The view from Mount Albano, as may be supposed, is extensive and varied. (..) But the most interesting object by far in this prospect is the truly classic plain expanded immediately below, the theatre of the last six books of the Eneid, and once adorned with Ardea, Lavinium, and Laurentum. The forest in which Virgil laid the scene of the achievements and fall of the two youthful heroes Euryalus and Nisus; the Tiber winding through the plain, and the groves that shade its banks and delighted the Trojan hero on his arrival; all these are displayed clear and distinct beneath the traveller; (..) he may consider them at leisure, and if he pleases, compare them with the description of the poet. The Alban Mount is, in fact, in the Eneid what Mount Ida is in the Iliad, the commanding station whence the superintending divinities contemplated the armies, the city, the camp, and all the emotions and vicissitudes of the war. (..) Laurentum the superb capital, stood on the coast about six miles from Ostia. (..) No vestiges remain of its former magnificence. (..) A little higher up and nearer the Alban hills rises Prattica, the old Lavinium.
J. C. Eustace - Classical Tour of Italy in 1802 (publ. 1813)
Pratica is distant about 18 miles from Rome, and 3 from the sea-coast. It is the modern representative of the city of Lavinium, founded by Aeneas in honour of his wife Lavinia. (..) The large baronial mansion of the Borghese family, built in the seventeenth century, contains a few inscriptions discovered on the spot, and valuable as placing beyond a doubt the site of the Trojan city.
John Murray - Handbook for travellers in Italy - 1843
Today Pratica is almost isolated as it was in the XIXth century. Only a minor local road leads to the tiny town, the development of which was hampered by the construction of a strictly military airport between it and the sea.
British Museum: IInd century AD relief from Rome portraying Aeneas with his son Ascanius and the sow Aeneas was told of in a prophecy; see a similar relief on the front of "Ara Pacis Augustae"
And now, lest you think this sleep's idle fancy, you'll find
a huge sow lying on the shore, under the oak trees,
that has farrowed a litter of thirty young, a white sow,
lying on the ground, with white piglets round her teats,
That place shall be your city, there's true rest from your labours.
Virgil - The Aeneid - Book III. Translation by A. S. Kline
The story of Lavinium seems highly probable,
Aeneas, landing on the site of Ostia, fortified
the place, and called it Troja Nova. Latinus, the king of the Aborigines, pressed by the Rutuli,
asked assistance from the new-comers; which being granted, and victory being obtained, the old king settled the Trojans with his daughter Lavinia, at Lavinium; thus placing them in a strongly-situated garrison between himself and the enemy.
Dionysius has given a long and detailed account of the early history of Lavinium; "Aeneas," says Dionysius, "was led by the sow to the hill on which he built Lavinium, twenty-four stadia from the coast, where he intended to have sacrificed her."
Sir William Gell - The Topography of Rome and its vicinity - 1834
According to the tradition, the city of Lavinium was founded by Aeneas, and was called by him after the name of his wife Lavinia. This, from a resemblance of names, has been confused with Lanuvium, now CittÓ-Lavinia. (..) Aeneas was reminded of the oracle, that his colony should be guided by an animal to its promised abode, when a pregnant sow designed for sacrifice broke loose, and escaped to the bushes on a more fruitful eminence. Here it farrowed thirty young ones, and thus not only signified the spot where Lavinium was to be built, but also the number of years that were to elapse before Alba Longa became the capital in its stead, as well as the number of the Latin townships.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875
The baronial house is large and high, with a great
hall and a large chimney, and has the air of a place that
might have been inhabited a century ago. The place was,
probably, formerly inhabited by the feudal proprietors as a bathing-place, though there is now another house
for that purpose nearer the sea (at Anzio). (..) An inscription on the spot says that the name Pratica was given
at the cessation of a pestilence, when the inhabitants were again admitted to communication (pratica) with
their neighbours. (..) In former times a
residence not well fortified would have been unsafe in a country so remote, and so liable to the attacks of
If you ask the herdsman, pasturing his sheep on Latian meadows, "To whom does the land belong?" he is sure to reply either "Colonna" or "Borghese," and this, too, will the custodian of each gloomy old castle in that district say, if you stop, riding by, to inquire "Who is its lord?"
