ROMAN ITINERARIES – CAMPITELLI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 41
CAMPITELLI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 41
The Itinerary 41 of the Campitelli District will lead you to the discovery of the Palatine Hill, which was the original nucleus of the most archaic Rome and was then assimilated with the imperial residence. Also in this scenario, even though it is not convenient to visit, we will try to examine the Palatine Hill in chronological order, starting from the Rome of the Kings and arriving at the end of the Roman Empire.
There are several ways to access the Palatine Hill: you can go up from the entrance on Via di San Gregorio, walk along the Clivus Palatinus that starts from the Arch of Titus or follow the route suggested in this Itinerary, that is walking along a stretch of the Via Nova and ascending the Palatine Hill by climbing the stairs of the monumental nymphaeum of the Farnese family, among fake naturalistic architectures, late-Renaissance loggias, artificial caves, large basins, roaring and thunderous water, steep stairs and statues hidden in the cool half-light.
The tour will end with an analysis of the massive Arch of Constantine and the remains of the Meta Sudans. If you want to have a Guided Tour in tehse locations, please book the Imperial Rome Tour by Rome Guides.
Palatine Hill – Via di San Gregorio – Colosseum Square
PALATINE HILL – THE FARNESE BIRDCAGES
Taking the ramp, you’ll go up to the first level, adorned with a façade with three arches, and from there you’ll enter a large vaulted room with statues and empty niches on the walls and bases with the lilies of the Farnese family. On the back wall you’ll see a large niche full of fake stalactites, from which water falls thunderously into a basin: it is called the “Fountain of Rain“.
By taking one of the two side staircases you will go up to the second level, where once stood a small tower and where today a balustrade delimits a terrace adorned with vases of flowers. From here, a central staircase leads to the third level, where there is another large niche, decorated on the sides with stucco figures of musicians and the lilies of the Farnese family. From this terrace, finally, start two other lateral staircases, which lead to the Birdcages, two twin pavilions where there are two large busts of Dacians prisoners, probably from the Forum of Trajan. At the back of the Birdcages is the last of the fountains of the Farnese nymphaeum, behind which are the Farnese Gardens, rich in plants and flowers, crossed by paths and trails.
On the right, passing next to the tomb of Giacomo Boni, marked by an ancient reused altar and protected by a tall palm tree, you reach a terrace from where you can admire the magnificent panorama of the Roman Forum, which opens up at our feet, readable as in a plan.
THE HISTORY OF THE PALATINE HILL
The Palatine Hill reaches a height of 51 meters above sea level: in ancient times, a slope (Germalus) connected it to the Tiber on the side of the Forum Boarium, while a plateau joined it to the Esquiline. The most ancient legend recalls that the hill was occupied by Arcadian colonists led by the mythical Evander and his son Pallas: they welcomed on the hill Hercules and, as told by Virgil, also Aeneas. Since Evander and Pallas are two divinities of the ancient religion of the Arcadians, historians believe that these references derive from the cultural relations present in the Forum Boarium and on the Palatine, for the frequentation of this area by sailors and traders from Greece, before the age of Greek colonization in southern Italy.
The Palatine Hill became the real protagonist of the history of Rome when, according to the historian Varro, Romulus founded the city of Rome there on April 21th 753 BC. The house of Romulus, identified in a hut located in the south-west corner of the Palatine, was preserved and continuously restored by the Romans as a precious relic.
THE CULT OF THE GODDESS PALES
The Palatine was linked to the ancient cult of the goddess Pales, whose feast (Palilia) fell on April 21th, which since the earliest calendars was considered the natal day of Rome. Pales was a goddess who presided over the shepherding, as she protected the birth of sheep and therefore was connected with the birth, which was linked to the birth of the city of Rome too. Not surprisingly, according to legend, Romulus and Remus were found by the shepherd Faustulus and not coincidentally Romulus, in founding the city using a plow, became a farmer.
