Category Archives: Architecture

The Peristylium: Still Not Your Average Column

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Rome, and the later capitals in the Imperium Rōmānum, was a grand achievement based on many things. The Empire was a terrific blend of both art and culture.

From the North Atlantic to the Persian Gulf and from the Black Sea to the Red Sea, the greatness of Rome can still be felt. Something that can still be experienced, aside from the art, is the architecture.

That is why today we are re-imagining Roman architecture as we explore the Peristylium!

Typical design of a Peristylium.

Upon conquering a new region, the greatest of efforts was made to make this new place feel as much like Rome (aka home) as possible. First the Legionaries, and then the Praetor or Consulwould construct any new city according to a specific plan, while existing cities were altered as much as possible to fit said design.

Something common to all these places was the architecture, specifically the use of the Peristylium. So as someone who may not be a Rome-aholic or get all geeked up on the past, like us at Rome Across Europe, don’t worry if you don’t know what a Peristylium is.

“In the Peristyle” John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). Rochdale Art Gallery, Rochdale, England.

Once we get rolling, you’ll know exactly what’s going on. The peristyle originates from Hellenistic Greek architecture.

The easiest way to describe the peristyle would be as a columned porch, or open colonnade in a building, surrounding a court that may contain an internal garden. Tetrastoon (Four Arcades) is another name for this feature.

As with other cultural staples of Rome, Roman architecture took what the Ancient Greeks had developed and just made it better & bolder. In the Christian ecclesiastical architecture that developed from Roman Basilica, a courtyard peristyle and its garden came to be known as a cloister.

Liwan House
A Liwan House

Although Ancient Egyptian architecture predates Greek and Roman antiquity, historians frequently use the term peristyle to describe similar, earlier Egyptian structures. In Ancient Egyptian palace architecture and in Levantine houses, known as Liwan Houses, the peristyle was a common feature.

In rural settings, a wealthy Roman would usually surround his villa (sorry ladies) with terraced gardens. Within the city, Romans created their gardens inside the domus.

Reconstruction of a Roman Peristylum
Reconstruction of a Roman peristylum (peristyle) and peristylium (courtyard) of Pompeii.

The Peristylium was an open courtyard within the house with columns or square pillars surrounding the garden supported a shady roofed portico. The inner walls of the portico were often embellished with elaborate wall paintings of landscapes and Trompe-l’oeil architecture.

Sometimes the Lararium, a shrine for the Lares, the gods of the household, was located in this portico. If not it would be found in the atrium.

A Villa’s Outer Peristyle

The courtyard would typically contain flowers and shrubs, fountains, benches, sculptures and even fish ponds. Romans devoted as large a space to the Peristylium as site constraints permitted.

Even in the grandest development of the urban peristyle house, as it evolved in Roman North Africa, often a range of the portico was eliminated, for a larger open space.

The end of the Roman domus is a mark of the extinction of the Late Classical culture. After AD 550, no new peristyle houses were built.

Basilica of Constantine
Remains of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine (Rome). The building’s northern aisle is all that remains.

As houses and villas were increasingly abandoned in the 5th Century, a few palatial structures were expanded and enriched as classical culture and public life withdrew to the Basilica.

In the Eastern Roman Empire, Late Antiquity lingered longer. The latest known Peristyle house built from scratch as the “House of the Falconer” at Argos, dating from the style of its floor mosaics about 530-550 AD.

Existing houses were subdivided to accommodate a larger population in a labyrinth of small spaces. Columned porticoes were enclosed in small cubicles, as at the House of Hesychius at Cyrene.

Old St. Peter Basilica
Drawing of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica

In the Christian ecclesiastical architecture that developed from Roman precedents, a Basilica, such as Old St Peter’s in Rome, would stand behind a peristyle forecourt that sheltered it from the street. In time the cloister developed from the Peristylium.

The Grand Trianon was originally called the Marble Trianon in reference to the pilasters that give its façades their rhythm. A colonnaded portico piercing the palace through the middle linked the courtyard and gardens, opening it up to the outdoors.

Grand Trianon
Peristyle of the Grand Trianon (Versailles, France)

At least that was the new building’s main idea. Wrongly called a Peristyle since the period of Louis XIV, the portico provides the Grand Trianon with the transparency that makes it novel.

Visitors walk from the courtyard into the gardens even without noticing. This is exactly what the Romans wanted to accomplish.

In 1810, Napoleon had the peristyle glazed on both sides to facilitate communication between his apartment and that of the empress. This alteration formed the vestibule, where a military tribunal presided by the duc d’Aumale tried Marshal Bazaine from October to December 1873. The glazing was removed in 1910.

A great original example of a Roman Peristylium can be found in Split, Croatia. At the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diocletian’s Palace you can visit Peristyle Square, in front of the bell tower and Cathedral of St. Domnius.

Peristyle Square
Peristyle Square (Split, Croatia)

Among the most popular Split attractions, Peristyle Square is the center of cultural life in Split. Here the extraordinary acoustics maintain traditional cultural and musical events, including the Split Summer Festival.

City Park NOLA Peristyle
City Park NOLA Peristyle

City Park in New Orleans is an example of using a Peristyle in the New World. In 1907, architect Paul Andry created this neoclassical open-air pavilion with a colonnade.

The Peristyle overlooks picturesque Bayou Metairie and has been lovingly maintained over the years through several renovation projects, in 1989 and 2012.

Prospect Park Peristyle
Prospect Park (New York) Peristyle

Another New World example is the Prospect Park Peristyle in New York City. To most it’s known as the Grecian Shelter, the Colonnade, or the Croquet Shelter, the building is regarded in architectural circles as the finest neoclassical Peristyle in New York City.

So the Peristylium is something that you’re already familiar with, right? We knew once we showed you a few examples it would jog your memory.

There are lots more examples here in the States. Go out and let us know if there’s one by you.

Thanks for stopping by. We hoped you enjoyed learning about the Peristyle and will come back again.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Barbara F. McManus. THE PERISTYLIUM.

J.A. Dickmann. “The peristyle and the transformation of domestic space in Hellenistic Pompeii”, Journal of Roman Archeology 1997.

E.B. MacDougall, W.M.F. Jashemski, eds., Ancient Roman Gardens: Dumbarton Oaks Colloqium on the History of Landscape Architecture, 1979.

Yvon Thébert, “Private life and domestic architecture in Roman Africa”, in Paul Veyne, ed. A History of Private Life, I: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium (1985, Arthur Goldhammer, tr., 1987) esp. “The peristyle”, pp 357-64.

Simon P. Ellis, “The End of the Roman House” American Journal of Archaeology 92.4 (October 1988:565-576) opened the article’s abstract with these words.

Porta Romana: Becoming Famous Once More

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you are like me, then you are a fan of author Dan Brown and his works regarding Harvard Professor Robert Langdon. Thanks to Dan Brown’s newest hit book turned movie, Inferno, a lot of attention has been given to Florence, Venice and Istanbul.

Having just finished reading Inferno, one historical item is once again the talk of Florence. At least among tourists.

That is what we are going to explore today, the Porta Romana!

Porta Romana (outside view)
Porta Romana (outside view)

Did you know that Florence used to be surrounded by high defensive walls? From the principal set of walls dating back to 15-30 BC till the last erected in the mid-16th Century, either 5 or 6 different wall designs were built over the centuries to defend the city.

