places of interest

Gate of San Paolo-Museum of the Ostian Way-Pyramid of Caius Cestius

PORTA OSTIENSIS/PORTA SAN PAOLO

The Porta San Paolo (San Paolo Gate) is one of the southern gates in the 3rd-century Aurelian Walls of Rome, Italy. The Via Ostiense Museum (museo della Via Ostiense) is housed within the gatehouse. It is in the Ostiense quarter; just to the west is the Pyramid of Cestius, an Egyptian-style pyramid, and beyond that is the Protestant Cemetery.

The original name of the gate was Porta Ostiensis, because it was located of the beginning of via Ostiense, the road that connected Rome and Ostia where functioned as its main gate. Via Ostiense was an important arterial road, as evidenced by the fact that upon entering the gate of the same name, the road split, with one direction leading to the famous Emporium, the great market of Rome.

The gatehouse is flanked by two cylindrical towers, and has two entrances, which had been covered by a second, single-opening gate, built in front of the first by the Byzantine general Belisarius (530s–540s).

The structure is due to Maxentius, in the 4th century, but the two towers were heightened by Honorius. Its original — Latin — name was Porta Ostiensis, since it opened on the way to Ostia. Later, it was renamed to the Italian Porta San Paolo, because it was the exit of Rome that led to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

In 549, the Rome was under siege; the Ostrogoths of Totila entered through this gate.

The Gate now appears isolated, but it was originally connected to the Aurelian wall and the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. This part was destroyed during the bombing in 1943.

On 10 September 1943, two days after the armistice between the Allies and Italy, Italian military and civil forces tried to block t the German invasion of the city. 570 man and women died.

MUSEUM OF THE OSTIAN WAY

It’s a humble but oddly charming little museum, containing artefacts and prints pertaining to via Ostiense and the port at its far end. There are large-scale models of old Ostia and the port of Trajan and, on the upper level, a 13th-century fresco of the Madonna and Child and a fine view over. Visiting the Gate of San Paolo in Rome is like moving yourself in a castle in the middle of Rome.

The Via Ostiensis (Italian: via Ostiense) was an important road in ancient Rome. It ran west 30 kilometers (19 mi) from the city of Rome to its important sea port of Ostia Antica, from which it took its name. When the later Aurelian Walls were built, the road left the city through the Porta Ostiensis (Porta San Paolo). In the late Roman Empire, trade suffered under an economic crisis, and Ostia declined as an important port. With the accompanying growth of importance of the Via Portuensis from the time of Constantine onwards, that of the Via Ostiensis correspondingly decreased. Modern Via Ostiense, following a similar path, is the main connection of Rome to Ostia (one of the quarters of Rome at present) together with the Via del Mare. On its way to Ostia, the road passes by the important basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Today the Gate of San Paolo is home of the Museum of the Ostian Way (Museo della Via Ostiense), created in 1954 to illustrate the topography of the territory between Rome and Ostia,  that, precisely, in the Roman age was marked by an important road axis via Ostiense. It contains material from this area including three paintings to be reported arcosoli from a tomb of sec.d.C III. at the Basilica of St. Paul and several casts of inscriptions and funerary cippi. At the top level of the two towers are two important plastics, performed by Italo Gismondi, representing the ancient city of Ostia and the Imperial ports of Claudius and Trajan. In the Eastern Tower there are remains of frescoes dating from the late 13th and early 14th century. that decorated a chapel where met a Byzantine community.

Opening times:

  • Tuesday – Sunday from 9:00 to 13:30;
  • Closed on Monday.

Closed on Sunday from 27 July to 31 August 2014.

An accompanied tour of the Museum, encompassing a visit to the nearby Pyramid of Caius Cestius, is available (by advance booking) at 10:30 on Sundays.

Tickets:

Admission is free

Booking:

Tel. +39 06 5743193

What is a Pyramid doing in the Heart of Rome? 

The pyramid of Cestius was built during the reign of the emperor Augustus, probably between 18 and 12 BCE along the Via Ostiensis. It is a remarkable monument, made of white Carrara marble and exactly 100 Roman feet (30 meters) high. You can see it from the Protestant cemetery, which is southwest of the tomb. In the background is the Porta Ostiensis (today Porta San Paolo).

The Pyramid of Caius Cestius is the only surviving monument of a series of similar buildings existing in Rome in the 1st c. BCE, when funerary architecture was influenced by the fashion that had arisen in Rome after the conquest of Egypt in 31 BCE.
Caius Cestius, a Roman politician, member of the priestly college of the Epulones, instructed in his will the construction of his tomb, in the form of a pyramid.

If you look at the Pyramid of Cestius from the east there is an inscription, CIL VI.137. It is repeated on its northwestern side.

 

  1.  Cestius  L.F.  Pob.  Epulo  pr.  tr.pl.
    VII  vir epulonum
    Opus  apsolutum  ex  testamento  diebus  CCCXXX  arbitratu
    L.  Ponti  P.F  Cla.  Melae  heredis  et  Pothi L.

 

Which means:

Gaius Cestius Epulo, son of Lucius, of the Poblilian district, praetor, tribune of the people, official of the public banquets. According to his will, this work was completed in three hundred and thirty days; it was executed by his heirs L. Pontus Mela, son of Publius, of the Claudian district, and his freedman Pothus.

The Pyramid was later incorporated into the circuit of walls built between 272 and 279 CE on the initiative of the Emperor Aurelian.

The barrel-vaulted burial chamber, of about 23 square meters, was walled up at the time of the entombment, after the Egyptian custom. The first violation of the tomb probably dates back to the Middle Age;
In the seventeenth century, when a tunnel was added to the defense works, the funerary chamber of the pyramid was discovered. It turned out to contain wall paintings in what was later called the Third Pompeian style. Pope Alexander VII ordered restorations, which are also commemorated in an inscription.

WRONG PAINTINGS!

Compared to the real, Egyptian pyramids, the Pyramid of Cestius is too steep and too pointed. This explains why in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, pictures of ancient Egypt also contained too pointed monuments: the only place where European artists could see a pyramid, was at Rome, and Cestius mausoleum did not have the right proportions. A famous mosaic in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, with a scene from the Biblical story of Joseph in Egypt, shows the pyramids – the artist has really done his best tried to make it look Egyptian – but the mosaics are clearly based on the Pyramid of Cestius.

The last example, which shows how influent was the error. The pyramids and sphinx were drawn by Cornelis de Bruijn, who had actually visited Egypt. On his return to Holland (after a visit to Venice) in 1698, he must have started to doubt about his own drawings, because when he published his book, he made the pyramids pointed again.

Opening hours:

Open on the the 2nd and the 4th Saturdays of the month.

The monument can only be visited with guided tours, which leave, for individuals, at 11.00, and for groups, at 10.00 and 12.00.
Booking is mandatory.

On the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month, the ticket of the Museum of the Wall (Museo della Via Ostiense, Porta San Polo) also allows admission to the Pyramid with a guided tour leaving at 10.30.
Booking is mandatory.

On the 1st and second Saturday and Sundays of the month the entrance is free (contact for the reservation and the infos Museum of Via Ostiense 06.5743193 ).

For the other saturdays and sundays of the month for reservations, tickets and infos please contact Coopculture 0639967700

Tickets:

Full price: Euro 5.50 + additional fee for mandatory booking (Euro 1.50)
For further information:

  • +39 06 39967 700 (for individuals);
  • +39 06 39967 450 (for groups);
  • +39 06 39967 200 (for schools).

An additional fee is charged for booking
For the tours of the 1st and the 3rd Saturdays of the month by calling +39 06 5743193