Originally, the Porta Maggiore was part of an aqueduct that Emperor Claudius had built in 52 AD at the intersection of Via Prenestina and Via Labicana to convey water from the countryside into the city. Later the arches were incorporated into the city walls and named Porta Prenestina. Much later the gate became known by its present name because of its proximity to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Today, the plaza in front of it is a focal point of Roman transit and just behind the gate is a railway bridge for trains entering and exiting the Termini railway station.
The gate bears three tiers of inscriptions (from top to bottom, as translated by the University of Chicago”). The first inscription credits the Emperor Claudius for building the first aqueduct. The next inscription explains that after nine years of interruption, the Emperor Caesar Vespasian, Augustus, restored the flow of water, and the third explains the later restoration of the wall by Emperor Titus Caesar.
Antoine Lafréry (also known by the Italian name Antonio Lafreri) was a French printseller and publisher, and possibly also an engraver, who moved to Italy and was active in Rome from around 1540 until his death in 1577. His firm published maps and a wide range of prints: ancient and modern Rome, portraits, ornament and mythological, historical and religious subjects. He also bought and sold drawings, coins and medals. Among Lafréry’s publications were two architectural treatises and several sets of ornament prints, including Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae (c. 1540-c.1565). According to the subtitle of Speculum, it had the most accurately drawn representations of nearly all the extant monuments of the City of Rome; in the 1570s, the Lafréry catalogue listed some 500 subjects. Speculum did not have fixed contents; each copy was unique and varied in terms of the number of pages, subjects included, and even the printers and engravers. Moreover, later collectors also added prints to earlier sets. The University of Chicago holds the largest extant collection of Speculum, which may be viewed online on its web site (see References below).
TI[BERIUS] CLAUDIUS DRUSI F[ILIUS] CAESAR AUGUSTUS GERMANICUS PONTIF[EX] MAXIM[US] TRIBUNICIA POTESTATE XII CO[N]S[UL] V IMPERATOR XXVII PATER PATRIAE AQUAS CLAUDIAM EX FONTIBUS QUI VOCABANTUR CAERULEUS ET CURTIUS A MILIARIO XXXXV ITEMANIENEM NOVAM A MILLIARIO LXII SUA IMPENSA IN URBEM PERDUCENDAS CURAVIT.
IMP[ERATOR] CAESAR VESPASIANUS AUGUST[US] PONTIF[EX] MAX[IMUS] TRIB[UNICIA] POT[ESTATE] II IMP[ERATOR] VI CO[N]S[UL] III DESIG[NATUS] IIII P[ATER] P[ATRIAE] AQUAS CURTIAM ET CAERULEAM PERDUCTAS A DIVO CLAUDIO ET POSTEA INTERMISSAS DILAPSAS QUE PER ANNOS NOVEM SUA IMPENSA URBI RESTITUIT.
IMP[ERATOR] T[ITUS] CAESAR DIVI F[ILIUS] VESPASIANUS AUGUSTUS PONTIFEX MAXIMUS TRIBUNIC POTESTATE X IMPERATOR XVII PATER PATRIAE CENSOR CO[N]S[UL] VIII AQUAS CURTIAM ET CAERULEAM PERDUCTAS A DIVO CLAUDIO ET POSTEA A DIVO VESPASIANO PATRE SUO URBI RESTITUTAS CUM A CAPITE AQUARUM A SOLO VETUSTATE DILAPSAE ESSENT NOVA FORMA REDUCENDAS SUA IMPENSACURAVIT.
Translations (by University of Chicago):
Tiberius Claudius, son of Drusus, Caesar, Augustus, Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus, having held the tribunician power twelve times, five times consul, twenty-seven times imperator, father of the country (pater patriae), arranged, at his own expense, that the aqua Claudia be brought into the City from the 45th milestone, from the springs called Caeruleus and Curtius, and from the Anio Novus too from the 62nd milestone.
Emperor Caesar Vespasian, Augustus, pontifex maximus, having held the tribunician power twice, six times imperator, three times consul, consul designatus fourth time, father of the country (pater patriae), at his own expense, restored for the City the springs of the Curtius and Caeruleus that had been brought forth by the divine Claudius and that later had been interrupted and dispersed for nine years.
Emperor Titus Caesar, son of the divine [Vespasian], Vespasian Augustus, pontifex maximus, having held the tribunician power ten times, seventeen-times imperator, father of the country (pater patriae), censor, eight times consul, arranged that the springs of the Curtius and the Caeruleus that had been brought forth by the divine Claudius and afterwards had been restored for the City by his father, the divine Vespasian, since they had been dispersed at the source of the waters from the ground, due to its antiquity, be brought back again in a new channel at his own expense.
Full publication information: “XCVI. Pl. a la 176. Page T. III” (upper right); “Tome III 96” (lower right); “La Freri” (lower center).
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Center fold as issued. Printed on laid paper without watermark. Top margin short, perhaps as issued, later professionally extended with laid paper. Few short tears restored professionally restored, also flattened, cleaned and deacidified, with only minor discoloration in left margin still present, unobtrusive.
“(A14) Porta Maggiore, Imperial Inscriptions for the Aqua Claudia.” University of Chicago Library. http://speculum.lib.uchicago.edu/view.php?id=speculum-0014-001&title=(A14)%20Porta%20Maggiore,%20Imperial%20Inscriptions%20for%20the%20Aqua%20Claudia (24 August 2012).
“Antoine Lafréry.” British Museum Collection Database. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=118308 (24 August 2012).
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 5, p. 355.
“Porta Maggiore.” Home & Abroad. 1999-2006. http://www.homeandabroad.com/c/4/Site/1683_Porta_Maggiore_visit.html (15 February 2007).
“Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae.” University of Chicago Library. http://speculum.lib.uchicago.edu/content/introduction.html (24 August 2012).
“Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae Roma nell’incisione del Cinquecento.” Mandragora Publishing House. 2006. http://www.mandragora.it/en/speculum-romanae-magnificentiaebrroma-nellincisione-del-cinquecento-en.html (24 August 2012).