The Vicus Caprarius – The City of Water

THE VICUS CAPRARIUS – THE CITY OF WATER

Just a few steps from the splendid and legendary Trevi Fountain, but far from the constant chaos of the area, the beautiful yet unknown “Vicus Caprarius”, the City of Water, strikes for the magic atmosphere that it manages to create all around it.

Made famous by the iconic movie by Federico Fellini “La Dolce Vita”, the Trevi Fountain is able to capture the attention of millions of tourists every day. It may be difficult to imagine what is lying underneath it, but going a few meters down the road surface could be a unique, emotional experience. It really helps to understand how alive and “grown-up” the City has become throughout thousands of years. Going underground, we can really understand that what we see above is just a direct reproduction of the “underworld”. I had the pleasure to meet the director of the archeological site, doc. Lorenzo dell’Aquila. He is a Roman history expert, and with great enthusiasm and passion for his job. He thoroughly described to me the wonders of the “Vicus”. I discovered new spaces that I didn’t know existed. This great experience was possible thanks to the doctor’s charisma and charm as proof of his exceptional knowledge. This gem in the heart of Rome has been discovered fairly recently. Between 1999 and 2001, the Cremonini Group, who were the owners of the movie theater and the above luxury hotel, led the renovation work of the old Trevi cinema. The excavations unearthed unexpected remains. An old Roman tank and some rooms of an Imperial era-domus were hiding below the surface. The Cremonini Group has been pivotal in the protection and conservation of the area, representing one of the few examples of cooperation and synergy between the public and private sectors in the management and enhancement of an archeological site. This duo has worked efficiently so far. Doc. Dell’Aquila’s description of the site started from its very top, which in the IX and XIV centuries (in the Middle Ages) was the road surface. Thanks to the privileged perspective from the site, it is possible to fully understand the phenomenon of the stratification. Indeed, looking towards the bottom of the tank, it was possible to realize how much Rome had “grown up”. We were standing far below from the current pavement! The well is one of the most particular elements of the site; built in the same period the tank, it worked as a dumping ground for several centuries. It was extremely useful for historians and archeologists to understand the habits of the Roman people during medieval times. As strange as it may seem, garbage can be extremely valuable! Climbing further down, almost 10 meters below the surface, we could observe one of the most ambitious engineering works of the Roman era: the tank (castellum aquae). It is well kept even though it was built by Octavian Augustus in the 19 century BC as part of the Virgin Aqueduct. Despite being two thousand years old, it still works. The flow of water is so rhythmic that the beholder loses any track of time inside the site. The cave is massive even though only two of the three rooms that made up the tank have emerged. The total length of the two rooms is approximately 13 meters, the width is almost 5 meters, and the current height, which could increase in the future, is 4,5 meters. What do we mean when we talk about a room in a tank? A room is an actual space inside the tank that divides it into several other rooms. This big room was the result of physical needs rather than aesthetic or engineering ones. By dividing the big tank into smaller compartments, the total pressure of the body of water would be lightened. At the same time, it was possible to build smaller and stronger vault arches that could better sustain the structure. What really struck me, however, was the remarkable hydraulic plaster used to waterproof the walls. After two thousand years, it still keeps doing its job. The tank needed to be waterproofed in order to avoid any leakage of water but most importantly to preserve its purity from outside contamination. This piece of architecture is out of the ordinary, but it has kept its functionalities and design almost untouched even after thousands of years. During our visit to the site, we had the chance to dwell on every detail. Our hike was made easier due to the presence of metallic passageways that allow the visitor to get a close look at all the elements of the site. Next to the huge tank, the remains of a Roman villa catch the eye of the visitors. It is very likely that it was a luxury villa of the IV century BC, but just a small part of the villa is available to the public today. Its history is very peculiar. It was built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the II century a.D., as historians have deduced from a perfectly preserved seal on one of the steps of the house. It must have been an upscale mansion, yet it gained its glory starting from the IV century. This shift indicates a general improvement in the area, which during the Constantinian era used to be inhabited by the so-called “bourgeoise”. The site is indeed located in what used to be the Region VII; it was the seventh out of the fourteen regions that the Emperor Octavian Augustus had divided the empire into. In the IV century, this area was a residential neighborhood where government officials and civil servants used to live. The growth that the area experienced was also reflected in the ornaments and designs of the buildings. The most important part of the domus is still buried, and as per now, it is impossible to unveil some of its secrets and surprises. One of the most important elements in the domus is the seal, which allows to pinpoint the exact date of the building. It is interesting to remember that the Roman systematic organization concerned the construction industry as well. Through the Roman seals, it is possible to date precisely the period of construction of the buildings and monuments they belong to. They basically work as the ID of the building! There are few fascinating objects that archeologists managed to retrieved from the excavations, and they are all kept in the small antiquarium of the domus. One of the most interesting items in the room was a group of clay pots, which were used as oil containers. They are called spatheia, and they have a slender end. Their bizarre shape intrigued me as I wanted to know more about these objects. Doc. Dell’Aquila started describing them meticulously before I could even start asking questions. He explained that these pots have Africans origins, and their particular shape makes them easier to be handled and stacked. This way, it was possible to grab them and pour the oil. Doc. Dell’Aquila then admitted that they are the most loved pieces of the site. On the other hand, not many people tend to notice the amazingly well kept piece of polychromatic marble on one of the walls, which reflects the splendor of the house. So gorgeous! In the antiquarium, we can also find the bust of Alexander Helios’s head, the last Egyptian ruler of the Ptolemaic period in the I century a.D., and a collection of more than 800 coins. They belong to different periods throughout the Roman empire, highlighting the pivotal role that this domus has had across the centuries. Coins can say a lot about a certain place. The value of coins can be assessed through two different factors: the number of coins that were issued in a certain historical period and the place where they were forged. These two aspects highlight the rarity of the coins as there are very few coming from remote mints in the empire. In the archeological site, it is also possible to examine a very detailed map showing every mint in the empire. This map caught my attention for several minutes before the director invited me to notice the high level of humidity inside the site. Many tourists do not realize how much this aspect could influence their visit. The humidity level is artificially kept at 92% in order to preserve the tank and the entire site. For this reason, after spending some time inside the cave, it starts to feel very hot. Besides being a few meters under the surface, the high humidity level makes the temperature rise as well. After all, we were visiting the City of Water! This has been a wonderful experience...

 

Giuseppe Rosselli

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Read 549 times Last modified on Friday, 17 May 2019 19:42