The Roma Ieri Oggi site is a vast resource of old and wonderful photographs of Rome. It’s rather a pity that these are being embedded in an on-site “viewer”, to make it hard to download the things. But in them we see Rome before Mussolini made his necessary but destructive changes.
Today he posted a very useful item, showing something which I have long wanted to see. It’s a photograph of the Colosseum, from 1920, from an unusual angle:
Today much of the stuff on the right is gone, demolished by Mussolini and replaced by the Via del foro imperiali.
But notice the platform, against the wall to the right of the Colosseum:
This is – this must be – the base of the colossal statue of Nero, from which the Flavian Amphitheatre drew its name of “Colosseum”. The statue was 100 foot tall, and was erected outside of Nero’s Golden House. Of course it is long gone – it was converted into a statue of Sol, after Nero’s fall, and resited here, and was melted down at some unknown date thereafter.
The base also is gone today, demolished by Mussolini; but there it is in the photograph; and we owe Roma Ieri Oggi a great debt for allowing us to see it!
Quite by accident, via the Daily Mail, I find this 1846 photograph online, taken by the Rev. Calvert Richard Jones (click for a larger size):
The circular area to the right is the basin for the Meta Sudans, the now vanished fountain outside the Colosseum. The man in the top hat, and the woman in the dress of a vanished age, are sitting against … what?
I can’t quite tell from the angle of the shot.
Is that pile of masonry the equally vanished platform for the colossal statue of Nero, from which the Colosseum takes its name? It was demolished by Mussolini, to make way for the Via di Foro Imperiali.
Or is it just some general ruins in the area?
The next photograph, sadly vandalised with a watermark, shows that magnificent road leading up to the Vatican … under construction! Indeed it shows the man responsible. Yes, Mussolini again!
In fact the source site has a cluster of photographs, all from the 8th October 1937, showing Mussolini and his colleagues walking along the new road. This photograph from 1911 (via here) shows what was there before:
Mussolini demolished various areas of the city in order to create modern Rome. I’ve given various photographs of the areas in the past; but today I learn that there is a zoomable map of Rome here, before his work began. This has interesting things to show us.
First, a map of the area before St Peter’s basilica. Today this is a wide street, the Via della Conciliazione. But prior to Mussolini, the street did not exist!
We learn from H.V. Morton that there was a little restaurant directly facing the Piazza di S. Pietro, where he ate breakfast. Today that is gone.
We also know that Mussolini demolished a stretch of buildings from his office in the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum, to build the Via del Foro Imperiali. But some of the remains of the imperial forums must have been pretty substantial. Where were they located, before the buildings were bulldozed? Again the map shows them, embedded in the city:
The main losses from this activity were around the Colosseum. We lost the ancient Roman fountain, the Meta Sudans, and also the base of the Colossal statue of Nero, after which the Colosseum was named. But they both appear in this map:
The Via del Colosseo still exists, although its lower end is chopped off and diverted upon the hill. But the creation of the Via del foro imperiali changed the geography completely. The wide road around the Colosseum is not here.
A couple more interesting pictures appeared on Twitter tonight.
The first of these was posted by Ste Trombetti, and shows the Arch of Titus in 1848 (!). The photo is in the Getty archive, and was taken by Count Jean-François-Charles-André Flachéron (French, 1813-1883). Through the arch, the Meta Sudans is visible, in its truncated 19th century state.
Here it is:
The next item is a photograph which was found by searching on “Collina della Velia”, i.e. the little Velian hill. This hill was completely levelled by Mussolini, in building the Via del Foro Imperiali. This old photograph shows the black base of the Colossus of Nero, which existed until Mussolini removed it. The black item below the Colosseum is the base.
While looking for material about the Meta Sudans, I stumbled across something which very few people know.
Most people will know that the Colosseum is named after a colossal statue of Nero that used to stand nearby. Originally cast in bronze and stood outside the Domus Aurea, it was changed into a statue of the Sun by the Flavians, and moved slightly to stand near their new amphitheatre.
The bronze status is long gone. But how many people know that the base on which it stood still existed well into the 20th century? I certainly did not! Indeed there are photographs of it. It was demolished by Mussolini, in the course of constructing the Via del foro imperiali.
In the middle of the left hand side of the Colosseum is a dark rectangular base. This is where the Colossus stood. Note that the modern Via del foro imperiali is not on this photograph – it had yet to be built.
Next, a slightly fuzzy ground level photograph from the Wellcome Library, from about 1929:
The hill behind the base is the Velian Hill, and it isn’t there today: Mussolini bulldozed it. If we stood in the same location today, we would have the Colosseum at our back, and a view straight down the Via del Foro Imperiali to the Victor Emmanuel monument in front of us.
Next a couple of photos of the base from different angles, from a montage found online here in a set of flash cards:
A look at the area indicates just what alterations Mussolini made. This photograph shows that the Colosseum actually stood in a hollow of the hills, approached from the Circus Maximus:
The whole area was rather different:
Mussolini certainly changed all that.
Some may wish to know what the Colossus itself looked like. We have a medallion of Gordian III, which we already used for the Meta Sudans, which shows the Colossus standing behind it (via here):
Better than this is a depiction in a gem:
There is a useful 2001 article by Albertson on the Colossus which is available on JSTOR. He calculates that the Colossus was about 100 feet tall (31.524 m). The statue had a radiate crown, was nude, with the right hip jutting to the side, and the right arm supported by a rudder, while the left leans on a pillar. A globe supports the rudder.