The page covers:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Exhibits from the Museums (including Sarcofago Grande Ludovisi)
Arco Trionfale di Papa Sisto V
Tomba di Via Collatina
The Walls between Porta S. Lorenzo and Porta Maggiore
The reference to S. Lorenzo is due to the fact that the gate is not far from S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura.
At the time of Vasi it was known also as Porta Esquilina, because it is located on the eastern end of the Esquilino hill. Today it is usually referred to as
Porta Tiburtina because it is the starting point of Via Tiburtina, the road leading to Tivoli, the ancient Tibur.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below which shows: 1) Porta S. Lorenzo; 2) Arco Trionfale di Papa Sisto V; 3) S. Bibiana; 4) Via Collatina.
The view in June 2009
The gate is unchanged, but the level of the street is higher than it was in the XVIIIth century so that it cannot be used any longer. The area outside the gate was chosen for building houses for railwaymen (Stazione Termini, the central railway station, is very close to the gate). Unfortunately poor town planning allowed these apartment blocks to be built a few yards from the walls; for this reason it is difficult to properly show the gate and the nearby walls. Its design dates back to Emperor Honorius.
The inner side of Porta S. Lorenzo is not a gate, but a triumphal arch built across Via Tiburtina by Emperor Augustus to celebrate repairs/improvements he made to the aqueduct system of Rome, the main one being the construction of Aqua Iulia. The gate was also known as Porta Taurina (It. toro means bull) after the bucranium (ox skull) on the arch (it is shown in the image used as background for this page).
Museo Nazionale Romano a Palazzo Altemps: "Sarcofago Grande Ludovisi"
The arch was outside the pomerium, the boundary of the City of Rome, and tombs were built in its proximity along Via Tiburtina, before the construction of the walls in 275 AD. In 1621 a large sarcophagus was found near the arch. At that time the Pope was Gregory XV (Alessandro Ludovisi) and his nephew was in charge of state affairs. The sarcophagus became one of the masterpieces of their art collection at Villa Ludovisi.
"Sarcofago Grande Ludovisi": details
The young Roman commander at the centre of the scene is thought to be one of the sons of Emperor Decius who ruled in 249-251. Comparisons have been made with Sarcofago di Portonaccio, another large sarcophagus found along Via Tiburtina and showing a battle between Romans and barbarians. The latter appears to depict an actual scene of fight, whereas Sarcofago Grande Ludovisi could have had a more complex symbolic meaning. The barbarians seem to die because of illness rather than because of the fight. Their portrayal was most likely influenced by a major pestilence which began to strike the Empire in 250. The young commander does not seem to care about the fight. He is looking elsewhere and perhaps he is bidding farewell to his relatives. The "x" scar on his forehead was perhaps due to an initiation rite.
Other works of art found near the gate: (above) Musei Vaticani: sarcophagus portraying the surrender of barbarians; (below) Centrale Montemartini: statues from a nymphaeum (fountain) which were found in 1888
(left) Triumphal arch (the long white building is the eastern side of Stazione Termini, the central railway station of Rome);
(right) inscription on its southern side
In 1585 Pope Sixtus V celebrated the completion of Acqua Felice, an aqueduct which carried water to the northern parts of Rome and ended at Mostra dell'Acqua Felice, by erecting a triumphal arch a short distance from that built by Augustus. It was decorated with the heraldic symbols of the pope which included a lion and three mountains. The inscription on the southern side of the arch celebrates the opening of two roads which led to S. Maria Maggiore and to S. Maria degli Angeli: they increased the value of Pope Sixtus' large property between the two churches.
(above) Reconstructed tomb; (below) inscriptions on the short side
Via Collatina was a minor road which linked Rome with Collatia, an ancient town 8 miles east of the city. It branched off Via Tiburtina very near the gate and it run eastwards parallel to it and to Via Prenestina. In 1935, during sewage excavations, a small mausoleum of the early Ist century AD was found at a depth of 5m/15f. It still contained a skeleton and two small vessels. It was filled with earth, most likely because a flood covered it in the IIIrd century. It had a (lost) small dome and it was faced with travertine. Two inscriptions indicated its size: IN FR(ons) P(edes) XXXII (32 ft on the front); IN AGR(o) P(edes) XX (20 ft deep). These inscriptions are not unusual, because they indicated the area allocated to the tomb from a legal point of view and they can be found also outside Italy, e.g. at Narbonne.
