Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Meta Romuli


Meta Romuli

Meta Romuli

meta : any mark at a boundary or limit esp. the conical columns set in the ground at each end of theRoman circus, the goal, turning post : anything of conical or pyramidal form, a cone, pyramid

Until the end of the 15th century, a pyramid tomb, known since the middle ages as the Meta Romuli, stood at the intersection of the ancient Via Cornelia and Via Triumphalis. In 1500, Pope Alexander VI wished to link St. Peter's with the Castel Sant'Angelo in preparation for the Holy Year, and the part of the pyramid which would have projected into the new Via Alexandrina (later Borgo Nuovo) was pulled down. The part of the pyramid, spared by the road, remained visible until the middle of the 16th century.
Earnest Nash, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome (New York: Fredrick A. Praeger, 1961), p. 59.

Site-plan of the Meta Romuli after the 1944/49 excavations (according to information by G. Gatti). from Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

Many traces of tombs have been found along the streets which ran west and northwest from the pons Aelius; and between 1492 and 1503 a pyramid which stood between St. Peter's and the Castel S. Angelo was removed by Alexander VI. This pyramid was regarded by some as a tomb of Romulus, and by others as that of Scipio Africanus. An obelisk, which was known in the middle ages as the obeliscus Neronis and which was situated not far from the pyramid, was also destroyed at about the same period.
Samuel Ball Platner, The Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1904), p. 497.

Sepulchrum Hardiani flanked by two pairs of pyramids adjacent to the triangular stagnum.

Piranesi designates two pairs of pyramids along the canals and pools (stagnum) situated either side of the Sepulchum Hadriani. No specific names are applied to these pyramids, and the word pyramis is their only label. Together with Hadrian's Tomb, they establish a grand symmetrical layout that extends throughout the Horti Domitiae and includes the Bustum Hadriani. As a group, the four pyramids have no historical or archeological validity, however, the position of the pyramid closest to Hardian's Tomb, on the side facing St. Peter's, is remarkably close to the verified position of the Meta Romuli. This correspondence of placement between the real pyramid and Piranesi's imaginary one could be an uncanny coincidence, or it could be an example of a methodology Piranesi used to aid in piecing together his overall Campo Marzio design. If the latter is true, then Piranesi willfully manipulated a historical artifact to conform to his preferred design scheme. Moreover, Piranesi's exact mirroring of the Meta Romuli suggests careful maneuvering rather than whimsical play. The Ichnographia pyramid is in essence an inversion of the Meta Romuli.

Detail of the Campo Marzio frontispiece showing the relationship between the Sepulchrum Hadriani and one of its four flanking pyramids.

Overlay of the Ichnographia and the site plan of the Meta Romuli.




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