Dedication Plaque
Dedication Plaque

Today, just a small portion of the last walls remains in the Oltrarno area. The walls of the north side of the Arno River were destroyed to create today’s boulevards in the 19th Century, when, for a brief period, Florence was the capital of Italy.

Fortunately, some strong and impressive remnants of the ancient city walls still survive. The doors (porte) and a few towers are what we will examine.

The Porta Romana, once known as the Porta San Pier Gattolino was the southernmost gate in the 13th Century walls of the Oltrarno section of Florence, region of Tuscany, Italy. It stands at the convergence of a number of roads: accessed from north by Via Romana, Via de’ Serragli, and Viale Francesco Petrarca.

Places mentioned in Inferno- Porta Roman, Boboli Gardens, and State Institute of Art
Places mentioned in Inferno- Porta Roman, Boboli Gardens, and State Institute of Art

In addition, a central road along the Boboli Gardens begins near the gate, and allowed the inhabitants of the Palazzo Pitti to exit and enter Florence with minimal travel on city streets. Beyond the gates are the Via del Poggio Imperiale and Via Senese.

The latter led to Siena and points south such as Rome, hence the name. When the majority of the defensive walls of Florence were razed in the 19th Century, only a few, and sometimes partial gate structures were left standing including Porta San GalloPorta San Niccolo, and this gate with a snippet of merlonated wall.

The 13th Century walls and gates of the city were erected with the designs of various builders. Among the main contributors were Arnolfo di Cambio, with contributions by OrcagnaGiotto and others.

Buosignori map (1584)
Buosignori map (1584)

A plaque on the external wall claims the gate was erected in 1327. Originally, and as demonstrated on the 1584 map by Stefano Buonsignori, the gate had a lower outer wall with a small courtyard dominated by the larger gate we see today and resembled the Porta Romana of Siena.

The gate had a large central entrance for horse-drawn carriages, and smaller lateral doors for pedestrian entry. The door retains its original massive, iron-clad doors.

The outer arch has a weather-worn 13th Century fresco, depicting the enthroned Virgin and saints. The interior portion of the gate has 2 marble plaques.

Iron clad doors
Iron clad doors

One plaque commemorates the 1515 entrance into Florence of the Medici Pope Leo X, and the other the 1535 entry of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. This gate still has its original iron doors, with the typical large bolts (for decorative and pragmatic purposes), the old locks, and a marble slab bearing the Medici coat of arms.

When Cosimo I augmented the walls around Florence, he destroyed the church of San Pier Gattolino that had stood at the site since at least 1068. A subsequent church was rebuilt with designs of Giuseppe Castagnoli and Domenico Del Potesta, and was decorated by Giusto Mariani and Romanelli.

It is said the term Gattolino is a corruption of Gattuario, others say it was a corruption of Catelina. Others attribute it to the word gattice a type of white poplar in the region. The church is also called the parish church of Serumido, derived from Ser Umido Grazzino.

Just outside the wall was the 14th Century church and convent of San giusto della Calza of the Knights of Jerusalem.


At the center of a roundabout facing the Porta Romana stands a controversial modern marble statue of 2 women, the Dietro-Front (Turnabout), by artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. The sculpture was presented for the first time in 1984 at the artist’s exhibition at Forte Belvedere, and later permanently installed in the Piazzale di Porta Romana.

One of the female figures (about 20 ft high) points vertically at Via Senese, which leads to Via Cassia and then to Rome. The other figure (about 10 ft high) is placed on the head of the other, and looks towards Via Romana that enters the city walls of Florence.

Piazza Porta Romana
Piazza Porta Romana

In 1984, after chaining the 14th Century city gate in front of which Dietro-Front was placed, protesters collected hundreds of signatures demanding that the sculpture be moved to a suburban area of the city. After brief discussion among city members, it was decided that the sculpture was to remain in its place.

Since the symbolic significance of the statue was not immediately understood by the citizens, Pistoletto himself had to explain the meaning of his work of art during an interview. He said that: “The Dietro-Front sculpture has a clear meaning. It’s bi-directional, a figure walks one way while carrying a second figure on its head which walks the other way. From Florence during the Renaissance new ideas were born in artistic, scientific architectural and economic areas. Everything modern starts from this point, from Florence. My sculpture leaves Florence to face the world and at the same time the second figure returns: it is a come-back to modernity from the world to Florence”.

This was the author’s perspective, but everyone can interpret it in her/his own manner. Even if the Florentines have not been particularly taken by Pistoletto’s works of art, he leaves an original artwork that is by now considered an iconic reference to the area of Porta Romana, well-integrated into the city.

However, the Florentines, accustomed to the works of another Michelangelo (Buonarroti), were not particularly grateful. Consequently, the sculpture was immediately renamed “headache” by some, the “unbalanced” by others and referenced as such even today.

Inferno cover
Inferno cover

In Inferno, Dan Brown describes Porta Romana as one of Florence’s busiest intersections—the gateway to the old city. It is from here that Robert and Sienna start their adventure.

Porta Romana belongs to the ancient walls of Florence and it is the largest and best preserved gate of the city. From this point, one can see the city’s past while also viewing its future.

We hope you enjoyed today’s travels and look forward to having you back again soon. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for special additions.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Biadi, Luigi. Notizie sulle antiche fabbriche di Firenze non terminate e sulle variazioni.

Brown, Dan. Inferno. Doubleday, 14 May 2013.

Fantozzi, Federico. Pianta geometrica della città di Firenze alla proporzione di 1 a 4500.

Florentine Gazetteer project with Buonsignori Map.

Pistoletto’s Statue in Porta Romana”. Florence Inferno.

Porta Romana”. Inside Inferno.


Tower of Hercules: Lighting the Night Sky for Close to a Millennia

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Through our many adventures we have crisscrossed Europe and the Middle East. From Britannia to Constantinople and from Dacia to Egypt, we have explored the vastness that was the Imperium Rōmānum.

Throughout the journeys we have uncovered everything from Roman Laws to people of interest to historic places. As we carry on, it’s time to take a closer look at an item that was made for a Roman deity and hero.

For today’s adventure we’re off to Hispania as we uncover the Tower of Hercules!

The Tower of Hercules - Coastal View
The Tower of Hercules – Coastal View

Before we explore the edifice, let’s take a brief look at this Roman hero, Hercules.

Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek divine hero Heracles, who was the son of Zeus (Roman equivalent Jupiter) and the mortal Alcmene. In classical mythology, Hercules is famous for his strength and for his numerous far-ranging adventures.

Hercules of the Forum Boarium (Hellenistic, 2nd Century BC)
Hercules of the Forum Boarium (Hellenistic, 2nd Century BC)

The Romans adapted the Greek hero’s iconography and myths for their literature and art under the name Hercules. In later Western art and literature and in popular culture, Hercules is more commonly used than Heracles as the name of the hero.

Hercules was a multifaceted figure with contradictory characteristics, which enabled later artists and writers to pick and choose how to represent him. Known for his many adventures, one of which became canonical as the “Twelve Labours” took him to the far reaches of the Greco-Roman world.

Needless to say, Hercules had a reputation anywhere that Roman Latin or Greek was spoken. This leads us to Hispania and the Tower of Hercules.

