Dialogue of the Ages

by Amanda McCracken
[student, Rome Sketchbook course, Spring 2012]
the portico of octavia with detail of column capital, rome
The Portico of Octavia
map of the archeological area of the theatre of marcellus

Throughout the semester, I have been struggling to find a connection with the people who contributed to the creation of such a beautiful and overwhelming setting. My scattered attempts finally presented me with a way to participate in the dialogue of these structures and the people behind their construction. It is ever present in the interaction of the landmarks themselves, between the ruins and the standing, the Christian and the Pagan, the modern and the ancient. Sketches from a visit to the Theatre of Marcellus, which faces the ruins of the Temple of Apollo and stands beside the Portico of Octavia, are some of my most engaged.

the remaining columns of the templio of apollo sosianus
Ruins of the Temple of Apollo Sosianus

When approaching the site, the Theatre of Marcellus presents itself first. Although started by Julius Caesar, it was not completed until 13 b.c. under the reign of Augustus. It's name comes from his deceased nephew, Marcellus, and in it's time, had the capacity to hold 15,000 to 20,000 spectators. The ruins scattered from the feet of the theatre lead the viewer's eye to three towering columns.
These once supported a corner of the Temple of Apollo Sosianus. A temple was first erected here in 433 b.c., and dedicated to the Greek god Apollo Medicus (Apollo the Physician), who it was believed had intervened to end a serious plague in the city. Laurel branches, carved into what remains of the frieze, are symbolic of Apollo.

side arch of the portico of octavia, rome
Side Arch of the Portico of Octavia
the theatre of marcellus, rome
The Theatre of Marcellus

There is speculation that some restorations are characteristic of Augustus, which would be interesting considering his involvement in the Theatre, and his hand in the rich history of the Portico of Octavia, which can be found only meters away.
The earliest structures of what is now known as the Portico di Ottavia were built in 146 b.c. It is the oldest quadriportico, or four-sided porch, in all of Rome. Augustus reconstructed the original architecture and named it in honour of his sister, Octavia (and mother of Marcellus). In the middle ages, the church of Sant'Angelo in Pescheria was built into the remaining gate of the Portico, and fish markets were held within this area. Even more recently in Roman history, the Portico of Octavia was immersed in what is now known as the Ghetto of Rome, where the jewish citizens of Rome were confined in the 14th century.

interior arch of the theatre of marcellus
Interior arch of the
Theatre of Marcellus

What I find most interesting is not the histories of these landmarks as separate entities, but rather their intermingled development, sometimes mirroring and sometimes conflicting with one another. For example, the corinthian orders that can be found on both the Portico and the Temple of Apollo, or the stark interaction between the towering white columns facing the weathered stone work of the theatre. It is this cycle that I have tried to convey in the compilation of sketches I have gathered here, a place where I have felt most in sync with not just the buildings that remain, but their life and their function.