The Porta Maggiore (“Greatest Gate”) is one of the biggest gates into the city. Originally built as part of one of the aqueducts of Rome, it later was incorporated into the ancient Aurelian wall. On both sides, the gate is preceded by a square. The one inside the wall is called Piazza di Porta Maggiore, the one outside is the Piazzale Labicana.
Porta Maggiore Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
The Porta Maggiore is located in the square of the same name, at the end of Via Giolitti. This square also serves as a tram junction. It is protected by a gate, but can easily be viewed from outside. Admission is free.
History and description
The Porta Maggiore was constructed by the Emperor Claudius in the year 52 AD. In 271 Aurelian incorporated it into the city walls.
It is located where the two consular roads Via Labicana and Via Prenestina converged. The monument consists of two gates, which at the time were called Porta Praenestina and Porta Labicana.
The gate owes its present name to a no longer existing road that used to lead to the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica.
Eight of Rome’s eleven aqueducts entered the city at the Porta Maggiore. Two of these ran underground.
The part of the city where the gate stands is slightly higher than the center so from here it was easier to carry the water further. The spot was called ad Spem Veterem (“to the Old Hope”) in Roman times, after a temple from the 5th century BC.
When Emperor Aurelianus had the Aurelian Wall built in the year 272, he took advantage of the already existing aqueducts by bricking up its arches. This also happened to the Porta Maggiore (then called Prenestina).
The Acqua Claudia and the Anio Novus run on top of each other and entered the city near the beginning of the present Via Eliana. The upper part of the gate is divided into three sections by cornices. The top section contains the conduit of the Anio Novus and the middle one the Acqua Claudia.
Later, Pope Sixtus V Peretti had another aqueduct, the Acqua Felice, fitted underneath. Nero had already had a new branch of the Acqua Claudia constructed, a section of which can still be seen in the nearby Via Statilia.
Inscriptions on the top part of the gate shed light on the history of the aqueducts. They also boast the aqueduct-building prowess of Claudius, Titus and Vespasian, all of whom contributed to its construction.
The upper inscription refers to Claudius, the middle one to a restoration under Vespasian in the year 71 and the lower one to a restoration in the year 82 under Titus.
A later structure, built in 401, was destroyed in 1838 by order of Pope Gregory XVI, as he wanted to restore the original gate.
On the north side of Piazza di Porta Maggiore, remains of the Acqua Marcia, the Acqua Julia and the Acqua Tepula can still be seen.
Next to the gate is the famous Baker’s Tomb. In 1838, in the central tower between the two arches the tomb of M. Virgilio Eurisace, in the shape of a bowl in which dough was kneaded, was found. An inscription indicates the man was a baker by profession. The urn in which his wife’s remains are kept was in the shape of a bread box and is displayed in the Museo delle Terme. A frieze running around the monument depicts the various stages of the bread-making process. The tomb dates back to the year 30 BC.
In 1956, both the gate and the square of the same name were restored. In the process, pieces of tiling from the old Via Labicana and Via Prenestina were recovered. Ruins of a second gate were also found. On the basalt stones under the gate one can still see prints of the carts that drove over it.
The two roads that ran underneath its archways were the Via Praenestina (hence the original name of the gate, which was Porta Prenestina) and the Via Labicana. The Via Praenestina led to the city of Palestrina and the Via Labicana traveled in southeastern direction. (This is not the present day Via Labicana, but corresponds to what is now the Via Casilina.)
The material used when building the Porta Maggiore was the famous travertine marble. It was supported by Corinthian columns, the capitals of which were ornately carved.
The Piazzale Labicana, directly outside the Porta Maggiore, is a busy traffic hub, with streets going off in all directions. The main ones are the Via Casilina and the Via Prenestina. Apart from the above-mentioned Baker’s Tomb, and the gate itself the main attraction in the square is an underground Pythagorean basilica. Near the gate itself you can still see some of the ancient cobblestones of the Via Prenestina and the Via Labicana.