archaeology

Lost Churches of Terracina. 1 of 5

Lost Churches of Terracina. 1 of 5

A tale between the Middle Ages and the modern and contemporary age. A real walk through time. 5 mini episodes about the lost churches of Terracina (Latina, Italy). A special edition of A Spasso con Sara.

A unique case: a history linked to that of Rome

Terracina is an example of a city with continuity of life. Probably the center of the Ausoni at the end of the sixth century BC, was perhaps already under Roman rule shortly after, being mentioned in the first treaty between Romans and Carthaginians reported by the Greek historian Polibius. It fell into the hands of the Volscians and was regained by the Romans in 406 BC. After a bloody spring and pull with the Volscians, in 329 B.C. the descendants of Romulus founded a colonia maritima there. From that moment, the fate of Anxur-Tarracina was indisputably linked to that of Rome and its history can be largely inscribed within the wider framework of the city.

 

The city of Terracina and its distance from Rome.

 

Christianity in Terracina

And like Rome, also the ancient Terracina was invested, starting from the first century AD, by that phenomenon of universal importance that was Christianity. The new religion, centred on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, saw in Terracina the birth of an early community, presumably thanks to the Appian Way and the port, which had the merit of connecting the small town of Lazio with Rome (at the time the largest metropolis in the ancient world) and with the most remote corners of his empire.

A stretch of the Appian Way along the northern side of the Aemilian Forum of Terracina.

 

St. Peter’s in Terracina?

It is said that, thanks to the Appian Way, Saint Peter visited Terracina. When he landed in Puglia, the Prince of the Apostles set off on a journey to the city where, according to tradition, he lived for twenty years and found himself martyred.

The Appian Way, as is well known, was built in 312 B.C. and extended until Brindisi, connecting Rome with the south of Italy. And the Regina Viarum (the name by which the Appia was known throughout the world) crossed the heart of the town of Terracina. Consequently, anyone who wanted to reach Rome from the south of Italy, had to pass through our city. Although we do not have material traces that concretely document the stopover of St. Peter at Terracina, we can declare quite plausible the hypothesis of his crossing of the city.

 

The Crucifixion of St. Peter in a famous painting by Caravaggio in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome (Credits: arte.it).

 

The first Christian community in the city

A Christian community certainly existed in Terracina in the sixth century AD. In fact, a letter written by Pope Gregory the Great dates back to that time and, in 590 A.D., was addressed to Peter, bishop of the city, and to his community. The document, very precious, indirectly attests to the existence of an Ecclesia Terracinese (and also of a Jewish) but not that of a cathedral building connected to it.

It is very likely that the first churches of Terracina were located in the western part of its territory, outside the town protected by the walls (the last of which date back to the first decade of the fifth century AD). This area, drained by the Romans through special hydraulic systems and divided by them into many small agricultural plots, housed, in fact, the tombs of San Cesareo and San Silviano, the first martyrs of the city. Not by chance, it has gone down in history with the name of Valley of Saints.

La Valle of Terracina. Scheme of the ancient Roman centuriation and position of the ancient town (in orange).

Religion and Christian rites were practiced in hiding. In fact, it was necessary to wait until 313 A.D., the year of Constantine’s edict of tolerance, so that Christianity could be professed in the light of the sun like the many other new religions that were spreading at that time.

In Terracina, therefore, in the early Christian era (III – IV century AD) the churches as we understand them did not exist! Perhaps the ancient rustic villas of La Valle were used, with a phenomenon very similar to that of the domus ecclesiae of Rome. Those who, in essence, had a large space, made it available to the community for the celebration of Mass.

 

Basement of the large rustic villa in Monticchio ne La Valle di Terracina.

Churches come into the city

Churches only entered the city in the Carolingian age (VIII-IX century A.D.). At that time, in fact, Pope Leo IV (847-855 AD) donated a series of liturgical objects and furnishings to the Cathedral of Terracina. Its donation presupposes the presence, at least from the ninth century AD, of a cathedral building, which used, in part, the remains of the ancient Tempio Maggiore of the Aemilian Forum. Shortly after, the original city parishes connected to the first churches were also born, on which the subsequent urban development depended.

 

The Cathedral of Terracina.

A new phase began in the Romanic period (XI – XII century A.D.), marked by the birth of new churches. The city, characterized by a strong increase in population, expanded with five new villages leaning against its walls and each with its own parish church.

The subsequent Gothic period (13th-14th centuries AD) also saw the construction of new Christian buildings of worship. Two important convents were also built, that of San Francesco, on the hill of the same name, and that of San Domenico, inspired by the Cistercian tradition of the nearby Abbey of Fossanova.

 

The last transformation: the modern age

In modern times, after a first partial abandonment of the religious building heritage of the city (XVI – XVII century AD), it was recovered thanks to Pius VI Braschi, whose name is inextricably linked to that of Terracina, chosen as the physical end of the great work of draining of the Pontine Marshes promoted by him. And so, as part of a more general plan for the reorganization and revision of the city, some of its ancient churches disappeared, others were renovated, others were built from scratch.

 

The pope Pius VI (Credits: www.museivaticani.va).