Ferdinand Gregorovius - The Volscian Mountains - 1860 - translation by Dorothea Perkins
Then came the inroads of the barbarians from Algiers, like the one of May 5, 1588, in which the whole population of Pratica di Mare was carried away in chains, - thirty-nine men, twenty-eight women, and thirty-five laborers from the Marche, whose names are recorded in the annals of the Compagnia del Gonfalone. In consequence of these sudden inroads the coast of the Pope's states from Corneto to Terracina was lined with thirty-eight watch-towers, from the tops of which scouts could watch the sea by day and by night and give warning of the approach of any suspicious sail by firing a gun or tolling a bell or lighting a beacon. Some of the towers on this part of the coast are still in existence, like the Keep of Pratica di Mare.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Wanderings in the Roman Campagna - 1909
Today Pratica is assumed to be a corruption of (Civitas) Patrica (town of the Fathers) because the site belonged to the Monastery of S. Paolo fuori le Mura until the XIIIth century. The Borghese bought it in 1617 when Camillo Borghese was Pope Paul V.
(left) Detail of Castello Borghese; (right) aerial view of Pratica before the site underwent a radical restoration/facility improvement project which will be completed in 2023
remarkable feature of the Borghese palace is an exceedingly lofty tower, rising
from the centre, which is seen from all parts of the
country, and from the top of which several very useful
angles were measured for the Map. It commands the
whole of the sea-coast toward Antium and Ostia. Rome
and the Alban range are also seen. Gell
The town is situated upon an almost isolated hill, united to the table-land by a little isthmus, and surrounded everywhere else by deep ravines. The natural fortifications of tufa rock appear to have been strengthened by artificial cutting away, and some remains of ancient walls may be traced. The area of the town must always have been very small, and its principal building is now a great castle of Prince Borghese, with a tall tower. The place is almost deserted owing to the malaria. Hare
In January 1944 Allied troops landed at Anzio with the objective of hastening the liberation of Rome; the Germans had the time to occupy Pratica and to evict all its inhabitants. The Allies bombed and shelled Pratica causing the destruction of part of the castle, its tower and the parish church.
(left) Detail of the church of S. Pietro Apostolo with inscription celebrating its reconstruction by Maria Monroj Borghese after WWII; (right) a house in the burg
The village of Pratica, not having been built at intervals, as convenience dictated, its streets are laid out
with much regularity; with a square and a small chapel;
but the inhabitants were, at the time of the construction
of the Map, reduced to sixty, and these complained of
the insalubrity of the air in the summer, during which season the place is almost deserted. Gell
In 1890 Prince Camillo Borghese married Maria Monroj Belmonte, a Sicilian noblewoman. The couple promoted the repopulation of Pratica which in 1900 had a population of about 200, most of whom according to the local physician had malaria. In 1907 a project for giving a "medieval" aspect to the castle was implemented only in part. By 1910 the reclaiming of the land around Pratica was almost completed and malaria was eventually eradicated. In 1926 Prince Camillo passed away. The property was managed by his widow until her death in 1964. Today it belongs to Tara Francesco Borghese who in 2013 developed a project for financing the restoration of Pratica as part of his University dissertation.
View of Pratica drawn by William Brockedon in "Italy, Classical, Historical, and Picturesque, illustrated and described - 1844" based on a sketch by W. Nugent Dunbar; it is a rather appealing image of the town which does not match the descriptions by Gell and Murray
Before we proceed southward it will be desirable to obtain a guide at Tor Paterno, who may conduct the traveller through the forest to Pratica, five miles distant, as the tracks of the charcoal-burners are not always sufficient to guide him through the desolate wilderness which lies between them. (..) Pratica (Lavinium). There is a small locanda here where a bed may be obtained, but it is very miserable, and the traveller must be prepared to put up with the discomfort, which is certainly not greater than he might expect to find in such a place. (..) Some vestiges of the ancient city walls may be traced, but the antiquities now visible are very few and unimportant. Pratica contains a population of about sixty souls, of whom more than two-thirds are peasants who come from distant parts to seek occupation in the fields. The place is heavily afflicted with malaria, of whose fatal influence the countenances of the inhabitants bear a melancholy proof. (..) There is a direct road practicable for carriages from Pratica to Rome, distant 18 miles: it joins the ancient Via Ardeatina and proceeds thence in a straight line to Rome, passing the Tre Fontane and the basilica of S. Paolo. Murray
Sketch of Lavinium from "Sir William Gell - The Topography of Rome and its vicinity - 1834"
The Trojans began to fortify the place, in collecting materials for which the people of the country, being plundered by the Trojans, combined against them, and Latinus is said to have headed the combination. Latinus, however, entered into terms on condition of receiving from the Trojans assistance against the Rutuli. (..) These Trojans, though few in number, were bold warriors, and were well armed. (..) Solinus says the Trojans had only six hundred men, and that Latinus gave them five hundred jugera of land. (..) The modern village of Pratica occupies about one-fifth of the ancient site. There is a part of the hill, at the extremity most distant from the bridge, a little higher than the rest; and there probably the citadel and the temple of Venus stood. The descent from the platform of the city is precipitous on all sides, so that Lavinium, when walled, must have been a strong place, indeed almost impregnable. (..) The table-land of the hill of Pratica is scarcely more than two thousand feet in length, by about four hundred in breadth; a space sufficient, perhaps, for the primitive establishment of Aeneas, but ill calculated for the accommodation of an increased population. It was perhaps owing to this circumstance, that the leader or chief of the colony was subsequently induced to emigrate to Alba. Gell
(left) Museum of Lavinium; (right) banner with verses 123-124 from Book VII of the Aeneid
(Aeneas): Salve fatis mihi debita Tellus Vosque ait ˘ fidi Troiae salvete Penates.
