In this page:
Arco di Costantino
Tempio di Venere e Roma
Terme di Tito
Terme di Traiano (including Sette Sale)
In the previous page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Arco di Costantino was most likely built for a previous emperor of the IIIrd century. It was renovated and dedicated to Emperor Constantine to celebrate his visit to Rome in 315 and his 312 victory at the Battle of Ponte Milvio against Maxentius. The inscription makes reference to Constantine's instinctu divinitatis mentis (foreknowing the will of the gods); this was viewed by early Christian historians as a confirmation of Constantine's vision of a shining cross in the sky the day before the battle.
Relief on the eastern side of the arch (from Basilica Ulpia in Foro di Traiano)
Most of the decoration of the arch comes from previous monuments to Emperors Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. There had been two major fires in Rome in 283 and 307 and it is possible that these monuments were badly affected by them. Four marble panels depicting scenes of the Dacian wars were taken from Basilica Ulpia. They show the same high level of workmanship as that of the reliefs of Colonna Traiana.
Reliefs on the northern side of the arch (from a monument to Emperor Hadrian): (left) a sacrifice to Hercules; the young man on the left is perhaps Antinous, the favourite of the Emperor, who was known for his curly hair; (right) a sacrifice to Apollo; the man on the left is perhaps the Emperor, although one would expect him to be portrayed nearer the statue of Apollo
The fame of Trajan is associated with his military successes, that of Hadrian with a long period of peace; the eight round reliefs which were taken from a (lost) arch to that emperor, depict scenes of hunting and of sacrifices; in some of them the head of Hadrian was modified in order to portray Constantine or Licinius, his associate in power (Hadrian had a light beard, Constantine and Licinius were clean-shaven).
(left) Reliefs on the northern side of the arch (from a monument celebrating Emperor Marcus Aurelius): (left) the emperor distributes money to the poor; (right) surrender of an enemy; (far right) Musei Capitolini: broken statue of a Dacian prisoner which stood on the arch. It was replaced by a copy by Pietro Bracci who in 1732 restored the other seven statues
Eight rectangular reliefs came from a (lost) arch to Emperor Marcus Aurelius built by his son Commodus. It was situated near SS. Luca e Martina where three other reliefs were found in 1515. In the reliefs on the arch the head of the emperor was modified because Marcus Aurelius had curly hair and an elaborate beard.
The eight statues of Dacian prisoners at the sides of these reliefs came from Foro di Traiano.
Relief portraying the Moon (above) and the army of Constantine leaving Milan (below). The image used as background for this page shows a detail of a relief portraying Constantine distributing subsidies to the poor
The decoration of the arch was completed with reliefs made for the occasion and portraying events of the 312 campaign against Maxentius (two reliefs can be seen in the historical section of this website). Their quality is much lower than that of the reliefs taken from other monuments; it is interesting to observe that two round reliefs were dedicated to the Sun and the Moon; these were not very common themes for the decoration of a Roman monument celebrating an emperor, but Constantine was a devotee of Sol Invictus (Invincible Sun), a belief which was very popular among his soldiers too.
Eastern side of Tempio di Venere e Roma seen from Colosseo
Vasi showed the eastern apse of Tempio di Venere e Roma near the right margin of the plate. The temple was built by Emperor Hadrian who was personally involved in its design. It was made up of two identical back-to-back buildings facing the Roman Forum and Colosseo. The dedication to Venus of one of the two temples was due to the role of the goddess in the history of Rome. She was the mother of Aeneas, whose descendants founded the city. Another temple to Venus stood in Foro di Cesare.
The two temples were placed on a large artificial terrace (it measures 100x145 metres / 109x159 yds) and they were surrounded by more than a hundred grey granite columns.
Apse of the temple dedicated to Venus and bell tower of S.
The statue of the deity was placed in a gigantic niche, the decoration of which inspired many artists (see Francesco Salvi's niche in Fontana di Trevi). The niche on the other side of the wall is hidden by S. Francesca Romana, a church which was built on the western terrace of the temple.
