Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rome's Aurelian Wall in Danger

Societies have long used walls to protect themselves from real or imagined dangers. In the ancient Greek and Roman world, walls were used extensively around cities and towns to act as barriers against attack. Military technology being what it was, walls did a relatively good job at keeping out people who weren't welcome. Not until Rome's sophistication of artillery and siege works did walls loose some of their protective value; but walls continued to be widely employed until the 19th century. Walls were often constructed out of dry or mortared ashlar masonry and many incorporated towers at set intervals as well as gates. Gates grew in size and complexity during antiquity; the double gates of Classical Athens come to mind. It is interesting to note that Sparta never had city walls.

Like most other major cities during antiquity, Rome had its share of walls. The so called Servian Wall was built in the 4th century BCE after Rome was sacked by Gauls. This wall had a circumference of roughly 11 km and enclosed an area of 426 ha. Made of tufa blocks and nearly 10 m tall, little remains of this wall, which served Rome for hundreds of years. By the time of Augustus, the city of Rome had long spread beyond the borders of the Servian Wall and a newer and longer wall wasn't deemed necessary until the 3rd century CE. Due to military pressures existant in the troubled 3rd century, the Emperor Aurelian built a new circuit of walls in 271-75 CE. This new wall was 19 km long and enclosed an area of 1,372 ha, completely enclosing the Servian Wall. This so called Aurelian Wall was made of brick faced concrete with towers every 100 Roman feet and a series of impressive gates. The Aurelian Wall was used through the 19th century CE for the defense of Rome; Cadorna was forced to breach it in 1870 during the Risorgimento. Today the Aurelian Wall is obviously no longer used to defend the city, though much of the wall remains; it's state of preservation due to its long use.

Ruins from ancient Rome are fragile and require diligent stewards to care for them. As I've talked about before, Italy is swollen with ancient sites that not only require watchful eyes but millions of Euros to protect. Recently, some pieces of the Aurelian Wall came crashing down, forcing the closure of a near by street. It's now believed that the remaining sections of the wall may be in grave danger. The cause of the damage? Money, or lack there of I should say. Italy just doesn't appropriate enough funds for the upkeep of it's history, as the condition of Pompeii can attest. Not that the Italian government is entirely to blame; the costs facing it are enormous, especially in this economy. I'm not an economist, but I do realize the importance of history. Ancient sites need protection so we and future generations can learn from them and enjoy them.