Known in Galician and Spanish as el Torre de Hércules, this ancient Roman lighthouse stands on a peninsula about 1.5 mi from the center of A CoruñaGalicia, in north-western Spain. The almost 1900 year old structure is the oldest Roman lighthouse in use today, and also the oldest existing lighthouse in the world.

towerUntil the 20th Century, the 180 ft tall tower was known by the Latin Farum Brigantium. The Latin word Farum is derived from the Greek pharos for the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

The Tower of Hercules is a National Monument of Spain, and it is the 2nd tallest lighthouse in Spain, after the Faro de Chipiona. Since 27 June 2009 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby sculpture garden featuring works by Pablo Serrano and Francisco Leiro.

Built or perhaps rebuilt under Trajan, The tower is known to have existed by the 2nd Century AD. The foundations of which are possibly based on a design that was Phoenician in origin.

Solid bronze gate with relief
Solid bronze gate with relief

At its base is preserved the cornerstone with the inscription MARTI AUG.SACR C.SEVIVS LVPVS ARCHTECTVS AEMINIENSIS LVSITANVS.EX.VO, permitting the original lighthouse tower to be ascribed to the architect Gaius Sevius Lupus, from Aeminium (present-day CoimbraPortugal) in the former province of Lusitania, as an offering dedicated to Mars.

The earliest known reference to the lighthouse at Brigantium is by Paulus Orosius in Historiae adversum Paganos written around 415-417:

Secundus angulus circium intendit, ubi Brigantia Gallaeciae civitas sita altissimum farum et inter pauca memorandi operis ad speculam Britanniae erigit (At the second angle of the circuit circumnavigating Hispania], where the Gallaecian city of Brigantia is sited, a very tall lighthouse is erected among a few commemorative works, for looking towards Britannia.)

Plan and elevation from Joseph Cornide (1792)
Plan and elevation from Joseph Cornide (1792)

In 1788, the original 112 ft, 3-story tower was given a neoclassical restoration, including a new 69 ft fourth story. The restoration was undertaken by naval engineer Eustaquio Giannini during the reign of Charles III of Spain, and was finished in 1791.

The Romans who conquered this region of Spain believed it to be, in a figurative sense, the end of the earth, whence its name Finisterra. This region is notorious for shipwrecks, earning it the name Costa da Morte (Coast of Death).

Through the millennia, many mythical stories of the tower’s origin have been told. According to a myth that blends Celtic and Greco-Roman elements, the hero Hercules slew the giant tyrant Geryon after 3 days and 3 nights of continuous battle.

The Tower of Hercules in the Coat of Arms of Corunna
The Tower of Hercules in the Coat of Arms of Corunna

Hercules then, in a Celtic gesture, buried the head of Geryon with his weapons and ordered that a city be built on the site. The lighthouse was set atop a skull and crossbones representing the buried head of Hercules’ slain enemy appears in the coat-of-arms of the city of Corunna.

Another legend embodied in the 11th Century Irish compilation Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Book of Invasions, King Breogán, the founding father of the Galician Celtic nation, constructed a massive tower of such a grand height that his sons could see a distant green shore from its top. The glimpse of that distant green land lured them to sail north to Ireland.

According to the legend, Breogán’s descendants stayed in Ireland and are the Celtic ancestors of the current Irish people. A colossal statue of Breogán has been erected near the Tower.

Breogán and the Tower of Hercules
Breogán and the Tower of Hercules

Early geographical descriptions on the location of Brigantium point out that the town could be actually located in Corunna or in the locality of the modern town of Betanzos. Both in literary accounts as well as in maps, the people from Betanzos claim Brigantium as the founding city and they also believe that the name Betanzos is a phonetical evolution from Brigantium > Breganzo > Betanzos.

The Betanzos tradition claims that the port of Betanzos was getting too small for the larger medieval ships, and that king Alfonso IX of León decided to create a bigger port nearby in the 13th Century. The place he chose was an uninhabited place called Clunia, which later on evolved to Cruña and Coruña, and the place name Clunia is believed to come from the Proto-Celtic root *klou̯ni (cf. Old Irish cluain), meaning meadow.

However, the Coruña tradition maintains that the “port” of Betanzos was way too small for the Roman warships to dock, for example when Julius Caesar visited this area with “more than a hundred trirēmis“. It is demonstrated that Corunna was an important Roman site, as graveyards and other Roman remains have been found in the city center, demonstrating that the site was inhabited from the Roman period the early Middle Ages.

In the left, one of the windows. In the right, the small spiral staircase to reach the last section before the lantern to the outside.
In the left, one of the windows. In the right, the small spiral staircase to reach the last section before the lantern to the outside.

The proponents of Corunna also explain the different name as a change that occurred in the Middle Ages, and point out the fact that the lighthouse, which was called Pharum Brigantium, is placed in Corunna, and at least 16 mi walking distance or a whole day’s journey, from Betanzos.

A medieval watchtower in Segovia also bears the name “Tower of Hercules”.

The results of the excavations of 2009, with the remnants of the base of old exterior wall.
The results of the excavations of 2009, with the remnants of the base of old exterior wall.

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure as we uncovered the world’s oldest lighthouse. Check us out again soon and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Official website

Tower of Hercules Visitor Services and Interpretive Center (in English)

UNESCO website

Documentos para estudiar la Torre de Hércules” (in Spanish).

Historical timeline of the Tower of Brigantia”. Galician Flag.

Three Roman Women Show Their Faces for the First Coruñeses”. Que! 19 November 2008.

Torre de Hércules” (in English). Universidade da Coruña.

Tower of Hercules in Segovia”.  Segovia Mint.

The Palatine Towers: Standing Guard Over Turin Since Roman Times

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

The Roman Empire is chock-full of interesting people, places and events. Outside of The Eternal City, it would be hard to say a single place that we just cannot wait to visit.

A place we are fascinated with is TurinItaly. Last month we had a visual exploration of the city in From Augusta Taurinorum to Modern Torino (Turin): A Place Like No Other.

Today we’re showing some more love to Torino as we check out the famous Palatine Towers!1

The original settlement of Taurisia, founded by the Taurini, was partly destroyed by the Carthaginian invader Hannibal in 218 BC. It later became a Roman military colony, known as Julia Augusta Taurinorum.

The Palatine Gate is a Roman Age city gate that provided access through the city walls of Julia Augusta Taurinorum from the North side and, as a result, it constituted the Porta Principalis Dextra (Right-Side Main Gate) of the old town.

2Rebuilt by the Emperor Augustus, the gate formed an enclosed rectangle divided into 72 blocks (insulae). The remains of the walls and the Palatine Gate and Towers are still visible.

The Porta Principalis Dextra served as an access to the Cardo Maximus, currently identified in Via Porta Palatina and Via San Tommaso. Its impressive remains are currently visible at the center of an open area, today’s Piazza Cesare Augusto.

Built in the 1st Century during the Augustan or Flavian Age, the Porta Principalis Dextra may predate the construction of the city walls. It was possibly built on the location of an earlier Republican Age gate.

Palazzo di Città
Palazzo di Città

The name Porta Palatina literally refers to a Palazzo (Palace) placed near the gate, but it is not clear what palace is here referred to. The most trusted theory suggests that it might be either the former Casa del Senato (House of the Senate), a

Former House of the Senate
Former House of the Senate

medieval palace located inside the city walls, or perhaps the Palazzo di Città (City Palace) which is the city hall of Turin placed not far from the gate as well.

A second theory hints to the presence of an alleged adjacent amphitheatre built near present-day Borgo Dora, a historical neighborhood developing right outside the old city walls (north of the Porta Palatina). This facility might rapidly have fallen into disrepair and, as a result, it might simply have been dubbed palazzo by the ancients.

