Today I will take you near “home”, because I saw a really strange monument from the rooftop… the Arch of Janus!
Don’t you think it is a peculiar arch? It is definitely an arch, but it has a different shape from those I am used to see (do you remember the Arch of Constantine?). In fact, this type of arch is called four-headed.
We are at the borders of Forum Boarium, between the slopes of the Capitol, Aventine and Palatine hills in the area linked to the origins of Rome.
The urbanization of this area was favored by the proximity of the Tiber and the Tiber Island. Thanks to this position, even before the birth of Rome, this area represented a meeting point among various “tribes” mainly linked to trade.
We have to imagine (we are good with imagination!) the continuous coming and going of this place: the salt from Ostia, the flocks from the Apennines, the Etruscan and Greek trade. Thanks to this vocation to business, this area played a fundamental role in business meetings, becoming a real administrative and political center.
Forum Boarium loses its commercial aim, that moves to the area now called Testaccio, but retained its sacred character because, according to legend, in this area the basket with Romulus and Remus ran aground.
In addition to the temples of Portunus and Hercules, that we encountered in our first adventure, there are also the ruins of the Arcus Argentariorum, the medieval church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin with the famous Mouth of Truth and the Arch of Janus, right in front of our headlights.
The Arch of Janus marked an important intersection between the areas of Forum Boarium, the Palatine and Circo Massimo and delimits the areas of Campo Marzio.
In medieval times, many of these buildings were used for various purposes and it is for this reason that today they are still more or less intact. The Arch of Janus, for example, became a fortification, while the temples of Portunus and Hercules Olivarius were turned into churches.
The Arch of Janus is also known as Arcus Divi Constantini from the ancient source of Cataloghi Regionari (city building register compiled in the 4th century AD).
However, recent scholars have specified that the arch had an honorary function and that it was built by the sons of Constantine in honor of his father, after his death.
I am sure you are thinking that the name Janus is in honor of the God of beginnings, material and immaterial, also famous as the God of gates. I’m sorry, my young marmots, but it’s not like that! The name Janus derives from the Latin ianus, which indicates a covered passage. So, regardless of its origins, it owes its actual name to the fact that in the past it was the meeting point for bankers, who worked in the Forum.
The colossal arch still preserves its decorations: four pillars resting on molded and decorated plinths on each façade, with six semicircular niches covered by a shell-shaped half-dome, where 48 statues are placed.
The main depictions are dedicated to the statues of Rome and Juno sitting, Minerva and Ceres standing.
This arch, like many other buildings in Rome, was built with materials from previous monuments.
As I was mentioning before, during the Middle Ages the Frangipane family turned the building into a fortification, as well as the Colosseum into a fortress. The transformation was so huge, that the tower is even mentioned in a document from 1145 and was visible until the 18th century.
During its fortress period, it was also called Tower of Boethius, referring to the philosopher Severinus Boethius, who seems to have lived nearby (perhaps, even where the 47 Boutique Hotel is located).
However, this place is also linked to strange stories… On the 14th of February 1601, a woman with her daughter walked towards the current Church of San Giorgio al Velabro when, suddenly, the ground opened into a deep hole. Despite the desperate research, the poor women were never found. The Romans of the time linked this ugly episode to the story of Marco Curzio who threw himself into the Roman Forum and never returned back. The disappearance of February 14 was not the only one. In 1559 a man carrying an ancient book that reported the map for a hidden treasure, decided to bury the map in this area. Have you understood, right? The legend tells that the man, once dug the hole and fell inside, never came back…
Do not be afraid (I know you never do), we have already faced crocodiles on the Tiber, Mazzamurelli and many ghosts. There is no hole that can scare us…
Let’s go back to the 47! I am really curious to see other wonders from above and before going up to the roof, I could challenge our manager to play chess… He always let me win.
See you soon!