Walking through the Roman Walls

As Robert Frost would have it, “good fences make good neighbors.” If Frost is right, Rome is the awesomest neighbor of all because the city is bedecked with walls and more walls. In the Ancient Imperial period the city was surrounded by a few different sets of walls, including the Servian Walls and later the Aurelian Walls. Near my house is a big section of the Aurelian Walls and the Porta San Giovanni, a late Renaissance grand arch in the middle of the gateway:

busy, rush-hour, traffic-filled photo with the Giacomo della Porta? gateway in the middle

You can see better in this photo below, which I took a couple years ago, that the cars actually go through the archways. When we rented a car for our move down to Rome at one point we drove under this very gate and it was a surreal moment– there’s nothing that says: “you’re arriving in ROME” quite like a monumental archway:

what you can’t see however is the little rectangular opening for people to walk through

There are, in addition to the arches, smaller rectangular openings for people to walk through, which you can see in the far, far right of this photo, also from a couple years ago (though trust me, it looks pretty much exactly the same today):

even that tiny smart car is still parked there right in front of that cafe

The other night I walked through the gate to run some errands and I was blown away by the hugeness of the walls and the fortifications that still stand with them. When you’re walking through the little rectangular opening the stones look like this:

1,800 year old stones, anyone?

They’re just as rough as they look here, but still completely solid. At least in this area the walls and fortifications are so intact (probably due to a lot of later restoration, but I don’t really know), that you get the sense that Rome could withstand an invasion even today. And the walls are just so beautiful. I’m not necessarily one to extol the virtues of masonry, but, similarly to the castle in Prato, fortifications are somehow often much more astonishing than even the grandest churches:


There’s something so tremendously European about castles and fortifications that says: “Boom! little girl, you’re not in Kansas anymore!” And walking through a 1800 year old gate certainly livens up grocery shopping.


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