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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in June 2010.

Porta del Popolo (Book 1) (Map B1) (Day 1) and (Day 2) (View C5) (Rione Campo Marzio)

In this page:
 The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
 Today's view
 Porta del Popolo (Monument to Aelius Gutta Calpurnianus)
 Neoclassic Entrance to Villa Borghese
 Casina Vagnuzzi
 The Walls between Porta del Popolo and Porta Pinciana - Muro Torto

The Plate (No. 1)

In the opening etching of Book I of Delle Magnificenze di Roma Antica e Moderna Giuseppe Vasi showed that he had studied architecture and not painting before becoming an engraver; he properly represented the solid masses of the buildings and he accurately depicted all their details, but he did not make the image more lively by showing the most important gate of Rome as a busy place, as if he feared to divert the attention of the viewer from the monuments. This etching is more of a technical drawing, than of a life drawing, not only because the few figures are portrayed in a very academic manner and without interrelation, but also because the source of light does not correspond to reality (Porta del Popolo faces north and even in summer it does not receive sunlight at the angle shown in the etching).
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Dome of S. Maria del Popolo; 2) Warehouses and granaries. 1) is shown in another page. The small map shows also: 3) Porta del Popolo; 4) Warehouses for storing building timber; 5) Entrance to Villa Borghese; 6) Muro Torto; 7) Studiolo del Cardinale in Villa Medici.


The view in June 2010

The towers protecting the gate were pulled down in 1879 to make room for two additional openings at the sides of Porta del Popolo; this was done by "enlarging" the decorative frame in order to include these openings; as a result the overall proportions of the gate were modified; because since the late 1990s the passage through the gate is reserved for pedestrians, it could be worthwhile considering eliminating the additional openings.
The area in front of the gate is now a large open space and the granaries and warehouses shown in the etching do not exist any longer.

Porta del Popolo

(left) Porta del Popolo; (right-above) coat of arms of Pope Pius IV; (right-below) heraldic symbols of Pope Alexander VII by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and statue of St. Peter by Francesco Mochi

Current Porta del Popolo was built by Pope Sixtus IV for the Jubilee Year 1475 on the site of an ancient Roman gate which at that time was partially buried because the level of the ground had risen owing to floods (the gate is not far from the river).
The external decoration of Porta del Popolo was designed by Nanni di Baccio Bigio, perhaps with the advice of Michelangelo and il Vignola, during the pontificate of Pope Pius IV; the decoration of the side towards Rome was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini to celebrate the entrance in Rome of Queen Christina of Sweden in 1655; the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul by Francesco Mochi were added in 1658.

(left) Cappella Chigi and behind it dome and bell tower of S. Maria del Popolo; (right) 1780 inscription celebrating the enlargement of the warehouses for building timber by Pope Pius VI

The heraldic symbols of Pope Alexander VII can also be seen on the dome of the Chigi Chapel in S. Maria del Popolo; the chapel gained a wide fame in recent years because novelist Dan Brown set episodes of his novel Angels and Demons there (see a page on the accuracy of this novel).
A very large inscription on the wall to the right of Porta del Popolo celebrates a 1780 improvement/enlargement of the facilities where building timber was stored; they were located near the river and they were pulled down in 1906 (the inscription was then moved to where it is now); the first reason mentioned for the new facilities was ne quid lignis periculi sit a latronibus (in order that building timber would be not at risk of being stolen).

Reliefs of the Monument to Publius Aelius Gutta Calpurnianus now in the gardens of Palazzo Caffarelli (currently they are only visible through the gate at the eastern end of the building)

When the towers built by Pope Sixtus IV at the sides of Porta del Popolo were pulled down the remains of a very peculiar funerary monument were found (a similar discovery was made at Porta Salaria): it was built by a famous charioteer who amassed a fortune by winning more than 2,000 races in Circus Maximus. Hoc monumentum vivus feci - I built this monument while I was alive - is a statement of a (now lost) inscription which provided interesting details on the Roman racing world and its factions (Red, Blues, Greens and Whites); because of his nickname (Gutta - drop) Aelius Calpurnianus was most likely a short man of little weight.