(left) S. Bibiana; (right) statue of St. Bibiana (Vivian)
The small church of S. Bibiana was built on the site where the young martyr was tied to a column and lashed to death; Gian Lorenzo Bernini had already a solid reputation as a sculptor when in 1625 Pope Urban VIII commissioned him the restoration of this church. As an architect Bernini did not fare that well at S. Bibiana, but the statue of the saint is the first of a series of masterpieces. In line with the recommended iconography she was portrayed next to the symbol of her martyrdom: the column to which she was tied.
Fresco by Agostino Ciampelli depicting a scene of the life of St. Vivian
In the second half of the XVIth century the Popes issued guidelines on the decoration of churches and in particular on the subjects of paintings:
the objective was to emphasize the role played by the ancient martyrs to promote the Christian faith. These guidelines led to some rather gruesome results.
The subjects commissioned by Pope Urban VIII for S. Bibiana followed these guidelines, but the general mood was no longer that of the Counter-Reformation and the frescoes by Florentine painter Agostino Ciampelli are an elegant and colourful illustration of early XVIIth century Rome, rather than the depiction of dramatic events. Ciampelli framed the paintings with numerous decorative elements, including the coat of arms of the pope.
(left) Fresco by Pietro da Cortona depicting the martyrdom of St. Vivian; (right) fresco by Agostino Ciampelli
Ciampelli was assisted by Pietro Berrettini, a young painter from Cortona in Tuscany who became one of the key artists of XVIIth century Rome with Bernini and Francesco Borromini. He is best known as Pietro da Cortona. He worked on three frescoes where he showed his talent and also his interest in ancient buildings; in the upper part of the scene shown above he painted a reconstruction of Colosseo.
View of the walls to the south of Porta S. Lorenzo
High towers which were rebuilt by Pope Nicholas V characterize this section of the walls, but there are coats of arms showing restorations and improvements made at a later time.
(left) Tower restored by the Senate of Rome in 1718; (right-above) coat of arms of Pope Clement XI and inscription explaining
that the restoration was paid for by the City of Rome; (right-below) coats of arms of a Cardinal Carafa (left) and of a Cardinal Farnese (right), the former is among the very few coats of arms of the Carafa
which one can see in Rome, because at the death of Pope
Paul IV Carafa many of them were destroyed
Next plate in Book 1: Porta Maggiore.
Next step in Day 2 itinerary: Villa Altieri.
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Basilica di S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura.
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Rovine del Tempio di Ercole Callaico.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Camminando dunque per la strada della suburra, si vede in fine della strada, la porta della Cittā, che dicesi di s. Lorenzo, e prima di uscire, si osserva a sinistra il Castello dell'Acqua Felice fatto da Sisto V.
Dalla santa matrona Olimpia fu eretta questa chiesa appresso il palazzo Liciniano, ove abitando la s. Titolare, aveva seppellite s. Dafrosa sua madre, e s. Demetria sua sorella martiri; e poi nell'an. 362 vi fu portato il suo corpo da Giovanni Prete, levato dal luogo detto Forum tuari. Da Simplicio Papa fu consagrata, e da Onorio III. riedificata insieme col monastero delle suore Domenicane, e fu detta ad ursum. pileatum. Da Urbano VIII. fu ultimamente rinnovata col disegno del Bernini, il quale scolpė l'ammirabile statua della Santa, il corpo della quale, insieme con quello della sua sorella, e di sua madre, sta custodito sotto l'altare maggiore, entro una preziosa urna di alabastro orientale. A piede della chiesa evvi la colonna, cui legata fu flagellata s. Bibbiana, e sotto la chiesa corrisponde il cimiterio di s. Anastasio Papa, nel quale furono seppelliti 3266. martiri, non comprese le donne e i fanciulli. Le pitture a fresco sul cornicione a destra sono di Agostino Ciampelli quelle a sinistra di Pietro da Cortona.