You can find the ancient city of Sorano in Southern Tuscany, in close proximity to some of the region’s world famous countrysides.

Ancient, because it stems from the Neoloithic age, although it is most notable for its Etruscan heritage.

Situated in the heart of the Etruscan civilization, one of their most notable and historical testimonies is the “Vie Cave.” The “Vie Cave” is thought to be an epic series of connecting roads dug out of the tufa thereby adjoining the Etruscan cities of Sorano, Pitigliano, and Sovano.



Nearby, you can visit the well-preserved archaeological site in which parts of the illustrious “Vie Cave” can be walked upon. Truly, a remarkable experience!

The site presents an incredible opportunity to explore tombs, view ancient carved statues and artifacts, and be absorbed in the ancient land which is surrounded by a number of shaded dense trees.



The town of Sorano tucked away from the masses of tourism, sits atop its tower of tufa once created from an ancient volcano. From this vantage point, a broad number of rectangular Etruscan tombs can be spotted carved into the rock that sits across the valley, and which must have posed a very difficult exploration route for archaeologists and historians to study due to their obscure locations.


Visiting Sorano is a moving experience. The homes are nestled together and made of stone and red-tiled roofs. The population being relatively small, makes it easy to maneuver around the city practically alone. Paved with narrow cobblestone streets which take you up, down and around moderately narrow slopes, there are several memorable places to visit.

One of the most awe-inspiring things to see is the “Rocca degli Orsini Castle” which has gained historical notoriety, as it serves as a prime example of military architecture emanating from the period of the Renaissance.

Additionally, the “Fortezza Orsini” stands as an enormous fortress from the 11th century.

Upon strolling throughout Sorano, it is fascinating how some of the homes seem to be literally hanging onto the very edge of the cliff.

A wonderful way to conclude a visit to Sorano is to eat at one of the superb restaurants serving only the freshest and most delicious of foods available in the locality.

A walk through Sorano is truly an experience not to be forgotten, and which showcases the city’s treasures that are steeped in history!





Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.



Appian Way – Rome’s Queen of Roads

Via Appia Antica, or the Appian Way, is the most famous of Rome’s ancient roads, affectionately referred to as the “Queen of Roads”. Built in 312 BC, the road was built by the then-censors of Rome, Appius Claudius Caecus. The road was of great strategic and political importance at the time, connecting Rome to Brindisi, covering a distance of 350 miles.

appian-way-rome-via-appia-italy-33819761 (2)Construction of the Road

Appian Way is a marvel of construction. Experts have stated that the stones were laid so perfectly that one couldn’t stick a knife in the road to mark the gap between the stones. This was achieved by layering small stones and mortar on the surface, topped with gravel and then interlocking stones. The flatness of the road was on purpose, to make it easier for people to travel on it.

The Route

The Appian Way started at the Circus Maximus. From there, it proceeded to go along the Baths of Caracalla and then the Aurelian Wall. Once out of Rome, the road passed through some of the wealthiest suburbs of that time, going through the Appian Mountains and the Pontine Marshes, all the way to Terracina. Originally, the road ended at Capua, which was about 130 miles from Rome. In 295 BC, it was extended to Benevenutum and then subsequently to Tarenum, eventually spanning 350 miles.

Purpose of the Appian Way

The main purpose of the Appian Way was to make travel easier for the people travelling to and from Rome. Also, it aided the Roman army move at pace and in particular, transport their supplies as and when required. This proved quite useful and enabled the army to achieve some notable triumphs. In fact, the revolt led by Spartacus ended when the Roman forces conquered the rebels on the Appian Way. Over 6,000 slaves were crucified at various points along the road.

During the Second World War, the Appian Way proved important in a battle won by the Allies, who were able to capture Rome by fighting off German forces using the cover of the road. War is not the only purpose the road served, as it was also used during the men’s marathon at the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Monuments on the Appian Way

The road is lined with hundreds of tombs on the sides. During that time, people were forbidden to bury the dead in the city, which made the Appian Way a popular choice. Among the monuments still present on the Appian Way are:

  • Tomb of Caecilia Metella
  • Temple of Hercules
  • Villa dei Quintili, with nympheum, theatre, and baths
  • Catacomb of Callixtus
  • Circus of Maxentius

A number of bridges in Rome are also built alongside the Appian Way.