Over the centuries, the Palatine Gate was also known by some other names such as Porta Comitale (Count’s Gate, allegedly referring to a count’s residence); Porta Doranea or Porta Doranica (since it led to the Dora River); and later as Porta Palazzo (a clear synonym of Porta Palatina).

Porta Decumana
Porta Decumana

Quite similar to the ancient Porta Decumana, built into the medieval structure of the present-day Palazzo Madama, the Palatine Gate represents an example of a typical Roman gate facing a Cavaedium (quadrangular courtyard on the inside of the city walls). The remains of which are placed in front of the gate.

Erected on a square base, the pair of angular towers are more than 98 ft high and feature a 16-sided structure. The central body, namely the interturrio, is about 66 ft long and is characterized by 2 orders of windows, the lower composed of arch windows and the upper made up of jack arch windows.

The underlying portion features 4 entryways. The central entryways are larger, taller and are vehicle accessible, while the 2 side entryways are narrower, shorter and served as pedestrian passageways.3

The grooves along the entryways’ inner walls suggest the original presence of the so-called cateractae. This was an alleged system of gate gratings operated from the upper floor.

On the ground near the gate is still part of the guardhouse added in the Roman period. One can still see the furrows on the stones caused by the transit of wagons.


The pair of bronze statues depicting Augustus and Julius Caesar are not the original statues but copies from the last, radical restoration of 1934. However, they are object of discussion as they were incorrectly placed in the internal area occupied by the statio instead of outside the gate where they would possibly have more relevance.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

This facility served as a city gate for a long time and was turned into a Castrum in the 11th Century, although it lost the internal structure of the Cavaedium over the centuries. In 1404, after centuries of incursions and partial decay, the western tower was rebuilt and both towers got completed with battlements for defensive purposes.

The Palatine Gate was supposed to be torn down in the early 18th Century, pursuant to the urban renewal process started by Vittorio Amedeo II. However, the dismantling was not implemented thanks to the intervention of the architect and engineer Antonio Bertola, who convinced the Duke to preserve the ancient architectural work.

In 2006 the City of Turin started a restoration of the archaeological area, with the intent to improve the park, make the towers accessible to the public and build an underground parking for the carts of the nearby Porta Palazzo open market. Together with the ancient theatre’s remains, located a short distance away, the Palatine Gate is part of the so-called Archaeological ParkPark

The Palatine Gate represents the primary archaeological evidence of the city’s Roman phase, and is one of the best preserved 1st Century BC Roman gateways in the world. It is certainly an impressive spectacle and something the locals certainly love.

Today’s trip, even though it felt short in nature, was quite enjoyable for us. We hope you had a good time and look forward to having you visit again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Cardoza, A. e Symcox, G. Storia di TorinoEinaudi, 2006.

Papotti, Luisa. “La Porta Palatina”. The restoration of the nineties in Liliana Mercando, Archaeology in Turin. Umberto Allemandi & Co, 2003.

Gruppo Archeologico Torinese. Archaeological Guide of Turin.

Torricella, Giuseppe. Torino e le sue vie. Le Livre Précieux, 1971.

Turin, Italy”. Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Roman Roads: Construction and Types

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

We try to cover anything possible that has to do with Ancient Rome (Foundation / Kingdom / Republic / Empire). This allows us to explore almost anything, or anyone, in modern Europe, and sometimes even venture into the Middle East.

Last week, we uncovered the outline of trade routes with Roman Roads: They All Lead Home. Having discovered why the roads were made, we thought it was time to look a bit closer.

That is why today we are going to journey back to Rome and see the construction and types Roman Roads!Roman Road

From approximately 450 BC, the Laws of the Twelve Tables specified that a road shall be 8 ft wide where straight and 16 ft where curved. Actual practices of the law occasionally varied though from this standard.

Twelve TablesThe Tables command Romans to build roads and give travelers the right to pass over private land where the road is in disrepair. Building roads as straight as possible and that would not need frequent repair, and thus save on material and money, became an ideological objective.

Builders of Roman Roads aimed at a regulation width, but actual widths have been measured at between 3.6 ft and more than 23 ft. The original practice was to produce a surface that was as close to flat as possible, but the use of stones would sometimes make them a tad bumpy.

Many roads were built to resist rain, freezing and flooding. They were constructed to need as little repair as possible.

Via Appia Rome
Via Appia – Rome

Roman construction took a directional straightness. Many long sections are ruler-straight, and some links in the network were as long as 55 miles.

Gradients of 10%–12% are known in ordinary terrain, and 15%–20% in mountainous country. The Roman emphasis on constructing straight roads often resulted in steep slopes relatively impractical for most commercial traffic.

Over the years the Romans themselves realized this and built longer, but more manageable, alternatives to existing roads. Roman Roads generally went straight up and down hills, rather than in a serpentine pattern.

Corduroy Road
Corduroy Road

Roman Roads varied from simple Corduroy Roads to paved roads using deep roadbeds of stamped rubble as an underlying layer to ensure that they kept dry. With paved roads, water would flow out from between the stones and fragments of rubble, instead of becoming mud in clay soils.

According to Ulpian, there were 3 types of roads: Viae Publicae, Consulares, Praetoriae and Militares; Viae Privatae, Rusticae, Glareae and Agrariae; and Viae Vicinales. We shall go over them all.

The 1st type of road (Viae Publicae, Consulares, Praetoriae and Militares) included public high or main roads, constructed and maintained at public expense, and with the soil vested in the Roman State. Such roads led either to the sea, or to a town, or to a public river with a constant flow, or to another public road.200518891-001

Siculus Flaccus, who lived under Emperor Trajan, called them Viae Publicae Regalesque, and describes their characteristics as follows:

“They are placed under Curatores (Commissioners), and repaired by Redemptores (Contractors) at the public expense; a fixed contribution, however, being levied from the neighboring Landowners. These roads bear the names of their constructors (e.g. Via AppiaCassiaFlaminia).”

Typically, Roman Roads were named after the Censor who had ordered their construction or reconstruction. The same person often served afterwards as Consul, but the road name is dated to his term as Censor.

PavingIf the road was older than the Office of Censor, or was of unknown origin, it took the name of its destination or of the region through which it mainly passed. A road was renamed if the Censor ordered major work on it, such as paving, repaving, or rerouting.

With the term Viae Regales compare the Roads of the Persian Kings and the King’s Highway. With the term Viae Militariae compare the Icknield Way (e.g., Icen-hilde-weg, or War-way of the Iceni).

However, from time to time there were other people besides special officials who sought to connect their names with a great public service like that of the roads. There was also a variety of reasons for which they did this.

Around 123-122 BC, during his term as Tribunus Plebis (Tribune of the Plebs), Gaius Gracchus paved or graveled many of the public roads. Gaius also provided them with milestones and mounting-blocks for riders.

The 2nd category (Viae Privatae, Rusticae, Glareae and Agrariae) included private or country roads, originally constructed by private individuals. These individuals vested their own soil for said roads, and had the power to dedicate them to the public use if they so desired.Viae Privatae

Such roads benefited from a right of way, in favor either of the public or of the owner of a particular estate. Under the heading of Viae Privatae were also included roads leading from the public or high roads to particular estates or settlements.

Viae Rusticae (Secondary Roads) were featured off of and connected to the primary Via. Both Main or Secondary Roads might either be paved, or left unpaved, with a gravel surface, as they were primarily in North Africa.

