In the course of two days (Saturday 10 and Tuesday 13 April) Academy Fellows, Residents, Visiting Artists and Scholars, and friends took a close look at three sites in Lazio: Palestrina (35 km east of Rome), the Roman aqueducts near Vicovaro (45 km northeast of the city) and Subiaco (still further east of Rome, in all 70 km).
Gianni Ponti, Archaeology Liaison to the Academy and a dean at Rome’s IES, kicked off the proceedings on 10 April with an exploration of the rock-cut aqueducts of the Aquae Marcia and Claudia near the ex-monastery of S. Cosimato at Vicovaro, founded by Saint Benedict and built on the banks of the Anio river gorge. The aqueducts there are stunningly well preserved, and the Academy group climbed into them to inspect different techniques used for building aqueducts directly into the bedrock. Also visible (given a little vertical effort) were several cells carved into the rock where Benedictine hermits retreated into prayer. Facilitating the visit was a team from the Roma Sotterranea group, under the direction of Michele Concas.
Top: 17th century graffito inside the Aqua Claudia; middle, AAR Archaeology Liaison Gianni Ponti spots the signature of aqueduct pioneer Thomas Ashby (1874-1931); bottom, from October 1920, the signature of Ashby and his collaborator the engineer G. Ducci
There followed on Tuesday 13 April a day trip to Palestrina and Subiaco, led by current Resident (and former acting Mellon Professor) Ann Vasaly FAAR’83. Palestrina (ancient Praeneste) was in antiquity a crossroads between Etruria and southern Italy. It was the site of a great oracular shrine, the elaborate architecture of which was revealed by allied bombing in WW II. The Museum, built over palaces of the Colonna and Barberini–which in turn stood upon the site of the Temple of Fortuna–houses the remains of a beautiful Augustan altar and the famous Nile mosaic, as well as other interesting works.
The group started off the day by visiting the eccentric and compelling Triangolo Barberini (attributed to Francesco Contini) below Palestrina, one of the most remarkable–and endangered–buildings that has come down to us from the 17th century. It is on private farmland that has belonged to the Barberini family since 1630.
Subiaco, in the mountains above the Anio River, is the cradle of the Benedictine order. The monastery is built around the cave (Sacro Speco) where Benedict lived as a hermit for three years after abandoning Rome and before founding his monastic order.
The site includes wonderful 8th-15th c. frescoes (including one of St. Francis, supposedly painted from life). This was the first city in Italy where books were printed, and the libraries of the monasteries contain many incunabula.