part I - the northern side

~ page 3 ~

From piazza Fiume, two short diversions can be made.

the Breach of Porta Pia
Back on the walls route, from piazza Fiume keep following the outer side, and very soon you will reach a large memorial with a tall column in front of it [map ref. i], in memory of the historical event that affected Rome's modern history in a most crucial way: "the Breach of Porta Pia" took place on this very spot. Here, on September 20th, 1870, the Italian troops that besieged the only city left under the rule of the pope, succeeded in opening a passage through the wall; as the Bersaglieri corps rapidly took hold of the city, the centuries-old Papal State came to an end, and Rome finally passed under the jurisdiction of the unified Italian country, to become its capital city in a very short time.
The event is remarked by an inscription on the column, which ends with the touching words: "...through this breach Italy entered Rome again".

Not much further, we reach a fourth gate, Porta Pia [map ref. 4]. The embattlements and the overall aspect clearly reveals that this is a much more recent structure than the roman wall: pope Pius IV had it built in the mid 16th century, appointing for its making nobody else but the famous Michelangelo.
Up to those days, the ancient road called Nomentana (from the Latin name of the small town it reached, Nomentum, presently Mentana, see map of ROME'S ANCIENT SURROUNDINGS) ran behind this wall, more or less along the first stretch of the present via XX Settembre, and made a bend in order to pass through the nearby small Porta Nomentana [map ref. 5], an original roman gate. Therefore, the aim of Porta Pia was basically to provide an easier and wider access to this main road.
Still today this spot is a busy approach to the city center.

via Nomentana, before and after
Porta Pia was built

Due to the above-mentioned facts of 1870, the central part of the gate now houses a museum dedicated to these troops, and a monument in the middle of the square remembers the Bersaglieri corps.
Just inside the gate, on the left side of via XX Settembre, an interesting modern building (1971) by the English architect Basil Spencer houses the British Embassy.

Soon after, following the wall, we come to the above-mentioned Porta Nomentana [map ref. 5], a secondary gate; when Porta Pia was built, and the course of the old via Nomentana was moved towards it, this passage became totally unused, and was closed for the sake of the walls' security. It can still be told, by the base of the surviving semicircular tower, by the different brick texture of the wall.

Porta Pia
The other tower that stood by the doorway was taken down in the early 19th century to enable the exploration of a roman tomb located by its base.

Porta Nomentana (bottom left), barely visible
Note how, unlike Porta Pinciana (and other major gates), Porta Nomentana had no white stone facing, or similar additional elements; all the roman gates must have originally looked quite similar to this simple yet rather steady brick structure.
Behind the closed gate are the grounds of the aforesaid British Embassy.

As we carry on along the wide street, now called viale del Policlinico, a tower with windows marks the site where Aurelian's wall joined the Castrum Praetorium, described in part II.

Turning to the right, on viale di Castro Pretorio, the first part of the tour comes to an end.
Further down, on the left, you will notice a large modern building, the National Library. In front of the library's entrance is the subway station Castro Pretorio (line B).

back to the MAIN INDEX northern side - page 2 to the WALL INDEX