These prepared but unpaved roads were Viae Glareae or Sternendae (to be strewn). Beyond the Secondary Roads were the Viae Terrenae (Dirt Roads).

The 3rd category (Viae Vicinales) comprised roads at or in villages, Districts, or crossroads, which led through or towards a Vicus (Village). Such roads ran either into a high road, or into other Viae Vicinales, without any direct communication with a high road.Viae Vicinales

They were considered public or private, according to the fact of their original construction out of public or private funds or materials. Though privately constructed, such a road became public when the memory of its private constructors had perished.

Siculus Flaccus describes Viae Vicinales as roads “de publicis quae divertunt in agros et saepe ad alteras publicas perveniunt” (which turn off the public roads into fields, and often reach to other public roads). The repairing of these roads was orchestrated by the Magistri Pagorum (Magistrates of the Cantons).

MagistratesThe Magistri Pagorum could require the neighboring Landowners to furnish laborers for the general repair of the Viae Vicinales. Or if the Landowners wished to keep in repair a certain length of road passing through their respective properties, this would be done at their own expense of course.

Viae were distinguished not only according to their public or private character, but according to the materials employed and the methods followed in their construction. Ulpian divided them up in the following fashion: Via Terrena, Via Glareata, and Via Munita.

The Viae Terrenae were plain roads of leveled earth. These were mere tracks worn down by the feet of humans and animals, and possibly by wheeled carriages.Viae Terrenae

The Viae Glareatae were earthed roads with a graveled surface or a gravel subsurface and paving on top. Livy speaks of the Censors of his time as being the first to contract for paving the streets of Rome with flint stones, for laying gravel on the roads outside the city, and for forming raised footpaths at the sides.roman-road-bed

In these roads, the surface was hardened with gravel, and although pavements were introduced shortly afterwards, the blocks were allowed to rest merely on a bed of small stones. Examples of this type are found on the Via Praenestina or on the Via Latina.

Viae Munitae were regular built roads, paved with rectangular blocks of local stone or with polygonal blocks of lava. Pavement (consisting mainly of marble or mosaic) and the Via Munita were near identical in construction, except as regards the top layer or surface.Via Munita Road Formation

After the Civil Engineer looked over the site of the proposed road and determined roughly where it should go, the Agrimensores went to work surveying the road bed. They used 2 main devices, the rod and a device called a groma, which helped them obtain right angles.

The Gromatici, the Roman equivalent of Rod Men, placed rods and put down a line called the rigor (stiffness). A Surveyor tried to achieve straightness by looking along the rods and moving them as needed, before ultimately developing a grid plan for the road.

Engineering Corps River Crossing on Trajan's ColumnThe Libratores then began their work using ploughs and, sometimes with the help of Legionarii, with spades excavated the road bed down to bed rock or at least to the firmest ground they could find. The excavation was called the fossa (ditch), with depths varying according to the terrain.

The method varied according to geographic locality, materials available and terrain, but the plan or ideal at which the Engineer aimed was always the same. The roadbed was to be layered, by filling the ditch with rocks over other stones.

Into the ditch was dumped large amounts of rubble, gravel and stone. Basically, whatever fill was available was used in the construction.

Sometimes a layer of sand was put down, if it could be found. When it came to within 1 yd or so of the surface it was covered with gravel and tamped down, a process called pavire or pavimentare.

This flat surface was the pavimentum, which could then be used as the road henceforth. Additional layers could also be constructed with a statumen (foundation) of flat stones set in cement to support the additional layers.Build

The final steps utilized lime-based concrete, which the Romans had discovered. They seem to have mixed the mortar and the stones in the ditch.

First a small layer of rudus (coarse concrete) and then the nucleus (a little layer of fine concrete) went onto the statumen. Into or onto the nucleus went a course of polygonal or square paving stones, called the summa crusta, which was crowned for drainage.

Clivus CapitolinusAn example is found in an early basalt road by the Temple of Saturn on the Clivus Capitolinus. It had travertine paving, polygonal basalt blocks, concrete bedding (substituted for the gravel), and a rain-water gutter.

When it came to obstacles, the Romans preferred to contrive solutions rather than circumvent them. Outcroppings of stone, ravines, or hilly or mountainous terrain called for cuttings and tunnels.

Roman Roads along the Danube
Roman Roads along the Danube

An example of this is found on the Roman Road from Cazanes near the Iron Gates. This road was half carved into the rock, about 5 ft to 5 ft 9 in, the rest of the road, above the Danube, was made from wooden structure, projecting out of the cliff.

The road functioned as a towpath, making the Danube navigable. The Tabula Traiana memorial plaque in Serbia is all that remains of the now-submerged road.

River crossings were achieved by bridges (orpontes) made of wood, stone, or both. Wooden bridges were constructed on pilings sunk into the river, or on stone piers.

Alcantara Bridge (Puente Trajan at Alcantara) - Spain
Alcantara Bridge (Puente Trajan at Alcantara) – Spain

Larger or more permanent bridges required arches. These larger bridges were built with stone and had the arch as its basic structure.

Most also used concrete, which the Romans were the first to use for bridges. Roman bridges were the foremost large bridges built in history, and were so well constructed that a number remain in use today.

Causeways were built over marshy ground, and the road was initially marked out with pilings. Between them were sunk large quantities of stone so as to raise the causeway to more than 5 ft above the marsh. In the Provinces, the Romans often did not bother with a stone causeway but used log roads (pontes longi).

Camino de Santiago - Spain
Camino de Santiago – Spain

Thanks for walking down this road with us today. We look forward to many more travels with you in the near future as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Codrington, Thomas. Roman Roads in Britain. London, 1905.

Cresy, Edward. An Encyclopædia of Civil Engineering, Historical, Theoretical, and Practical. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, Paternoster-Row, 1847.

Forbes, Urquhart A., and Arnold C. Burmester. Our Roman Highways. F.E. Robinson & Co, 1904.

Laurence, Ray. The roads of Roman Italy: mobility and cultural change. Routledge, 1999.

Roby, Henry John. Roman Private Law in the Times of Cicero and of the Antonines. Cambridge University Press, 1902.

Smith, William. A School Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities; Abridged from the Larger Dictionary by William Smith, 1858.

Smith, William, William Wayte, and G. E. Marindin. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. J. Murray, 1890.

Von Hagen, Victor W. The Roads That Led to Rome. The World Publishing Company, 1967.

Imperial Library of Constantinople: The Last of the Great Libraries

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Although our main focus is the Roman Empire and its impact on Europe, we are not tied specifically to Europe. Our pledge is to share as much about Ancient Rome however and wherever possible.

That is why today we are extending our adventure past the limits of Europe and heading to the late-Constantinople to explore the Imperial Library of Constantinople!1

Considered the last of the great libraries of the ancient world, the Imperial Library of Constantinople was located in the capital city of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire). Long after the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria and the other ancient libraries, the Imperial Library preserved the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans for almost a millennium.

Constantius IIThe library was founded by Constantius II during his reign from 337-361 AD. The Emperor established a Scriptorium (a Place for Writing) so that the surviving works of Greek literature could be copied for preservation.

The Emperor Valens in AD 372Valens employed 4 Greek and 3 Latin calligraphers. The majority of Greek classics known today are known through Byzantine copies originating from the Imperial Library of Constantinople.