Hail O Land destined to me by Fate and hail ye Gods he says ye faithful tutelary Gods of Troy hail! Translated by Joseph Davidson in 1743
By the foundation of Lavinium - now Pratica di Mare - on a healthy hill, and by the transfer thither of the sacred tokens of the Commonwealth, the Penates, which Aeneas had carried away with him from the mother country, Laurentum lost supremacy, prestige, and population. Lanciani
As you look across this classic land of that Latian strand, if you have any poetry in you, you will recall the people in Virgil's Aeneid, for this is the scene of the combats between the heroes in Virgil's great poem. (..) The melodious lines of the Aeneid must be read again in these Latian Meadows to feel all their charm. Virgil's poetry is as translucent, as full of serious beauty as is the Campagna of Rome itself. Gregorovius
The Museum of Lavinium is housed in a former farmhouse along the road leading to Pratica di Mare. It was opened in 2005 to exhibit the findings of archaeological excavations which began in 1957. References to Virgil's poem help the visitors to recall the story of Aeneas.
Museum: video showing one of twelve altars which were discovered south of Pratica
Pliny has left us a graphic description of the countryside which he was obliged to cross on his way to Laurentum along Via Severiana. "The aspect of the country is not monotonous, because the road sometimes runs through ancient forests, sometimes through meadows and pasture land where grow and prosper herds of horses and oxen, and flocks of sheep, which, driven from the mountains by the early frosts, come to winter in the tepid Campagna." Any one of my readers who has followed in Pliny's footsteps to Ostia, Castel Fusano, or Pratica di Mare can vouch for the accuracy of his description. What became of Via Severiana in the middle ages is not known. The forest spread across the road, over to the strip of land once occupied by gardens; the pines and ilexes thrust their roots into the pavement of the road and the fallen masonry of the villas; the sea receded; sand dunes rose where palaces had stood. Lanciani
The main and rather unexpected discovery made by the archaeologists was a series of twelve altars which were aligned NS and faced east. They are dated between the VIth and the IVth century BC; their design was rather simple, but it shows evidence of contacts with the Greek colonies in Italy (see an altar at Paestum).
Museum: terracotta statues of offerers
We still do not know to whom the altars were dedicated, but their purpose was made clear by a large amount of terracotta votive statues which were found near them. It was a sanatio, i.e. a shrine where offers were made to get health and fertility. While the altars testify to contacts with the Greek world the statues were most likely made in Etruscan workshops or by local Etruscan masters. You may wish to see some masterpieces of Etruscan terracotta sculpture, i.e. two statues from Veii and the Sarcophagus of the Spouses from Cerveteri. Similar teracotta statues were found in 1927 at a shrine at Ariccia, not far from Pratica.
Museum: statues of matrons
The Etruscans usually painted their terracotta statues (see some examples at the Museum of Villa Giulia). Those of Lavinium no longer retain their colours, yet they provide a very vivid portrait of the wealthy matrons who made offers at the shrine. Their headdresses, garments and jewels were depicted in detail and with extreme care (you may wish to see some Etruscan jewels at Tarquinia).
