Ball in the Stone Part III: The Treasure

The journey’s twists and turns had taken their toll. Mainly on my feet. Sitting on a bench near Keat’s grave, looking at the pyramid and the Porta San Paolo under the warm sunlight, I was weary but content. I realized that my half-formed idea of walking as much of the Aurelian Wall as remained would be too ambitious for a week-long trip, but I had done the full south perimeter and that felt like a real accomplishment.

Only the matter of the cannonball remained. I still wanted badly to capture it even though walking around the wall up to the north gates was no longer an option at this point. The Piramide metro station rose up to play the part of my Merlin, cutting through the city to deliver me north to Castro Pretorio where I could pick up the trail of the wall again and walk along it towards the Porta Pinciana and the Borghese Gardens where my quest had been so cruelly interrupted coming from the other direction.

My busted feets were revitalized by the sheer happiness of walking a new stretch of wall, one I had never ever seen before when I lived in Rome. Castro Pretorio station is named after the Praetorian Guard barracks whose remains are embedded in the wall. I was delighted to find modern-day offices and barracks of the Italian military adjacent to the Metro station. One does enjoy a 2,000-year-old recurring theme.

For a length I was able to walk directly under the looming shadow of the wall, one section of which was topped with razor wire, as if it were still a bulwark against all manner of barbarians overunning the city’s defenses (or at least foolhardy idiots trying to scale a particularly unstable piece). While I soon had to cross the insanely busy multi-lane Corso d’Italia instead of walking directly under it, I had every hope that I would be able to spot the cannonball in the tower. I greeted the Porta Pia with a jaunty how-de-do. I doffed my cap to the late Porta Salaria, demolished in 1921. I stopped short, foot brakes squealing Looney Tunes-style, at the church of Saint Teresa of Avila. This was the marker. Across the Corso d’Italia, now split into lanes on either side of an underpass, somewhere in that section of wall the treasure awaited me.

Crossing the small lane to the fence keeping traffic vehicular and pedestrian from falling into the underpass, I gazed hungrily at the towering heights of brickwork. And there it was. A large hole like so many areas of wear and tear I had seen on my journey along the walls. The cannonball itself was barely visible. The sun was in my eyes and it is so much smaller than the hole it carved out for itself in 1870. It was a dark curve more than anything.

Click to claim your reward.The reward had to be brought back for the benefit of mankind. Them’s the rules of the hero’s journey. Even a dark curve would count as long as the camera could capture it. One shot. Then another. Is that…? If I zoom in can it be…? And so it came to pass as I had scarce dared hope. The Ball in the Stone was mine. Now it is yours too.

I all but flew to the Porta Pinciana and strutted down the Via Veneto living the history nerd’s most dolce vita. Okay so the wings kinda gave out and I snagged a bus at the bottom of the street, but the shine of my final tally of seven gates, miles of largely uninterrupted walls and one precious cannonball picture could not be dulled.


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Comment by John Cooper
2018-11-02 22:33:24


Comment by Garth Groff
2018-11-03 04:17:58

What a great end to a fascinating story! For history geeks unable to visit Rome, there is a similar embedded cannon ball in the wall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk, Virginia. It was . . . well . . . a parting shot, left by outgoing Governor Lord Dunmore as he fled Virginia by ship in 1776. See,_Virginia). I tracked this one down when I first came “home” to Virginia in the early 1980s (my ancestors settled in Tidewater during the 1600s).

Yours Aye,

Garth Groff, Scottish History Maven 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
(aka Lord Mungo Napier, SCA)

Comment by Marlys
2018-11-03 10:52:17

Thank you especially for that last paragraph!

Comment by Cordate
2018-11-03 14:45:15

Huzzah! You did it! :boogie:

Comment by Frozen Frank
2018-11-04 03:10:24

:boogie: At last! – But porca miseria!, there is not even a Roman traffic island for safety! Hence, that poor chap in his black suit on the crosswalk in the Castro Pretorio picture (1st one) must fear for his life! —That awkward situation almost impresses me like that wall is “impressed”.

Note that much safer pedestrian crossings existed more than 2000 years ago, as can be seen in the ruins of Pompeii. Blocks raised on the road allowed pedestrians to cross the street without having to step onto the road itself. Technically, they were whole sets of traffic islands.

PS: There is an embedded cannonball in the 13th-century Malbork/ Marienburg Castle (zamek w Malborku), allegedly from the unsuccessful two-month siege of 1410 AD by the Lithuanians.

Comment by Albertus Minimus
2018-11-04 08:32:36

Happy to see you had a ball, walking that Wall. Thanks for sharing the experience.

Comment by Jean @ Howling Frog
2018-11-04 21:49:26

Oh wow! You did it! What a great story.

Comment by Trevor
2018-11-05 05:09:30

“areas of wear and tear” or “areas of war and tore”

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August 2020


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