Servian walls

The Servian walls owe their name to king Servius Tullius, who began their construction in the sixth century BC, for the first time enclosing the settlement within a single wall circuit at least 7 km long. The Viminal and Esquiline hills in particular, with their flat tops, were in absolute need of a manmade defensive system. As Strabo wrote during the reign of Augustus in the first century AD, five hundred years after the construction of the walls:

“Servius added to the other hills the Esquiline and Viminal, easy to attack from the outside: for this reason a deep trench was dug and the soil thrown inwards, thus forming a mound six stades long (1110 m), on the inner edge of the trench. Over this, they raised a wall with towers from Porta Collina to the Esquiline Gate. At the centre of the rampart is a third gate, which has the same name as the Viminal”

Strabone, Geografia, V, 3,7

The walls, built of cappellaccio tufa blocks, were up to 4 metres thick and 10 metres high. The outer moat, about 17 metres deep and up to 36 metres wide, was enlarged and modified several times during its very long period of use, until the last decades of the first century BC. A radical alteration to the walls took place following the invasion of the city by the Gauls, who sacked Rome in 390 BC. The walls of the regal period were completely rebuilt using Grotta Oscura tufa, a more resistant material from the territory of the recently conquered town ​​of Veii. Some rows of tufa blocks belonging to this imposing defensive structure can still be seen along the present-day Via Mecenate. A remarkable stretch is preserved in Piazza Manfredo Fanti, including a semi-circular structure that probably housed the guards whose duty it was to defend the walls. The most monumental stretch, about 94 metres long, is preserved in Piazza dei Cinquecento in front of Termini station, where the remains of the Porta Viminalis can also be seen.

In the first century BC, the walls lost their function defending and marking the boundaries of Rome. They were partially destroyed and some stretches were incorporated into the rapidly growing city. On the Esquiline, the fate of the section of wall immediately south of the Esquiline Gate is exemplary. Maecenas, the famous patron of the arts who was an advisor and friend of Augustus, built one of the pavilions of his villa here.