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Rione XV - Esquilino

La Porta Magica - Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II

Located on the hill of the same name, the highest among those on which Rome was founded, Rione XV - Esquilino is the area of Rome where the highest number of nationalities and traditions intertwine. It is a real cultural melting pot and a crossroads of taste, thanks to its numerous restaurants and ethnic food shops, and street-food kiosks.

Its toponym has no clear origins. Probably, it derives from Castrum Equites Singulares Augusti, the emperor's personal horseback guards that had their headquarters, the Castra Priora Equitum Singularium, on the Celio Hill, a few steps from Via Tasso. Or perhaps, it comes from Aexquiliae, the term deriving from the verb ex-colere, that defined the suburban area of the city with the meaning of "living outside" the central core of the city. In ancient times, the area was located outside the Servian Walls, therefore outside the city center, until the Aurelian Walls were built in the imperial era.

As we know it today, the district developed towards the end of the 19th century, around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, the largest square in Rome with its 316 x 174 m. The arrangement of the area and the design of the monumental buildings with Umbertine-style arcades surrounding it are due to the Roman architect Gaetano Koch, who was commissioned to build them after the Capital of Italy passed from Florence to Rome. Inaugurated in 1888, the magnificent and newly restored Gardens of Piazza Vittorio are the beating heart of the district. At the time, they were defined as a gorgeous and romantic square enclosed in a decorative fence and with architectural traces of various eras inside. Their exotic character is underlined by the numerous tree varieties from all over the world, including palm trees, magnolias, plane trees, as well as a delightful rose garden.

Among the most representative monuments, archaeological sites, and religious buildings of the district we find Porta Maggiore with the curious sepulcher of the baker Eurisace and his wife Atistia datable between 30 and 20 BC, the Trophies of Mario, a monumental fountain of the imperial period located inside the gardens of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, as well as the mysterious Magic Door, an ancient testimony of a city that hides many myths and mysteries, the church of Santa Bibiana, the first ever architectural work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Ambra Jovinelli theater, the only one in Rome built in Art Nouveau style, the Roman Aquarium, an iconic monumental building inspired by classical Greek and Roman architecture, the Holy Stairs, whose 28 steps are, according to tradition, precisely the same ones that Jesus climbed in the palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, home of Helen, mother of emperor Costantine, who transformed the vast atrium into a chapel to house the relics of the Holy Cross she brought to Rome, and Villa Wolkonsky, built in 1830 by Princess Zenaida Wolkonsky, wife of Prince Nikita, adjutant to Tsar Alexander I, as a place in which to take refuge from the chaos of the center of Rome, and in which to entertain her artist and literate friends, including Nikolaj Gogol', who here wrote some chapters of his masterpiece Dead Souls. The villa gardens are crossed by thirty-six spans of the Neronian aqueduct, built in the first century AD. On three of the arches, the princess had her abode built. Furthermore, a romantic-style garden developed along the rest of the aqueduct. It became famous for its roses and Roman finds, most of which came from the tombs that arose along the aqueduct path. Today, Villa Wolkonsky houses the official residence of the British ambassador to Italy.

In ancient times, the Esquiline area appeared as a cursed place for its being an unhealthy and marshy area. Although Maecenas had it reclaimed to build his villa, the Horti di Mecenate, and other houses for private use, it maintained its reputation as a fatal place unchanged over the centuries. In fact, still in the Middle Ages, wizards, witches, and necromancers met here to celebrate their magical rites.

Borders: Piazza di Porta San Giovanni, Viale Castrense, Aurealian Walls up to Porta San Lorenzo, Via di Porta San Lorenzo, Via Marsala, Piazza dei Cinquecento, Via Giovanni Giolitti, Via Agostino De Pretis, Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, Via Merulana, Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, Piazza di Porta San Giovanni.

The rione coat of arms is divided into two parts: in the upper one is a luxuriant tree, in the lower one are three mountain peaks representing the Esquiline hill, the Viminal hill, and the Celio hill. Both are on a silver background.

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Vittorio Emanuele II Square

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The heart of the multi-ethnic Esquilino district


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