Peeking through the arch of Constantine – another view of the Meta Sudans

Another photograph care of Roma Ieri Oggi depicts a US actress, Aloha Wanderwell, with husband, in front of the Arch of Constantine in 1928.  The angle is square on to the arch, unusually, so we can see the Meta Sudans particularly clearly through the arch. Nice!


An aerial view of the Colosseum, the Meta Sudans, and the base of the Colossus (1909-25)

Via the amazing Roma Ieri Oggi site, I learn of this interesting aerial photo of the Colosseum and, much more interestingly, the meta sudans and the base of the Colossus, the statue of Nero.  It was made between 1909-25.

At the bottom left the gate of Constantine.  Above it is the Meta Sudans, the demolished Roman fountain.  And above that is a square pedestal, also ancient, which is the base on which once stood the massive statue of Nero known as the Colossus, from which the Colosseum took its name.  I believe the pedestal was also demolished by Mussolini when he created the Via del Impero at the top left of the picture.


Photos of the Meta Sudans from the American Academy in Rome

The American Academy in Rome has started placing its photographs online.  The results are rather spectacular, and a cut above the random old photographs that we find online.  It means that for the first time we can reference what we are looking at.

Naturally I did a search for the Meta Sudans, the massive Roman fountain demolished by Mussolini in 1934.  The search link is here.

What I got was a bunch of images of the monument from several sides, which I was able to zoom in to.  Here are the excerpts:

From the Colosseum looking toward the Arch of Titus

It’s clear that the monument was already badly damaged – someone cut away a whole corner of it, to the water channel in the middle.  No doubt they were searching for treasure.

Looking towards the Palatine hill. 1864-84.

Moving to the right slightly, we get an angle.  Note the “notch” coming into view on the right.

Looking through the Arch of Titus toward the Colosseum

This one is from the other side, looking back at the monument.  Two “notches” are visible.

From the Palatine

Moving round to the right a bit, we see more of the “notch” on the right.

From the Palatine but higher up (1907)

This one is from the hill, but a bit higher up.  However it shows less.

Excavation of the foundations, after demolition

Finally there is this, from the 1940s, after the monument was demolished.  This is an excavation of the foundations.

I expect there is a great deal of extremely interesting material at the American Academy in Rome site.  The trick will be in finding the right search terms.  It’s a great and very useful project!

Update 7th January 2021: there are also photographs at the British School in Rome site, here.   I’ve zoomed in on some of them.

One side of the Meta Sudans was always hard to see, as it faced the Arch of Constantine.  Here we see it side-on, with the missing corner to the right.

Moving somewhat to the left, the “notch” comes into view:

And moving more in the same direction:

Now here’s a close-up of the brickwork (Latin: opus latericium):

Here we have come right round to the Colosseum side.  The other “notch” is visible to the right, while the destroyed area is to the left.

Finally a nice close-up zoom of Du Perac’s drawing of the monument, in the days when it was twice as tall.

This is all marvellous.  The BSR likewise need to be commended to making this material accessible.  What a wonderful picture we get of the Meta Sudans monument!


An 18th century drawing of the Meta Sudans from the Spanish National Library

Here is a nice drawing from the 18th century of the Meta Sudans, the Roman fountain that used to stand outside the Colosseum until Mussolini decided to demolish it.  This one is from the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica, the Spanish National Library.

Two things make this drawing interesting.  First, it’s close enough that we can see some detail of the Meta Sudans, including that gaping hole at the top.  Secondly, it shows the full height of the monument as it was in 1800, unlike the 19th century photographs.  The upper half was removed at some point before any of those could be taken.

H/t Rubén Montoya (@rubsmontoya).


A 1711 painting showing the Meta Sudans

There is a painting in Turin, in the Galleria Sabauda, of a view of the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus, dating from 1711, and painted by Gaspar van Wittel (Vanvitteli).  But it also shows a taller Meta Sudans than we know from the 19th century.  Here it is:

The ruined old fountain stands outside the Arch of Constantine, on the right.

H/T @romamedieval.


More on the monster Meta Sudans!

As I gazed at the amazing photograph from Roma Ieri Oggi in my last post, I suddenly became conscious of just how huge the Meta Sudans was.  The old photographs do not really give us an impression of its sheer size.

But the combined photo does.  The monument was, clearly, immense, well worthy of an emperor with something to prove.

The Colosseum stands – or did, until Mussolini – in a hollow in the hills.  The heat must have been great.  The fountain put out a spray of water, rather like the “foggers” used by restaurants in the Piazza Navona today, and this must have cooled the air.

