All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in November 2009.
Basilica di S. Sebastiano (part two) (Book 3) (Day 5) (View C11)
In this page:
Antonio Nibby (1792-1839) was an Italian archaeologist who updated the guides of Rome written by Giuseppe Vasi and his son Mariano; in 1825 he discovered three inscriptions in a large circus near the tomb of Cecilia Metella; they all made reference to Maxentius, but one in particular stated that the circus was completed in 311 AD and that it was dedicated to Romulus, the son of Maxentius who died in 309 in his teens. Until the discovery of the inscription the circus was named after Emperor Caracalla owing to a statue of him found in the vicinity.
The circus was built next to a large villa (almost an imperial palace) belonging to Maxentius where he also built a mausoleum for his son. Because in 312 Maxentius was defeated by Emperor Constantine and he lost his life at Ponte Milvio it is thought that the circus was actually used only for the inauguration ceremonies.
Maxentius was acclaimed emperor in Rome in 306; he ruled only over Italy and parts of northern Africa; he had no military experience and he relied on his personal wealth to buy out the troops of his enemies; he also made use of his money to retain popularity in Rome by promoting the construction of many buildings: the villa and the circus were part of this policy.
The most elevated points of the park offer views which are unspoiled by modern buildings.
The main farm in the park is a sort of small fortress with a watch tower. Sunday joggers have to find their way through flocks of sheep.
Torre Valca is the current name of a medieval tower built by the Caetani to protect their fortress at Cecilia Metella. The building which is located by the river was called Valca after gualchiera (fulling-mill), a process of the textile industry for which it was used at a later time. A Roman building near Torre Valca is known as Colombario (dovecot) Costantiniano, but it is a tomb of the IInd century AD.
Herodes Atticus was a Greek rhetor who was highly regarded by Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius to the point that he was entrusted with the education of future Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. He was a very wealthy man and he became wealthier by marrying Annia Regilla, a member of an ancient and rich Roman family; her dowry included Pagus Triopius, a large estate in Valle della Caffarella and also some land along Via Appia; pagus in Latin means village/country district, while Triopius is a reference to Ceres, the goddess of farming.
Herodes and his wife lived in a villa inside Pagus Triopius. At the death of Annia Regilla, Herodes was accused by his brother-in-law of having killed her, but at the end of a trial he was acquitted. He then followed the steps of Emperor Antoninus Pius (a widower who dedicated several monuments to his wife Annia Faustina) and he built in honour of Annia Regilla the Odeon of Athens (which is usually named after him). Annia Regilla was buried in a small mausoleum near the River Almo, most likely a location she loved.
During the XIXth century the building was thought to be a temple to Rediculus, the Roman god who protected the return of the travellers (Rediculus from Latin redire, to return).
Herodes built also a temple in honour of his wife but he dedicated it to Ceres and to Annia Faustina; the temple was built with the same technique used for Sepolcro di Annia Regilla. In 1634 the building was at risk of collapsing and Pope Urban VIII restored it and strengthened its structure by closing its pronaos (porch). The church was dedicated to St. Urban, not because of the pope's name, but because it was thought that St. Urban, who was pope between 222 and 230, had used the building as a church.
Valle della Caffarella was for many centuries associated with the
second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius. The sacred wood and
the grotto where he used to meet with Nymph Egeria, his patroness and
adviser were located near S. Urbano. The grotto is actually an artificial cave, once adorned with statues
and used as a summer resort for the large suburban villa of Herodes Atticus
and then incorporated in that of Maxentius. In the XVIIIth century a visit to the grotto was a must for the educated traveller: Goethe himself sketched it and Gian Battista Piranesi dedicated to it a very dramatic etching (you may wish to see it in an external link). You may also wish to read Lord Byron's verses dedicated to this site.
From S. Sebastiano the most pious pilgrims could expand their visit to the seven churches by reaching S. Paolo alle Tre Fontane and (after 1744) Santuario del Divino Amore. On their way the pilgrims rested at SS. Annunziata; because the building was small the church was called Annunziatella. In the Grand View of Rome by Giuseppe Vasi it can be seen at B12, number 228.
At that time the neighbourhood was almost unpopulated; today while the streets leading to the church (Via di S. Sebastiano, Via Ardeatina and Vicolo dell'Annunziatella) are included in an area where new buildings are forbidden, SS. Annunziata itself is outside this area and is surrounded by a new development: for this reason a new larger church was built behind the old one.
The original church is very old: it was renovated in the XIIIth century (the floor belongs to that period) and later on by Pope Urban VIII (decoration of the apse).
You can see more of Via Appia in my pages about Via
Appia from Cecilia Metella to Torre in Selci and Via
Appia from Torre in Selci to Frattocchie.
Return to part one (S. Sebastiano and Cecilia Metella).