Roman Italy

Under the Etruscan Sun

Once upon a time a triumvirate came to the town of Lucca. And not just any triumvirate, the first triumvirate of Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Magnus Pompeius and Marcus Licinius Crassus. It was here in 56 BC, in the province of Cisalpine Gaul controlled by Caesar, that these men met to plot their future strategies.

Fresh from the first two years of his Gallic Wars, Caesar was reluctant to return to Rome and face possible prosecution by his enemies there. He was not yet ready to cross the Rubicon. The Gallic Wars continued until 51 BC when Gaul was subdued and Caesar had invaded the isle of Britannia twice.

Crassus and Pompey became consuls for the second time in 55 BC. Crassus led an attack on Rome’s biggest threat, the Parthian Empire, in 53 BC and was defeated and killed by the Parthians. Pompey grew wealthier governing the provinces in Spain. He would later turn against Caesar in the Civil Wars. He left Italy, was routed by Caesar in Greece, and ended up being killed in Egypt in 48 BC.

The triumvirate’s meeting was Lucca’s most notable mention in the history of ancient Rome. I came to Lucca with my daughter and we conspired to eat very well and enjoy the warmth and charm of Tuscany. I was not in search of Roman footprints, but of course I found some anyway. Piazza Anfiteatro covers the footprint of the ancient Roman amphitheatre with buildings built around the elliptical shape of the arena.

Lucca's Piazza Anfiteatro
Lucca’s Piazza Anfiteatro

Traces of the ancient building can still be seen on the outside walls.

Vestiges of Lucca's ancient amphitheatre
Vestiges of Lucca’s ancient amphitheatre

Entrances to the piazza are the ancient tunnels that opened into the arena.

Entrance into Piazza Anfiteatro
Entrance into Piazza Anfiteatro

The area that was once the ancient forum of Lucca is still the active and vibrant Piazza San Michele.

Piazza San Michele, Lucca
Piazza San Michele, Lucca

Wandering around Lucca’s streets we came across a tiny museum called the Domus Romana Lucca.

Domus Romana Lucca
Domus Romana Lucca

Remnants of an ancient house were found on this site in 2012. A small section of the house’s wall  is on view inside the museum, along with finds that include an ancient bronze brooch, a coin from AD 14 and part of terra cotta frieze with two cupids riding a dolphin.  www.domusromanalucca.it

Fiesole near Florence

Overlooking Florence and the Arno plain, the town of Fiesole offered me some breathing space to poke around its Roman footprints of a theatre, a bath complex and temples. In its museum I found artefacts of the town’s Etruscans and Romans, and I was blown away by a collection of stunning Greek black figure and red figure ceramics from the 5th and 4th centuries BC.

View of Florence from Fiesole
View of Florence from Fiesole

I left the bustling crowds of Florence and traveled a half hour by bus to Fiesole, and back to the ancient town of Faesulae. Faesulae was an Etruscan site from the 4th century BC until 90 BC when the Roman consul Porcius Cato conquered the town. During Roman times it became a colony for Roman veterans and was renowned for its school of Augurs, religious officials who observed natural signs to determine divine approval.

Faesulae’s Roman theatre was built in the late 1st century BC and then redecorated in the 3rd century AD. It is well preserved after being excavated and restored in the 19th century.

Roman Theatre Fissile
Roman Theatre Fiesole

Not far from the theatre are the remains of the town’s bath complex.

Bath Complex Fiesole
Bath Complex Fiesole

With reconstructed hypocaust/underground heating for the caldarium and tepidarium/hot & warm rooms.

Bath Complex Hypocaust Fiesole
Bath Complex Hypocaust Fiesole

Across from the bath complex on the other side of the theatre, there are remains of an early Etruscan temple and a later Roman temple.

Etruscan and Roman Temples Fiesole
Etruscan and Roman Temples Fiesole

In 1985 Professor Alfiero Constantini donated a large collection of ancient ceramics, including Corinthian vases, Attic red and black figure pieces, Etruscan and black ware pieces. They are some of the best I have seen.

Red Figure Amphora Fiesole
Black Figure Amphora Fiesole
Red Figure Amphora Fiesole
Red Figure Amphora Fiesole
Red Figure Amphora Fiesole
Red Figure Amphora Fiesole
Seafood Dish Fiesole
Campanian Seafood Dish with bowl for sauce Fiesole

Before heading back into the fray of Renaissance Florence, I wandered around the modern town of Fiesole. In the main piazza I admired a modern bronze equestrian statue showing the meeting of Guiseppe Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuele II in 1860 during the unification of Italy.