In ancient Greece the written word and most literature was transcribed onto papyrus. As the papyrus began to deteriorate there was a movement to transfer the reading material from papyrus to parchment as did Constantine the Great, around the 4th Century, but his movement specifically concerned Holy Scripture.

Constantine’s 2nd son and heir to the throne, Constantius II, continued this movement. It was Constantine’s work that culminated in the first Imperial Library of Constantinople.

The Library is estimated to have contained some 100,000 volumes of ancient text. The movement was headed by one Themistios, who commanded a group of calligraphers and librarians.

Agathon the Reader was at first a Reader (Librarian) at Constantinople in 680 AD. During his Readership, he was Notary or Reporter at the Sixth General Council, which condemned the Monothelite heresy.

Agathon sent copies of the acts, written by himself, to the 5 Patriarchates. In AD 712 he then wrote a short treatise, still extant in Greek, on the attempts of Philippicus Bardanes to revive Monothelitism.

Those working on the transfer of the ancient papyrus texts to parchment dedicated a great deal of time and attention to prioritizing what warranted being preserved. Older works like Homer and the Hellenistic history were given priority over Latin works.Scrolls

Also not prioritized were older works like the works of the Attic period. Works like Sophocles and other authors, whose works focused on grammar and text, were chosen over least used or contemporary works.

Due to this form of selective preservation, many works, which were known to Themistios and that he mentions like the triad of Stoic philosophers are now lost. Some fragments of these lost works have been found at archaeological excavations in Herculaneum.

For papyrus texts that were not translatable, the group attempted to preserve them from decay by encasing them in parchment.

Fourth CrusadeA series of unintentional fires over the years and wartime damage, including the raids of the Fourth Crusade in AD 1204, impacted the building itself and its contents. Much of the collection of the Library of Constantinople was destroyed.

The Imperial Library was burnt in the year AD 473 and about 120,000 volumes were lost. However, the attempts of Themistios and Constantius were not fruitless, as some works were saved and recopied and circulated through other texts.

Consequently, modern knowledge of Classical Greek literature is greater than would be the case if not for their efforts. The library continued in substantial form until the city of Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire on 29 May 1453 when the library’s considerable surviving contents were destroyed or lost.2

After the fall of Constantinople, the Library was allegedly destroyed by the Franks and Venetians of the Fourth Crusade during the sacking of the city. Donald Queller notes that while some manuscripts were probably lost in the 3 fires that ravaged the city during the crusade, there is neither indication of the existence of a formal Imperial Library at the time nor any source mentioning lost manuscripts.

While there were many reports of texts surviving into the Ottoman era, no substantive portion of the Library has ever been recovered. Professor Carlyle was provided access in 1800 to the Seraglio, the supposed repository of post-Ottoman conquest surviving texts, but no texts from the Imperial Library were located.

A notable exception surfaced in 1840 is the Archimedes Palimpsest. After it was translated in 1915, the Archimedes Palimpsest was curiously found in later in a private collection and then sold in 1998.Constantinople

Whether there was a single Imperial Library of Constantinople, resembling those of classical Rome and Alexandria, remains questionable. The historian Stephen Runciman notes that no public libraries existed in Constantinople after the 5th Century, although there were numerous church and monastical ones.

While it is probable that scholars were given access to at least some of these, their content would have been mainly theological. The Byzantine Empire was a highly literate society by medieval standards but the lay libraries that remained in existence were privately owned collections.3

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to sharing more with you again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Harris, Michael H. History of Libraries of the Western WorldScarecrow Press, 1999. ISBN 9780810877153.Queller, Donald. The Fourth Crusade.

Smith, William (ed). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.

Wilson, Nigel G. “The Libraries of the Byzantine World”. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 8 (1): 53–80. ISSN 2159-3159.

“Preserving The Intellectual Heritage–Preface — Council on Library and Information Resources”

Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine: A Building for Every Need

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Over the past week we’ve journeyed to Armenia to see the Temple of Augustus in Pula, explored the Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzona in the Ukraine, and then witnessed the Domus Aurea: Rome’s Golden House. Since we finished in Roma, let’s stay a while.

Today we are going to check out Rome’s one-stop-shop for all your needs, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine!3D

Sometimes known as the Basilica Nova (New Basilica) is an ancient building in the Forum Romanum. At the time of its completion, the basilica was the largest building in the Forum.Plan Rome - Basilica Nova

Construction began on the northern side of the Forum under the Emperor Maxentius in AD 308. It wasn’t until AD 312, after Constantine the Great defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, that construction was completed.

Remains of Constantine ColossusThe building rose close to the Templum Pacis and the Templum Veneris et Romae, whose reconstruction was part of Maxentius’ interventions. The building consisted of a central nave covered by 3 groin vaults suspended 128 ft above the floor on 4 large piers, ending in an apse at the western end containing the Colossus of Constantine (remnants of which are now in a courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini).Relics

The lateral forces of the groin vaults were held by flanking aisles measuring 75 x 56 ft. The aisles were spanned by 3 semi-circular barrel vaults perpendicular to the nave, and narrow arcades ran parallel to the nave beneath the barrel vaults. The nave itself measured 83 x 265 feet creating a floor roughly 21,528 square ft. The basilica made use of vast interior space with its emotional effect, just like the thermae did.

Running the length of the eastern face of the building was a projecting arcade. On the south face was a projecting (prostyle) porch with 4 columns (tetrastyle).Floor Plan

Similar to many basilicas at the time such as the Basilica Ulpia, the Basilica Nova featured a huge open space in the central nave.

Instead of having columns support the ceiling the entire building, like other basilicas, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was built using arches. This was a much more common appearance in therma than in basilicas.Inside

Another difference from traditional basilicas is the roof of the structure. While traditional basilicas were built with a flat roof, the Basilica Maxentius was built with a folded roof, decreasing the overall weight of the structure and decreasing the horizontal forces exerted on the outer arches.

The innovative and eye pleasing design of the Basilica Nova could not resist the forces of nature, however, as the south and central sections were destroyed by an earthquake in AD 847. The vault of the nave collapsed in AD 1349 from yet another earthquake.

The color of the building during its prime was white. On the outside wall of the basilica, facing onto the Via dei Fori Imperiali, are contemporary maps showing the various stages of the rise of the Roman Empire which were added during the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. A map depicting Mussolini’s “New Roman Empire” was removed from the wall after the war.Reconstruction

The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine is a marvel of Roman engineering work. It used the most advanced engineering techniques known including innovations taken from the Mercatus Traiani and the Thermae Diocletiani.

At the time of construction, it was the largest structure to be built. That in itself makes the Basilica Nova a unique building taking both aspects from Roman baths as well as typical Roman basilicas.

Of the 66-foot-high columns, only 1 of the 8 survived the 1349 earthquake. It was brought by Pope Paul V to Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore in AD 1614.

All that remains of the basilica today is the north aisle with its 3 concrete barrel vaults. The ceilings of the barrel vaults show advanced weight-saving structural skill with octagonal ceiling coffers.

BackIn Ancient Rome a basilica was a rectangular building with a large central open space, and often a raised apse at the far end from the entrance. Basilicas served a variety of functions, including a combination of a court-house, council chamber and meeting hall.

However, there might be numerous statues of the gods displayed in niches set into the walls. Under Constantine and his successors this type of building was chosen as the basis for the design of the larger places of Christian worship.

