The Gates of the Aurelian Walls refer to the ancient city gates that were part of the Aurelian Walls in Rome, Italy. These gates, along with others (new ones), allowed entry and exit to the city and controlled the flow of traffic, goods, and people. Over time, some gates were modified or rebuilt, and today, only a few of them survive in their original form. Nevertheless, they remain significant historical landmarks and reminders of Rome's ancient past.
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The city walls of Rome encompassed not only the seven hills of Rome but also the Campus Martius and the Trastevere district on the right bank of the Tiber River. It appears that the banks of the river within the city limits were not fortified, except for the area around the Campus Martius.
The total area enclosed by the walls measures 1,400 hectares (3,500 acres). However, it should be noted that the wall passed through inhabited areas, as the city itself covered a larger expanse of 2,400 hectares or 6,000 acres, according to Pliny the Elder's account in the first century CE. He suggested that the densely populated regions, known as extrema tectorum or "the limits of the roofed areas," extended approximately 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles) from the Golden Milestone in the Roman Forum.
circa 390 CE
The designation of the gate, known as Porta Pinciana, originates from the gens Pincia, who owned the hill bearing the same name, commonly referred to as the Pincian Hill. In ancient times, it was also known as Porta Turata, indicating a partially closed or obstructed gate, and Porta Salaria vetus, as the oldest route of Via Salaria passed beneath it. Additionally, the newer Via Salaria passed through the Porta Salaria.
Emperor Honorius oversaw the construction of the gate during the early fifth century CE, marking its establishment. In medieval times, a legend emerged claiming that the Byzantine general Belisarius, renowned for his defense of Rome against the Ostrogoths during the 537-538 CE siege, was denied entry by the Roman inhabitants near this gate. The inclusion of the two side passages is a recent addition, implemented in modern times. The gate remained closed until the early twentieth century CE.
circa 270 BCE
The Nomentum Gate (Porta Nomentana), constructed under the reign of Emperor Aurelian, originally built as a single-arch gate between 270 and 273 CE. It features a well-preserved semicircular tower on the right side, constructed on square foundations. The tower on the left side of the gate, however, incorporates a tomb believed to belong to Quintus Aterius, a renowned orator in the court of Tiberius. Tacitus described him as "an old man made rotten by flattery" and noted that he was the first to rise and refute Tiberius's pretended refusal of the imperial crown. Marble from this tomb was utilized to embellish the gate during restorations carried out by Honorius in 403 CE. Simultaneously, Honorius sealed off two adjacent small gates leading towards Castra Praetoria and restored the Porta Salaria. While the nearby Via Salaria held significant importance, the Via Nomentana, which led to Nomentum (modern Mentana), held comparatively lesser significance.
circa 310 CE
Saint Paul's Gate
The Gate of Saint Paul (Porta San Paolo), situated within the Aurelian Walls of Rome, Italy, is one of the southern gates dating back to the 3rd century CE. It currently accommodates the Via Ostiense Museum, located within its gatehouse. Positioned in the Ostiense quarter, it stands adjacent to the Roman Pyramid of Cestius, an Egyptian-style pyramid, and further beyond lies the Protestant Cemetery. Originally known as Porta Ostiensis, the gate derived its name from its location at the commencement of Via Ostiense, the road connecting Rome to Ostia. Via Ostiense held considerable significance as a major thoroughfare, evident from the fact that upon entering the gate, the road bifurcated, with one route leading to the renowned Emporium, Rome's grand marketplace.
The gatehouse is flanked by two cylindrical towers and features two entrances, which were previously covered by a secondary gate, constructed in front of the primary gate by the Byzantine general Belisarius during the 530s-540s CE. The structure was primarily erected during the 4th century CE under the rule of Maxentius. However, the two towers were heightened under the reign of Honorius. Originally known by its Latin name, Porta Ostiensis, owing to its position on the route to Ostia, it was later renamed Porta San Paolo in Italian, as it served as the exit from Rome leading to the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls.
circa 400 CE
The Latin Gate (Porta Latina), served as the endpoint in Rome for the Via Latina, and it is linked to the church of San Giovanni a Porta Latina. The majority of the existing structure, including the arch's voussoirs, predominantly dates back to Honorius. However, these voussoirs are frequently misattributed to a 6th-century CE restoration by Belisarius, likely due to the presence of a sculpted cross and circle on the inner keystone, as well as the depiction of the Chi Rho symbol between Α and Ω on the outer keystone. Throughout the Middle Ages, the gate retained its original name. Adjacent to it, one can find the oratory of San Giovanni in Oleo and the pagan Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas.
The gate features a single arch constructed using uneven blocks of travertine. On the exterior, there is a row of five windows above the arch, with a sixth window in brick at the southern end, crowned with stone battlements. The arch is flanked by two semi-circular towers made of brick-faced concrete, which were mostly reconstructed, possibly in the 6th century CE. These towers do not extend beyond the height of the central section. The northern tower is supported by masonry foundations that may have been originally associated with a tomb.
circa 60 CE
The Ardeatine Gate (Porta Ardeatina), constructed during the time of Nero, is positioned at an angle within the Aurelian Walls. It occupies a midway point between Porta Appia and Porta San Paolo, in proximity to the modern arches through which Via Cristoforo Colombo passes. Historical records suggest that the gate was likely closed soon after its construction, as it is not mentioned from the 8th century CE onwards. Examining the standing ruins, it can be categorized as a simple postern, bordered with travertine. Notably, the gate's intriguing feature lies in the presence of a preserved section of Roman-era paved road both inside and outside the wall. The visible tracks left by cart traffic indicate the once bustling nature of this route.