Meeting of Garibaldi and Emanuele Fiesole
Meeting of Garibaldi and Emanuele Fiesole

Three Thousand Years in Nine Days – Day Nine

My last day in Rome. I had originally planned to go out to Hadrian’s Villa for the day but after my relentless eight days of sightseeing it was time to take it a little easier. Besides I had to leave a few things for my next visit to Rome.

So I walked across the Tiber via Insula Tiberina to Trastevere.

Bridge over Tiber to Isola Tibertina
Bridge (Ponte Fabricio) over the Tiber to Insula Tiberina

During a plague in 293 BC, the Romans wanted to build a temple to the god of healing, Aesculapius, so they sent a delegation to Epidauros in Greece to bring back a statue of the god and one of his snakes. Upon their return, while journeying up the Tiber to Rome, the snake escaped onto the island, Insula Tiberina. They believed this was the god’s choice for the location of his temple and that is where they built it. For over 2300 years the island has been associated with healing and there is still a hospital there today.

Streets of Trastevere
Streets of Trastevere

Trastevere is a great neighbourhood for restaurants. I began my walking tour by stopping at a cafe for a latte and croissant.

Santa Cecilia
Santa Cecilia

I visited the church of Santa Cecilia. She was an early Christian woman who was martyred. The columns are recycled from Roman temples. The first church here dates from the 3rd century and this church was built in the 9th century.

Mosaics in Santa Cecilia
Mosaics in Santa Cecilia

The mosaic dates from the 9th century and Cecilia is on the far right. The canopy is from the 1200s.

Tomb of Santa Cecilia
Tomb of Santa Cecilia

The tomb of Santa Cecilia is said to hold her remains. Since she was beheaded her face is turned and hidden from view.

Church of Santa Maria Trastevere
Church of Santa Maria Trastevere

The next stop on my walking tour of Trastevere was one of the oldest churches in Rome. The day I was there people were crowded into the church of Santa Maria Trastevere for Sunday Mass.

Trattoria de Lucia
Trattoria de Lucia

Time for a special Sunday lunch. I stopped at Trattoria de Lucia and had some delicious roast lamb.

View of Victor Emanuele Monument and Spanish Embassy in foreground
View of Victor Emanuele Monument and Spanish Embassy in foreground

After lunch, I climbed up the hillside and found some great views of the city of Rome. Spending my day in the neighbourhood of Trastevere was a relaxing way to enjoy my last hours in Rome.

Trastevere street
Trastevere street

Three Thousand Years in Nine Days – Day Eight

Day Eight was a cloudy/rainy day. I started out early to get to my 9 am reservation at the Borghese Gallery. I had two hours in the museum and no photos were allowed.

I was impressed by Bernini’s Baroque statues of classical myths – Daphne and Apollo, Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, Rape of Proserpina, and David. Also his self-portraits and portraits of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. These date from the 1600s and are in Cardinal Borghese’s villa from that period. After my museum visit I wandered through the Borghese Gardens.

Borghese Gardens
Borghese Gardens

Below the gardens is the Piazza del Popolo. The obelisk in the piazza was built by Ramses II in Egypt in the 1200s BC. It was brought to Rome by Augustus in 10 BC and was erected by him in the centre of the Circus Maximus. In subsequent centuries it was buried among the ruins until it was unearthed and moved to Piazza del Popolo in 1589.

Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo

In Piazza del Popolo there are three churches to Santa Maria – Santa Maria del Popolo, Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto
Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Rome looking at various sites, including the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Mausoleum of Augustus
Mausoleum of Augustus

The Ara Pacis, or altar of Peace built by the Roman Senate to honour Augustus, was reconstructed by Mussolini and since 2006 has been sheltered in a modern building.

Ara Pacis
Model of the Campus Martius
Model of the Campus Martius
Column of Marcus Aurelius
Column of Marcus Aurelius
T-Shirt Shop near Trevi Fountain
T-Shirt Shop near Trevi Fountain
Temple of Hadrian
Temple of Hadrian in Piazza Pietra
Temple of ?
Temple A (probably dedicated to Girturna)
Round Temple of ?
Round Temple B (dedicated to goddess Fortuna of the Present Day)

At the corner of the site is the edge of Magnus Pompey’s theatre known as Pompey’s Portico. It was here where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

Pompey's Portico
Pompey’s Portico

I ended my meandering tour of Rome at the Campo de’ Fiori market.

