Only Presidents can do that sort of thing without being shot, and even a man as resourceful and determined as Teddy would have trouble applying the idea in Rome, where enormous apartment blocks--not to mention uncooperative portieri (doormen)--would present insuperable obstacles.
Yet in the spirit of Roosevelt (and his successors, the Guy Debord-led Situationists of the postwar era, with their concept of the dérive), we took a stab at rearranging the city--at seeing it in a new way--by setting a goal of walking the entire Aurelian Wall, starting with a reasonable portion, of course.
The Aurelian Wall was built in 271-75 AD, replacing the earlier, smaller Servian Wall, of which just a few pieces remain. The Aurelian Wall, in contrast, remains intact in large stretches, perhaps covering as much as half of its original 19 km (12 mile) length. It was built quickly in response to a 270 AD barbarian invasion, in part by incorporating existing structures, like the Pyramid. Some scholars estimate as much as 1/6 of the wall was existing structures (spoiler alert - we found some on this walk!). Popes and others rebuilt and refashioned the wall over the years. But it remains an impressive artifact of ancient and Renaissance history, and a constant part of one's life in today's Rome. [Update: a Google map includes this itinerary.]
We began our journey at Porta Metronia (in our neighborhood), walking counterclockwise inside the wall. Here one can see how this portion of the fortification was constructed--its stairways and passageways--as well as how it's used today, by birds that nest comfortably in holes once meant for drainage and observation of the enemy. There's a piece of graffiti here, too--a reddish piece featuring an animal resembling Fritz the Cat--but it's on a piece of the wall coated with an unusual flat surface; the wall itself, we noticed on our trek, is essentially untouched by the city's street artists.
|Birds in the wall|
|The wall--low here on top of a hill--appears between|
the orange fence and the truck
|A gathering. Roma?|
Beyond the basilica, the wall took us by the site of what appeared to be large gathering of Roma (and to our left, the tacky vendor tents in front of Borromini's church), then along the impressive and complex grounds of Porta San Giovanni, now, unfortunately, closed to the public.
Crossing via Appia Nuova, we found ourselves in a long and narrow park, with 2 dog walks, feral black cats, mounds of garbage, and dry (20th-century) fountains in which water once flowed down toward the wall. Once upon a time there was vision here, but no more.
Ahead, the wall seemed to curve rather oddly to the right and end at the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. There, in the piazza that fronts the church, was an unexpected treat: an enormous art nouveau-style decorative (yet functional) gate, created by Rome-based artist Jannis Kounellis in 2007 and featuring dozens of suspended ball-like objects of colored glass.
|Ruins of the Circo Variano, then the wall|
But where's the wall? To the left of the church we headed inward, past a gate (there is public access here, though the entrance is somewhat intimidating), and ahead an historical marker, in Italian. Looking past the marker, and past some archaeological digs (more on them in a moment) is the wall and, behind it (across a street, as it turns out), offices of the Italian daily newspaper, Il Messaggero.
|The guys who set us straight|
We turned left at the marker, then right under the arcade of the Museum of Musical Instruments, speculating as we went that the wall-like structure across the field to our left was an aqueduct. Ahead, at the juncture of the "L" made by two long buildings, we were again considering what it was we were observing when we encountered two men, one carrying schematic drawings of the area.
|Wall turns sharply left. Filled-in arches suggest it was (also) an|
aqueduct, another use of existing structures to create the wall.
Responding to our questions, he pulled out a clean sheet of paper, hastily drew his own general diagram of the area, and explained that the wall we had thought was an aqueduct was, indeed, the Aurelian wall (from the end of the 2nd building, just past what he called the "baretta" [cute little bar], one can see it make a sharp left turn, though one cannot get closer here). And, he continued, the new arcaded buildings, much of the grounds of which we could see, and the terra on which we were standing were all part of the Circo Variano, a huge entertainment complex built by Severian emperors in the first few decades of the 3rd century AD and as yet barely touched by archaeologists. As the man told us, they can't get at the ruins because they now lie under many city buildings.
|Porta Maggiore: two aqueducts--Aqua Claudia, on top of|
Annio Novus--on high. Later became part of the Aurelian Wall
Back in the church "piazza," we turned right to locate the wall as it emerged from the complex of buildings. We walked past a museum honoring the Sardinian military (closed for renovations), past a monumental turn-of-the-20th century building that now houses administrative offices for Acea, the electrical utility. And there was the wall, jutting into Piazza Maggiore and meeting there an enormous aqueduct, two water chambers on its top.
Here we turned back, now on the outside of the wall, underneath the Tangenziale (elevated highway) and made an immediate right down the left side of viale Castrense. Across the street was the wall, curved here to incorporate and accommodate the Anfiteatro (amphiteater) Castrense, its Corinthian columns now embedded in the wall. We had been by here dozens of times and never noticed the curve of the wall or the columns, nor considered that they might be the ruins of an ancient structure. The amphitheater is one of the "existing" structures that was incorporated into the Aurelian Wall to hasten its construction.
|The surprise of the day; Rome's second coliseum: Anfiteatro Castrense; the arches|
were filled in about 50 years after it was built,when the wall was constructed.
|Those 3rd century AD columns are still there.|
Now following the outside of the wall, we crossed the street at the arches and hugged the sidewalk to the left. Ahead, back at Porta San Giovanni, we headed up via Appia Nuova, toward home.