Just for fun, I thought that I would draw a line up the sides of the stub, to see how tall it must have been.  And we get … this:

We get something that must have been as tall as the Colosseum itself!  Which is mildly incredible.

The original monument must have been covered in marble, so it would be taller.

The shape of the monument is preserved on coins.  This one, in the British Museum, is new to me:

Meta Sudans in coin of Titus, 80-81.  British Museum, 1931, 1006.13.  Asset number 259280001.  Copper alloy coin (fake).

What is remarkable about this coin is that it does not show the Colosseum, as the well-known sestertius (about which I wrote here) does:

This shows the Meta Sudans as almost as tall as the Colloseum.  And plainly it was!

I had always thought the coin exaggerated the height of the Meta Sudans, but clearly not.  The 4 niches on each side of the Meta Sudans are still preserved to some extent in the brick stub above.

It does make you wonder where the foundations of the portico shown on the coin are!


How would the Meta Sudans look today outside the Colosseum?

I’ve often wondered what it would look like if Mussolini had not demolished the Meta Sudans.  This was the stubby remains of a narrow, pointed fountain of the Roman imperial period – it appears on a coin of Titus.  The brick core was stablised in the early 1800s, reducing it to half its height.  The stub remained until the 1930s. So there are many photographs of it, and I have posted quite a few!

The amazing “Roma Ieri Oggi” site has answered this question for us, by combining an old photograph with a recent one, here.   Here is the result!

On the Roma Ieri Oggi site here, he also gives the two photographs from which it was made.  The monochrome photograph is from 1885, which is 135 years ago.  The woman in that photograph, and the horse-drawn buggies for tourists outside the Colosseum, are all long gone and dust.  Yet somehow they live once more.

If you have any interest in Rome in days gone by, you need to follow the twitter feed and keep up with that site.


More old photographs of the Meta Sudans

There are many, many old photographs of the Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum, and the now-vanished Meta Sudans, the fountain that stood outside it and was demolished by Mussolini.  A few more have come my way this week.  For most of them I am indebted to the amazing Roma Ieri Oggi site and its twitter feed @romaierioggi.

The first is from 1930, and shows an unusual view:

(I do wish he would not vandalise the photo with a watermark).

Helpfully he has zoomed in on the Meta Sudans:

Another item is from some amazing aerial photographs from ca 1926 by Walter Mittelholzer.  These may be found here.  This one shows the area that we are interested in, although sadly the Meta Sudans is but a bump:

Another photograph via @PhotoVintageFr depicts the Meta Sudans from the opposite side:

While this one shows it peeking through the Arch of Constantine:

Finally there is this one, from here.  It’s from 1850, and taken from high up in the Colosseum:

Really somebody ought to make a 3-D model of the structure as it was at this time!


An unusual view of the Meta Sudans across the Piazza del Colosseo in 1930

The excellent Rome Ieri Oggi site has started posting again on Twitter, and today posted the following fascinating image from 1930:

Note the Meta Sudans in the middle.  By this date the brick stub of this ancient fountain had only a handful of years more in the world, before Mussolini demolished it.

Marvellous to see it!


More Meta Sudans photos and a document on the demolition!

The excellent Roma Ieri Oggi site continues to upload old photographs of Rome.  I confess that I find the twitter feed more accessible than the website, and of course it allows for feedback.

A couple of days ago, I browsed through the feed and came across something very interesting.  First there was a photograph of the arch of Constantine and the Meta Sudans, taken around 1930, a few years before the latter was demolished.  Here it is:

But underneath another tweeter, “Paolo (@vonhoeneim)” posted three contemporary documents about the demolition.  Here’s the tweet:

Dall’Archivio centrale di Stato, tre documenti sulla demolizione della Meta sudans. Questa venne abbattuta per non impedire i flussi del traffico automobilistico e non, come si dice, per far sfilare la camicie nere.

From the Central State Archives, three documents on the demolition of the Meta sudans. This was removed so as not to obstruct the flow of car traffic and not, as is said, to allow the black shirts to parade.

He attaches evidence, which I will upload here (for twitter is ephemeral):

I can’t read this. Can any reader do so?

This is from the “office of the governor” and reads:


Mi onoro informare l’E.V. che, con la lettera odierna, di cui unisco copia, ho sottoposto a S.E. il Ministro dell’Educazio ne Nazionale la questione delle risoluzioni da adottarsi per i ruderi della base del Colosso di Nerone e della Meta Sudante, in relazione ai lavori in carso per l’allargamento della Via di S. Gregorio.