The site of Meta Sudante (yellow dot); the fiberglass columns on the terrace of Tempio di Venere e Roma were erected for a special event
The plate shows the ruin of Meta Sudante, a Roman fountain, in front of Arco di Costantino. In 1936 it was still there (you may wish to see it in an old photo - it opens in another window), but it was pulled down to allow military parades to go through the arch. The fountain had a conical shape which resembled that of metae, conical poles at turning points of a Roman circus. It was built by Emperor Domitian. It was not a spouting fountain, but a "sweating" one (It. sudante): water slid on its surface. In the XVIth century Pirro Ligorio designed two sweating fountains at Villa d'Este.
The site of Domus Aurea
After one of the most damaging fires (64 AD) ever occurred in Rome, Emperor Nero rebuilt the Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill.
The Emperor was suspected of having set fire to Rome to enlarge his residence, which actually he expanded
by including parts of the Esquiline and Caelian hills in it. This vast area became a large villa, with small woods, fountains, gardens and a pond at its centre. Nero built a large pavilion overlooking the pond on the first slopes of the Esquiline; it was known as Domus Aurea (Golden House) and it was damaged by fire in 104.
In 111 Apollodorus of Damascus, the architect of Foro di Traiano, filled Domus Aurea with earth from the excavation of Velia, a hill which he levelled to the ground to make room for the forum. Apollodorus reinforced the walls of the pavilion and used them as foundations for the baths he built for Emperor Trajan.
Musei Vaticani: Laocoon and his two sons. The group was found in 1506 near Domus Aurea, but it most likely decorated the baths which were built above it
Domus Aurea was discovered and "excavated" in the early XVIth century. The site was visited by many artists, mainly painters, who found inspiration
in the decoration of the rooms (grotesque after Italian grotta,
because these underground rooms resembled caves).
Domus Aurea is closed to the public for restoration and consolidation work (July 2016).
Terme di Tito
Emperor Vespasian came to power one year after Nero was forced to commit suicide; in order to gain the favour of the
Senate and popular support he built Colosseo on the site of the pond; so what was meant to give pleasure to the sole emperor, became the venue devoted to the entertainment of the Romans.
The baths of Nero's villa were slightly modified and were opened to the public by Emperor Titus, his son. Their remains stand opposite the northern side of Colosseo.
Walls of halls in the main building
The baths designed by Apollodorus for Emperor Trajan set a pattern which was followed for the construction of Caracalla's and Diocletian's baths and for many other similar complexes throughout the empire (e.g. those of Carthage); they included other facilities (e.g. libraries) in addition to the baths; they were all placed inside a walled garden.
Monumental wall at the western end of the complex with niches for statues
The walls of this and other buildings were faced with marbles.
On November 18, 1786 J. W. Goethe wrote in his diary:
Tischbein is well versed in the various types of stone used by the ancient builders. (..) There are plenty of opportunities here for assembling such a collection. Today we walked in the ruins of Nero's palace (i.e. Terme di Traiano) over fields of banked-up artichokes and could not resist the temptation to fill our pockets with tablets of granite, porphyry and marble which lay around in thousands, still bearing witness to the splendour of the walls which they once covered.
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - translation by W. H. Auden and E. Mayer - Collins 1962.
A series of ten cisterns provided a constant and controlled supply of water; of these cisterns seven were never covered by vegetation or other buildings. They attracted the attention of Giovanni Battista Piranesi; you may wish to see his etching showing their interior (it opens in another window).
Return to page one.
Next plate in Book 2: Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano.
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Chiesa di S. Clemente.
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Villa Altieri.
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: Casino Fini.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Su questa piazza eravi anticamente un sasso che dicevasi scelerato; perchè presso di esso si bandivano, e si flaggellavano i Cristiani. Ora vi si vede un muro rovinoso, e rotondo, fatto di semplici mattoni, quale è miserabile avanzo della celebratissima Meta sudante, ed appresso si ammira il magnifico Arco eretto a Costantino Magno dal Senato, e Popolo Romano, in memoria dell'insigne vittoria riportata in virtù della ss. Croce contro Massenzio Tiranno, come diremo, appresso ponte Molle. E' questo costrutto tutto di marmi con colonne, e bassirilievi molto preziosi, fuor che quelli da basso, perciò dicono, che quelli fossero levati dall'Arco di Trajano, e queste fatte in tempo di Costantino, quando le belle arti erano in gran decadenza.