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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 January 2010.

Porta Portese (Book 1) (Day 6) (Map C3) (Rione Trastevere)

In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Today's view
Porta Portese
S. Passera
Castello della Magliana
The walls from Porta Portese to Porta S. Pancrazio

The Plate (No. 12)

Porta Portese

The plate shows the gate built during the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII and which replaced the ancient Porta Portuensis which was located further south along the river; Portese is a corruption of Portuense (of the port).
The gate was not yet completed when the pope passed away. Pope Innocent X, his successor, immediately ordered that his coat of arms should be placed on the gate, but he did not care to complete it: no statues were placed in the niches, nor a tower was built above the gate, as it had been done at Porta S. Pancrazio, the other gate of the XVIIth century walls surrounding Trastevere.
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) Ospizio di S. Michele; 2) Dogana (customs) di Ripa Grande; 3) S. Maria del Priorato; 4) Area for unloading marbles. The small map shows also 5) Porta Portese. 1), 2) and 3) are shown in detail in other pages.

Small ViewSmall Map


The Gate today
The view in November 2009

Today Porta Portese is best known for its Sunday flea market. The custom house which stood behind the gate was pulled down at the end of the XVIIIth century and this facilitates the view over the Aventine hill. Cars coming from the city continue to pass through the gate, whereas a modern opening is reserved to those going the other way.

Porta Portese

The Gate
(left) Porta Portese; (right) coat of arms of Pope Innocent X

The gate was designed by Marcantonio De' Rossi, the military architect in charge of the construction of the new walls. He followed the pattern established by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger in Porta S. Spirito, another unfinished gate.
The pontificate of Pope Urban VIII lasted nearly 21 years and during this time the three bees which were portrayed in his coat of arms were placed in every corner of Rome, including the new walls (see the image used as background for this page). With Pope Innocent X a new flying creature, a dove carrying a branch of olive, replaced the bees.

S. Passera

Santa Passera
(left to right) Early XXth century map showing the location of S. Passera (red dot); façade; apse; frescoes in the apse

The small church of Santa Passera celebrates the relocation of the relics of Sts. John and Cyrus of Alexandria from Egypt to Rome. Aboukir, the Egyptian town near the famous bay where in August 1798 Sir Horatio Nelson defeated the French fleet, is a corruption of Aba Cyrus (St. Cyrus) and it was the site of a shrine to this saint; after the Arab invasion the shrine fell into abandonment and the relics of the saint were brought to Rome. In the XVIIth century the relics were moved to a Jesuit church in Naples.

Santa Passera
Side view of the church showing the existence of a previous lower building; (right) travertine (white) and cipollino (greenish) stones

The church is located at a large turn of the river, opposite S. Paolo fuori le Mura and it served a small community of miners excavating the tufa quarries of the nearby hills. The current building was erected in the IXth century making use of a Roman tomb. The interior retains traces of medieval frescoes. The reference to S. Passera is most likely a corruption of St. Cyrus; the devout refrain from using this name because it has a slang second meaning.

Castello della Magliana

Castello della Magliana
Loggia built by Pope Julius II

Hunting has always been a preferred pastime of the rich; Girolamo Riario, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, enjoyed hunting along via Portuense, the road linking Rome to Porto, its ancient artificial harbour. Riario turned some existing buildings along the river into a small hunting lodge; Pope Innocent VIII, Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X enlarged and embellished the building. In particular Pope Leo X enjoyed spending occasional sunny winter days at this lodge (the location was very unhealthy in summer). Pope Pius IV also used to relax here before he built a casino in the Vatican. Because of its unprotected location the lodge was fortified and from the outside it has the appearance of a small castle.

Castello della Magliana
(left) Section built by Pope Innocent VIII; (right) fountain with the coat of arms of Pope Pius IV

While during the Renaissance no one objected to the fact that a pope spent his time hunting, in the following centuries this pastime was no longer regarded as appropriate for a pope and the lodge was abandoned. Today it is part of a hospital run by the Order of the Knights of Malta.

(left) Ancient fragment and behind it the Malta Cross on the former stables; (right) inscriptions celebrating Pope Innocent VIII (above) and Pope Julius II (below - misspelled)
(left) Ancient fragment and behind it the Malta Cross on the former stables; (right) inscriptions celebrating Pope Innocent VIII (above) and Pope Julius II (below - misspelled)

Papa (Pope) means father and it is the title of the Bishop of Rome and Head of the Roman Catholic Church. This title was used in medieval inscriptions where in some instances it was abbreviated as "P.P.". During the Renaissance and afterwards the popes preferred to use a title (Pontifex Maximus - P.M.) which was part of the system of government of Ancient Rome. The Pontifex Maximus was a magistrate in charge of presiding over the most important religious ceremonies; after Augustus it became a title given to the emperors who very often were portrayed in statues as Pontifex Maximus (see a statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus in Corinth).

The Walls from Porta Portese to Porta S. Pancrazio

(left) The walls near Porta Portese; (right) coat of arms of Pope Urban VIII

In 1641 Pope Urban VIII made an attempt to impose papal authority on the Duchy of Castro, a possession of the Farnese who were also Dukes of Parma. The Farnese reacted to a papal decree imposing trade restrictions by strengthening the fortifications of Castro. In 1642 a papal army invaded and conquered Castro, but the Farnese retaliated by invading Romagna, the northern province of the Papal State, and by asking the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Republic of Venice to form an alliance against the pope. This threat led Pope Urban VIII to decide to protect Rome by building new walls around Trastevere. The walls were completed in just two years, but in the meantime the pope had to sign a peace agreement and to return Castro to the Farnese.

(left) The walls near Porta S. Pancrazio; (right) posterula leading to Villa Sciarra with the coat of arms of Pope Urban VIII

In 1849 the section of the walls near Porta S. Pancrazio was greatly damaged by the French when they had to overcome the resistance of Garibaldi who was commanding the defence of the Roman Republic.
The walls were rebuilt by Pope Pius IX.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Porta Portese
Portuense dicevasi questa porta, per la strada, che al famoso porto Romano conduceva. Stava prima più avanti alla strada alberata, ma Urbano VIII. l'an. 1643; nel rifare le mura di questa parte della Città, la ritirò indietro, e poi Innocenzo X. la ornò come si vede. Più oltre sulla medesima via furono scoperti alcuni cimiteri di ss. Martiri, e sulla spiaggia del fiume evvi una piccola chiesa della ss. Vergine, che da' marinari viene detta del Buonviaggio, e più avanti altra, ma molto antica, dedicata a s. Prassede, che dal volgo è detta s. Passera. Fu questa edificata l'anno 400. da Teodora matrona Romana, e vi si vedono le immagini de' ss. Ciro e Giovanni martiri Alessandrini, i quali furono ivi sepolti da s. Innocenzo I.

Next plate in Book 1: Candelabro degli Ebrei
Next step in Day 6 itinerary: Arsenali Papali