Lacking defensive towers, the gate compensated for this absence through a wall projection that served as a small rampart. According to accounts by Poggio Bracciolini, a humanist and historian, Porta Ardeatina bore a customary memorial plaque commemorating the restoration work carried out by Emperor Honorius between 401 and 403 CE. This suggests that the gate was more than just a secondary passage, potentially qualifying as a genuine single-arch gate. Adjacent to the gate, on its inner side, remains of a tomb can be observed incorporated into the wall. This aligns with Emperor Aurelian's approach of integrating pre-existing structures into the construction of the wall itself, a strategy employed to reduce costs and expedite the building process.
circa 275 CE
Saint Sebastian Gate
The Gate of San Sebastian (Porta San Sebastiano), is the largest and exceptionally well-preserved gate among the Aurelian Walls. Originally referred to as the Porta Appia, this gate stood on the Appian Way, a renowned road often called the "queen of the roads." The Appian Way originated at the Porta Capena in the Servian Wall. Around 1434 CE, a document mentions the gate as Porta Domine quo vadis. The current name, Porta San Sebastiano, emerged only in the latter half of the 15th century CE due to its proximity to the Basilica of Saint Sebastian and its catacombs.
The original structure, built by Aurelian around 275 CE, featured a double-arched entrance adorned with bow windows and two semi-cylindrical towers. The façade was constructed with travertine. In a subsequent restoration, the towers were expanded and connected to the pre-existing Arch of Drusus through two parallel walls. Emperor Honorius made significant alterations to the gate around 401-402 CE. These changes included replacing the double arch with a single fornix and adding a taller attic with two rows of six bow windows each. Additionally, an uncovered chemin de ronde with merlons was incorporated. The bases of the towers were integrated into two square-plan platforms covered with marble. The gate underwent further modifications, resulting in its present appearance, including the addition of a floor to the entire structure, including the towers. Some archaeologists have raised doubts about whether Honorius himself carried out these alterations, as the customary plaques commemorating his works are absent. Unlike other restored sections of the walls or gates, no panegyric epigraphs were left by Honorius at this location.
circa 270 CE
The Metronia Gate (Porta Metronia) is a gate situated within the Aurelian Walls, constructed during the third century CE in Rome. It can be found in the southern part of the wall, positioned between Porta San Giovanni to the east and Porta Latina to the south. In the tenth century CE, the area beyond this gate encompassed marshland known as the Prata Decii or the Decenniae. As the Middle Ages drew to a close, the gate was shut and its entrance was sealed with bricks. Due to the increasing volume of traffic in more recent times, four main openings were added adjacent to the original gate. Over the centuries, the ground level surrounding the gate has significantly risen, causing the original passageway to become partially buried underground.
circa 270 CE
The Asinaria Gate (Porta Asinaria) is one of the gates situated within the Aurelian Walls of Rome, Italy. It features two prominent tower blocks and accompanying guard rooms and was constructed between 271 and 275 CE, coinciding with the construction of the wall itself. Unlike many other gates, it did not undergo rebuilding or fortification during the reign of Honorius and was not restored by Theoderic. Notably, it was through this gate that East Roman troops, led by General Belisarius, entered the city in 536 CE. This event marked the reclaiming of Rome for the Byzantine Empire from the Ostrogoths. By the sixteenth century CE, the gate had become heavily congested with traffic. As a result, a new breach was made in the walls nearby to create the Porta San Giovanni. Consequently, the Porta Asinaria was closed to vehicular passage at that point.
circa 1574 CE
Gate of Saint John
The Gate of Saint John (Porta San Giovanni) consists of a single magnificent arch that was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII and constructed as part of an operation, possibly by Giacomo della Porta or, according to some arguments, Giacomo del Duca. Giacomo del Duca had previously collaborated with Michelangelo on the Porta Pia. The ambiguity arises because historical records of that era only mention a renowned architect named Giacomo. Popular tradition strongly asserts that the architect was Della Porta, as he tragically passed away near the gate, "which he had built," due to severe indigestion caused by consuming melons and watermelons after returning from a trip to the Castelli Romani region.
The gate was inaugurated in 1574 CE, as it became necessary to reorganize the entire Lateran area in order to facilitate traffic to and from southern Italy. The opening of this gate resulted in the permanent closure of the neighboring and more imposing Porta Asinaria, which dates back to the time of emperor Aurelian. By the 1570s CE, the Porta Asinaria was struggling to accommodate the increasingly heavy traffic and had become almost unusable due to the rising level of the adjacent road.
The Larger Gate (Porta Maggiore) was integrated into the Aurelian Wall in 271 CE during the reign of Emperor Aurelian, effectively transforming it into an entrance to the city. This adaptation of an aqueduct into a wall is considered an early example of "architectural recycling," where an existing structure is repurposed for a different use. Subsequent modifications were made by Emperor Honorius in 405 CE, who expanded the walls. The foundations of a guardhouse, added by Honorius, can still be seen, while the upper section of the gate, originally constructed by Honorius, has been relocated to the left side of the gate. Presently, the gate is known as the Porta Maggiore, a name that likely stems from the road passing through it, leading to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. This church holds significant religious importance as it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and serves as a significant place of worship.
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