Two postcards of the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus (and the Meta Sudans)

I found two 19th century postcards, taken from the Palatine, looking towards the Colosseum, at this site, which also includes many other interesting images.

Note how the Basilica of Maxentius is enclosed in some now demolished building!


And this:


An 18th century image of the Meta Sudans in a prospect of the Colosseum

I came across an image on Twitter which shows the Colosseum, but also the ruined fountain that used to stand next to it, the Meta Sudans.  Here it is (click to enlarge):


The tweeter had found it online “somewhere”.  Fortunately it is not too hard to locate: this is Prospetto dell’anfiteatro Flavio … detto volgarmente il Colosseo, 1703, by Alessandro Specchi (1668-1729).[1]  There is even a page about it here at the University of Munich, complete with an image, although, infuriatingly, a low-quality one.

I was unable to locate online any quality image, so this is about as good as it gets for the Meta Sudans (obtained by zooming my browser at this site):


It clearly shows the Meta Sudans at twice the height that we see in photographs from the 19th century.  The upper section must have become very ruinous, and been demolished.  No doubt some Italian source could tell us when and why this happened; but such knowledge has not reached me.

Delightful to see another picture of this vanished monument, all the same.

  1. [1]So this art site.  This other site adds that is is an engraving, published by Domenico de Rossi, 1703. 48 x 67.5cm.

Two photochromes of the Meta Sudans in Rome, from 1890

A kind correspondent has pointed me to a site on mashable containing photochromes from 1890.  It’s here.

But what is a photochrome?  The site says:

These postcards of the ancient landmarks of Rome were produced around 1890 using the Photochrom process, which add precise gradations of artificial color to black and white photos.

Invented in the 1880s by an employee of Swiss printing company Orell Gessner Füssli, the Photochrom process was complex and closely guarded. It involved the creation of a lithographic stone from the photo negative, followed by the successive creation of additional litho stones for each tint to be used in the final image.

Up to 15 different tinted stones could be involved in the production of a single picture, but the result was remarkably lifelike color at a time when true color photography was still in its infancy.

Here are two which feature the Meta Sudans, the now vanished Roman fountain which provided air conditioning just outside the Colosseum (which originally stood in a hollow in the hills, before Mussolini built the Via del foro imperiali.

Click on the pictures for full size – and enjoy!




A drawing of the Meta Sudans by Piranesi

A correspondent kindly drew my attention to this page on Wikimedia Commons, where there is a drawing published in 1756 by Piranesi, from Le antichità Romane vol. 1, pl. 36, of the Arch of Constantine, and the now destroyed fountain, the Meta Sudans.[1]  The scans were made in Japan from a 19th century reprint.

Here is a small version of the whole drawing, for context:


The Meta Sudans is at the right.  Here’s a zoomed in version of that part of the drawing:


The nearby figure of a man conveniently gives the scale, which indicates just how tall the monument was in the 18th century; three times the height of a man, and so about twice the size that it appears in 19th century photographs, after the top half was removed.  It also confirms the foliage growing on top of it, as is seen in some paintings.

This is a very useful bit of documentary evidence of the state of the fountain before it was truncated.

  1. [1]Le antichità Romane. Tomo I, tav. XXXVI // Opere di Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francesco Piranesi e d’altri. Firmin Didot Freres, Paris, 1835-1839. Tomo 1. Scans from

1606 Aegidius Sadeler print of the Colosseum and Meta Sudans

Here is another old print (from 1606, by Aegidius Sadeler) of the Colosseum and a curious view of the Meta Sudans to the right.  I found it here.  Click on the picture to get the full size image.


The site adds:

Rare and early copper engravings by Aegidius Sadeler (c. 1570-1629)from Vestigi delle antichita di Roma Tivoli Pozzuolo et altri luoghi. … “Vestigij della parte di fuora dell’Anfiteatro di Tito…”. This is the second edition published by De Rossi.  Uncommon engraving in very good condition. Aegidius Sadeler (c. 1570-1629) was a Flemish baroque era painter and engraver; the best (Hind) of a notable dynasty of engravers, who were also significant as dealers and distributors of prints. He spent most of his career based in Prague where Emperor Rudolf II commissioned many of his works.

