Phases of the Porta Maggiore

The Porta Maggiore is familiar today to many visitors to Rome from the view of its thick expressive plane from the elevated tracks of Stazione Termini. Constructed in the middle decades of the first century, the immediate context of the monument has changed many times, as the line of the aqueduct was fortified, its supply channels demolished, and even a new aqueduct cut through it under Sixtus V. This process culminated in its liberation by archaeologists in 1838, and the rediscovery of the Tomb of Eurysaces, with its elemental articulation of cylindrical shafts and circular openings. Constructed to carry a branch of the Claudian aqueduct and spanning the Via Prenestina and the Via Labicana as they approached the city, the Porta Maggiore creates a robust image of Roman architecture. Below the lengthy supplemented dedicatory inscription its architectural articulation is far from utilitarian, the exaggerated forms speaking both of the great engineering feat and a certain form of imperial beneficence. Massive rusticated arches span the roadways, while three aedicules with rusticated columns puncture through the massive piers.

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The site prior to the building of the Claudian aqueduct with the Tomb of Eurysaces.
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First century with the Claudian aqueduct.
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C5 with the aqueduct forming part of the city wall and the building of a new gate.
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C15 with the refortification of the gate.
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C16 with the construction of the new aqueduct
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C19/20 with the liberation of the monuments and the construction of tram tracks.

Archaeological reconstructions of the Porta Maggiore, Rome from Robert Coates-Stephens “Porta Maggiore: Monument and Landscape – Archaeology and topography of the southern Esquiline from the Late Republican period to the present” published by ³L¹ Erma² di Bretschneider Rome 2004

Urban Advertorial

Rome’s population (residents, workers, tourists) has always been an audience, the target for certain forms of spectacle be they military, religious, cultural or commercial.

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To feed this audience, in recent decades the spectacular basis of urban photography has spawned the phenomenon of giant advertisements concealing construction projects. Their location in historically important sites, where they might be relied upon to appear as unconscious intruders in the holiday snaps of pilgrims and cultural tourists, presents a form of product placement the entire basis of which rests on the promotion of the values of the urban lifestyle.

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In the context of Italy, with the international prominence accorded to design, even the most significant cultural sites are not immune. The exploitation of such sites of revered heritage as advertising hoardings for the products of global consumer culture encodes the long history of the culture of the piazza with the latest language of urban sophistication. As Gabriele De Giorgi writes in his recent book Roma: Follie, deliri e contaminazioni (Edizioni Kappa 2004) the “sponsor-restyling” (sic) results in a “Poster-City” (sic) through the explicit strategy of a new ephemeral city superimposed on the architecture of the past.

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In these situations the conventional values of civic representation are obscured by the dominance of the photographic image, with the contingencies of three dimensional actuality superseded by the two dimensional hyper real perfection of the object of desire. Beyond the disjunctions of scale a deliberate confusion is also introduced where the abiding monuments of a city are temporarily replaced by often provocative publicity shots, their values of authenticity and permanence somehow now associated with the brand, hermetic iconography complemented by the instantly recognisable logo, representing an interchangeability between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural values. The political expression of the public realm in the present time is therefore one where the attachment to substance has been replaced by image.

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The question, therefore, arises as to the impact of this commercialisation process on the cultural landscape of the city. Does Richard Meier’s Museo dell’ Ara Pacis, with its attempt to create a transparent container for a 2000 year old imperial advertisement present a desecration of an important urban exhibit, the neutralisation of a politically suspect environment, a physical explanation of a significant archaeological site such as the Mausoleum of Augustus to which it is adjacent, or a shambolic attempt to graft contemporary design on to antiquity?