Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The "Minor" Ruins

A few bits and pieces...
Coliseum? The Forum? The Palantine Hill? Baths of Caracalla? Too much? It seems that wherever you go in central Rome - and certainly wherever you dig - there’ll be a Roman-era ruin of some sort. It must be a headache for the city - every time they try to lay a water main or build a subway, they have to deal with yet another precious archaeological site. And the ruins above ground need to be propped up, made safe, protected from the elements. Quite a responsibility.

Here’s a few of the “minor” ruins you may come across in the streets around the ancient Roman centre:

Largo Argentina

Now one of the major transport hubs in the old city and the place to find a taxi or a tram, Largo Argentina also has the ruins of four Roman temples (and a large colony of cats). It was also the area where Pompey’s Theatre was situated - the Senate met there in the 1st century AD, and it’s the place where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

Largo Argentina
Pompey's Theatre -- as it was.
Ludus Magnus

The Ludus Magnus lies to the east of the Coliseum, and was built by the Emperor Domitian in 81-96 AD, as Rome’s foremost training academy for gladiators. It was discovered “by chance” (roadworks?) in 1937. It had a colonnaded courtyard surrounded by gladiators’ quarters and was connected to the Coliseum via a tunnel. Today the scrappy ruins are enhanced by the casual placing of a wooden table or a leather-strap bed, as if the gladiators had just stepped outside to wrestle a lion.

Ludus Magnus -- no gladiators in residence...

Teatro di Marcello

Three levels remain (sort of) of the circular walls of this teatro, looking something like a mini Coliseum - which it pre-dates. One end of it, and its top level, has been subsumed into adjacent buildings and provides residential apartments. The other end is propped up with scaffolding until there’s time and money to do more. It was built in the closing years of the Roman Republic (1st century AD), and is named after an uncle of Augustus. It was the place to go for open-air performances of drama and song and could hold 11,000 spectators in its heyday.

Teatro di Marcello. It's changed a bit.

Portico d’Ottavia

The Portico of Octavia was built by the Emperor Augustus (born ‘Octavian’) between 27 and 23 BC, and was dedicated to his sister Octavia. It replaced an older portico of Metellus (146 BC). Most of the bits left date from after a fire in 203 AD. It is presently under restoration - it’s turn must have come in the budget, perhaps - and there are good interpretive signs. The structure was a four-sided portico with long sides closed off by thick brick walls. The front was lined in columns and there was a monumental entrance. In the middle ages the town crowded around the portico and a fish market was located here. The nearby church is called Sant’Angelo in Pescheria (“at the Fish Market”). The portico has slabs of marble engraved with fish measurements and rules about who could have the biggest fish head (municipal bigwigs - some things never change).

Portico d’Ottavia. Or the Fish Market
Fish Rules.

Tempio di Portunus

As you walk along Via Teatro di Marcello until it joins up with Via Aventino, you’ll pass a number of quite well restored sites, most in their present reasonable state due to the attention of Mussolini, who tided things up before Hitler visited town. 

One small building you’ll see, currently surrounded by the ubiquitous chain-wire fencing, is a small temple to the god Portunus. This area was the ancient Forum Boarium by the Tiber and during antiquity the temple overlooked the Port Tiberinus at a sharp bend in the river. From here, the god Portunus could watch over cattle-barges as they entered the city from Ostia.

Tempio di Portunus. Watching over the port.

Temple of Vesta or Temple of Hercules Victor

Not to be confused with the House of the Vestal Virgins, with its own round temple, in the Forum, this small round temple sits alone now in a piazza with a renaissance fountain. (It’s just across from Santa Maria in Cosmedin and La Bocca della Verità). This small 2nd century BC temple is one of the earliest surviving marble structures in Rome. It’s usually thought to be a temple to Vesta because it’s round, but others say it’s a Temple to Hercules the Victorious (Tempio di Ercole Vincitore)

Vesta or Hercules? 

Omobono Sanctuary - working on it...

Omobono Sanctuary

Back along the road from the Forum Boarium there’s a prime example of what happens when you start digging in Rome. In the 1930s the area in front of S. Omobono was saved from development by an enthusiastic archaeologist, and they’ve been working on the site ever since. It seems to have been two major temples placed side by side, to the goddesses Fortuna and Mater Matuta, built and rebuilt through the 6th century BC (that’s old, even for Rome).

Arch of Janus

The Romans loved building triumphal arches, and they;re still littered today over the whole geographical spread of their Empire. (Wiki has a list - here.)

The rather spectacular Arch of Janus sits on a side street, behind chain-wire, and overlooked by crumbling apartment blocks. But it’s worth as close a look as you can get. The Arch of Janus is the only quadrifrons triumphal arch preserved in Rome. It was built in the early 4th century AD, using spolia, possibly in honour of Constantine I or Constantius II. The name Janus was applied later, and is derived from the structure's four-fronted, four-arched configuration - related to the four-faced version of Janus (Ianus Quadrifons), as well as to actual Janus-related structures mentioned in historic descriptions of ancient Rome.

The Arch of Janus. Beautiful. 4th century AD.

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