The original is 16 x 27 cms (27 x 39 cms sheet).

All images of the Meta Sudans are interesting, but one which shows the upper section, which disappeared before the mid-19th century, is of particular interest.  The lower section is half-buried in the debris.

Some post-renaissance paintings of the Meta Sudans

Regular readers will be aware that I am interested in the Meta Sudans, a Roman fountain that stood in Rome outside the Colosseum, and behind the Arch of Constantine, until it was demolished by Mussolini in the 1930s.  By that time it was merely a stump, but earlier representations show that it was originally much taller.

Today I came across a paper by Dafina Gerasimovska, which collected representations of the Colosseum, as a way to learn more about Roman architecture.[1]:

When talking about architectural buildings from Antiquity we rely on archaeological finds and written sources. Even coins can provide information about the look of ancient Roman architecture. …

An additional rich source of clues to the original appearance of buildings and their condition at certain times, however, can be found in paintings, drawings, engravings, etchings, prints, watercolours, old reconstructions and other artistic works of different periods in the past. Many painters, engravers, architects, travellers and diplomats interested in architectural remains have left works that serve as alternative sources for the study of cultural history and the architectural monuments which form a part of that history.

This article is not intended to highlight the artistic value of the achievements of famous artists inspired by Roman buildings but to emphasize the significance of these works as historical documents—as evidence of their existence, of changes in their appearance over time, of their ruin or of their recovery.

Inevitably this paper contained images of the Meta Sudans.  Here are some of them.  I apologise for the rather awkward way that WordPress displays these – click on the image to get the full size original.

The oldest one is by Dutch artist Gaspar van Wittel (1653–1736) who went to Rome in 1675.  From his views of the Colosseum, I have excerpted the following:

Gaspar van Wittell, Colosseum - extract view of the Meta Sudans
Gaspar van Wittell, Colosseum – extract view of the Meta Sudans

Note the slender, tall appearance of the fountain, which I have marked with a red box.  The next one is by Giovanni Paolo Panini (c.1691–c.1765), from his 1758 Gallery Displaying Views of Ancient Rome.

Panini (1758) - Meta Sudans
Panini (1758) – Meta Sudans

The interesting part of this one, is that it shows a band around the Meta Sudans, about halfway up.  This sort of thing appears in the ancient coins that depict the Meta Sudans.

The final item is a drawing by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) from his The Antiquities of Rome in 1756:


Again this shows a tall Meta Sudans, although not clearly.

All of these are very interesting evidence on the shape of a now vanished Roman monument.

  1. [1]Dafina Gerasimovska, “Alternative Sources for studying Roman architecture”, Online here.

Another photograph of the Meta Sudans

Meta Sudans, ca. 1910
Meta Sudans, ca. 1910

Regular readers will be aware of my fascination with the Meta Sudans, the ruined Roman fountain that stood beside the Colosseum until 1936.  The Roma Ieri Oggi site tweeted another photograph.  Here it is:


There is always room here for photographs of the Meta Sudans!

Rome before Mussolini – what a map can tell us

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.

The Meta Sudans and the Djemila fountain in Algeria

I’ve posted a number of images of the Meta Sudans, the ancient Roman fountain that stood next to the Colosseum and was demolished by Mussolini, in posts such as this one.  Today on Twitter I saw a picture of a standing, much smaller, Roman fountain in Djemila in Algeria, posted by @AlgeriaTTours.  Here’s the image:

Roman fountain at Djemila in Algeria
Roman fountain at Djemila in Algeria

The Meta Sudans is depicted on coins, such as the sestertius of Titus.  I note that the drawing rather looks like the Djemila fountain; but the coins themselves rather suggest a tall base, with a platform on it, and then a relatively small cone at the top.  Anyway here they are:

Meta Sudans in sestertius of Titus
Meta Sudans in sestertius of Titus


The pictures of Djemila did look nice.  The government travel advice for Algeria, sadly, did not.