The Appian Way Today

Tourists to Rome can get a guided walking tour of the Appian Way. At present, the road starts from the Aurelian Wall. It is not pedestrian-friendly for the first few miles, only improving once you pass the tomb of Cecilia Metella. Along the way, you can catch a glimpse of the monuments as listed above. The development of Rome as a modern city and the expansion of the urban areas means the Appian Way is no longer the ‘Queen of Roads’ it used to be, but that doesn’t belie its historical significance and importance.


Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

Trajan’s Market – An Architectural Marvel: Shopping Mall or Administrative Space?

Trajan’s Market is located on the famed Via dei Fori Imperiali.  A complex of ruins, some of the structures from the initial building are intact. The location is considered to provide a glimpse into life in Rome back in the time of the great Roman Empire.

Historical and Architectural Importance

Trajan’s Market is referred to as the first shopping mall in the world. However, over the years, the perspective of experts has changed and the design of the arcades in the TrajansMarketsDownsizedNG0595aabuilding seems to give off the impression that Trajan’s Market was used as an administrative space for Emperor Trajan. There were several levels built, featuring shops and apartments. Some of the levels are intact and visitors can also view the relics of an old Roman library.


Initially, the purpose of the complex that has been come to known as Trajan’s Market was built to harmonize with the Forum of Trajan. It is believed that the original construction took place around 100 AD and the architect responsible for the design was Apollodorus of Damascus. The complex was in use for over two centuries. Over the years, several features have been added and removed from the building, including some defensive structures built around 1200 AD.

Trajan’s Market suffered great damage due to an earthquake in the 14th century and was generally neglected. It was in 1926 that work began on restoring the complex, which was completed in 1934.


Trajan’s Market was built as a place of business. There were many offices, shops and warehouses designed in the original structure. The structure itself stood alongside Quirinal Hill and joined the Forum of Trajan. The upper levels of the complex were used mainly for administrative and management while the business was conducted on the lower levels. There were several shops, selling groceries, spices and other items of everyday use. These shops were called ‘tabernae’. People who wanted to purchase any item were first required to buy tokens and then use them as currency when shopping at Trajan’s Market.

Trajan’s Market Today

Trajan’s Market is one of the oldest high-rise structures in Rome which has been preserved properly. This gives this antiquity significant historical importance as it provides an insight into the way urban Rome was designed back in the day. You can take a walk through the corridors of Trajan’s Market or on the shopping street adjacent to the structure and relive the times of old.


Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

Domus Aurea: The “Golden House” Nero Built

The Domus Aurea

The great fire that swept through Rome in 64 AD destroyed several structures in its path, including the homes of the elite of the time on Palatine Hill. It was at this time that the emperor Nero decided to build a villa, full of splendor and luxury, which gave birth to the idea of the Domus Aurea. Nero lived in the Domus Aurea till he committed suicide in 68 AD. After his death, the villa has become one of Rome’s most well-known historical sites and carries great significance to this day.


There is considerable debate about the size of the villa, with some historians having described as being less than 100 acres, while others have written that it covered over 300 acres. At the time it was built, the structure sprawled over three hills, including the Palatine. Nero even had a lake built at the foot of the slopes. (Archaeological evidence has deemed this lake sat immediately where the Colosseum resides today-this came about when research took place over the historical record that the Colosseum held mock sea battles, and that the water stemmed from a previous lake/pool that once sat there). The villa also included vineyards, hundreds of trees of different kinds and wide pastures.

The building itself was made from concrete and brick. The ornamentation of the villa was extravagant, to say the least. Semi-precious stones were engraved on the ceilings as well as ivory veneers. The villa featured frescoed walls. Architecturally, the design was immaculate with different themes spread across the structure, giving it a unique and visually appealing appearance. A statue of Nero was also built to be placed at the entrance to the emperor’s palace. The statue was a colossus, 35.5 m tall, and was built by Zenodorus. Today, the actual site of where the statue once stood,is marked, and sits next to the Roman Colosseum. This is how the Colosseum became the “Colosseum” due to the “colossal” statue. (During ancient times it was known as the Flavium Ampitheatre.)