Neoclassic Entrance to Villa Borghese

Entrance to Villa Borghese

Prince Camillo Borghese, husband of Paolina Buonaparte, Napoleon's sister, enlarged his family villa by acquiring estates from Giustiniani and Odescalchi; prior to this expansion the villa could be reached only by remote Porta Pinciana, whereas the new acquisitions allowed the construction of a new grand entrance very near Porta del Popolo; architect and archaeologist Luigi Canina designed two propylaea (before the gate) similar in purpose to those which flanked the access to Athens' Acropolis.

Detail of the left propylaeum showing the Borghese heraldic symbols

Casina Vagnuzzi

Casina Vagnuzzi

Porta del Popolo is also known as Porta Flaminia because it is the starting point of Via Flaminia which links Rome with Rimini; its initial section (before Villa Giulia) flanked a large villa belonging to the Cesi family (see a page on the Cesi and their fiefdoms in Umbria); this villa was partitioned at the beginning of the XIXth century and a small Renaissance casino along Via Flaminia was modified first by Luigi Valadier and then by Luigi Canina, who gave it a neoclassic look.

The Walls between Porta del Popolo and Porta Pinciana

Views of Muro Torto

The walls between Porta del Popolo and Porta Pinciana are called Muro Torto (Bent Wall) because at one point they seem on the verge of collapsing; this section of the walls supports the pressure of the Pincio hill; according to a legendary tale in 537 AD the Goths saw St. Peter at the top of the walls and were so scared that they desisted from sieging Rome.

Etching by Giuseppe Vasi

Vasi added a small etching showing Muro Torto which the popes did not strengthen because they relied on St. Peter's protection.

Towers along the walls surrounding Villa Medici which have been modified to house the loggia of Studiolo del Cardinal Ferdinando and the workshops of the French artists who live in the villa since the early XIXth century; (inset) coat of arms of Pope Paul II

With the exception of Muro Torto, the rest of the walls were fortified with towers by Pope Paul II, but many of them have lost the aspect of a fortification because they were modified by the owners of Villa Medici.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Porta del Popolo
In oggi questa è la Porta principale di Roma, non solamente perchè tra tutte le altre è la più magnifica, ma ancora perchè la maggior parte delle nazioni entra per essa, e per essa fanno l'ingresso pubblico gli Ambasciatori, e Cardinali quando vengono la prima volta in Roma, ed ancora i Re, e Regine, l'ultima delle quali fu Cristina Regina di Svezia in tempo di Alessandro VII. Chiamossi anticamente questa porta col medesimo nome della via Flaminia; ora però prende il nome dalla chiesa, che le sta accanto, o secondo altri da' pioppi del mausoleo di Augusto, che fin quì si distendevano, che populi diconsi in latino.
Tutto quel vasto sito, che da una parte è circondato da monti, e dall'altra dal Tevere, dicevasi anticamente Campo Marzio, perchè da Romolo dedicato a Marte, affinchè in esso si esercitasse la gioventù nell'arte militare, ed ancora per tenervi i comizi nell'elezione de' Magistrati; e però non era lecito ad alcuno abitarvi: vi furono bensì eretti fabbriche pubbliche molto magnifiche, cioè Circi, Naumachie, Teatri, Archi trionfali, Obelischi, Tempj, Portici, e Statue di uomini illustri senza numero: onde Aureliano, per non lasciar tante magnificenze esposte agl'insulti de' nemici, le incluse entro Roma, con distendere fin a quella parte le mura della Città. Fu rinnovata questa Porta per ordine di Pio IV. da Giacomo Barozio, ma con disegno del Buonarroti, e poi vi furono poste le due statue di s. Pietro, e di s. Paolo fatte dal Mochi; l'architettura però della parte dentro la Città è del Cav. Bernini.
Muro Torto
E' questo un grosso masso delle antiche mura della Città, che mostra d'essere ben presto per cadere a terra, e pure così stava in tempo di Bellisario Capitano di Giustiniano Imperatore, il quale volendo ridurlo in migliore stato di difesa contro i nemici, fu assicurato da' Romani, che s. Pietro Ap. aveva preso la difesa di quella parte della Città: onde lasciollo senza riparo, e senza presidio, come da Procopio si riferisce trattando della guerra Gotica.

Next plate in Book 1: Porta Pinciana
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Piazza del Popolo.
With the visit to Muro Torto you have completed Day 2 itinerary! Move to Day 3.
Next step in your tour of Rione Campo Marzio: Villa Medici