supposedly was built so the Popes could escape from the Vatican grounds to the safety of the fortified Castle (even Dan Brown in "Angels and Demons" uses this passageway) (photo below, left).

The large photo below is one of our favorite views, because it shows three distinct eras: The Roman wall, The Bernini colonnade around the square of St. Peter's, and Fascist-era office buildings.  And, above right, a close-up of what look like original 3rd-century building stones of the wall.

We also couldn't resist this shot (below, left) of tourists appreciating the water from a Pope's hat fountain in the Vatican.  Perhaps even the Popes have a little sense of humor.  But the wall, nicely maintained with crenelations and towers, appears to be disappearing into the Vatican itself (below, right).  Those are the Pope's residential quarters in the building back middle, and a couple of Bernini's columns from the colonnade at right.

We exit the Vatican sovereign territory through the gate at right.  It displays the twin symbols of the Pope and the city (with crown, indicating the Kingdom - until the "conciliation" of 1929 an anathema to the Papal state - we've featured this "porta" in an earlier post).  At this point we begin the long slog along the wall with tourists, many pilgrims excited about the new Pope Frances. The tourists are here because it's the route to the entrance to the vast Vatican Museums.

We have the luxury of being able to 1) walk on the other side of the street, 2) notice the embellishments on the wall, such as the elaborate Pope's symbol on a corner, and the "remains" of the once important Porta Angelica, and 3) watch the street sellers ("ambulatori) leaning against the wall and doing their own watching.

Once doors and windows in the wall?

As we pass the entrance to the Vatican Museums, the tourists disappear completely, and we can entertain ourselves (distracting ourselves from the vast distances we now seem to be in for) by noting various wall interventions, as well as men out for their afternoon chat  - complete with chairs they've hauled onto the grounds beneath the wall.

Pretty sweet afternoon locale (left).  And, below, finally a view of the cupola of St. Peter's.  We can see we actually might get around the Vatican after all.

As we try to follow the wall down the hill, we discover to our surprise a railway that once (it appears no longer) went right INTO the Vatican, and that the Fascists were here too (small photo above right).  And we finally close in on our immediate target - back to St. Peter's (below).

But it's decision time.  The wall goes above the road (or the road goes through the wall - it's a large tunnel).  Do we go outside the wall (as we are now outside it) and try to find it on the back side of the Gianicolo hill - or do we go under the tunnel, "inside" and up the familiar Gianicolo route?  We selected through the tunnel and inside, perhaps a mistake.  We might try the outside  - just for fun  - next time we're in the area.
There goes the wall, with tunnel below.

We take a break to watch the bus drivers try to get out of, yes, a bus gridlock coming up the Gianicolo.  Now we know how a lot of those tourists got to the Vatican.  And from this perch along the wall we also can see the storm clouds that we had assumed would stay well north of the city.

This bird was checking out
 the weather and buses too.

And going up the Gianicolo, instead of behind it, probably was a mistake, because, left, we lose the wall again into religious territory.  This section of the wall seemed quite lovely and tempting, but even we understand (some) barriers..                                                                    

As we run to get in our final few meters, we can't help but stop for a brief shot of our favorite view of Rome, from the Gianicolo, and this one with the beautifully-colored, though destructive storm above.
And, then, the end truly was in sight.  At the statue to Anita Garibaldi we would complete our total wall circumference.  Here the wall is just in back of Anita's statue.  The light is particularly interesting here, because the storm is bearing down on us with rain and high winds.  But we have done it!  A mad dash to Bar Gianicolo for a toast in celebration.  Yes, RST had completed the circumference of the 3rd century Aurelian Wall.

Posts of the previous six parts of walking the Aurelian Wall:


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on completing your urban hike! I cannot believe you did all of the last bit on one day. I am tired just thinking about it, although we frequently walk from Parioli through Villa Borghese to Piazza del Popolo, then down Via di Ripetta to centro storico. But we do not encounter so many obstacles as following the wall entails.

I believe the bust in the wall near Pinciana is Alexander the Great, placed there during Ludovico Ludivisi's renovations of the villa in the 17th century.

Unknown said...

Quite a project and probably fun to do, but I must say that I think the walls you followed in Trastevere were (mostly) not the Aurelian but those erected by various popes in later centuries. Here is a link to a nice map showing dates and locations of the various walls of Rome.

One place the Aurelian wall remains visible in Trastevere is along the southeast boundary of the Villa Farnesina, between Lungotevere della Farnesina and Porta Settimiana (which was a gate in the Aurelian.) Not far from Settimiana there is a cul-de-sac extension of Vicolo Moroni that has the Aurelian wall and an incorporated tower at its end (with Villa Farnesina beyond). (You can also see it clearly in satellite images on Google Maps.)


Unknown said...

Those are the Leonine walls in the photos at the end of your journey.