City Gates of Ancient Pompeii

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The city gates in ancient Pompeii refer to the monumental entrances that punctuated the defensive walls surrounding the city. These gates served as crucial points of entry and exit, facilitating trade, travel, and social interactions, while also serving defensive purposes against potential threats. Each gate was strategically positioned and designed with architectural elements that reflected the city's civic pride and Roman engineering prowess. They were not only functional structures but also symbolic markers of Pompeii's urban identity and connectivity within the Roman Empire.

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Overview

The city gates of ancient Pompeii stood as formidable defensive structures, marking the boundaries where the bustling urban life within met the world beyond. Strategically positioned at key points in to the city walls, these gates served as more than mere entrances and exits—they were the gateways that defined Pompeii's interaction with the surrounding landscape and neighboring cities. Each gate, such as the iconic Porta Marina and Porta Nocera, not only provided access to major roads leading in and out of the city but also embodied the architectural grandeur and defensive ingenuity of Roman urban planning.

As monumental structures adorned with towers, arches, and sometimes even porticoes, these gates not only safeguarded Pompeii but also served as symbols of its status and sophistication within the Roman world. Exploring the city gates of ancient Pompeii offers a fascinating journey into the intersection of military strategy, civic identity, and urban connectivity in the life of this vibrant ancient city.

List of City Gates

circa 150 BCE

Nola Gate
Nola Gate is called such because it led to the road towards the old centre of Nola. An inscription in the Oscan language on the façade of the gate, which is now in the British Museum, attributes the construction to the highest official in charge, Vibius Popidius, in the Samnite era (3rd century BCE). The Gate has hangings in regularly overlapped tuff blocks and a barrel vault made of concerete, that is a mixture of mortar and stones.

circa 150 BCE

Herculaneum Gate
The gate, built after the city was conquered by the Roman general Sulla in 89 BCE, has no defensive structures because it was built at a time when the walls lost their function. It has three fornix, of which those at the sides are smaller and the central vault has partially collapsed. It owes its name to the fact that the road which connected Pompeii with Herculaneum emerged from here. In the inside the adjacent walls belong to an earlier time than the Samnite era (2nd century BCE), the great staircase with steps made of tuff had to provide easy access to the walkway. A section of the walls can be seen outside the door, on the left, built with large blocks of tuff and arranged in a regular layout with a height of 7 meters.

circa 150 BCE

Nocera Gate
The original layout of this gate, which provided access from the road that led to Nocera to the south-eastern area of the city, dates back to the Samnite era (4th century BCE) although the currently visible appearance is the result of various subsequent restorations. The gate has architectural similarities with Nola Gate and Stabia Gate: there is a room with a barrel vault where the actual gate was located and an aisle thereafter with two bastions at the ends to protect the entrance.

circa 150 BCE

Marina Gate
This gate provides access to the west of the city and it is the most impressive among the seven gates of Pompeii. The name derives from the fact that the exit road led to the sea. The layout with a barrel vault made of concrete, that is a mixture of mortar and stones, dates back to the Silla colony (80 BCE). The gate has two fornix, the main one being higher, intended for the passage of horses and pack animals; the smaller one, intended for pedestrian passage. The city wall that can be seen today, already in place in the 6th century BCE, is over 3200 m long: it consists of a double wall with a walkway, protected inside by an embankment.

circa 150 BCE

Stabian Gate
The Stabian Gate (Porta Stabiana) lies at the southern end of the Via Stabiana where it meets the southern flank of the city wall. The gate was discovered in 1851. In its original form it consisted of a single barrel-vaulted space containing a double doored gate, followed by a passage with bastions at either end to protect the entrance. The very last building before the gate was the workshop of Umbricius Scaurus, where his famous fish sauce was made. Outside the Stabia Gate, in common with almost all of the other gates of the city, there is a cemetery. In 1843 excavations revealed a rectangular funerary monument inscribed to the duovir N. Clovatius with a marble relief of gladiatorial combat.

circa 150 BCE

Sarnus Gate
The Sarnus Gate (Porta Sarno) was situated at the eastern end of the decmanus maximus (today known as the Via dell'Abbondanza). It provided access to the city from the southeast and was named after the nearby Sarno River (Sarnus in Latin), which was an important waterway for the region. During antiquity it may have also been known as the Porta Urbulana. The Porto Sarno is perhaps the most damaged of the standing gates. The entire north flank is missing as a result of the Allied bombing in WWII. Only the lowest course, parts of the opus incertum vault, and traces of a drain remain (inspect). The Porto Sarno also preserves an inlet that drained water from the Via dell’Abbondanza incorporated in the gate court wall, pointing to a date coinciding with the construction of the vaults or earlier.

