About halfway along today’s via del Corso, once called via Lata, a large arch of Roman age spanned the street up to the mid 17th century. It was earlier known as the Arcus Hadriani, but from the sixteenth century it was called Arco di Portogallo (Arch of Portual) because it adjoined the residence of the Portuguese ambassador, the Palazzo Peretti-Fiano.
The arch was removed in 1662 by Pope Alexander VII in order to widen the Corso and facilitate the running of horse races during Carnival. Many drawings of this arch, dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, show that it consisted of a single archway, flanked on each side by a pair of columns and surrounded by a cornice.
The two features of the arch which have drawn the most interest are a pair of panel reliefs that were originally incorporated in the north side of the structure. These are now heavily restored and displayed in the main staircase of the Palazzo dei Conservatori Museum in Rome. One of the reliefs shows the apotheosis of Hadrian’s wife Sabina, who was deified after her death. Hadrian sits on an upright chair and watches as Sabina is carried away from her funeral pyre (ustrinum) on the back of the torch-bearing personification of Aeternitas (Eternity). The reclining semi-nude youth at Hadrian’s feet is a personification of the Field of Mars (Campus Martius).
When Sabina died in 136/137, Hadrian erected a monumental altar in her honour, probably on the northern Campus Martius to which this large marble relief may have belonged.
The second relief depicts Hadrian mounted on a Rostrum, reading from a scroll to two men and a child in front of a temple. Behind him are the Genius of the Senate and two attendants. It has been suggested that the panel commemorates Hadrian’s continuation of the institutio alimentaria, a public distribution of largess, began under Nerva or Trajan.
While the reliefs are either late Hadrianic or early Antonine in date, the architectural character of the arch seems to belong to a much later period (4th or 5th century AD), and that it was decorated with sculptures from earlier monuments, as was the case with the arch of Constantine.