At the foot of the Palatine there was the cave of Lupercale, linked to the myth and the cult of the totem animal of Rome: the she-wolf. This cult was related to another of the most important festivals of Rome, the Lupercalia, which were held on February 15th: it was a festival of purification, celebrated by the priestly association of Luperici who, after sacrificing a goat and having passed on the forehead the bloody knife, divided into strips the skin of the goat and ran down from the Palatine along the Via Sacra whipping anyone they met (especially women, who in this way ensured fertility and future pregnancies).
THE PALATINE BETWEEN REPUBLIC AND EMPIRE
In the Republican era, the Palatine became a residential area inhabited by the most important Roman patricians, including Valerius Maximus, Sempronius Gracchus, Licinius Crassus, Cicero, Hortensius and Mark Anthony. There arose the temples of the Magna Mater, Cybele and Apollo.
Everything changed when Augustus placed his residence there, to which followed installations more and more monumental, wanted by Tiberius, Nero, Domitian and Septimius Severus. Thus, for successive phases, the Palatine became the place of the great magnificent imperial palaces and the term “palace” originated precisely from this fact.
PALATINE HILL – THE HUTS OF ROMULUS
Cross the Palatine in the direction of the House of Augustus, reaching the famous south-west corner of the Germalus, at the foot of which, according to tradition, was the Lupercale. In this place the Romans indicated the Hut of Romulus, near which the emperor Augustus built his house just to emphasize more clearly his role as the second founder of Rome; to confirm the tradition, in 1948 archaeologists found here the remains of three huts, dating back to the Age of Iron. Today it is still possible to distinguish the bottom of the huts, circumscribed by a small canal useful for draining rainwater, and the holes where the supporting poles of the huts were housed. The huts were made of mud and straw on the model of those which, reproduced in miniature, were used as cinerary urns and which can be seen on the lower floor of the Palatine Museum.
From this moment arises what the historian Tacitus will define the Squared Rome, tracing the boundaries: from the Ara Massima of Hercules in the Forum Boarium to the Ara of Conso in the Circus Maximus, from the Curiae Veteres to the Sanctuary of the Lares in the Roman Forum. This city had three doors in its most ancient walls: the Mugonia Gate towards the Velia hill, the Romanula Gate towards the Velabro Swamp and a third one that opened towards the Forum Boarium.
Our chronological itinerary to the visit of the Palatine continues from the left of the huts of the age of Romulus, where two cisterns of the VI Century B.C. are preserved, carved in the tufa of the hill and then covered with blocks of the same material.
PALATINE HILL – THE TEMPLE OF MAGNA MATER
Not far away you can see the large podium on which stood the Temple of Magna Mater Cybele, with fragments of the pediment, columns and Corinthian capitals all made of peperino and then plastered to imitate marble: these remains are, however, datable to the Augustan age.
To understand how this temple was made, it is necessary to decipher a bas-relief that today is placed on the inside façade of Villa Medici: it shows a temple with six columns on the front and preceded by a high staircase.
The cult of Magna Mater Cybele in Rome was introduced by prescription of the Sibylline Books, consulted to keep away from Rome the dangerous siege of Hannibal: the response was that, to expel the foreigner from Italy, it was necessary to bring to Rome the Magna Mater, whose sanctuary was in Anatolia, in Pessinunte, in the kingdom of Pergamum. The Magna Mater Cybele was therefore in a certain sense a Trojan goddess, like Aeneas, because it fell under the jurisdiction of the kingdom of Pergamum: Homer, for example, called “Pergamum” the fortress of Troy. The Roman embassy, arrived in this kingdom, asked and obtained from the king Attalus to be able to transfer to Rome the sacred stone, considered the image of the goddess.
The stone arrived in Rome on April 4th 204 BC and immediately there was a miraculous event: the ordalia (“judgment of God”) of Quinta Claudia, whose morality had been questioned. The young patrician put her innocence in the hands of the Magna Mater Cybele and this allowed her to disembark with her bare hands the ship that was stuck in the Tiber.
To the goddess Cybele were connected also the grandiose Ludi Megalenses, characterized by splendid theatrical performances that included works of Plautus and Terence.
PALATINE HILL – THE HOUSE OF LIVIA
The main evidence of the Republican age on the Palatine is linked to the aristocratic houses that were built there before the transformation of the hill into an imperial residence.
Under the Lararium of the Domus Flavia, for example, it is possible to find the so-called House of the Griffins, a name derived from a lunette of the building decorated with these mythological animals. The ornamental paintings of the house date back to the end of the II Century B.C. and represent architectural images structured in illusionistic geometric perspectives.
One of the most fascinating places of the Palatine Hill, which can be visited through the purchase of a specific ticket and today even more valorized by the use of multimedia projections that highlight its decorative richness, is the House of Livia, third wife of Octavian Augustus, as confirmed by the lead pipeline found by archaeologists in this house and bearing the name Iulia Augusta.
Through a corridor paved with an ancient black and white mosaic, you can enter the original courtyard of the house, now surmounted by a modern cover to preserve it from the bad weather. This courtyard is overlooked by three parallel rooms, of which the central one was the Tablinum, decorated with two faded frescoes (well emphasized by the multimedia technology) showing Mercury in the act of freeing Io guarded by Argos and the meeting between Polyphemus and Galatea. In the other rooms you can admire the garland decorations, the friezes enriched by Egyptian scenes, stylized landscapes and a series of decorations related to Bacchus and Diana.
PALATINE HILL – THE HOUSE OF AUGUSTUS
Located a few meters south of the House of Livia, you can visit the real jewel on the Palatine Hill: the House of Augustus.
The entire house was built by Augustus in place of the houses purchased by famous people of his time, such as Hortensius or Lutatius Catulus, in order to build his own home adjacent to the ancient place where the Huts of Romulus stood. This residence, not excessively luxurious, was provided with a windowless study, placed laterally on a terrace, nicknamed by Augustus “Syracuse” (as the fortified Sicilian city), which allowed the emperor to spend time there in solitude, to meditate or to work without being disturbed.
The House of Augustus, divided into a private and a public space, with a large peristyle, is now fully enjoyable thanks to an excellent multimedia technology, which allows you to understand the structure and decorations thanks to specific projections. The representative rooms and the more modest ones, the two small libraries and the Tablinum have preserved splendid frescoes dating back to the I Century B.C., depicting spectacular architectural scenes and evident allusions to the theater, the great passion of Augustus (as for example in the Room of the Masks).
The paintings of the House of Augustus on the Palatine are one of the best examples in Rome of the so-called second Pompeian style, very well documented in the houses of Pompeii: it is a scenographic painting, perspective and illusion, whose main function was to open the walls ideally on deep and imaginary visions that canceled the spatial limits of small rooms.
TEMPLE OF APOLLO AND PALATINE MUSEUM
Augustus wanted to associate his house with the cult of Apollo, to emphasize his entrance into a dimension of sacredness that would later lead all Roman Emperors.
The remains of the Temple of Apollo are today difficult to identify: excavations have brought to light the podium of the temple and small fragments of a large marble statue of the god, as well as sparse remains of the marble floor, columns and Corinthian capitals. The temple, which was supposed to be very solemn, had three beautiful statues of Apollo, Diana and Latona (works respectively of Skopas, Chefisodotos and Timotheos); inside, the Sibylline Books were also preserved.
The portico in front of the temple was called “of the Danaids”, because it was adorned with the statues of the daughters of the mythical king of Egypt who, having fled from his homeland and arrived in Greece, built a temple to the god Apollo.
The main remains of the Temple of Apollo can be seen today on the second floor of the Palatine Museum, which is well worth a visit despite its modest size. Admire the admirable fragment of a fresco depicting Apollo crowned with laurel in the act of playing the zither, the splendid herms of the Danaids in black and ancient red marble found in 1869 and above all the famous Campana Slabs, painted terracottas that allude to the challenge between Octavian (depicted in the guise of Apollo) and Mark Anthony (represented in the guise of Hercules).