Behind the gate court are the remains of the opus incertum vault. A hole in the concrete masonry reveals that part of the gate court masonry continues behind the vault, indicating that the arch is a later addition. The development of the gate remains elusive. However, given its position on the Via dell’Abbondanza, it must have been part of the original Samnite circuit. The masonry indicates that the Porta Sarno followed a similar development to the other gates, including the completion of the monumental tripartite layout. The gate also served as a strategic defensive point, forming part of the city's fortification system that protected against invasions and attacks

The Sarnus Gate was constructed using large blocks of local stone, consistent with the robust architectural style of Pompeii's fortifications. Like other gates in Pompeii, the Sarnus Gate likely featured an archway that allowed passage through the city walls. It would have included defensive elements such as guard towers and a portcullis or gates that could be closed in times of danger. Although less ornate than some other parts of the city, the gate may have had inscriptions or reliefs depicting symbols of protection or dedications to deities.

circa 150 BCE

Vesuvian Gate
During antiquity the Vesuvian Gate (Porta Vesuviana or Porta del Vesuvio) was known as porta campana (in Latin). The walls of the gate are older than the Castellum Aquae, situated adjacent to it, which had been cut into them.

According to Sogliano, the Vesuvian Gate, similar to the Porta Stabia, is structured into three distinct parts. The foundations, prominently made of Sarno limestone, are particularly evident in the construction of the west wall. The east wall, although only extending for a short distance, displays a notable thickness of 1.40 meters, underscoring its substantial construction. This robust design highlights the importance of durability in the gate's architecture.

In addition, the area outside the west wall underwent significant changes. The original curtain wall was dismantled to accommodate the Castellum Aquae, which was built against it. This alteration indicates the evolving nature of the city's infrastructure to meet its water management needs. A narrow sidewalk runs along the western wall, culminating in a sharply angled corner, mirroring the design found at the Porta Stabia. The western wall (inspect) itself, relatively well-preserved in the modern day, is constructed from meticulously arranged blocks of Sarno limestone laid in horizontal rows. This careful construction not only ensured the gate's resilience but also reflects the sophisticated engineering skills of ancient Pompeii.

circa 150 BCE

Capuan Gate
The Capuan Gate (Porta Capua), still unexcavated, Porta Capua, is presumed to be situated somewhere to the north of Vico di M. L. Frontone. Positioned on the northern side of the city, this gate connected Pompeii with the road leading to Capua, an important city in the Campania region. This route was significant for trade and communication with other parts of the Roman Empire.

The gate was built using large blocks of local stone, designed to be strong and durable. The use of Sarno limestone, as in other parts of the city, was likely for its availability and robustness. The gate featured a main archway for vehicular traffic, flanked by smaller pedestrian arches. This design allowed for efficient traffic flow while providing security.

Close to the Capuan Gate were various commercial and residential buildings, indicating the area's active use for trade and daily activities. The presence of these structures suggests that the gate was a bustling entry point, contributing to the economic vitality of Pompeii.

circa 150 BCE

Western Gate
The Western Gate (Porta Occidentalis) was situated somewhere in the unexcavated area south-west of the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus.

Excavations in the garden of the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus have shown that the area outside the city walls was in use as early as the 3rd century BCE. Evidence for this includes the construction of the city walls, the presence of a western gate (Porta Occidentalis) on a public road (vicus publicus) facilitating transit to and from the city, and a sanctuary area dedicated to a female deity. This sanctuary is evidenced by architectural terracottas, coroplastics, and ritual objects such as perirrhanteria, louteria, and thymiateria.

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