Porta Maggiore

Porta Maggiore was erected in the mid-first century AD to monumentalize the conduits of the Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus aqueducts where they crossed the Via Labicana (now Via Casilina) and Via Praenestina (still known as the Via Prenestina today), which forked here. From the time of their construction, the arches had the dual function of supporting the specus of the two aqueducts and of celebrating the life and works of the emperor Claudius, responsible for their construction, with a monumental inscription. Like other monuments of the Claudian period, the gate is built in travertine opus quadratum with large unfinished blocks. It is a massive, two-arched structure with large windows to relieve the masonry of the piers and a tall attic with three registers.

Only in the second half of the third century AD were the arches incorporated into the defensive wall built by the emperor Aurelian; they thus became a true gate that was renamed the Porta Praenestina or Labicana after the two roads passing through it.

In the early fifth century AD, during the renovation of the Aurelian Walls, the emperor Honorius built an imposing fortification around the gate. The two openings were moved towards the exterior of the city and at the same time a defensive bastion was built, almost completely concealing the structure of the imperial period. At this time, the two entrances were separated and the funerary monument of the baker Eurysaces, standing just outside the gate, was incorporated into a tower. The left-hand opening, the Porta Labicana, was probably closed as early as the sixth century AD. The monument then took on the typical appearance of a medieval fortified city gate, retained until the early nineteenth century.

During the long centuries of the Middle Ages, the city gates were leased to private individuals, who collected toll fees from travellers. The customs registers kept in the Vatican archives report a very high license fee for Porta Maggiore, an indication of the heavy traffic passing through the gate and thus of the profits available to private operators.

In 1838, Pope Gregory XVI had the later buildings demolished, with the stated aim of restoring the original route of the walls and the two monumental arches of the Claudian aqueduct. Among other things this brought to light the tomb of Eurysaces: the two original entrances, however, appeared too large and posed safety problems; they were immediately blocked with crenelated walls, demolished only in 1915.