PALATINE HILL – THE DOMUS TIBERIANA
On the north side of the House of Livia, behind the Temple of the Magna Mater, you can see the remains of the imperial palace built by Emperor Tiberius, nicknamed Domus Tiberiana.
The building is not easily identifiable, having been restored several times during the Roman Empire and then being partially covered by the Horti Farnesiani: the archaeologists have identified the remains of a large peristyle at the center of the structure and a large pool that perhaps served as a vivarium to keep fishes. The most recent excavations have brought to light a perfect system of waterproofing of the walls, thermal systems, terraces and all the evidence of those transformations made by the successive Emperors to Tiberius.
It was also brought to light a long cryptoporticus, which is now undoubtedly attributed to Emperor Nero, who intended to connect the Domus Aurea with the Domus Tiberiana: this long underground corridor was adorned with paintings, stuccoes and mosaics and was used for walking on hot summer days.
From the Domus Tiberiana it was easy to reach the Domus Augustana, while on the side facing the Roman Forum there was a road, the Clivus Victoriae, which connected the palace with the Roman Forum. The Domus Tiberiana (as well as other palaces of the Palatine) was inhabited until the 8th Century by some Popes, such as John VII, and then suffered heavy and chaotic spoliation of the building material and coatings. Having become crumbling, it was finally abandoned in the 9th Century by Pope Leo IV. During the Renaissance, the Farnese family planted their gardens here and only in the 18th Century the first excavations began at the behest of the Duke of Parma Francesco I, starting the archaeological analysis that continues today.
PALATINE HILL – THE DOMUS FLAVIA
At the end of the I Century A.D. the architect Rabirio was commissioned by the Emperor Domitian to build the new imperial residence on the Palatine, which was supposed to replace, for size and wealth, both the Domus Tiberiana and the remakes of the time of Nero.
Rabirio completely transformed the hill and the imperial palace: ancient authors, such as Martial and Stazio, often recalled the splendor and magnificence of the Domus Flavia, which became the western prototype of the imperial palace, full expression of dynastic power.
At the center of the Domus Flavia is still possible to distinguish a vast peristyle, originally surrounded by columns of ancient yellow marble from Numidia and adorned in the middle by a large octagonal fountain decorated with maze-like paths. On this peristyle opens, to the northeast, a vast hall, more than 30 meters wide, in which the Emperor held public audiences receiving the salutationes sitting in the apse that, for its celestial symbolism, indicated him as “dominus et deus” (Lord and God). The room was adorned with gigantic statues in polychrome marble placed in niches, two of which (Apollo and Hercules) are now in the Museum of Parma.
On the left, next to it, was the Auditorium, a smaller apsidal hall where first Domitian and then his successors decided the affairs of state of Rome and its Provinces.
Cross again the so-called Aula Regia, reaching on the right another room, which in ancient times was next to the main entrance to the palace and in which the Praetorian Guard was positioned.
The last room on either side of the peristyle was also apsidal and retains part of the original marble floor of the late imperial age. Archaeologists believe that it could have been the so-called Cenatio Iovis, where the guests of the imperial banquet were hosted on triclinia beds while the hypocaust floor gave them a pleasant warmth even in cold winter days.
PALATINE HILL – THE DOMUS AUGUSTANA
From the Domus Flavia, which can be considered the public part of the imperial palace, you can now move on to the Domus Augustana, the grandiose private residence of the Emperor.
This residence is also developed around a vast peristyle enriched in the center by a fountain in the shape of a small lake, with an artificial island in the middle on which stood a temple dedicated to Minerva (the goddess protector of Domitian) reached by a small bridge.
On the lower floor of the side facing the Aventine Hill, a vast quadriporticus opens up, around a courtyard decorated with a large fountain adorned with four Amazonian shields (the so-called “peltae“). The courtyard is also flanked by a square hall, several octagonal rooms and three nymphaea: the decorative richness of this lower floor, with fountains and nymphaea, gives the whole palace a building complexity worthy only of an imperial residence.