Campo de' Fiori
Campo de’ Fiori

Three Thousand Years in Nine Days – Day Seven

Another beautiful sunny spring day. Arriving in Ostia Antica from Rome I followed the crowd from the train to the ancient port of Rome. Though Ostia is away from the sea now, the River Tiber having silted up the port centuries ago, I could smell the salt in the air.

The entrance of the archaeological site begins at the ancient road into Ostia.

Road into Ostia
Road into Ostia

Graves line the road into the town. Romans did not allow any burials within their cities.
Graves line the road into the town. Romans did not allow any burials within the town limits.

Necropolis - Home of the Dead
Necropolis – Home of the Dead

Once past where the town gates once stood the Baths of Neptune are to the right.

Baths of Neptune
Baths of Neptune – Palaestra or exercise area

Further along is the theatre.

Ostia Theatre
Ostia Theatre
Theatre Masks at Ostia
Theatre Masks at Ostia

While I was sat looking back at the theatre from the Temple of Ceres, I could hear a choir giving a little concert of Adele songs in the theatre.

Temple of Ceres
Temple of Ceres

Surrounding the Temple of Ceres are the remains of commercial offices of shipping and cargo companies.  The doorway in front of each office had a black and white mosaic relating to their business, mostly pictures of their ships.

Commercial Forum Ship Mosaic
Commercial Forum Ship Mosaic

Some also had mosaics representing the cargo that was shipped to the port of Rome.

Fish, olive oil and dates?
Fish, olive oil and dates?

Amazingly second storeys of building survived at Ostia. I took a photo of the Forum from the second storey of an ancient apartment block (or insula).

View of Ostia's Forum
View of Ostia’s Forum
Forum Capitolium
Forum Capitolium

I met a couple from England and I spent the afternoon touring the site with them. They had been to Pompeii a few days before and they thought that Ostia was equally impressive.

Front of the Forum Baths
Front of the Forum Baths

We wandered around streets and into houses. It felt like a maze and I know I missed a corner.

Domus Della Fortuna Annonaria
Domus Della Fortuna Annonaria

The Domus Della Fortuna Annonaria had its own private latrine.

Domus della Fortuna Annonaria private latrine
Domus della Fortuna Annonaria private latrine

The small museum on the site had several interesting pieces of marble statuary found in Ostia.

Cupid and Psyche from the Domus of Cupid and Psyche
3rd Century Cupid and Psyche from the Domus of Cupid and Psyche
Muse Sarcophagus Detail
2nd Century AD Muse Sarcophagus Detail

Ostia is a sprawling town and, though I had a day to spend there, I did not see everything.  I’m going to have to return again one day.

After a day among the ruins, I took the train a few stops west to modern Ostia and dipped my toes into the Tyhrrenian Sea with my new friends.

On Ostia Beach
On Ostia Beach

Three Thousand Years in Nine Days – Day Six

Day Six began inauspiciously. I took the metro out to EUR to visit the Museo della Civilta Romana only to find it closed. It was a shame because this museum holds a model of ancient Rome that I wanted to see. Next time.

Back into town to the Piramide metro stop. Just opposite this stop are two small remnants of ancient Rome – the Porta San Paolo/Museo della Via Ostiense and the Pyramid of Calius Cestius.

Museo della Via Ostiensa
Museo della Via Ostiensa

The pyramid is the tomb of a Roman magistrate and member of a college of priests built between 12 and 18 BC. It was built along the Via Ostiensis, the road that lead to Rome’s port, Ostia.

Pyramid of Caius Cestius
Pyramid of Caius Cestius

A short walk away is the area of Testaccio and Monte Testaccio, the hill created by centuries of discarded ancient clay amphorae.

Monte Testaccio
Monte Testaccio

From here I walked to the Baths of Caracella. These baths, dating from AD 212, are located in a gorgeous setting and are impressively tall.

Baths of Caracalla
Baths of Caracalla

The baths were decorated with mosaic flooring.

14 Baths of Caracalla Mosaic
26 Baths of Caracalla Mosaic Fragment

And tiles on the wall.

23 Baths of Caracalla Wall Tile

On the grounds of the Baths of Caracalla a modern artist Michaelangelo Pistoletto has created a piece from ancient fragments of the baths called The Third Paradise.

37 Baths of Caracalla Fragments
A short walk and then a metro ride from the Circo Massimo stop and I’m back in my own neighbourhood.