Con devoto ossequio

Roma, lì 7 settembre 1933-XI


I am honored to inform the EV. that, with today’s letter, of which I add a copy, I have submitted to his excellency the Minister of National Education the question of the measures to be adopted for the ruins of the base of the Colossus of Nero and the Meta Sudans, in relation to the work in progress due to the widening of the Via di S. Gregorio.

And then there is this:


mento rapidissimo dalla zona alta dei quartieri dell’Esquilino del Laterano e dei Monti, con la Via del Mare e con la Stazione di S.Paolo Lido di Roma, Appunto a tale scopo è già previsto l’allargamento del Viale Aventino ohe costituisce la diretta continuazione della Via di S.Gregorio.

Il traffico già intenso ohe in Questi ultimi anni si svolgeva in tutte le ore della giornata lungo la Via di S.Gregorio è venuto aumentando enormemento dopo l’apertura della Via dell’impero, cosi da consigliare a questo Governatorato le opportunità di provvedere senza indugio all’allargamento della strada. Precisamente verso la Via dell’impero erano già e saranno sempre più frequenti le comunicazioni con la nuova strada, sicchè é evidente la necessità di facilitare per quanto è possibile i raccordi, tra le due grandi arterie della nuova Roma di Mussolini, ambedue importantissime non solo per la loro bellezza estetica ma per la loro rispondenza si bisogni del movimento cittadino.

Si presenta perciò in vista della facilitazione di tale raccordo una questione che, nome l’E.V. avrà veduto, ha vivamente in bere usato in queste ultime settimane la stampa cittadina o la pubblica opinione, e cioè la conservazione dei due avanzi monumentali della Base del Colosso di Nerone, e della Meta Sudante.

Come appare dalla pianta allegata, la base del Colosso di Nerone costituisce indubbiamente un gravissimo imbarazzo per lo comuninazioni fra la Via dell’impero e la Via di S.Gregorio, obbligendo i veicoli provenienti dalla Via dell’impero ohe seguono, come è prescritto, ma marcia a destra a girare al di là del rudero, inflettendo uno stretto arco per raggiungere il passaggio tra l’Arco di Costantino ed il Palatino. E’ stata da varie parti avanzata la proposta di demolire il rudero della base del Colosso di Nerone (dopo averne fatto i più precisi rilievi) e di lasciarne la traccia nella pavimentazione stradale, con un piantato in travertino o in gradito o con altro materiale acconcio, e collocando nei pressi una iscrizione, che ricordi l’esistenza del rudero, individuandone esattamente la posizione.

… very fast from the upper area of ​​the Esquilino del Laterano and Monti districts, with the Via del Mare and the S.Paolo Lido station in Rome. Exactly for this purpose the widening of the Viale Aventino is already provided, which constitutes the direct continuation of the Via di S.Gregorio.

The already intense traffic that in recent years took place at all hours of the day along the Via di S.Gregorio has increased since the opening of the Via dell’Impero, so as to suggest to this office the need to provide without delay for the widening of the road. Precisely towards the Via del’Impero connections with the new road were already and will be more and more frequent, so that the need to facilitate as much as possible the connections between the two great arteries of Mussolini’s new Rome, both very important not only for their aesthetic beauty but for their correspondence, requires action by the city.

Therefore, as the name of the E.V has been mentioned, a question presents itself for the facilitation of the connection that has arisen in recent weeks in the city press and public opinion, that is the preservation of the two monumental remains of the base of the Colossus of Nero and the Meta Sudans.

As appears from the attached plan, the base of Nero’s CoIossus undoubtedly constitutes a very serious problem for the connections between the Via dell’Impero and the Via di S.Gregorio, obliging vehicles coming from the Via dell’Impero to follow, as designed, but it runs to the right to turn beyond the ruin, inflicting a narrow arch through which to reach the passage between the Arch of Constantine and the Palatine. The proposal to demolish the ruin of the base of the Colossus of Nero (after having made the most precise recordings) and to leave its trace in the road pavement, with traced in travertine or in gradito or with other acconcite material, has been advanced, and placing an inscription nearby, which reminds us of the existence of the ruin, identifying its exact position.

Unfortunately the document breaks off there before discussing the Meta Sudans, which was treated similarly.  It looks as if the impetus came from the local authorities, rather than the national government, however, in their eagerness to be seen to cooperate.

Finally here is another picture from Roma Ieri Oggi, from 1900, showing the Meta Sudans from an unusual angle, through the arch of the Arch of Constantine:

Wonderful to see it.

The destruction of the base of the Colossus and the Meta Sudans took place very recently.  So much that we might want to know is probably freely accessible in Italian archives, to those who read Italian.  I wish that someone would go through them all and make it accessible.