Visit Rome following 8 XVIIIth century itineraries XVIIIth century Rome in the 10 Books of Giuseppe Vasi - Le Magnificenze di Roma Antica e Moderna The Grand View of Rome by G. Vasi The Environs of Rome: Frascati, Tivoli, Albano and other small towns near Rome A 1781 map of Rome by G. Vasi An 1852 map of Rome by P. Letarouilly Rome seen by a 1905 armchair traveller in the paintings by Alberto Pisa The 14 historical districts of Rome An abridged history of Rome How to spend a peaceful day in Rome Baroque sculptors and their works The coats of arms of the popes in the monuments of Rome Pages on a specific pope Pages complementing the itineraries and the views by Giuseppe Vasi Walks in the Roman countryside and in other towns of Latium following Ferdinand Gregorovius A Directory of links to the Churches of Rome A Directory of links to the Palaces and Villas of Rome A Directory of links to the Other Monuments of Rome A Directory of Baroque Architects with links to their works A Directory of links to Monuments of Ancient Rome A Directory of links to Monuments of Medieval Rome A Directory of links to Monuments of Renaissance A Directory of links to Monuments of the Late Renaissance A list of the most noteworthy Roman Families Directories of fountains, obelisks, museums, etc. Books and guides used for developing this web site An illustrated Glossary of Art Terms Venice and the Levant Roman recollections in Florence A list of Italian towns shown in this web site Venetian Fortresses in Greece Vienna seen by an Italian XVIIIth century traveller A list of foreign towns shown in this web site
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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 December 2009.

Porta S. Paolo (Book 1) (Map C4) (Day 5) (View C11) (Rione Ripa)

In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Today's view (S. Salvatore de Porta)
Porta S. Paolo
Piramide di Caio Cestio
Fabbrica delle Polveri
The walls from Porta S. Paolo to the Tiber and the Protestant Cemetery

The Plate (No. 11)

Porta S. Paolo

The plate shows one of the most amazing monuments of ancient Rome: the pyramid built in 13 BC by a wealthy Roman to house his burial chamber; with the nearby gate it forms a complex which seems to have been designed on purpose. Actually the gate was built three hundred years later. At Vasi's time the importance of the gate was rather limited; it was used by pilgrims to reach
Basilica di S. Paolo and for this reason the gate is mainly known as Porta S. Paolo.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Piramide di Caio Cestio; 2) Part of the church of S. Salvatore. The small map shows also: 3) Porta S. Paolo; 4) the approximate site of Fabbrica delle Polveri which was completed in 1752.

Small ViewSmall Map


The Gate today
The view in August 2007

In 1920 the area south of the walls was chosen for the development of Borgata Giardino, a new quarter which is now known as
la Garbatella; in 1936 a hill further south was selected for the 1942 World Exhibition; after WWII the area to the east of Basilica di S. Paolo was intensively built-up. In order to allow cars and buses to move between these new quarters and the city a large section of the walls to the right of the gate was pulled down; after WWII also the walls between the gate and the pyramid were demolished.
The small church shown in the plate was pulled down in 1849 during Garibaldi's Defence of Rome in order to clear the area in front of the walls from all obstructions. The church was known as S. Salvatore de Porta.

The Gate today - bis
Images from a rally in February 2003

Today Porta S. Paolo is at the centre of a very large square and it is close to a railway station, to the underground and to the metropolitan railway to Lido di Ostia; these transportation facilities make the square an easy to reach gathering point for political rallies: to learn more on how the Romans voice their views click here.

Porta S. Paolo

The Gate
Porta S. Paolo

The original name of the gate was Porta Ostiensis as it led to ancient Ostia. It is very similar to Porta S. Sebastiano; initially it had two openings; Maxentius built a wall behind the gate with two other openings and strengthened the towers; Emperor Honorius replaced the two external entrances with a central one, thus the gate started to be called Trigemina (three born at the same time) because overall it had three exits. In the VIth century the Byzantine General Belisarius raised the towers to their current height.
Massive walls and high towers are of no avail when those who should defend them accept bribes; in 551 the Goths bribed the Isaurian garrison of this gate and they conquered Rome. The Isaurians lived in the region of today's Konya and were regarded as valiant and trusted soldiers by the Byzantine emperors for whom they formed the personal guard.
Today Porta S. Paolo houses a small museum about the gate itself and Via Ostiense. The interior of the gate can be seen in another plate (11-ii).

Piramide di Caio Cestio

The pyramid
Piramide di Caio Cestio

At the end of the civil war between Octavian and Antony, Egypt became a province of the Empire. Many Romans were fascinated by some aspects of the Egyptian culture; the most evident sign of this fashion is the number of obelisks which were brought to Rome.
Caius Cestius, a very wealthy Roman, chose for his tomb a pyramidal shape rather than the traditional circular one (see Tomba di Cecilia Metella, which was built at approximately the same time); we know that he had been praetor (an annually elected magistrate), tribune of the people and epulonum, a member of a group of seven priests who superintended the solemn sacrificial banquets; he was a brother of the Cestius who built the bridge at Isola Tiberina and he was a friend of Marco Vipsanio Agrippa, son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. An inscription found inside the pyramid quotes Agrippa among the living friends of Caius Cestius; because Agrippa died in 12 BC, the construction of the pyramid is set before that year.
An inscription on the pyramid says that it was completed in 330 days. In 275 AD when the walls were built the pyramid was considered a sort of useful tower and it became part of the curtain; this fact saved it because it was maintained and not deprived of its Lunense (from Carrara) marble facing.

