All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com.
Page revised in July 2022.
All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page revised in July 2022.
Monte Albano (aka Monte Cavo) and the assumed site of Alba Longa near Convento di Palazzolo (the white building)
To Mr. West. Rome, May 1740. Let me tell you, in plain
English, that we come from Albano. (..) One drives to Castel Gondolfo, a house of the
Pope's, situated on the top of one of the Collinette,
that forms a brim to the basin, commonly called
the Alban Lake. It is seven miles round; and
directly opposite to you, on the other side, rises
the Mons Albanus, much taller than the rest,
along whose side are still discoverable (not to common eyes) certain little ruins of the old Alba Longa.
They had need be very little, as having been nothing but ruins ever since the days of Tullus Hostilius. (..) This is the prospect from one
window of the palace. From another you have
the whole Campagna, the city, Antium, and the
Tyrrhene sea (twelve miles distant) so distinguishable, that you may see the vessels sailing upon it.
All this is charming. Mr. Walpole says, our memory sees more than our eyes in this country.
Thomas Gray - Letters from France and Italy in 1739-1741
According to the legend the ancient town of Alba Longa was founded by Ascanius, son of Aeneas, the Trojan hero from whom the Romans claimed to descend and who founded Lavinium (today's Pratica di Mare). In Latin alba meant white (hence we call a person with a congenital absence of colouring pigment an albino). Longa was a reference to the shape of the town which was built along the ridge which surrounds a volcanic lake. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a historian who lived at the time of Emperor Augustus, Alba Longa was located between Mt. Albano and the shores of the lake.
Thus, about the 7th of February, we set out on our return to Rome by the same way we came (..); nor made we any stay save at Albano, to view the celebrated
place and sepulchre of the famous duellists who decided the ancient quarrel between their imperious neighbours with
the loss of their lives. These brothers, the Horatii and
Curiatii, lie buried near the highway, under two ancient
pyramids of stone, now somewhat decayed and overgrown
with rubbish. We took the opportunity of tasting the
wine here, which is famous.
John Evelyn's Diary and Correspondence - 1645
The present town lies within the enclosure of Pompey's Villa in ruins. The Appian Way runs through it, by the side of which, a little farther, is a large old tomb, with five pyramids upon it, which the learned suppose to be the burying-place of the family, because they do not know whose it can be else. But the vulgar assure you it is the sepulchre of the Curiatii, and by that name (such is their power) it goes. Gray
The first object that struck us out of the gate of Albano was the ancient tomb, called by the people the sepulchre of the Horatii and Curiatii. This monument is of great magnitude, and of a bold and striking form. It was originally adorned with five obelisks; of which two only remain. A variety of shrubs grow from its crevices, wave in garlands round its shattered pyramids, and hang in long wreaths to the ground. The melancholy interest which such an appearance awakens will be increased, when the traveller learns that the venerable pile before him may possibly cover the remains of Cneius Pompeius.
John Chetwood Eustace - Classical Tour of Italy in 1802 (publ. 1813)
According to Livy Alba Longa submitted to Tullus Hostilius, the third king of Rome, following the unfavourable outcome of a duel between three Roman brothers (the Horatii) and three brothers from Alba Longa (the Curiatii); a tomb with conic turrets near Albano is named after the Curiatii; it is actually a monument of the late republican period (also other tombs are named after the Horatii and the Curiatii). Some time after the duel, the rulers of Alba Longa betrayed the Romans and Tullus Hostilius ordered the town to be razed to the ground and deported its inhabitants to Rome where they settled on the Celio, a hill opposite the Palatine.
Torre di Pompeo, a Roman tomb at the entrance to Albano in a 1796 drawing by Carlo Labruzzi (left) and today (right)
A constant succession of ruined buildings, most probably sepulchral,
attends the traveller to Albano; one of which,
conspicuous from its height, has been attributed
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily - published in 1819, but Colt Hoare visited Albano in 1796 accompanied by Carlo Labruzzi.
The development of Albano was due to Via Appia, the road opened by the Romans in the IVth century BC to facilitate their expansion in southern Italy and which eventually became Regina Viarum (Queen of the Roads), the most important road of the Empire. The settlement built at the end of a steep section of the road was called Albano, because there the road entered the former territory of Alba Longa; a white sow (see image in the background of this page) is the symbol of the town. Many wealthy Romans built their tombs at the sides of Via Appia even at a great distance from the city. A tall funerary monument at the entrance to Albano was thought for a long time to have housed the ashes of Pompey, who possessed a villa in the area.
Ruins of Porta Praetoria, the main gate of "Castra Albana"
The character of Albano dramatically changed in ca 202 AD when Emperor Septimius Severus
built Castra Albana, a military town surrounded by walls, to house Legio Parthica II, a legion levied by the Emperor in 197
for waging war on the Parthians. The campaign was successful and the Emperor decided to station his faithful legionaries near Rome.
Albano was significantly damaged in the period which followed the landing of the Allies on the beaches of Anzio in January 1944. Heavy Allied bombing and the collapse of a series of buildings brought to light Porta Praetoria, the ancient main gate of Castra Albana, the presence of which was already known.
A door in the wall of a convent (..) admits
one to the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, now used as
folds for goats, who crowd the rugged recesses of its caverned
masonry, and group themselves picturesquely on its old
walls. This was the scene of some of the worst cruelties
Augustus J. C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875
Castra Albana had the shape of a rectangle having one of its short sides along Via Appia where Porta Praetoria was located; the military town was spread over the slope leading to the ridge surrounding Lake Albano. Very near the top of the ridge the legionaries built an amphitheatre which was partly excavated into the rock; it is estimated it could seat 16,000 spectators, an audience which largely exceeded the number of the legionaries (ca 6,000).
|Other ancient amphitheatres in this web site:|
The Colosseo of Rome
The Amphitheatre of Capua
The Amphitheatre of Cassino
The Amphitheatre of Verona
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii
The Amphitheatre of Catania
The Amphitheatre of Syracuse
The Amphitheatre of Sutri
The Amphitheatre of Alba Fucens
The Amphitheatre of Urbs Salvia (Urbisaglia)
The Amphitheatre of Pola in Istria
The Amphitheatre of Salona in Dalmatia
The Amphitheatre of Arles in France
The Amphitheatre of Bordeaux in France
The Amphitheatre of Nţmes in France
The Amphitheatre of PÚrigueux in France
The Amphitheatre of Saintes in France
The Amphitheatre of Toulouse in France
The Amphitheatre(s) of Carnuntum in Austria
The Amphitheatre of Trier in Germany
The Amphitheatre of London
The Amphitheatre of Caerleon in Wales
The Amphitheatre of Italica in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Merida in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Tarragona in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Caesarea Maritima in Israel
The Amphitheatre of Carthage
The Amphitheatre of Mactaris (Makhtar) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thapsus in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Djem) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Uthina (Oudna) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Leptis Magna in Libya
Caracalla's Baths (some of their halls house "Museo della Legio II Parthica")
Emperor Caracalla, son of Septimius Severus, built large baths for the legionaries staying at Castra Albana to gain their favour as he had killed his brother Geta and feared their reaction. Imposing walls (in part incorporated into later buildings) are still visible at the lower end of the town, while a large cistern at its upper end provided a regular supply of water. Caracalla is best known for the baths he built in Rome.
(left) S. Pietro (inset) Roman inscription with a reference to PANN(onia) which was used to embellish the bell tower; (right) ancient lintels decorating the side door of the church which were taken from the Roman Baths
Records indicate that a church was nested inside a hall of the Baths and that it was restored at the time of Leo III, the Pope who crowned Charlemagne in 800. In the following centuries it was repeatedly modified and a bell tower was added, but it retains some of the original walls and marble decoration of the Baths.
S. Maria della Rotonda in a 1796 drawing by Carlo Labruzzi
The church of S. Maria Rotonda is worthy of a
visit, being supposed to be the temple of Minerva, built, according to Suetonius, by Domitian in his Alban
Villa. Its ancient marble door-posts are carved with
acanthus leaves: the aperture in its vaulted cieling was
closed with a modern lantern in 1673; and its ancient
mosaic pavement is six feet beneath the modern floor.
Rev. Jeremiah Donovan - Rome Ancient and Modern - 1843
S. Maria della Rotonda
Towards the end of the Ist century AD Emperor Domitian built a large villa on the site of today's Castelgandolfo; the main building was surrounded by a very large estate which reached Albano. In the woods of his estate the Emperor built a series of small buildings which included a circular nymphaeum (monumental fountain) or temple which was eventually incorporated into Castra Albana and utilized as part of Thermae Parvae (small baths). Similar to the Pantheon, the ancient building was turned into a church named Santa Maria della Rotonda because of its shape.
S. Maria della Rotonda: Roman floor mosaics in the modern portico of the church
In 1937 the church was restored to show the ancient structures as much as possible. The floor was lowered in order to unearth the Roman black and white floor mosaics; they are similar to those of Terme di Nettuno at Ostia. They can be seen also at faraway provincial towns, e.g. Volubilis in Morocco. During the restoration some tombstones which had been used as filling material were found. Casts of them can be seen at Museo della Legio II Partica.
S. Maria della Rotonda - interior: ancient marble door posts which are now used as altars
During the Middle Ages Albano was abandoned and only in the XIIth century it became important again for its strategic location along Via Appia. It became a fiefdom of the Savelli family, traditionally one of the four most noble Roman families (the other three are Colonna, Orsini and Conti di Segni). In 1436 Cardinal Giovanni Maria Vitelleschi destroyed Albano because the Savelli were leading a revolt against the authority of Pope Eugenius IV. In 1448, after the death of the Pope, the Savelli regained possession of the town.
Bell towers: (left to right) S. Pietro, S. Maria della Rotonda and S. Paolo (modified in the XVIIIth century)
The Romanesque bell towers of Albano are the main monuments of its medieval period because the adjoining churches were rebuilt or largely modified in the XVIIIth century. They are similar to those built in Rome during the same period and show evidence of Cosmati mosaics.
Convento dei Cappuccini: (above) terrace behind the Capuchin monastery (see a Roman altar which was found there); (below) view over the lake; the town in the upper left corner is Castelgandolfo
In 1619 the Savelli decided to pay for the construction of a Capuchin monastery; the site chosen was on the edge of the ridge surrounding Lake Albano; from the terrace in front of their new church the Capuchins enjoyed a view over Albano and from the garden behind the building they could see the lake.
Convento dei Cappuccini: (left) Barberini chapel; (right) painting by Gherardo delle Notti showing Flaminia Colonna Gonzaga, wife of Paolo Savelli,
Duke of Albano
A few years later a small chapel was built in the garden, probably at the initiative of Cardinal Antonio Barberini the Elder, brother of Pope Urban VIII. The Capuchins had strict rules which prevented them from decorating their churches with marbles and works of art, but the painting on the main altar is a fine work by Gerrit van Honthorst, a Flemish painter who spent some years in Rome where he was called Gherardo delle Notti, because of the nocturnal backgrounds of many of his paintings, one of which is in the Capuchin church of Rome.
(left) S. Maria della Stella; (right) detail of a niche
S. Maria della Stella is located along the old road which led to Ariccia; it was built in the XVIth century, but it was largely restored at the end of the XVIIth century when it was decorated with fine stuccoes (the double shell of the niche resembles that designed by Francesco Borromini in S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane). The piety shown by the Savelli by building churches and monasteries was partly due to the fact that almost constantly they had a cardinal in the family (Silvio was appointed in 1596, Giulio in 1615, Fabrizio in 1647 and Paolo in 1664).
Cathedral: (left) fašade by Carlo Buratti; (right) coat of arms of Cardinal Fabrizio Paolucci; the decorative use of dark volcanic stone can be noticed also in the Cathedral of Frascati
Albano, for the pleasantness of its situation is the summer retirement of a great many Roman princes. It is likewise the see of a bishop, who is one of the six senior cardinals. The town is famous for its excellent wine.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
In 1697 Albano was acquired by the Camera Apostolica and it became a direct possession of the Papal State. In 1719 Cardinal Fabrizio Paolucci became bishop of Albano, a suburbicarian diocese; this meant he was one of the most senior cardinals; in the conclaves of 1721 and 1723 he was about to become pope, but his election was vetoed by Emperor Charles VI of Austria on both occasions. The self-esteem of Cardinal Paolucci may explain why he gave so much evidence to his own name and to his coat of arms when he completed the new fašade of the Cathedral of Albano (see a page on inscriptions on Roman churches).
Palazzo Lercari: (left) detail of the fašade; (right) coat of arms of Pope Benedict XIII and
inscription on the ceiling of the entrance hall
Cardinal Nicol˛ Maria Lercari was not the bishop of Albano, but he chose to build his family palace there, which he eventually donated as a residence for the bishops. He was very grateful to Pope Benedict XIII who appointed him cardinal and he expressed his feelings by decorating the entrance hall of his palace with an elaborate inscription in which he thanked the Pope.
(left) S. Paolo; (right) door of a building opposite the church
The Trident of Rome is the name given to the three streets departing from Piazza del Popolo; it was completed in the late XVIIth century and it influenced the design of new housing developments at Albano and nearby Genzano. At Albano the three streets departed from the old church of S. Paolo which was redesigned; the new buildings were decorated in line with Roman XVIIIth century patterns.
Entrances to the Papal Villa with the coats of arms of Pope Pius XI: (left) from Albano; (right) from Via Appia
In 1929 the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See reached an agreement to settle the quarrel about the 1870 annexation of the Papal State to Italy. The Papal Palace at Castelgandolfo and a series of other adjoining properties became extraterritorial appendages of the Vatican City State. They cover an area of 55 hectares which is therefore larger than Vatican City. The papal properties are known as Ville Pontificie di Castelgandolfo, but they actually are accessible also from Albano.
Read Lord Byron's verses dedicated to Albano.
Visit the Archaeological Museums of Albano.
Next step in your tour of the Environs of Rome: Castelgandolfo
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to Albano: