In a new series for the blog, author Mario Erasmo takes you on a walking tour of Rome – exploring the famous sites and little-known gems the Eternal City has to offer. Today, we hear about the updates to the route for Tour 14, and a short extract from his book, Strolling through Rome…
Some things in Rome are eternal others are not, including the route of the #118 bus that makes it easier to visit the Via Appia Antica (Tour 14). Bus #118 no longer departs from Piazzale Ostiense but there are new stops in the historic centre at the Ara Coeli stop on Via del Teatro di Marcello next to the Cordonata entrance of the Piazza del Campidoglio (Tour 5), along Via dei Fori Imperiali and at the Colosseum (Tour 6). To visit at the end of Tour 13, there is a stop in Piazza di Porta Capena along the tree lined Viale delle Terme di Caracalla towards the entrance to the Baths of Caracalla. The Domine Quo Vadis stop on Via Appia Antica is now just before the fork in the road with Via Ardeatine at the visitor information centre of the Parco Regionale dell’ Appia Antica (Tour 14). Other arrival directions remain the same. Return directions from the Via Appia Antica to the #118 bus stops remain the same but the bus now returns to the locations listed above instead of Piazzale Ostiense. Stroll on!
Extract from Strolling through Rome: The Definitive Walking Guide to the Eternal City
by Mario Erasmo
Tombs and Catacombs
Pyramid of Cestius and Via Appia Antica
The area of Testaccio features the ancient Pyramid of Cestius next to the beautifully landscaped Protestant Cemetery with Neoclassical and modern graves, including those of the English Romantic poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Nearby are Monte Testaccio, a relic of the ancient commercial port, and the Musei Capitolini Centrale Montemartini that is a satellite location of the Capitoline Museums. From Piazzale Ostiense there are several options to explore sites along Via Ostiense and points south, from antiquity to the Fascist era, accessible by bus or Metro line B, including the Basilica of S. Paolo fuori le Mura, EUR (Esposizione Universale di Roma) or the Via Appia Antica lined with catacombs and restored tombs.
Piazzale Ostiense outside the Aurelianic Walls is at the start of Via Ostiense which connected the ancient port city of Ostia to Rome as the main thoroughfare for commercial goods. The piazza is a commuting hub with bus stops, the Piramide Metro line B station (named after the Pyramid of Cestius) and the adjacent Porta S. Paolo rail station of the Stazione Ferrovia Roma-Lido. The latter was designed by Marcello Piacentini (1924) and built in conjunction with Piazza Venezia and Via del Teatro di Marcello (Tour 7) to connect the city to the Lido di Ostia (Tour 15). Along the side of the Piramide Metro station at the end of Viale Cave Ardeatine is the Stazione Roma Ostiense in Piazzale dei Partigiani, a Fascist-era train station designed by Roberto Narducci (1938) for the arrival of Hitler. The relief of Bellerophon and Pegasus on the facade is by Francesco Nagni (1940).
The now isolated Porta S. Paolo is the ancient Porta Ostiense with medieval additions, including a chapel, to the round towers to either side of the gate built by the Emperor Honorius (401–403). The Aurelianic Walls were built into the pyramid at the time of the Porta Ostiense’s construction. A plaque commemorates the location of the Resistance of 10 September 1943 when the wall was breached between the gate and the pyramid. Nearby memorials commemorate the Liberation of Rome on 4 June 1944 by the ‘Devil’s Brigade’, the American and Canadian 1st Special Service Force. The wider breach on the other side of the gate was opened earlier in 1920 to accommodate increased traffic. Inside the gate is the Museo della Via Ostiense devoted to the Via Ostiense between the gate and Ostia Antica (Tour 15).
The Pyramid of Cestius was built between 18 and 12 BCE with blocks of white Luna marble over a cement core (36.4m high x 30m base) as the Tomb of Gaius Cestius whose public offices are recorded in identical inscriptions on both the east and west sides. The barrelvaulted burial chamber (c.6m x 4m) was decorated with wall paintings. The opening on the west side dates to the excavations under Pope Alexander VII Chigi who restored the monument in 1663. The two columns at the western corners of the pyramid were found at this time and re-erected at their original location. The Ptolemaic pyramid form reflects the Egyptomania following Augustus’ defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE and the annexation of Egypt as a province. In the Middle Ages, it was known as the Meta Remi (Tomb of Remus) in conjunction with another pyramid tomb, the Meta Romuli (Tomb of Romulus), near the Vatican (Tour 2). For English Grand Tour visitors to Rome, including Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, the pyramid marked the location of the tombs of Keats and Shelley in the Protestant Cemetery.
Walk around the right side of the pyramid then follow the curve of the road along the wall of the cemetery along Via Raffaele Persichetti then Via Caio Cestio. Look for a window in the wall when you first turn the corner onto Via Caio Cestio to see the Tomb of Keats. A second window a short distance beyond gives a view of the Old Cemetery. The entrance to the cemetery is to your left at No. 6.
The Protestant Cemetery (officially the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma that is also known as the Cimitero Acattolico per gli Stranieri al Testaccio) is the historic cemetery for non-Catholic burials in the city (some 4,000 burials). Pope Clement XI Albani allowed burials of non-Catholics next to the pyramid but services could only be held at night and no expression of salvation could appear in epitaphs. Among the earliest Protestant burials were Jacobites associated with the Stuart court and travellers including the Anglican Thomas Pakington (d. 1720), the son of Sir John Pakington, who contracted fever in Rome while on the Grand Tour, and Oxford student George Langton, who was laid to rest next to the pyramid (1738). It is a beautiful place to stroll amidst the unique memorials including the tombs of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) and John Keats (1796–1821) who is next to his friend Joseph Severn (1793–1879), the painter and later British Consul in Rome who paid for the matching tombstones. Keats died at the Keats-Shelley Memorial House next to the Spanish Steps (Tour 10). Keats wrote his own epitaph: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water.’ In the preface to Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats (1821), Shelley described the setting of Keats’ tomb: ‘It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.’
Mario Erasmo is Professor of Classics at the University of Georgia. He specialises in the Legacy of Classical Antiquity and leads art and garden tours in Europe retracing the travels of the Grand Tour. He is the author of Death: Antiquity and its Legacy (I.B.Tauris) and Reading Death in Ancient Rome.