part I - the northern side

~ page 1 ~

On coming back from the Pincio Gardens, cross the overpass again; as soon as the iron railing on the right side allows you to do so, leave the paved avenue and approach Villa Borghese's riding track, following its direction about halfway round, until you come to a vehicle barrier, which pedestrians can easily by-pass.
Meanwhile, for about 250 metres Aurelian's wall remains partly out of sight because of the bushes and the trees that grow by its base. Along this short stretch, the wall surrounds the east side of Villa Medici, the seat in Rome of the French Academy (also mentioned in Curious and Unusual page 14 and in Legendary Rome page 3).

Just beyond the barrier you'll see a post with a white 'M' sign on red background; this is one of several entrances to Spagna subway station (line A). In order to avoid engaging in a very dangerous and difficult road crossing, follow the station's underground passage, first turning right at the bottom of the steps, then the first exit on the left (see the detail in the red square of the map): at the top of the staircase you will find yourself on the other side of via del Muro Torto, close to the wall.
Note the protruding towers with a rectangular base, which still mark many stretches of Aurelian's walls; they were built at a short distance one from the other, so that anybody attacking the city would have always been within the range of one of these placements.

one of the towers along the wall

Porta Pinciana has the typical shape of a 5th century gate
The road keeps gently climbing for about 200 metres or yards, before reaching the second gate, Porta Pinciana, enclosed between two stout round towers.
In the early 5th century, when the city of Rome began to be frequently sieged by barbarian populations, this gate, as well as several others, was faced with a thick layer of white stone, in order to strengthen the old brick wall; before the original archway, a portcullis was fitted, operated from a chamber located above; its rails ran on both sides, within the thickness of the stone layer, and by Porta Pinciana they are still clearly visible.
Move to the inner side, where a series of archways and windows runs along the wall above the gate: this is an aerial walkway by means of which the soldiers on guard could move from one tower to the other. The passage is not open to the public.

From this spot starts via Veneto, the street that became worldwide famous after Federico Fellini's film "La Dolce Vita", where between the late 1950s and the early 1960s the jet set, both local and international, used to hang around till late at night.

(↓ below) the walkable passage by the inside of Porta Pinciana
and along the following stretch of wall (right →)

From c.1620 to the second half of the 1800s, most of the grounds of this district belonged to the noble Ludovisi family (later Boncompagni-Ludovisi): their villa stretched for 30 hectares / 74 acres. Its charming gardens, praised by Standhal as among the most beautiful in the world, were lined with hundreds of ancient statues and reliefs, some of which of considerable artistic importance. The eastern part of the estate partly overlapped the area where once the Gardens of Sallust were (described in page 3): during the villa's refurbishment works, several ancient marble statues were in fact unburied from this site.

Besides the main mansion, in the western part of the estate stood also a pavillion called Casino dell'Aurora, after a famous fresco by Guercino (1621), featuring the goddess of dawn on a flying chariot; the purpose of this building was mainly to store the many ancient sculptures in the Ludovisi collection.
Villa Ludovisi (highlighted in yellow) in a map of 1748; the city walls are shown in blue

After having been rented to king Victor Emmanuel II, from 1870 to 1883 - it became the residence in Rome of Rosa Vercellana, the lady who after having been the king's mistress for over twenty years, finally married him in 1869, yet without receiving the title of queen - the property was sold by members of the Boncompagni-Ludovisi family to a building society, and the whole villa was taken down for the making of a new residential district, named Ludovisi after the original owners. Also during these dismantling works, further remains were found, among which the famous Throne from the 5th century BC named after the family.

the Ludovisi Throne, found in 1887 (National Roman Museum, Palazzo Altemps) →

Only the Casino dell'Aurora (below), whose present location is in via Lombardia, was left standing; regretfully, it is not open to visitors. The collection of statues, instead, was taken to the National Roman Museum, where it is still held today.

You can avoid the heavy traffic on corso d'Italia by following the quiet via Campania, along the inner side of the wall.

the Casino dell'Aurora (↑) and the bust of Belisarius (→)
are scarce remains of the no longer extant Villa Ludovisi
Here you can see again the walkable passage, and scanty remains of Villa Ludovisi are also found along the way: opposite via Marche, an oval niche encloses a huge marble bust, said to depict the famous Byzantine general Belisarius, who lived in the 6th century (but probably it features the Greek king Alexander the Great).

Shortly further, opposite the crossing with via Abbruzzi, a small public fountain bears the Latin inscription Fons Ludovisia ("Ludovisi Fountain").

Once you reach the crossing with via Romagna (easily told, because of a modern building on the corner), switch again to the outer side, where the wall features a curious memory of the harsh battle fought in 1870 by the Italian army besieging Rome, still under the pope's rule. Crossing the broad thoroughfare corso d'Italia, and looking more or less towards the centre of the second tower, you'll easily notice a damage in the wall [map ref. d] made by a cannon shot. Look carefully at its centre: the cannon ball is still there, tightly stuck in the wall!
Keep following via Campania, and when the street comes to an end, by via Lucania, turn again along the outer side, up to a large square, piazza Fiume, where the wall is now missing [map ref. 3]: this was the site of the third gate, Porta Salaria.

the cannon ball stuck in the tower
Having been badly damaged by the gunning in 1870, its ruins were removed, and in 1873 Virginio Vespignani built a new gate. Also this one had a single archway, but on its inner side it had a gallery with three arches.
In the new century, the gate became a problem for the increasing number of vehicles; finally, in 1921, also the new gate was taken down, leaving a wide open space.

Salaria Gate in an 18th century etching

the new Porta Salaria by Vespignani, around 1900 →

Porta Salaria is now remembered by a large plaque, which few notice because it was set on the ground, in the middle of the roadway. Here ran via Salaria, an important road leading to Sabina region, in the north-east (see the map of Rome's ancient surroundings).

Along via Salaria the Romans traded salt (sal, in Latin, whence its name) with the local population. Still today the road maintains its name, and follows its original direction.

On the spot where the wall starts again, a small house stands against its inner side, between via Piave and via Sulpicio Massimo [map ref. e]; over the past few centuries it was used by the soldiers on guard by the gate. In the 1800s it was painted with patterns in medieval style.
In the small garden before the house, now surrounded by an iron railing, was the tomb of Quintus Sulpicius Maximus, a gifted boy of the late 1st century; despite his young age, he was the winner of an important poetry contest, but died soon later, aged 11.
The ancient memorial stone, in white marble, once incorporated in the lost Porta Salaria, and now resting above some remains, is inscribed with his winning composition.

On the same spot, but on the outer side of the wall, almost at the top, a small structure in the shape of a half cylinder supported by short stone brackets bulges from the brick texture [map ref. f]. This was a necessarium, actually a toilet for the soldiers on guard. Many of these were once found along the walls, but this is the only one left in place.

← memorial stone of Quintus Sulpicius Maximus

the necessarium; note how also here
the artillery in 1870 left evident damages