An 1850 photograph of the Palatine and Meta Sudans by Rev. John Shaw Smith

This interesting item was posted on Twitter here.

Rev. John Shaw Smith, View of the Arch of Constantine, the Meta Sudans, and the Palatine Hill. 1850.

Photographs of the Meta Sudans are always welcome.  This one is at an unusual angle and indicates that the destruction facing the Colosseum was not flat 180°, as it often appears in photographs, but nearer 150°.

The photographer, the Rev. John Shaw Smith, was an Irish clergyman who travelled in the Mediterranean around this time over a period of a couple of years, in the relaxed fashion of the day.  Photography was new, and everything he took is probably valuable.

There must be a wealth of photographs and other material in Italian archives, but sadly inaccessible.  Google increasingly is turning into a commercial portal instead of a search engine, so I doubt this will improve soon.


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!