The pyramid
(left) The pyramid seen from the Protestant Cemetery; (right) one of the four columns which were placed around the pyramid: two of them supported bronze statues of Caio Cestio

In 1656-63 Pope Alexander VII extricated the deeply embedded monument, restored its marble facing and reconstructed its tip. The excavations led to finding two columns and the bases of two other columns. A narrow passage was dug to reach the burial chamber which was found empty; it is decorated with grotesques and it can be visited by small groups.
Notwithstanding the fact that a large inscription mentioned the name of Caius Cestius, during the Middle Ages the pyramid was thought to be the tomb of Remus, the twin brother of Romulus, the founder of Rome and it was called Meta Remi (another pyramid near what is today Via della Conciliazione was called Meta Romuli, but its ruins were demolished at the time of Pope Alexander VI).

Fabbrica delle Polveri

Fabbrica delle Polveri
(left) Old entrance to the building; (right) 1752 inscription and coat of arms of Pope Benedict XIV

Vasi had a special devotion for Pope Benedict XIV Lambertini (he was not the only one, because this pope from Bologna was very popular for his simple manners and understanding of daily life issues). This explains why in his guide to Rome Vasi showed almost all the initiatives taken by this Pope.
Fabbrica delle Polveri means gunpowder factory. Pope Benedict XIV built near Porta S. Paolo (inside the walls) a little magazine which still exists. Low buildings (now used as houses) surround the original entrance to the magazine which is decorated with the coat of arms of the pope and a celebratory inscription. Fabbrica delle polveri is depicted in one of the rooms of the Vatican Library in a series of paintings celebrating the improvements made to the City of Rome by Pope Benedict XIV.

The Walls from Porta S. Paolo to the Tiber

The Walls
(left) A tower seen from the Protestant Cemetery; (right) towers restored by Pope Nicholas V

For centuries a cattle market (Campo Vaccino) was held in the Roman Forum; in 1803 Pope Pius VII relocated it outside Porta S. Paolo and the street along the walls is named after this market (Via del Foro Boario - It. bue=ox). The trees of the Protestant Cemetery make this stretch of walls very picturesque.

The Walls
(left) The walls along Via del Foro Boario; (right-above) coat of arms of Pope Nicholas V; (right) 1852 inscription celebrating a restoration by Pope Pius IX

Read Henry James' account of his visit to this Cemetery in 1873.
Read William Dean Howells' account of his visit to this Cemetery in 1908.
Visit the Cemetery.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Chiesa del ss. Salvatore
Fu eretta questa in memoria d'avere ivi s. Paolo chiesto a s. Plautilla madre di s. Flavia il velo, che portava in capo per bendarsi gli occhi quando gli fosse troncata la testa, promettendole di restituirlo, come poi effettuò dopo il suo martirio. Teodoro I. vi edificò la chiesa, e poi il Card. Gio. Torrecremata Spagnolo la rinnovò; e sta ora unita a quella di s. Sabina. Accanto si vede la
Piramide sepolcrale di Cajo Cestio
Questa fu eretta da Cajo Cestio Prefetto degli Epuloni per serbarci le sue ceneri, e per fare onore al suo nome. È formata di marmi quadrati larga nel suo nascere palmi 130. per ogni parte, e palmi 160. alta fino alla sua punta tutta liscia, e semplice, toltone le iscrizioni. Nell'interno evvi una stanza quadrata alta palmi 19., e 26. larga, ornata tutta di pitture. Aless. VII. fece ristaurarla, e scuoprire la sua base, alzandovi le due colonnette, che furono ivi trovate. Pochi passi dopo si vede la
Porta s. Paolo
Questa anticamente chiamavasi Porta Ostiense, come la via, perchè alla città di Ostia guidava; e prima che le mura della Città si distendessero fino alla divisata piramide, questa porta stava più addietro, e dicevasi Trigemina, dalla quale uscirono i suddetti santi Apostoli Pietro e Paolo. Ed è notabile, che da questa porta fino alla basilica di s. Paolo, abbenchè vi corra più di un miglio, vi era un portico sostenuto da colonne di marmo, e coperto di lamine di piombo, per guardare dalla pioggia, e da' cocenti raggi del Sole quei, che andavano a visitare quella basilica.
Fabbrica della Polvere
Era prima la polveriera presso la chiesa di s. Bonaventura sul monte Palatino; ma per ovviare ad ogni inconveniente, e pericolo, per ordine di Benedetto XIV. fu eretta in questo gran prato solitario, e lontano dall'abitato.

Next plate in Book 1: Interno della Porta S. Paolo - Esterno della Porta Portese antica
Next step in Day 5 itinerary: S. Sabba Abate
Next step in your tour of Rione Ripa: S. Sabba Abate