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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 2009.

Porta Pia (Book 1) (Map A2) (Day 2)  (View B6) (Rione Trevi) and (Rione Monti)

In this page:
 The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
 Today's view
 Porta Pia
 The Walls between Porta Pia and Castro Pretorio

The Plate (No. 4)

In 1747 Giuseppe Vasi dedicated his first book of etchings to Charles of Bourbon, King of the two Sicilies, who became King of Spain in 1759 (as Charles III). As king of the two Sicilies, Charles preferred not to add a number to his name; in theory he should have called himself Charles VII, but he regarded some of his predecessors as usurpers.
Vasi portrayed in this plate a visit paid by the king to Pope Benedict XIV in November 1744. It was not just a courtesy visit; a few months earlier Charles had invaded the Papal State to prevent an Austrian army from advancing towards Naples; the enemy was defeated at Velletri, but Charles and his troops remained in the proximity of Rome to put pressure on the pope and ensure he would confirm the rights of Charles to the thrones of Naples and Sicily.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below which shows: 1) Porta Pia; 2) Gardens of Villa Patrizi. The dotted line near Porta Pia in the small map delineates the border between Rione Trevi (left) and Rione Monti (right).


The view in June 2009

The outer gate of Porta Pia was built in 1868, during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX. It replaced the simple portal which is shown in the etching. In 1870, the collapse of the France Empire left the pope without allies (Emperor Napoleon III protected the State of the Church); on September 20, the Italian bersaglieri (quick-moving light infantry) entered Rome through a breach near Porta Pia. In 1936 a monument to the bersaglieri was erected opposite Porta Pia to celebrate the centenary of the corps foundation.

Porta Pia

The outer gate and two details of its decoration (the lion is in the rear part of the portal)

The new gate was designed by Virginio Vespignani (who also designed new Porta S. Pancrazio) and it was dedicated to Pope Saint Alexander I and to St. Agnes who both suffered martyrdom along Via Nomentana, off Porta Pia; they are remembered by the two statues at the side of the entrance.
Maybe because Pope Pius IX was aware that his mercenary troops could not resist the Italian army, an angel holding the symbols of the pope was placed above the entrance, as if to protect the gate.

The inner gate and enlargement of its decoration

Michelangelo prepared three different sketches for this gate and Pope Pius IV apparently chose the least expensive one. The coat of arms was selected by Filippo Juvarra to open his book of drawings on the coats of arms of the popes. Porta Pia replaced in a slightly different position Porta Nomentana, known also as Porta S. Agnese, because it led to the church of S. Agnese fuori delle Mura.
In general the monumental side of the gates of Rome is the external one. Porta Pia is an exception: Pope Pius IV opened a very long straight street (named after him Strada Pia) which linked the Quirinal with this gate; the decoration of its internal side was meant to provide a grand ending to the new street (today Via XX Settembre).

Painted cupboard in the Vatican Library showing Porta Pia in ca 1860 and to the left the gate of Villa Paolina

The Walls between Porta Pia and Castro Pretorio

Walls between Porta Pia and Castro Pretorio

Porta Nomentana can still be identified in the section of the walls to the left of Porta Pia. The towers near Porta Pia were strengthened in the XVth century by Pope Nicholas V and by Pope Pius II.

(left) Ancient tower which protected Porta Nomentana; (centre) the site of Porta Nomentana and the inscription and coat of arms which were placed by Pope Pius IV; (right) coats of arms of Pope Nicholas V (above) and Pope Pius II (below)

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Porta Pia
Nomentana dicevasi anticamente quella porta, dipoi si disse di s. Agnese per la vicina chiesa di detta Santa, ora però la diciamo Porta Pia, perchè da Pio IV. fu ornata col disegno da celebre Buonarroti; ma essendo rimasta imperfetta, fu poi proseguita dal Cav. Bernini, il quale neppure la terminò. A sinistra di questa porta fu l'antico e famoso Castro Pretorio, ed appresso il Vivario, vedendosene ancor le mura distese in fuori, e 4. miglia lungi dalla Città fu' la famosa villa di Faonte liberto di Nerone, in cui egli uccise se stesso.

Next plate in Book 1: Porta Chiusa
Next step in Day 2 itinerary: Casino e Villa Patrizi
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Chiesa di S. Susanna
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Mura dell'antico Castro Pretorio