 

 

But now I’m stopping here! For further details and to discover the names, location and traces of the lost churches of Terracina, I invite you to follow me in the next episodes of #aspassoconsara

 

Posted by Sara Pandozzi in CHURCHES & HOLY SITES, 0 comments
The Roman Theatre of Terracina (Latina, Italy)

The Roman Theatre of Terracina (Latina, Italy)

The Roman theatre represents, without a doubt, the real archaeological dream of Terracina.
A Spasso con Sara to discover this unique archeological site!

 

The theatre of Terracina, located along the northern front of the ancient Forum Aemilianum, occupies an area of about 70 meters by 60 in the area of the square Urbano II (nowaday it doesn’t exist anymore). The location in that specific section of the ancient city was dictated by purely practical reasons. At that point, in fact, it was possible to place a large part of the steps on which the spectators sat (cavea) on the natural slope of the ground.

 

Position of the Roman theatre complex in Terracina (Credits: Google 2018).

 

The building technique (for experts, opus incertum) places it among the oldest in Lazio region. Its original nucleus is, in fact, datable between 70 and 60 BC.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. The red arrow indicates a wall in opus incertum referring to the first phase of construction.

During the first century AD, the complex was affected by a radical restructuring that enhanced its appearance. Refined and coloured marbles, coming from the most remote corners of the empire, replaced the previous local limestone. The modest white mosaic, which was the floor of the first theatre, was replaced by large slabs of marble, some of which are still preserved. Significant changes also affected the stage building. These works, which began under the reign of Augustus (27 BC -14 AD), were probably completed in the phase of his successors (14 AD, the year of establishment of Tiberius – 68 AD, the year of Nero’s death and the end of the Julius-Claudian dynasty).

 

 Roman Theatre of Terracina. The first floor of the complex made of white mosaic.

The maintenance of the theatre was constant throughout the Flavian age (second half of the first century AD) and continued until that of the Severi (late second – early third century AD). Some traces, found in the more recent layers, document, however, a violent fire after which the environments, heavily damaged and left without maintenance, were abandoned. The curtains of the curtain fell and a new story began.

 

You can see…

Archaeological excavations, which have been going on for several years now (the first conference was organized more than 10 years ago), have brought to light a large part of the eastern sector of the theatre and have also traced its western border, obliterated by the presence of modern buildings. During the research, the demolition of a modern house in dilapidated condition and the stratigraphic removal of other buildings, without medieval walls, has allowed the rediscovery of other parts of the complex.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. Image from above and illustrative scheme of the archaeological excavation (The image was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).

 

Climbing along the current Via S. Galba (the small road that runs along the four-sided arch leading to the Foro Emiliano) and continuing along the stairs, looking to the left, you will have a beautiful view from above over the excavation of the theater. There are 14 perfectly preserved rows of steps on which we can imagine the richest citizens of Terracina (the places reserved for the plebs and women are not visible as obliterated by a water preserve already in the eighteenth century and a cobblestone road then traced by the ramp that we walked to get to the top of the excavation). In fact, the places closest to the orchestra were intended for them, the semicircular space, decorated with precious marbles, reserved for musicians and separated from the stage by a long horizontal wall. Beyond this wall, there are a series of septa on which were placed the wooden boards of the stage, the space in which the actors, with expressive masks, staged tragedies and comedies. Behind them, the architecture of the scene was raised, with statues, marbles and columns.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. Explanatory overview of the visible remains.

 

Reconstructive drawing of a Roman theatre (Credits: digilander.libero.it/sarotheatres/intro.html)

 

A large portico opened behind the scene (it is the cd porticus post scaenam). Surrounded by columns on four sides, arranged around an open central space, it was the place where spectators could shelter themselves in case of rain or walk during the intervals of the shows. It was directly accessible from the Appian Way and from the piazza del Foro Emiliano, from which it is still visible today.

 

Roman Theatre of Terracina. The porticus photographed by the Aemilian Forum (now Piazza Municipio). Below, in the photo, a stretch of the ancient Via Appia (decumanus maximus).

 Roman Theatre of Terracina. Remains of the columns of the porticus.

Archaeological Findings

The findings made within the complex have given important emotions to archaeologists and citizens. Togated statues, male portraits, heads of divinities, architectural elements such as frames, columns, capitals and fragments of marble, give an idea of how the building should look in ancient times.

 

Roman Theatre of Terracina. Fragment of a fresco that decorated the eastern entrance of the theatre (the photograph was shown by Dr Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).

 

The most significant finds have been found near the scene. Worthy of note are two female marble statues, headless and larger than life. Perhaps, judging by their dress and hair, they are two priestesses of Isis. Famous are the fragments of a monumental male statue more than two metres high and made of ancient yellow (a precious marble). It represented an oriental barbarian, as can be deduced from his clothing: tight trousers, short tunic, belt under the chest and Phrygian cap.

 

Roman Theatre of Terracina. One of the female acephalous statues at the time of their discovery (the photograph was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).

 

Perhaps you don’t know that…

Inside the theater was found a marble altar dedicated to Jupiter Anxur, the god who has always been attributed the famous shrine of Monte Sant’Angelo that stood on the artificial platform visible from every corner of the city. This is a fundamental discovery. The find is, in fact, the first epigraphic attestation of the existence of the cult of Jupiter Anxur in Terracina, previously known only through literary testimonies.

 

Roman Theatre of Terracina. The altar with dedication to Jupiter Anxur at the moment of its discovery (The photograph was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).

 

Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES, 0 comments