The likelihood of this theory was that the basilica form had fewer pagan associations than those of the designs of traditional Greco-Roman temples, and allowed large congregations.  As a result of the building programs of the Christian Roman Emperors the term basilica later became largely synonymous with a large church or cathedral.

A typical basilica in Ancient Rome would also have 2 rows of shops, along the walls facing each other. This allowed for a Roman Citizen to take care of his shopping, civic needs and worship altogether (no bathing here).

The wrestling events were held here during the 1960 Summer Olympic Games (countries under Communist control did really well). No longer the fabulous building it once was, the basilica now serves only to remind tourists of Rome’s majesty.basilica_of_maxentius_constantine

We hope you enjoyed today’s discovery and look forward to having you back again for future travels. Stop back again to see where, or what, we’ll be up to.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Fazio, Michael. Buildings across time: an introduction to world architecture. Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. ISBN 007305304X.

Giavarini, Carlo. The Basilica of Maxentius: the Monument, its Materials , Construction, and Stability. Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2005.

Roth, Leland M. Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993. ISBN 0-06-430158-3.

Seindal, René. “Basilica of Maxentius – the last and largest basilica in the Roman Forum”. 2003-08-06.

Stierlin, Henri. The Roman Empire: From the Etruscans to the Decline of the Roman EmpireTASCHEN, 2002. ISBN 3-8228-1778-3.

Weitzmann, KurtAge of spirituality: late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. ISBN 9780870991790.

Glory After the Fall: Images of Ruins in 18th- and 19th-Century British Art. The Huntington.

Domus Aurea: Rome’s Golden House

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

There is no finer place in the world than Rome (at least in our biased opinion). With so much to do, see and explore, Roma is a place like no other.

Most people traveling to “The Eternal City” make sure to visit the Flavian Amphitheatre (Amphitheatrum Flavium) known to most as the Colosseum. What most people don’t know is that nearby lies the ruins of building constructed for one of Rome’s most infamous rulers.

Today we take you to the Domus Aurea, Rome’s “Golden House”!Remains

It may not look like much now, bu the Domus Aurea was a large landscaped portico villa built by the Emperor Nero in the heart of Ancient Rome. After the great fire in AD 64 had cleared away the aristocratic dwellings on the slopes of the Palatine Hill, Nero swooped in to claim the land for himself and create a place unlike any Rome had seen before.

Built of brick and concrete, extensive gold leafing is what gave the villa its name. But there were more extravagant elements to its décor.

Stuccoed ceilings were faced with semi-precious stones and ivory veneers, while the walls were frescoed. The decoration was coordinated into different themes in each major group of rooms.

Pliny the Elder watched it being built and mentions it in his Naturalis Historia. Suetonius claims this of Nero and the Domus Aurea:

When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being.

The Domus Aurea complex covered parts of the slopes of the Palatine, Esquiline and Caelian Hills, with a man-made lake in the marshy bottomlands. The estimated size of the Domus Aurea is an approximation, as much of it has not been excavated.

Some scholars place it at over 300 acres, while others estimate its size to have been under 100 acres. Suetonius describes the complex as “ruinously prodigal” as it included groves of trees, pastures with flocks, vineyards and an artificial lake (rus in urbe or “countryside in the city”).Golden Palace

The Golden House was designed as a place of entertainment, as shown by the presence of 300 rooms without any sleeping quarter. Nero’s own palace remained on the Quirinal Hill. No kitchens or latrines have been discovered.

Rooms sheathed in dazzling polished white marble were given richly varied floor plans, shaped with niches and exedras that concentrated or dispersed the daylight. There were pools in the floors and fountains splashing in the corridors.

Nero took great interest in every detail of the project, according to Tacitus‘ Annals, and oversaw the engineer-architects, Celer and Severus, who were also responsible for the attempted navigable canal with which Nero hoped to link Misenum with Lake Avernus.

Some of the extravagances of the Domus Aurea had repercussions for the future. The architects designed 2 of the principal dining rooms to flank an octagonal court, surmounted by a dome with a giant central oculus to let in light.Occulus

Previously restricted to floors, Nero placed mosaics in the vaulted ceilings. Only fragments have survived, but that technique was to be copied extensively.

Nero’s innovation had an enormous influence on the art of the future and eventually ended up as a fundamental feature of Christian art. The apse mosaics that decorate so many churches in Rome, Ravenna, Sicily and Constantinople, are based on what Nero envisioned for himself.

Celer and Severus also created an ingenious mechanism, cranked by slaves, which made the ceiling underneath the dome revolve like the heavens. Perfume was said to be sprayed while rose petals were dropped on the assembled diners.

According to some accounts, perhaps embellished by Nero’s political enemies, on one occasion such quantities of rose petals were dropped that one unlucky guest was asphyxiated. A similar story is told of the Emperor Elagabalus.

“Nero gave the best parties, ever,” archaeologist Wallace-Hadrill told an interviewer when the Golden House was reopened to visitors in 1999 after being closed for years for restorations. “Three hundred years after his death, tokens bearing his head were still being given out at public spectacles—a memento of the greatest showman of them all.” Plan

Obsessed with his status as an artist, Nero certainly regarded entertainments as works of art. His official Elegantiae Arbiter (Judge of Elegance) was the novelist and Courtier Petronius.

Frescoes covered every surface that was not more richly finished. Pliny, in his Natural History, recounts how Famulus went for only a few hours each day to the Golden House, to work while the light was right.

Pliny the Elder presents Amulius as one of the principal painters of the Domus Aurea. Pliny goes on to write that the Golden Palace of Nero was the prison-house of Amulius’s productions since so few of his other works seem to be seen anywhere else.

After Nero’s death, the Golden House was a severe embarrassment to his successors. Therefore it was stripped of its marble, jewels and ivory within a decade.

MapSoon after Nero’s death the palace and grounds, encompassing about 1 mi², were filled with earth and built over. In the middle of the palace grounds, on the site of the lake, Vespasian built the Flavian Amphitheatre which could be reflooded at will.

The Baths of Titus were already being built on part of the site in 79 AD. The Baths of Trajan along with the Temple of Venus and Rome were also built on the grounds.

Within 40 years, the Golden House was completely obliterated, buried beneath the new constructions. Strangely enough, this ensured the wall paintings’ survival by protecting them from dampness.

At the end of the 15th Century, a young Roman inadvertently fell through a cleft in the Esquiline hillside. He found himself in a strange grotta filled with painted figures.

Soon the young artists of Rome were having themselves let down on boards knotted to ropes to see for themselves. The fourth style frescoes that were uncovered then have faded to pale gray stains on the plaster now, but the effect of these freshly rediscovered grotesque decorations was electrifying in the early Renaissance arriving in Rome.Fresco

The paintings were a revelation of the true world of antiquity. Carved on the walls, to let the world know they had been there, are the autographs of PinturicchioRaphael, Michelangelo, Casanova, the Marquis de Sade, Domenico GhirlandaioMartin van Heemskerck, and Filippino Lippi.

The frescoes’ effect on Renaissance artists was instant and profound. It can be seen most obviously in Raphael’s decoration for the loggias in the Vatican.

Sadly, discovery led to the arrival of moisture starting the slow and inevitable process of decay. Heavy rain was later blamed in the collapse of a chunk of ceiling.

Increasing concerns about the condition of the building and the safety of visitors resulted in its closing at the end of 2005 for further restoration work. The complex was partially reopened on 6 February 2007, but closed again on 25 March 2008 because of safety concerns.

