Italy - Pola
( Originally Published 1910 )
But it is in Pola that we find the most spectacular group of Roman monuments. To any one who has stood on the hillside back of the great amphitheater and watched the golden glint on the bay at sunset through its arcades, or who has seen it at the same hour from the water, rising luminous and ethereal, there is no amphitheater in the Roman world, even the Coliseum, that gives as keen a thrill of artistic delight. The very barbarous gutting of its interior by the medieval Venetians, to use its blocks of famous Istrian stone for building material in Venice, has heightened its unique beauty by turning the arcades of the enclosure, which are in perfect preservation, into as many symmetrical picture frames. One cannot, however, claim an Augustan date for this amphitheater, as for that of Salona; the attribution to the time of the Antonines is in harmony with its style.
But the rest of the Roman architecture of Pola is almost certainly of the Augustan era; the city gates, the Colony Arch, and the Capitolium, or Temple of Rome and Augustus, all bear the marks of this time. To me the most interesting was, of course, the Arch, called Porta Aurea, or Arch of the Sergii. It has been more than once referred to in these pages. It fulfilled my ideal of a triumphal arch of the exquisitely simple type, where both figured and decorative sculpture were quite subservient to architectural absolute ruler, the statecraft of the new régime required the recognition of the divine transcendency of the Emperor, and the dedication to him alone of all public monuments, especially such records of the establishment of Roman civic rule as these arches. After this time no dedications of public buildings to private individuals were permitted by law: such arches as those of the Sergii at Pola, the Gavii at Verona, the Julii at S. Remy, and the Campani at Aix-les-Bains, are, therefore, all earlier in date. History and politics are the indispensable illuminators of archaeology. For these reasons Graef's ascription of this Pola arch to the age of Trajan is a simple impossibility. Even artistically he proved to be wrong, for the exquisite scroll-decoration of the inside pilasters is purely Augustan, as is every other feature.
The arch that resembles it most closely in the style both of its pilasters and of the victories in the spandrels, is that of Cavaillon in Southern France, which in my opinion is also early Augustan. Might not some of the neo-Hellenic artists of Provence be responsible for the arch of Pola?
For some reason which we cannot now understand this arch was placed not outside the walls, on the pomerium line, but inside the main city gate, the triple arched, so-called Porta Minervia. It cannot have been moved here from outside the walls to preserve it, at the time of some barbarian invasion. It was made to form the inner face of the court of this gateway. Only from old lithographs and prints can we under-stand this arrangement, for the ignorant "archaeologist," who undertook the early restorations at Pola, in 1826, thought the Augustan city gate was medieval and tore it down. It must have been the Porta Praetoria of the original colony, and its keystone had the bust of the protecting goddess of the city, whom the local archaeologists dubbed Minerva. Fortunately, several other primitive city gates remain: the simple, single-arched Porta Herculea, so-called from the youthful, heroic head and greaves on the key-stone ; the more architectural, double-arched Porta Gemina ; and a small gateway leading to the Forum, or Capitolium, of the Augustan city. The Porta Herculea is built with so extraordinary a diagonal archway that it is quite evident the road, the limits, and shape of. the city had been determined before its construction, as was the case, for instance, with one of the gates at Pompeii.
In the interesting congeries of fragments inside and around the temple of Augustus, which has been transformed into a Roman museum, there are several sections of friezes that belonged to architectural monuments of a triumphal character. One series hints at another arch like that of the Sergii, with its frieze of arms and armor, its vessel's prow and oar, pointing in the same fashion as it does to both naval and military victories, such as were those of Augustus over Antony. Another section of frieze, divided into triglyphs and metopes, has in each metope a group of arms or armor, some of Gallic character. All this accentuates the military position of the city's founders.
The temple itself, dedicated to Rome and Augustus, is still a splendid specimen of Augustan art. Originally it was a double temple of the type familiar from monuments of a later date, in different colonies of the Roman world. The two stood side by side in a sacred inclosure, with a space between them, and represented the imperial equivalent of the Roman Capitolium, the worship of Dea Roma, and of Augustus, the viceroy of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Old prints show how much more remained over a century ago. One of the façades is still superbly intact, with four very high Corinthian columns supporting the gable, and two others at the ends, in front of the antae, forming the customary deep Roman portico. The details of the ornamentation of the gable are particularly perfect and among the none too numerous bits of pure Augustan temple detail.
If so much still remains of Pola, it is because, when the engineers of Napoleon I visited it and pronounced it the greatest military harbor of the Adriatic, it was practically an abandoned town, with a few hundred inhabitants, and had been so since the close of the Middle Ages. Whatever devastation has been wrought has been in about a century.