Porta Salaria (or Salara) was named after the road which started at the gate and reached the Adriatic Sea; this road was important for the trade of salt (It. sale) which was
used for food preservation and for cheese production. It was shipped to Rome by barge from the salt-works near Ostia and
then reached the inner parts of the Italian peninsula
(such as Sabina) by Via Salaria.
The horses of the short caravan shown in this 1747 etching by Giuseppe Vasi (one of which is shown in the image used as background for this page) bear the coat of arms of Benedict XIV, the reigning pope.
In the description below the plate Vasi says that Emperor Nero was killed four miles from this gate (see the emperor's assumed tomb); he adds that the Vestals who broke their vow of chastity were buried alive in Campus Sceleratus (Wicked Field), a piece of land outside the gate. The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below which shows: 1) Porta Salaria; 2) Column of Porta Pia; 3) Horti Sallustiani; 4) Villa Paolina. The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Colonna (left) and Rione Trevi (right).
(left) The view in June 2009; (right) the walls to the west of Porta Salaria
Porta Salaria was greatly damaged in 1870 by the artillery of the Italian army. A new gate was built after the annexation of Rome to the Italian Kingdom, but a few years later it was pulled down to allow an easier flow of traffic to new housing developments along Via Salaria.
(left) Reconstructed Roman tomb near Porta Salaria; (right) cast of the monument to Quintus Sulpicius Maximus (original at Centrale Montemartini)
The two round towers which protected the gate were pulled down and two funerary monuments were discovered in their foundations.
One of them was reconstructed in the small garden of an odd looking house;
originally the building was used by the guards at the gate; in the XIXth century it was given a mock medieval/Renaissance appearance and a large baroque portal. The monument is dedicated to Quintus Sulpicius Maximus,
a boy of eleven who won a contest in Greek poetry at the time of Emperor Domitian.
His parents had his poem finely engraved at the sides of the statue which portrays the boy dressed as an adult (you may wish to see a detail of the original monument - it opens in another window).
The other monument was reconstructed between two towers of the walls between Porta Salaria and Porta Pinciana.
Funerary reliefs found near the gate or along Via Salaria: (above-left) Centrale Montemartini: relief depicting a monster (perhaps Typhon - Ist century BC); (above-right) Museo di Scultura Antica Giovanni Barracco (at Farnesina ai Baullari): fragment of a large Greek relief of the VIth century BC; (below) Museo Pio Cristiano (Vatican Museums): IIIrd century AD crypto-Christian sarcophagus, i.e.
a sarcophagus which cannot be said to have been made for a Christian, but with elements of its decoration (in this case the Good Shepherd) which characterized later Christian sarcophagi
In 1887 a large circular tomb was unearthed near Villa Albani, not far from Porta Salaria. Fragments of other funerary monuments found outside the gate are now dispersed in the many archaeological museums of Rome.
(left) Main hall; (right) medieval house above the ancient structures
Gaius Sallustius Crispus was a friend of Julius Caesar who appointed him proconsul of Africa Nova (today's Algeria).
The death of Caesar in 44 BC caused the end of Sallustius' political career. With the fortune he had made in Africa he built a large
villa in the northern part of Rome, where he wrote books covering the main historical events of his lifetime. Horti is a Latin word that initially indicated a sort of family kitchen garden, but which eventually was used with reference to large suburban villas. Eventually Horti Sallustiani was
acquired by Emperor Tiberius and it became a favourite residence of the Roman emperors.
In the late XIXth century the ground of the area was levelled and the main building of the ancient villa ended up below current street level. Today it belongs to the Chamber of Commerce of Rome and its main hall is used as a conference room.
Musei Capitolini: The Dying Galatian (aka The Dying Gladiator according to Lord Byron), a marble Roman copy of a (lost) bronze statue made for Attalus I, King of
Pergamum, to celebrate his victory against the Galatians who lived on the
Anatolian tableland. It was found at Horti Sallustiani in ca 1623
In the small 1748 map the site of Horti Sallustiani is named as Circo di Flora because a long depression in the ground was believed to have been an ancient circus where festivals dedicated to Flora, Roman goddess of flowers and spring, were held. These festivals are mentioned by some Roman writers. Today archaeologists think that a temple to Flora and an adjoining circus stood on the site of Piazza and Palazzo Barberini. It is likely however that a small circus was one of the facilities of Horti Sallustiani because in ca 1621 a small obelisk was found there and it is known that often obelisks decorated circuses, as at Circus Maximus.
The housing development of Quartiere Sallustiano on the site of the Horti Sallustiani in the early XXth century led to finding many other statues; they indicate that the decoration of the ancient villa mainly occurred in the late Ist century BC or early Ist century AD.
In some instances Greek statues of prior periods were used.
Horti Liciniani, Horti di Mecenate and Horti Lamiani are other ancient villas within the walls of Rome where many fine statues were found.
(left) G. Cottafavi's etching showing Horti Sallustiani and in the (centre) background Villa Paolina; (right) 1825 entrance of Villa Paolina in Via XX Settembre
In the XIXth century the balance between prints showing monuments of ancient and of modern Rome changed in a
significant manner. The market was more interested in the ruins of Rome's glorious past than in
the theatrical architectures of the Baroque period.
For this reason Gaetano Cottafavi, who in 1842 illustrated a very detailed guide of Rome by Rev. Jeremiah Donovan, added a plate depicting Horti Sallustiani to the most usual views of ancient Rome. In the background it is
possible to see the casino of Villa Paolina, built in 1750 ca. by Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga. This cardinal was a collector of fine arts and his (imaginary) gallery was the subject of a famous painting by Giovanni Paolo Pannini (it opens in another window).
In 1816 the villa was bought by Paolina Borghese, one of the sisters of Napoleon Buonaparte, hence the current name of the Villa. After several other changes of ownership the property was bought by France in 1951 for its Embassy to the Holy See (the French Embassy to Italy is in Palazzo Farnese).
The short stretch of walls between the two gates retains memories
of the history of Rome and of Italy and in addition to these the only remaining necessarium (what an appropriate name!) out of 260 such facilities which still existed in the XVIth century.
The column belonged to the baths built by Emperor Nero and restored by Emperor Alexander Severus. It supports a Winged Victory and it celebrates the Breach of Porta Pia, through which the Italian Army entered Rome on September 20, 1870. A few meters away there is a beautiful coat of arms of one of the Della Rovere popes (either Sixtus IV or Julius II).
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Più nomi ha mutato questa porta, conserva però il più usitato: vi fu appresso il campo scelerato, così detto, perchè vi si seppellivano vive, le Vergini Vestali, qualora avessero profanata la loro verginità: tanto orrore avevano a ciò i Gentili, ancorchè siano stati dissoluti ed infami. Due miglia fuori di questa evvi il celebre ponte del medesimo nome colle celebri iscrizioni fatte da Narsete capitano di Giustiniano Imperatore.