All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in July 2009.
Piazza del Colosseo (Book 2) (Map B3) (Day 1) (View C9) (Rione Campitelli) and (Rione Monti)
In this page:
The Arch of Constantine was most likely built for a previous emperor of the IIIrd century. It was renovated and dedicated to Emperor Constantine to celebrate his visit to Rome in 315 and his 312 victory at Ponte Milvio. The inscription makes reference to Constantine's instinctu divino (foreknowing the will of the gods); this was viewed by early Christian historians as a confirmation of Constantine's vision, the dream he had the night before the battle, during which he was told to fight under the protection of the Cross.
The major part of the decoration comes from previous monuments to Emperors Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. There had been two major fires in Rome in 283 and 307 and it is possible that these monuments were badly affected by them. Eight statues of Dacian prisoners came from the Trajan' Forum and the same applies to four reliefs depicting scenes of the Dacian wars. The heads of the statues are an XVIIIth century work by Pietro Bracci.
Whereas the fame of Trajan is associated with his military successes, Hadrian provided the empire with a long period of peace; the round reliefs which were taken from a (lost) arch to that emperor, portray scenes of hunting and of sacrifices; the head of Hadrian was modified in order to portray Constantine or Licinius, his associate in power (Hadrian had a light beard, Constantine was clean-shaven).
Eight rectangular reliefs came from a (lost) arch to Emperor Marcus Aurelius built by his son Commodus. The heads of the emperor are not the original ones, but an XVIIIth century addition which is not true to life (Marcus Aurelius had curly hair and an elaborate beard). In these reliefs he was always portrayed in a very "imperial" posture.
Finally the decoration of the arch was completed with reliefs made for the occasion and portraying events of the 312 campaign. Their quality is much lower than that of the reliefs taken from the other monuments; it is interesting to observe that two round reliefs were dedicated to the Sun and the Moon; these were not very common themes for the decoration of a Roman monument, but Constantine was a devotee of Sol Invictus (Invincible Sun), a belief which was very popular among his soldiers too.
Tempio di Venere e Roma
The plate shows also to the far right the ruins of the Temple to Venus and Rome. This was built by Emperor Hadrian who was personally involved in its design. It was made up of two identical temples facing the Roman Forum (Rome) and the Colosseum (Venus). They were placed on a large terrace (it measures 100x145 metres / 109x159 yds) and they were surrounded by more than a hundred columns of grey granite.
The statue of the deity (in this case Venus) was placed in a gigantic niche, the decoration of which inspired many artists (see Francesco Salvi's niche in Fontana di Trevi).
The plate shows the foundations of Meta Sudans, a Roman fountain (and behind them the Arch of Constantine). In 1936 the remains of the fountain (as shown in the plate) were still there, but they were pulled down to allow the army parade to go through the Arch of Constantine (you may wish to see it in an old photo - external link). The fountain had a conical shape which resembled that of metae, structures mounted on the ends of the central spina in Roman circuses. It was built by Emperor Domitian. It was not a spouting fountain, but a "sweating" one (It. sudante): water slid on its surface.
After one of the most damaging fires (64 AD) ever occurred in Rome, Emperor Nero rebuilt on the Palatine the Imperial Palace. The Emperor was suspected of having set fire to Rome to enlarge his residence, which actually he expanded by including in it the first slopes of the Esquiline hill, the area to the north of the Colosseum, and the Temple to Claudius on the Caelian hill. This vast area became a large villa, with small woods, fountains, gardens and it had at its centre a pond. Nero built a large pavilion overlooking the pond; it was known as Domus Aurea (Golden House) and it was gravely damaged by a fire in 104.
In 111 Apollodorus of Damascus, the architect of the Forum of Trajan, filled Domus Aurea with the material resulting from the excavation of Velia, a hill between the Quirinal and the Capitol which he levelled to the ground to make room for the Forum. Apollodorus reinforced the walls of Domus Aurea and used them as foundations for the baths he built for Emperor Trajan.
Domus Aurea was discovered and "excavated" in Renaissance times and the group of Laocoon and his two sons was found here. The site was visited by many artists, mainly painters, who found inspiration in the decoration of the rooms (grotesque after Italian grotta, as the entrance to these rooms looked like the entrance to a cave=grotta). Excavations are still going on and new rooms and paintings were recently found.
Terme di Tito
Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus came to power one year after Nero was forced to commit suicide; in order to gain the favour of the Senate and of the ordinary citizens of Rome they built the Colosseum on the site of the pond; so what was meant to give pleasure to the sole emperor, became the venue devoted to the entertainment of the Romans; the baths of Nero's villa were slightly modified and were opened to the public by Titus. Their remains are located opposite the northern side of the Colosseum.
Terme di Traiano
The baths designed by Apollodorus for Enperor Trajan set a pattern which was followed for the construction of Caracalla's and Diocletian's baths and for many other similar complexes throughout the empire; they included several other facilities in addition to the baths; they were all placed in a walled garden. A series of ten cisterns provided a constant and controlled supply of water; of these cisterns seven were never covered by vegetation or other buildings. The cisterns and the ruins of the baths attracted the attention of Giovanni Battista Piranesi: see his etchings in external links: Sette sale and Trajan's Baths (which Piranesi named after Titus).
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 2: Piazza
di S. Giovanni in Laterano