On 29 September 2009, the likely remains of Nero’s rotating banquet hall and its underlying mechanism were unveiled by archeologists. The current administrative division of central Rome places it in Rione Monti.

The Domus Aurea had not yet escaped disaster. On 30 March 2010 some 645 square feet of the vault of a gallery collapsed.Collapse

The name Domus Aurea has in modern times come to signify wealth, opulence, and luxury. Commercial uses of the name have grown, ranging from luxury hotels to fine wines using the same name to market themselves to a segment of consumers that are aware of the historical significance as well as the indication of affluence that goes with the name Domus Aurea.

Although you can’t (nor shouldn’t) carve or paint your own name onto the walls as previous visitors have done, the Domus Aurea is still a place that must be visited. From the once opulent splendor of a Roman Emperor to rubble during the Renaissance, the Domus Aurea has made an impact on Rome and the larger world of art.Reconstruction

We hope you enjoyed today’s travel, and hope that you will stop by the Domus Aurea for yourself (if you ever are in Rome, of course). Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Ball, Larry F. The Domus Aurea and the Roman architectural revolution. Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-521-82251-3.

Boethius, Axel. The Golden House of Nero. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1960.

Claridge, Amanda. Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide. New York: Oxford University, 1998. ISBN 0-19-288003-9.

Palmer, Alasdair. “Nero’s pleasure dome”. London Sunday Times (1999-07-11).

Romey, Kristin M. “The Rain in Rome”Archaeology (Archaeological Institute of America) 2001. ISSN 0003-8113.

Roth, Leland M. Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993. ISBN 0-06-430158-3.

Pliny, C. SecundusNatural History.

Segala, Elisabetta; Ida Sciortino. Domus Aurea. Milan: Electa, 1999. ISBN 88-435-7164-8.

Spartianus, Aelius . Historia Augusta: The Life of Hadrian.

Warden, P.G. “The Domus Aurea Reconsidered”. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (1981). doi:10.2307/989644JSTOR 989644.

Mausoleum of Augustus: Resting Place for Rome’s Original Emperor

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As we venture from East to West and from North to South, it’s always nice to just get back home. In this case we do not mean Texas, we are talking about Rome.

Today we are heading back to where it all began to take a look at the the resting place for Rome’s Original Emperor, the Mausoleum Augusti!Mausoleum

The mausoleum is a large tomb built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC on the Campus Martius in Rome, Italy. The mausoleum is located on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, near the corner with Via di Ripetta as it runs along the Tiber.Plan_Rome

The grounds cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks, and nestle between the Church of San Carlo al Corso and the Museum of the Ara Pacis. The interior of the mausoleum is not open to tourists.

augustus-mausoleum-origThe mausoleum was one of the original projects initiated by Augustus in the City of Rome following his victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The mausoleum was circular in plan, consisting of several concentric rings of earth and brick, planted with cypress trees on top of the building and capped by a conical roof and a statue of Augustus.

Vaults held up the roof and opened up the burial spaces below. The completed mausoleum measured 295 ft in diameter by 137 ft in height.

entry-archA corridor ran from the entryway into the heart of the mausoleum. Here there was a chamber with 3 niches to hold the golden urns enshrining the ashes of the Imperial Family.

The traditional story is that in AD 410, during the sack of Rome by Alaric, the pillaging Visigoths rifled the vaults, stole the urns and scattered the ashes, without damaging the structure of the building (Rodolfo Lanciani). In the Middle Ages the tumulus was fortified as a castle— as was the mausoleum of Hadrian, which was turned into the Castel Sant’Angelo— and occupied by the Colonna family.

After the disastrous defeat of the Commune of Rome at the hands of the Count of Tusculum in AD 1167, the Colonna were disgraced and banished, and their fortification in the Campo was dismantled. Thus it became a ruin.Inside Plan

It was not until the 1930s that the site was opened as a preserved archaeological landmark along with the newly moved and reconstructed Ara Pacis nearby. The restoration of the Mausoleum of Augustus to a place of prominence was part of Benito Mussolini‘s ambitious reordering of the city in an attempt to connect the aspirations of Italian Fascism with the former glories of the Roman Empire.

Mussolini viewed himself especially connected to the achievements of Augustus, seeing himself as a ‘reborn Augustus’ ready to usher in a new age of Italian dominance. (We know Augustus, and Mussolini was no Augustus.)augustus

Twin pink granite obelisks also once flanked the arched entryway, but have since been removed. One now stands at the Piazza dell’Esquilino (on the northwest side of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore) and the other at the Quirinal Fountain.Quirinal Fountain

Included among those whose remains were laid inside the mausoleum before the death of Augustus were:

Marcus Claudius Marcellus (who was the first to be buried there, in 23 BC),

Marcus Agrippa in 12 BC,

Nero Claudius Drusus in 9 BC,

Octavia Minor (the sister of Augustus) in 9 or 11 BC,

Gaius and Lucius, grandsons and heirs of Augustus.

After the death of Augustus, the mausoleum hosted the ashes of:

Livia (Augustus’s wife),


Agrippina the Elder,

Agrippina’s daughter Julia Livilla,

Nero (son of Germanicus),

Drusus Caesar (son of Germanicus),



Drusus Julius Caesar (son of Tiberius),

Antonia Minor (mother of Claudius),


Britannicus (the son of Claudius),

the embalmed body of Poppaea Sabina wife of Nero,

Julia Domna (later moved to Mausoleum of Hadrian), and

Nerva, the last Emperor for whom the mausoleum was opened.

InsideRecently Rome Commissioner Francesco Paolo Tronca has approved a €6-million preliminary project to complete restoration work at the Mausoleum of Augustus. Funding will serve to finish structural work on the monumental tomb including covering it, building a circular catwalk around it, and preparing it to open for public visits.

This commitment to restoring Rome’s historical monuments not only benefits tourism, but it also keeps alive remnants from a dominate world culture for future generations. Keeping Rome’s past intact benefits everyone.Painting

We hope you enjoyed our trip to the Romani Patriae and look forward to having you back again. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Dal Maso, Leonardo B. Rome of the Caesars. Bonechi: Florence, 1974.

Lanciani, Rodolfo. Pagan and Christian Rome. 1892. On-line.

Young, Norwood; P. Barrera. Rome and Its Story. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd: London, 1951.

Mausoleum of Augustus Restoration Project to Begin” Archaeology News Network. 04 March 2016.

Engineering An Empire: Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! We all know that the Imperium Rōmānum was built on the backs of it Legionarii.

That goes without saying. But what made the Empire impressive, and lasting, was its architecture and engineering.

Today we take a look at both in the BBC Documentary Engineering An Empire Rome!

Romans are famous for their advanced engineering accomplishments, although some of their own inventions were improvements on older ideas, concepts and inventions.

Technology for bringing running water into cities was developed in the east, but transformed by the Romans into a technology inconceivable in Greece. The architecture used in Rome was strongly influenced by Greek and Etruscan sources.

Viae were common at that time, but the Romans improved their design and perfected the construction to the extent that many of their roads are still in use today. Their accomplishments surpassed most other civilizations of their time, and after their time, and many of their structures have withstood the test of time to inspire others, especially during the Renaissance.

Moreover, their contributions were described in some detail by authors such as Vitruvius, Frontinus and Pliny the Elder, so there is a printed record of their many inventions and achievements.

We hope you enjoyed today’s video presentation and look forward to having you back. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!