THE PALATINE STADIUM
The Imperial Palace faces east on a vast building constructed in the form of a small stadium (160×50 meters), adorned along the sides by a two-story portico, with brick pillars covered with marble on the lower floor and marble columns on the upper floor. On the eastern side, in the center, stands a large tribune, called Pulvinar.
Originally, the building was interpreted by archaeologists as a small circus, intended for chariot races, but over the decades the interpretation has changed: today it is thought that this area was used primarily as a Viridarium, a lush garden adorned with statues, sometimes used as a hippodrome. Given that the martyrdom of St. Sebastian took place, according to legend, in the Hippodromus Palatii, it is possible that the saint was martyred in the Palatine Stadium.
The tribune of the Pulvinar, as well as serving the Emperor to attend those races that were organized in his hippodrome, also hosted the rite of “lectisternium“: during it,the statues of some gods were carried on stretchers and then religiously placed in the Pulvinar next to the Emperor, so that they could also admire the spectacle.
THE SEVERIAN BATHS AND THE SEPTIZODIUM
On the south-west side of the Stadium you can see a series of mighty rooms, testified by the brick substructions still visible today, which allowed the enlargement of the area of the Palatine Hill. On this artificial terrace, Septimius Severus built magnificent thermal baths, connected to the imperial palace and fed by a branch of the Aqueduct Claudius.
In front of these buildings, the archaeologists have found the foundations of the famous Septizodium, a monumental nymphaeum of over 70 meters high, on three floors and adorned with numerous fountains, at the center of which was placed the colossal statue of Septimius Severus. Between 1585 and 1589, when it was already reduced to a ruin, the Septizodium was completely destroyed by Pope Sixtus V in order to reuse the marble in the decoration of many monuments of Rome, especially in the Sistine Chapel of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where Pope Sixtus V chose to be buried.
THE OTHER BUILDINGS OF THE PALATINE HILL
Many buildings on the Palatine Hill are currently unvisitable or difficult to reach. Nevertheless, some of them deserve at least a mention.
You can start with the so-called Pedagogium, the school of education for slaves who worked at the imperial palace, excavated in the 19th Century. Dating back to the age of Domitian and restored at the time of Septimius Severus, it was decorated with frescoes and mosaics, but it is particularly famous today for a graffito (now preserved in the Palatine Museum) depicting a crucified donkey accompanied by the inscription “Alexamenos worship his God“: this graffito could be a graphic representation of the mockery and pranks to which the first Christians were subjected in the society of Ancient Rome.
THE DOMUS PRAECONUM
Another place worth mentioning, located a little further south, is the Domus Praeconum (literally House of the Heralds), from which come splendid frescoes preserved today in the Palatine Museum. One of the mosaics of the building depicts a procession of heralds, and some inscriptions confirm that it was the seat of the College of Messengers of the Circus, which opened the procession of the chariot races and were therefore connected to both the imperial palace and the Circus Maximus.
THE TEMPLE OF HELIOGABALUS
In the eastern corner of the Palatine, now occupied by the Churches of St. Sebastian and St. Bonaventure, are still visible the remains of a large temple, which we have already mentioned in the previous Itineraries. This is the famous Temple of Heliogabalus, in front of which the martyrdom of St. Sebastian ended and where the church dedicated to the martyr was later built. The Emperor Heliogabalus had erected here a temple dedicated to the Sol Invictus, with whom he identified himself: he promoted a complex monotheistic cult, having placed in the temple the Black Stone of Cybele, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium and the shields of Mars.
PALATINE HILL – THE HORTI FARNESIANI
The imperial palaces on the Palatine continued to be inhabited, at least in part, during the Middle Ages. Several Popes, Odoacer, Theodoric, Narses, Heraclius and perhaps Charlemagne himself resided in them.
Once abandoned as a residential place, the Palatine was transformed thanks to the creation of the Horti Farnesiani, designed by the architect Vignola and completed by Girolamo Rainaldi. Rare and exotic plants were placed on the top of the hill, while the area of the Domus Flavia was enriched by a loggia decorated with grotesques thanks to the work of Federico and Taddeo Zuccari. In the Horti Farnesiani the Duke of Parma Ranuccio II Farnese hosted the Arcadian Academy, and here the first Arcadians discussed how to restore to art and literature that simplicity of form that had been forgotten during the Baroque age.