Museum: (left) Minerva as Palladion; (right) head of a young woman and a symbol of motherhood, perhaps Cybele on a throne decorated with lions
Aeneas, or rather Anchises, his father (see a statue by Gian Lorenzo Bernini) carried a wooden small statue of Athena Pallas from Troy. The statue was thought to ensure the safety of the city and in Rome it was entrusted to the Vestals. The museum houses also many small terracotta pieces depicting parts of the human body; they are similar to those found at a shrine at Ponte di Nona, north of Pratica.
Museum: "Minerva Tritonia"
When, thirty years after its foundation, Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, removed the political capital of the Latins to Alba, the household gods persistently returned at night to their old dwellings, so that he was obliged to allow them to remain there, and to send back their priests to the number of six hundred. Thus Lavinium not only continued to exist, but grew to be regarded as a kind of religious metropolis, its gods, to a very late period, being regarded as equally the property of Rome and of all Latium. Hare
Ancient sources report the existence of a temple to Venus, the mother of Aeneas, but its exact location is still to be found. Excavations brought to light a statue of Athena/Minerva having a triton at her side, instead of the more usual snake (see Athena Giustiniani). The triton is thought to symbolize Numicus, a nearby small river. You may wish to see an impressive marble statue of the goddess which was found at S. Marinella on the coast north of Pratica.
Museum: tufa stone fake door of the Heroon (a shrine dedicated to a local hero) of Aeneas Indiges
Aeneas's virtues had compelled all the gods, even Juno herself, to bring to an end their ancient feud, and since his young son Julus's fortunes were firmly founded, Cytherea's heroic son was ripe for heaven. Venus had sought the opinion of the gods, and throwing her arms round her father's neck, had said 'You have never been harsh to me, father, now be kindest of all, I beg you. Grant my Aeneas, who claims you as his grandfather through my bloodline, some divinity, however little - you choose - so long as you grant him something! (..) Then Jupiter said: 'You are worthy of this divine gift, you who ask, as is he for whom you ask it: my daughter, possess what you desire!' The word was spoken: with joy she thanked her father, and drawn by her team of doves through the clear air, she came to the coast of Laurentum, where the waters of the River Numicus, hidden by reeds, wind down to the neighbouring sea. She ordered the river-god to cleanse Aeneas, of whatever was subject to death, and bear it away, in his silent course, into the depths of the ocean. The horned god executed Venus's orders, and purged Aeneas of whatever was mortal, and dispersed it on the water: what was best in him remained. Once purified, his mother anointed his body with divine perfume, touched his lips with a mixture of sweet nectar and ambrosia, and made him a god, whom the Romans named Indiges, admitting him to their temples and altars.
Ovid - The Metamorphoses - Book XIV - Translated by A. S. Kline
A severe battle took place not far from Lavinium and many were slain on both sides, but when night came on the armies separated; and when the body of Aeneas was nowhere to be seen, some concluded that it had been translated to the gods and others that it had perished in the river beside which the battle was fought. And the Latins built a hero-shrine to him with this inscription: "To the father and god of this place who presides over the waters of the river Numicus." (..) It is a small mound, round which have been set out in regular rows trees that are well worth seeing.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus - The Roman Antiquities - Vol I - 1937 Loeb Classical Library edition
Archaeologists discovered that a VIIth century BC tomb near the twelve altars was given a monumental aspect in the IVth century BC by the addition of a fake door (the Gate of the Underworld - see it also in a Roman sarcophagus). According to them this was done to turn it into a monument to Aeneas. The door and the vases which were found inside it were moved to the museum.
Museum - from tombs near the altars: (left) cinerary urn resembling a house; (right) Greek vase with satyrs and other mythological creatures (VIth century BC)
The altars and the nearby necropolis were most likely abandoned in the IInd century BC. The image used as background for this page shows a votive head of an aged man.
Museum - from tombs near the altars: a VIIth century BC short sword the hilt of which was decorated with metal spirals aka antennae sword; (upper inset) bronze figurines; (lower inset) a bronze "bulla", an amulet which was given to male children nine days after birth during a naming ceremony (nominalia)
Roman Campagna: Colonna and Zagarolo. Palestrina, Cave, Genazzano, Olevano, Paliano and Anagni.
The Ernici Mountains: Ferentino, Frosinone and Alatri; Fiuggi (Anticoli di Campagna); Piglio and Acuto
The Volsci Mountains: Valmontone, Segni, Norma and Cori
Circe's Cape: Terracina and San Felice
The Orsini Castle in Bracciano
Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery
Small towns near Subiaco: Cervara, Rocca Canterano, Trevi and Filettino.