The Wall Walk is a tradition at Temple Rome, lead by Professor Jan Gadeyne, follows the Remains of the Aurelian Walls that once encompassed the entire city. The original wall dates back to the Romans, and some parts of the Roman wall exist today. Much of the wall is made of restorations done by various Popes, and alterations made to the wall that allow modern streets to run through it. The trek is about a 13 mile adventure.
Jan Gadeyne created the Wall Walk for a few reasons. One is that it is a good way to get a sense of where different parts of the city are. Another is to show us that the city of Rome is much bigger now than its size in ancient Rome. 95% of Roman citizens live outside of the walls, according to Professor Gadeyne. He wanted to specifically walk on the outside edge of the walls, so that we could see the city beyond the tourist area within. The goal was to show us that Rome is more than the big tourist sites and apartment’s passed down through families in the wealthier parts of town. Rome is also a city of smaller residential houses, Italian university students, steep hills, and history that most visitors overlook.
The Wall Walk started at San Giovanni, and we walked counter-clockwise around the wall. I was surprised to find that nearly 50 students showed up for the walk. More people were up for the adventure than I had thought. Dean Strommen said that Professor Gadeyne used to lead NATO troops around the wall, but they decided it was too taxing for them and stopped that exercise. I think he may have been joking but you can never tell what is exaggerated here in Italy and what is not. The pace was brisk, but with stops all along the way as Professor Gadeyne told us about not only the history of the ancient wall, but also about the area around it.
Like everywhere in Rome, the wall is a constant reminder of both the past and present, and an example of the differences and similarities between the two. For example, we passed The Baker’s Tomb, which is an ancient Roman Tomb dating to about 50-20 years B.C.E. The tomb was strategically positioned near one of the only entrances to the inner city. Jan Gadeyne said the tomb acted like an ancient advertisement. The baker who died decorated his tomb with images of the baking process. Those entering the city might have looked at the tomb and made a mental note of the family name and apparent excellent baking, which would draw customers to the Baker’s family business. I was amazed at how this ancient tomb acted like a modern-day billboard (which are actually pretty rare to see in Rome).
The citizens of Rome have had an ever-changing relationship with the wall. At one time it was needed for protection from invaders. Later it became a nuisance to travel in the expanding city, and large holes were cut into the wall to allow streets to run through. Even still today, while Professor Gadeyne loves the history of the wall, he acknowledges that the wall often divides the city and that people don’t always have a beneficial relationship to the wall. He noted one area where some urban planning in the city has done some good in that respect. Where there was once a wide busy road running along the wall, there is now a park with pedestrian pathways, water fountains, grass, and shade from the ancient wall. I had stumbled upon this part of the city just the day before, and only now just realized what that large wall was. People walk their dogs, talk, read, and relax in this area. Now the citizens are drawn to the wall where there was once just a road and impasse that kept people away.
We ended the walk by completing the circle. The whole trip too about 8 hours. We all got a free pop (or soda if you prefer) at a cafe in San Giovanni. I was actually not too tired after the walk. I’ve been walking here a lot and have built up stamina I suppose. I highly suggest the Wall Walk for incoming students to the Temple Rome program. I wouldn’t have seen the things I did any other way, or learned so much about the local history. I saw so many things along the way, I couldn’t even begin to describe them. From the toilets from the Middle Ages, to the politically charged graffiti, to the Sunday flea markets, to the views of the sprawling city, the Wall Walk was well worth the time and effort. Prof. Gadeyne is an amazing teacher and leader. Friends who are taking his courses say they love them, because every day they tour is like a mini Wall Walk full of experience and information.
When in Rome, take the initiative to explore the city, not just following the same beaten paths.