Carsulae

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Arco di Traiano (also called the Arch of San Damiano) & the Via Flaminia

Carsulae is an archaeological site in Umbria, central Italy, now one of the most important archaeological ruins in Italy. It is located c. 4 km north of San Gemini, a small comune in the province of Terni. Nearby is the comune of Montecastrilli (Montes Carsulis).

Origins and history[edit]

Most historians fix the town's official founding to about 300 BC. Carsulae's growth into a major town only took place, however, with the building of the ancient Roman road, the via Flaminia, in 220-219-BC. Carsulae probably originated as a mansio, a rest stop and watering place for travelers, traders and soldiers.

When the via Flaminia was built, its western branch proceeded north from Narni, sparking the development not only of Carsulae, but also of Acquasparta and Bevagna. This branch of the road courses through a gently rolling upland plain at the foot of the Martani mountain range, an area that had been heavily populated since the middle of the Bronze Age. The eastern branch proceeded from Narni to Terni, north to Spoleto, then past Trevi and finally to Foligno, where it merged with the western branch.

In due course, during the age of Emperor Augustus, Carsulae became a Roman municipium. During his reign a number of major works were initiated, eventually including the amphitheatre, most of the forum, and the marble-clad Arch of Trajan (now called the Arco di San Damiano).

During its "golden age" Carsulae, supported by agricultural activity in the surrounding area, was prosperous and wealthy. Its bucolic setting, its large complex of mineralized thermal baths, theatres, temples and other public amenities, attracted wealthy and even middle class "tourists" from Rome.

The Augustan amphitheatre

However, while all the other mentioned towns and cities on the two branches of the old Roman road continue to exist, nothing but ruins remains of Carsulae, which was abandoned, and once abandoned, never resettled. The only subsequent building that took place occurred in paleo-Christian times, about the 4th or 5th century, at the southerly entrance to Carsulae, where the church of San Damiano, still standing today, was built for a small community of nuns on the foundations of an earlier Roman building.

For centuries after it was deserted, Carsulae was used as a quarry for building materials that were used elsewhere, such as in Spoleto or Cesi, where Roman tombstones may be seen built into the church of S. Andrea, but otherwise, it was left alone. Consequently, archaeologists have been able to map the city with considerable detail.

No one knows the precise reasons why Carsulae was abandoned, but two that seem most plausible are first, that it was almost destroyed and the site made inhospitable by an earthquake, and second that it lost its importance and as a result became increasingly impoverished because most of the important north-south traffic used the faster east branch of the via Flaminia. J.B. Ward-Perkins suggested another effect of increasingly unsettled times from the third century, when the very trunk roads that had been economic lifelines became access roads for hordes of unpaid fighters: "Henceforth the tendency must have been to move away from the roads, until by the Middle Ages the roads themselves were as bare of settlement as they had been when they were first built."[1]

Haphazard excavations took place in the 16th century under the direction of Duke Federico Cesi, whose palazzi are in Cesi Acquasparta, and in the 17th century under the direction of Pope Pius VI, but not until 1951 were the ruins subjected to methodical archaeological exploration and documentation. Significant additional work was also done in 1972. There is a current excavation run by Professor Jane Whitehead through Valdosta State University of Georgia focusing on the bath complex and pre-Roman polygonal wall south of the city. They are in their fifth season with plans to continue.[2]

Plan of the ruins of Carsulae.
Fresco in the Chiesa di San Damiano

Monuments[edit]

  1. Via Flaminia. The western branch of the ancient Roman road passed through Carsulae. The via Flaminia was the "main street" of the city, and the stretch that runs through the city features sidewalks and gutters.
  2. Chiesa di San Damiano, first built in paleo-Christian times on the remains of a Roman building whose original purpose is unknown. Remnants of this building are still in evidence on the south side of the church. The primitive church was a rectangular space with an apse. A portico and two interior colonnades were added during the 11th century using materials gathered from the site, including items that probably decorated the Basilica or were architectural pieces from the Forum.
  3. Basilica, the public meeting hall for the citizens of Carsulae. The interior hall, which is rectangular, has a central nave and two side aisles separated by rows of columns. The apse at the far end would have held a magistrate's chair, used to arbitrate or adjudicate disputes and dispense justice.
  4. Public Baths, mineralized, thermal baths.
  5. Cistern, now an Antiquarium, held water for use by the people of the town.
  6. Temples. Two temples, sometimes called the "twin temples" were devoted to the gods of two unknown Roman divinities. Only their diases, sheathed in pink rock, remain today.
  7. The Forum, the main public "square" of the ancient city, built on a terraced structure in and around the Basilica and twin temples. The line of vaulted structures, or "tabernae", near the Forum might have been market stalls or shops.
  8. Public buildings. Used for unknown purposes, they probably housed administrative offices for the local government, or served as palaces for aristocratic families. There are four sumptuously decorated rectangular rooms with apses, with marble walls and floors incorporating both marble and opus sectilis.
  9. Amphitheatre. Sitting in a natural depression to the east of the via Flaminia, was probably built during the Flavian dynasty. It is built primarily of layers of limestone blocks and bricks.
  10. Theatre. It was probably built in the time of Augustus, before the building of the amphitheatre. The primary building material for the theatre was opus reticulatum.
  11. Collegium Iuvenum, a college or school for young people.
  12. Cistern - Another structure built to contain water for the use of citizens.
  13. Arco di Traiano - Arch of San Damiano - Originally consisting of three marble- clad arches, of which only the center arch remains. It was also built during the time of Augustus as a symbolic north entrance to the city.
  14. Funerary monument, known as the tumulus, a much restored funerary monument of an aristocratic family, possibly the Furia family. A plaque now kept at the museum in the Palazzo Cesi in Acquasparta may have been taken from this monument.
  15. Funerary monument - a less distinguished monument in the necropolis of Carsulae.

Visitor Information[edit]

(As of August 2012)

8:30 to 19:30 from April to September (summer period of validity DST) (The ticket office closes at 19.00)

8:30 to 17:30 from October to March (winter period of validity of the daytime) (The ticket office closes at 17.00)

Closed on Christmas Day, 1 January and 1 May

Ticket price: € 5.00

Discounted ticket: € 3.50 (EU citizens between 18 and 25 years, teachers with permanent contracts in state schools and tourist groups over 15 paying units.)

Facilities: Visitor centre with disabled access, "Umberto Ciotti" Visit and Documentation Centre, car parking and café.

Coordinates: 42°38′23.25″N 12°33′25.75″E / 42.6397917°N 12.5571528°E / 42.6397917; 12.5571528

References[edit]

  1. ^ J.B. Ward-Perkins, "Etruscan Towns, Roman Roads and Medieval Villages: The Historical Geography of Southern Etruria" The Geographical Journal 128.4 (December 1962:389-404) pp 399f.
  2. ^ CarsulaeArchaeological Excavation

External links[edit]