In 1731, the Horti Farnesiani passed by inheritance to the Bourbons of Naples, who used the Palatine for the mere purpose of recovering statues, columns and works of art. In 1860 Napoleon III gave the order to continue the excavations, commissioning Pietro Rosa, who continued the research even when the Italian State acquired the property of the place in 1870.
THE PALATINE IN MODERN TIMES
Starting from the 16th Century, more villas and gardens appeared on the Palatine.
In 1519, Cristoforo Stati decided to build on the Palatine a small casino with paintings by the school of Baldassarre Peruzzi, with mythological scenes and grotesque decorations. This property, which bordered with the Horti Farnesiani, was transformed in 1561 into a real villa by the new owners, the Mattei di Giove family, who sold it to the Spada family in 1689.
In 1818, Villa Spada was purchased by the Scottish archaeologist Mills, who had it renovated with neo-Gothic architecture (in a highly extravagant result in the midst of the Roman ruins of the Palatine), commissioning the restoration of the 16th Century frescoes to the painter Vincenzo Camuccini.
In 1848 the Palatine was therefore divided between the Horti Farnesiani, Villa Mills, the churches and gardens of St. Bonaventure and St. Sebastian, as well as numerous vineyards, including the famous Barberini Vineyard. In 1849 Roberts Smith bought Villa Mills and detached the frescoes, which were later divided between the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, until the complete demolition of the Villa in 1870.
VIA DI SAN GREGORIO
Now go down to the slopes of the Palatine Hill and exit through the beautiful marble gate, designed by the architect Vignola and dedicated to the Farnese family. Not far away, you can see the remains of the Neronian Aqueduct, a branch of the Claudian Aqueduct, also restored by Domitian and Septimius Severus.
The Claudian Aqueduct, which brought to Rome the water collected at the Subiaco springs, arrived in the city in the area of Porta Maggiore: today you can see remains of it near St. John Lateran, St. Stephen Rotundus and St. Mary in Navicella. In the Wolkonsky Villa, the arches of the aqueduct became integral parts of the fountains, nymphaeums and fake grottoes that decorated the garden. The missing sections of the aqueduct were demolished between the 16th and 17th Centuries, while the first restorations took place at the beginning of the 19th Century.
Now head in the direction of the Colosseum along Via di San Gregorio, widened during the Fascist era to be transformed, as the architect Munoz wrote, “not into an archaeological promenade but into a modern street pulsing with life, magnificent in its length as the spacious streets of Mussolini’s Rome must be“.
THE ARCH OF CONSTANTINE
Via di San Gregorio ends in front of the grandiose Arch of Constantine, the most impressive of all the ancient triumphal arches still visible today in Rome.
It was commissioned by the Emperor Constantine after his victory over Maxentius in 312 AD near the Milvian Bridge, and was completed in 315 AD. On the attic you can read the inscription dedicated to Emperor Constantine, in which he informs the Senate and the Roman people that it was only thanks to divine inspiration that Constantine’s army was able to avenge the Republic by freeing the Empire from the tyrant Maxentius.
The arch has three fornices, with the central one greater than the two lateral ones, and it was accessed by a staircase, no longer visible, while the road surface was rebuilt with ancient paving stones. The Arch of Constantine was not built entirely by the Emperor: in fact, partly for the haste to complete it, and partly because of the economic crisis that hit Rome, it was decorated with many works of art taken from other Roman monuments of the time of Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.
The arch is covered with slabs of Carrara marble, but some parts were covered with slabs of red porphyry, such as the frames of the rounded medallions.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE ARCH OF CONSTANTINE
The side towards Via di San Gregorio, that until the XIX Century was lined with elms, presents on the bases of the columns Victories with trophies and barbarian prisoners. In the archivolts are represented winged Victories with panoplies, the personifications of the seasons and the river gods. Above the lateral arches, you can admire sections of the frieze that tell the story of the military campaign against Maxentius: the one on the left shows Constantine followed by a winged Victory as he besieges the city of Ferona, while the one on the right depicts the battle of Milvian Bridge in which Maxentius himself lost his life by drowning in the river (the same image can also be seen in the Hall of Constantine, as you will learn by joining the Tour of the Vatican Museums with Rome Guides). The four medallions, which come from a monument dedicated to Emperor Hadrian, have had the face of the protagonist changed to Constantine. In the attic, on the sides of the inscription, the wonderful high reliefs (coming from a monument erected in honor of Marcus Aurelius) refer to the military campaigns that Marcus Aurelius led against the Quadi and the Marcomanni.
Neglecting the short sides of the Arch of Constantine, turn to the opposite northern side. Here too, on the bases of the columns you will see Victories and captive barbarians, with in the archivolts winged Victories, the seasons and personifications of the rivers. The Constantine frieze shows the emperor speaking officially to the Roman people from the tribune of the Rostra in the Roman Forum, surrounded by his generals and senators. The monuments in the background are very interesting, including five honorary columns, the arches of the Basilica Iulia and the Arch of Septimius Severus. Above the other fornix the story continues, with the representation of Constantine distributing money to the citizens of Rome in the Forum of Caesar. Above, you can see the usual Hadrian-era medallions, and on the top the high reliefs of Marcus Aurelius, depicting the Emperor’s return to Rome accompanied by Mars, the distribution of public money to the citizens, and finally Marcus Aurelius on a podium accepting the submission of a barbarian leader.
Observe now the inner walls of the central archway: on the west wall, a frieze from the time of Trajan shows the Emperor about to enter Rome accompanied by the personification of the city and a Victory while next to him the horsemen charge the now defeated barbarians. Above is the inscription: “To the founder of peace” (dedicated to Constantine). On the opposite wall, the Emperor Trajan charges the fleeing barbarians on horseback. Above is the inscription referring to Constantine: “To the liberator of the city“.
THE META SUDANS
Right in front of the Arch of Constantine, in the Colosseum Square, you might notice the miserable remains of the foundations of the Meta Sudans.
The burning of Rome that occurred under Nero’s empire and the subsequent renovation that took place under the Flavian dynasty erased forever the memory of the Curiae Veteres, which were located in this place that the historian Tacitus mentions as one of the four limits of Romulus’ Squared Rome.
In reality, however, the foundations that you can see refer to a monument of the imperial age: a monumental fountain in the form of a large truncated cone of which, until 1936, the brick nucleus remained and which was demolished to allow the fascist military parades to pass more easily through the area of the Arch of Constantine. The water, which gushed from the top of the fountain, flowed along the sides of the cone giving the impression that the fountain was sweating.
This fountain was called “Meta” because, before the construction of the fountain itself, a real “meta” had been placed here, that was a stone representing one of the points of the primitive Pomerium of Romulus and a sacred point in the urban history of Rome. This icon represented the center of the four regions in which King Servius Tullius divided the archaic Rome and later, in the Augustan age, was the point where five bordering regions (I, II, III, IV, V) met.
THE COLOSSUS OF NERO
Continuing towards Via dei Fori Imperiali you will pass by a small raised podium, adorned with three small trees, which indicates the site of the base of the colossal statue of Nero. The statue was the work of the Greek sculptor Zenodoros and was truly colossal, if you think that the sculpture of Nero was over thirty meters tall. It was, without any doubt, the largest bronze statue ever cast in Rome.
Initially the statue was located closer to the Roman Forum but, for the construction of the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Emperor Hadrian gave the order to move it to the point where you see the base today: the task was entrusted to the architect Decrianus who used, to move the heavy statue, 24 elephants. On that occasion the statue was remodeled its face, with the image of Nero modified with that of the Sun God: some decades later, according to the chronicles, the Emperor Commodus decided to further change the features, giving the statue its own face. The Colossus of Nero, as we will see in the next Itineraries, has linked its name to the Flavian Amphitheater, which was then called Colosseum.