Turner made a series of drawings from the high vantage point of Monte Testaccio, an artificial hill in southern Rome constructed from a Roman pottery dump, see folios 6 verso–8 verso (D16495–D16499). This sketch records the view looking south. Part of the composition spills over onto the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 8 (D16498). Dominating the foreground is a surviving section of the Aurelian walls which during the early nineteenth century still ran from the Porta San Paolo to the River Tiber. Today this area is a built-up industrial and residential district but in Turner’s day the river wound through virtually uninhabited countryside until it met the sea at Ostia. The building visible in the distance on the left is San Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul Outside the Walls), one of the four great papal basilicas of Rome.1 An early medieval church, it was built on what was believed to be the birthplace of St Paul and is so called owing to its location beyond the perimeter of the ancient city. Almost completely destroyed by fire in July 1823, it was subsequently reconstructed with a similar façade but with a new portico and a different bell-tower. Other sketches of the basilica can be found on folios 9 verso–10, 12 verso and 14 verso (D16501–D16502, D16507 and D16511) and in the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16253; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 55v).
Turner repeated the composition of the sketch in a watercolour drawing, completed in the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook (see Tate D16131; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 43).
The other papal basilica churches are St Peter’s, San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore.