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Settlement and spatial dynamics along the Appian way, between the Suburbium and the city of Rome

Final Report Summary - SASDAPPIA (Settlement and spatial dynamics along the Appian way, between the Suburbium and the city of Rome)

RESULTS-One of the main points of the debate on the urbanization of ancient Rome is the question of the extent of her primaeval territory, the so-called ager Romanus antiquus. Modern reconstructions base on the conviction that the ceremonial of the Roman state religion preserved the memory of its limits, watched over by public places of worship situated several miles from the City, and especially at the first mile from the archaic city-walls, where the original boundary was crossed by major roads. Sanctuaries in particular have been interpreted as boundary markers which defined the border between “inside” and “outside”. As for the Greek world, scholars developed a model for the location and function of different sanctuaries in the various different liminal or “threshold” zones, distinguishing the three border zones of the polis and this model has also been adopted in the case of Rome. Thus, a concentric geometry of the spatial arrangement of Rome was proposed, defined by distally concentric boundaries. Nevertheless, despite its popularity, this interpretation has one serious drawback: it was developed for a specific type of society, specifically Greek society, so it cannot be applied as a generalized explanatory model.
For the city of Rome, however, it seemed more appropriate to try to understand the place and function of a specific border territory, which had been marked by the Almo river at least since the time of Augustus, testing the evidences from the first suburban stretch of the Appian Way, i.e. a critical area delineating the passage between the urban and the suburban spaces of the ancient city of Rome. The main focus of the research was on the spatial and functional relationships of the signs characterizing this particular liminal landscape, especially the places of cult and sanctuaries within the settlement organization, including an investigation of the geomorphological, historical and ideological context within which they functioned. The most significant result of the project was then the discovery of a sanctuary which was totally unknown to scholars and whose existence, at the boundaries of the ancient city, opens up new perspectives in research not only regarding the topography of the Appian way, but especially regarding social and religious features which would allow for the reconstruction of the ager Romanus antiquus.
CONCLUSIONS-The discovery of a temple on the Almo river adds an important element to our knowledge not only of the religious architecture of the Middle Republican period, but especially of the topography of the Roman suburbium, enriching the discussion of the religious value of the boundaries at the first mile. First of all, the complex is noteworthy because it adds to the range of double-cella temples, i.e. of a particular temple architecture that was quite unusual in the Roman world, inspired, however, by Etrusco-Italic building models. The early date of the original installation, which may go back to the 4th c. B.C. makes the discovery that much more important. Indeed, the temple was one of the most significant building projects carried out in Rome in the Middle-Republican Era and it may belong to the series of public infrastructures built during the time of Appius Claudius, like the aqueduct and the via Appia, or possibly to the range of public temples dedicated after the Gallic invasion. If this was the case, this could possibly be the famous temple of Mars in Clivo, located between the first and second mile of the via Appia, on the left side of the street leaving Rome. As the sanctuary of Mars marked a liminal zone between the urban and extra-urban stretches of the via Appia, the double-cella temple may have been the visually defining element of a boundary sanctuary placed at the junction of two different geographical areas, i.e. the Almo valley, which should still have been part of the city of Rome, and the volcanic plateau of the Colli Albani, on which the extra-urban stretch of the via Appia was built. The orientation of the temple towards the fields suggests that it was designed to face outward: its façade was the first feature to be seen by people entering Rome along the via Appia or the pre-existing street.
Unfortunately, it was only possible to obtain knowledge of this sanctuary through the study of sketches and pictures conserved in the archives of the Superintendence. Further archaeological investigation would therefore be necessary to document the structures in detail and supplement our knowledge by new sondages, so that the sanctuary and its history may be accurately and fully reconstructed.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACTS- Despite its strategic location between two tourist focal poles (the city center of Rome- the Appian Way tour), the initial suburban stretch of the ancient Appian Way risks losing its cultural identity. The Middle-Republican temple was discovered beneath an old barn, a structure that contributes to the degraded state of the area. The recovery and enhancement of this archaeological site would be very important, so that visiting it may constitute a novel cultural experience for local inhabitants and tourists. This project was the first step to develop the competitiveness of the area, allowing its archaeological heritage to become a growth-driving factor of identity and quality for its inhabitants. To revive the entire area, it is essential to reveal its historical value to the greater public: the scientific results were published in the project web-site ( and in the national newspaper “La Repubblica” and at the end of the project a public presentation was offered (see attachments nn. 1-2). The aim was to reconstruct a “sense of place” based on the re-appropriation of the territory by its citizens, making them feel like both the actors and beneficiaries of “their own” heritage. The result of the outreach activities was that committees of local inhabitants started to organize cultural initiatives to protect their own territory (see attachment n.3)
POTENTIAL IMPACT- The discovery of the Middle-Republican temple is fundamental for the scientific debate about ‘frontier sanctuaries’ encircling Rome at a distance of one mile, and –more generally- in the study of Rome’s original boundary. This research theme is topical in the archaeological and historical studies of ancient Rome. Concerning the socio-economic impact, the excavation and enhancement of the temple, both focused on its physical and intellectual accessibility to all visitors, will be very important to expose the economic potential of the whole archaeological area of the via Appia. The main stakeholders’ commitment to the strategic redefinition of the territorial mission will be essential to re-assigning culture its central role, not only in terms of aesthetics, but also in order to sustain local development. For these reasons a further development of the project will be relevant not only for the scholars, but local authorities (Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma, Sovrintendenza Capitolina dei Beni Culturali, Comune di Roma, Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica) are really interested in its realization.