Nero’s Death and the Renaissance Period

Nero’s successors were ashamed of the extravagance of the palace and had the jewels and ivory removed from the structure over the next few years. Most of the area covered by the villa was then filed with earth and different buildings were erected there. These included the Flavian Amphitheatre, Colossus Neronis and the Temple of Venus and Rome.

During the 15th century, at the height of the Renaissance, the splendorous architecture of the Domus Aurea was discovered, almost by accident. Michelangelo and Raphael were just two of the many artists of the time who went underground to explore and examine the structure and also left their names on the walls. Over the centuries, archaeologists have dug through the ground to uncover remains of the Domus Aurea, including the frescoed walls, and research continues to this day.


Over the years, the reputation of Nero as an emperor has been solidified with considerable research. He is known as a ruthless ruler whose only indulgence was luxury. This is the reason the Domus Aurea has come to be known as a symbol of opulence and endless wealth. This is signified in the use of the name of the structure by numerous businesses, including fine wines and hotels. The target market of these businesses is often the society elite, who are aware of the affluence of Nero and his indulgent tastes and habits.

The Domus Aurea Today

The Domus Aurea was closed down for several years for repairs after some damage to the building caused by the collapsing of the vault of one of the galleries of the villa in 2010, and flooding. Even a couple of years before that, experts expressed concerned about the safety of the structure and whether it should be open to visitors. The result is that the inside of the villa is climate-controlled, with 10oC the standard temperature at all times. Plus, the 100% humidity makes the climate inside cold. You can get a guided tour on the weekend. Visitors are responsible for keeping themselves warm.


Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

Largo Argentina – The Spot Where Caesar Died, Now a Modern Day Cat Sanctuary

Largo di Torre Argentina, known simply as Largo Argentina, is an ancient square located in Rome, in the Campus Martius.  Most famous for the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC on the Ides of March, the site  features four Republican Roman temples of old and the Pompey Theatre.  The theatre was built for the famed Roman general, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. The square was named after Torre Argentina, based on the Latin name for Strasbourg, which was Argentoratum.

LargoArgentinaNGDownsized3716Over the Years

The four temples have been preserved over the years. Interestingly, the temples are categorized by the first four letters of the English alphabet. The temples face a street, which was built in 80 AD following a major fire in Rome.

Temple A is considered to have been built in the 3rd century BC, celebrating the victory over the Carthaginians in 241 B.C. Eventually, this temple was incorporated into a church, thereby preserving it as it appears today.

Temple B, with several columns remaining, was built in a circular shape in 101 BC, and came as a result of the Battle of Vercellae. The temple featured a statue of Aedes and was later excavated by archaeologists. The statue now resides in the Capitoline Museums.

The oldest temple built, Temple C, was built in the 4th or 3rd century BC. It was most likely devoted to Feronia,and was damaged during the fire in 80 AD, after which it was rebuilt.

Temple D, being the largest and mostly unexcavated, was built in the 2nd century BC, and has seen several restorations over the years.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Largo Argentina is that it was decided that the structure be demolished when Italy was unified. However, the excavation of holy statues meant the decision was overturned and the Largo Argentina has been preserved till now.

LargoArgentinaDownsizedNG1552Connection to Caesar’s Death

According to records, Julius Ceasar was infamously assassinated in the Curia, part of the Theatre of Pompey. Since that time, the spot has become popular due to its link with history and Julius Caesar’s death, who was one of the most influential Roman rulers.

The Cat Sanctuary

Modern day Largo Argentina features a sanctuary for cats, named the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. The homeless cats living in this space are not allowed to be killed. This is one reason why the place is teamed with cats of different breeds and sizes. Over the years, there have been requests to shut the place down due to health concerns but the place remains open as of today. In fact, it is said the services offered by the sanctuary have improved considerably.

Largo Argentina Today

You can get a guided tour of Largo Argentina and explore the different areas, with the four temples and the remains of Pompey’s Theatre. Without a doubt, Largo Argentina is one of the most historically significant places in Rome.


Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

The Villa of the Papyri – A Buried Herculaneum Architectural Treasure

Rediscovered in the 18th century just outside Herculaneum on the Mediterranean coast, the Villa of the Papyri was buried along with Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. A private house with no other buildings to restrict its view of the volcano and sea view, its initial construction dates to circa 40-25 BC. However, overlapping layers of artwork indicate that it has undergone two phases of redecoration. Evidence of unfinished paintings and artists’ scaffolding indicates that the second round of renovations was underway when the eruption occurred.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The villa’s ownership remains a mystery, but different artifacts indicate that it was once a luxury villa occupied by influential individuals. In fact, some believe that it belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Regardless, the villa has inspired different architects across the world, including those working with J. Paul Getty while constructing the Getty Villa in the 1970s.

The front side of the villa is estimated to be 250 meters long, stretched on the coastline of what is currently known as the Gulf of Naples. As for its layout, it remains loyal to the fundamental structural and architectural aspects of the suburban villas in Pompeii. For instance, the atrium acts as an entrance hall and a point of communication with different parts of the home. In addition, the first peristyle had 10 columns on each side as well as a swimming bath in the center.

A few hundred meters from the nearest house in Herculaneum, the Villa of the Papyri had four levels which were defined by a series of terraces. The living and reception spaces were grouped around these terraces, ensuring that the villa’s occupants received ample sunlight and viewed both the sea and countryside. Similarly, the grounds comprises of large areas of covered and uncovered gardens which offered shade and warmth respectively.

However, the most important excavations targeted the library established by the house’s owner. Archeologists believe that the library contained the works of Epicurean Philodemus of Gàdara despite the lack of evidence confirming this fact. The scrolls in the library are heavily charred, but are preserved since the ash transformed them into harder tuff. To avoid compromising the fragility of the scrolls, digital multi-spectral imaging methods are being used to read them.

Complementing these structures and living spaces was a large collection of artworks. The villa was uncovered with 80 high quality sculptures such as the Seated Hermes. In addition, the atrium’s bowl was surrounded with 11 fountain statues of Satyrs and Amorini pouring water. Now, most of these pieces are conserved at the Naples National Archeological Museum.

Aside from its architecture and treasure of artwork, what truly makes the Villa of the Papyri stand out is that it reflects the changes occurring in the socio-economic front. Everything within it combines the Roman and Greek architecture and art. It also indicates that its occupants could fully immerse themselves in a contemplative life. As a result, the suburban villa is considered an excellent example of the emerging lifestyle of educated pleasure and the integration of social rank with private lives.

However, it may be long before the remaining 2,800 square meters of this villa are excavated, especially since the Italian government is enforcing a conservation policy that aims to protect what hasn’t been uncovered. Luckily, there are people such as David Woodley Packard willing to fund the excavations once given the chance. Therefore, if the government decides to change its stance, consensus decision is the Villa of the Papyri will make its way to the surface again.


Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

Exploring Paestum and its Prominent Churches

Founded around 600 BC by Greek Achaeans from Sybaris, Paestum is a major coastal Ancient Greek city perched on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was built with a sanctuary to Poseidon, which explains the city’s old name Poseidonia. It then became an ideal place to harbor refugees from Sybaris after Croton conquered the latter in 510 BC. This explains why coins of Sybaris made their way to the city. However, it wasn’t until 237 BC that the city became the Roman Paestum. The Romans took over after the Graeco-Italian Poseidonians allied with Pyrrhus and lost in a war against Rome.

PaestumWPDocDownsized8900During Hannibal’s invasion, Paestum remained faithful to Rome, receiving special favors.  As a result, however, despite prospering during the Imperial period, the coastal city started to decline between the 4th and 7th centuries. By the Middle Ages, it was abandoned due to the changes in local land drainage, which caused swampy, malarial conditions. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it regained its importance, which is around the time the cities Pompeii and Herculaneum were rediscovered.

Approximately 120 hectares in area, only 25 hectares have been excavated. Visitors can view the 4,750 x 6 x 15 meters walls as well as the 24 square and round towers along them. However, the best attractions of Paestum are the three temples: The First Temple of Hera, the Second Temple of Hera, and the Temple of Athena.

The First Temple of Hera was built by Greek colonists around 550 BC. Now considered the oldest temple in Paestum, archeologists first believed it to be a Roman Basilica (civil building). Upon discovering inscriptions related to Hera and an altar, the building’s purpose was revealed. As for the second temple, it was built around 460 – 450 BC. It has nothing in common with the first temple due to its columns’ symmetrical style. The columns themselves are different as they have 24 flutes rather than the conventional 20 flutes. Furthermore, the columns are wider despite the smaller spaces for placing them. Interestingly, the second Temple of Hera was also used for worshiping Zues Zeus and another god.

Finally, the Temple of Athena was built around 500 BC at the highest point of the city, a little further away from other temples. Its architecture is very similar to early Doric and Ionic styles, which is probably why it attracted Christians early on. Excavations uncovered three medieval Christian tombs, indicating that the temple was used as a church at one point in time.

However, the temples aren’t the only structures spread across Paestum. Visitors can explore the Santa Venera site, which comprises terracotta offertory statuettes of a female nude wearing the headdress of Syrian and Anatolian goddesses. They can also go through the Roman Forum, which is estimated to have been built on the side of the previous Greek agora. Other structures around are a small Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva as well as an amphitheater featuring the traditional Roman pattern.

In addition to the historical and cultural marvels of Paestum, visitors can also revel in the beautiful shores known for their thin sand and small streams. The white beach is also worth visiting, extending over 14 kilometers and providing views of the maquis near the pinewood.

Also nearby is the National Park of Cilento, one of the biggest of its kind in Italy. Crafted by both God and man, the park allows its visitors to marvel at the fusion of the sea and mountains. There are also numerous undamaged buildings dating back to the Greeks’ colonization period, ensuring the park’s loyalty to past cultural origins.

With so much to offer, Paestum truly is an exquisite tourist spot.



Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

Removing the Dust of Time off the Stadium of Domitian

Featured in the 1964 Sophia Loren film Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Piazza Navona is one of the popular attractions in Rome. However, in addition to featuring monuments such as the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), the city square is famous for being home of the Circus Angonalis, or Stadium of Domitian (Stadio di Domiziano).

StadioDomizianoWPDocDownsized2473The Structure of the Stadium

Commissioned in 80 AD by the Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus, Stadium of Domitian was constructed towards the north of the Field of Mars (Campus Martius).  The structure was to be part of an imperial program to rebuild the buildings damaged by a fire in 80 AD and a new venue for competitive athletic contests. Designed with the Colosseum in mind, the stadium could seat between 15,000 and 20,000 individuals. Moreover, its floor plan featured the same elongated, U-shape of the Circus Maximus.

However, it was smaller in size at approximately 200-250 meters in length, 100 ft. above ground in height and 15 ft. in inner perimeter. This is why it was the perfect venue for foot races. Despite its smaller size though, the substructures and support frames were built with robustness in mind. The Romans used brick and concrete, which are cheap, durable and fire-retardant materials, but had the blocks surrounded by marble.

The Purpose of Stadium of Domitian over the Years

Once opened to the public, it was solely for athletic contests. However, between 217 and 228 AD, it hosted gladiator shows since the fire damaged the Colosseum. In addition, its arcades were used as brothels. Legend has it that Early Christian Saint Agnes was martyred in or near one of the arcades during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. This is why Pope Innocent X decided to rebuild the Sant’Agnese in Agone church there later in the 17th century.

Back to the imperial and post-imperial eras, the economic and political crises turned the stadium into a more public place. The poor were given living quarters in the arcades. However, the barbarian invasions drove the dense population away from the city towards the Field of Mars. Meanwhile, the stadium stood strong until the Renaissance era, which is when it was stripped down for building materials.

Stadio di Domiziano’s Legacy

The Piazza Navona was built on the stadium’s site during the last years of the 15th century. Pope Innocent X was especially interested in the area as it faced his family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili. As a result, he transformed the area with Baroque Roman architecture and art. Till this day, the sculptural and architectural creations he supported, such as the Obelisk of Domitian and Sant’Agnese in Agone, can be visited and explored.

While the current attractions are more artistic in nature, visitors can feel the glory of their surroundings as they walk across what was once Rome’s pride and glory: Circus Angonalis.


Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

Portus – Ancient Rome’s Lost Harbor

Built on the north of the mouth of the Tiber, Portus was constructed by Roman emperor Claudius. It was one of the main ports during the Imperial period (27 B.C. to A.D. 565), providing a conduit for different merchandise such as glass, ceramics, slaves and wild animals for the Colosseum. As a result, it was considered a hub of commerce for the largest urban population in the ancient world.

The History of Portus

Roman Emperor Claudius, Roger Ulrich, Flickr Commons

Roman Emperor Claudius, Roger Ulrich, Flickr Commons

Claudius constructed the first harbor on the site to provide protection against the prevalent southwest wind. In the inscription he erected in AD 46, he boasted that he freed Rome from the danger of inundation. However, Tacitus wrote in AD 62 that numerous grain ships sank in the harbor due to violent storms. By AD 103, Trajan constructed another harbor a little further inland. The newer Portus features a hexagonal basin of a 97 acre area and canals connecting it to the harbor of Claudius and the Tiber. This made the port gain a great reputation matching that of Carthage or Alexandria.

It was not until recently that the mystery of the port’s disappearance was solved. According to dig director Simon Keay of the University of Southampton, Portus was destroyed by the Byzantines during a war with the Ostrogoths to control Rome. “By the 6th century, the Byzantines felt the port could be a threat as it was vulnerable to being occupied by the Ostrogoths, so they took the decision to destroy it themselves,” he said. After gaining and losing control of the port during the war, the Byzantines decided to destroy it altogether. This was not an easy task since the structures were solid and would have required a “firm decision and the Byzantines’ will” to be carried out.

Portus in Modern Times

Many of the port’s ruins are still intact, especially the second century hexagonal basin (known as Lago Traiano due to the reeds growing there), third century brickwork warehouses, and an early Christian basilica. Italy’s Cultural Heritage minister Dario Franceschini and the Mayor of Fiumicino Esterino Montino intend to make the site accessible by 2016, allowing 30,000 visitors to the site. However, it may take more than that since only a part of Portus has been excavated and experts believe that the site has more potential.

For instance, in 2011, an ancient Roman shipyard was unearthed in the area. Measuring 475 feet long and 200 feet wide, the shipyard building was made of large 10 feet concrete pillars, eight parallel bays, and wooden roofs. Keay commented, “This was a vast structure, which could easily have housed wood, canvas and other supplies and certainly would have been large enough to build or shelter ships in. The scale, position and unique nature of the building leads us to believe it played a key role in shipbuilding activities.”

Before this massive find, archeologists uncovered the remains of an imperial palace and an amphitheater. Another important finding was a mosaic that depicts a building such as the one uncovered with a ship in each bay. It is currently on display in the Vatican Museum, but more are expected to be exhibited along once the excavation stops in the area.


Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

A Walk through the Ancient Roman Amphitheater in Lucca

The city of Lucca is a commune in Tuscany that is perched on the river Serchio. While famed for its resilient Renaissance-era walls, it is one of the important Roman colonies in 180 BC. Though it has been plundered and conquered several times, many of its original glory remains. One look at the ruins of its famed amphitheater in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is bound to confirm this.

Piero Masia Flickr Commons

Piero Masia Flickr Commons

The amphitheater was constructed under Emperor Claudius in the 1st century AD, but it was not until the Flavian period that construction was concluded. According to an honorary inscription uncovered in the 1800s, Quintus Vibius, a rich citizen with a knight’s rank, generously donated 10,000 sestertii over ten years to complete the project. Once inaugurated, the structure allowed up to 10,000 spectators to watch gladiators and beasts fight till the death. Experts believe that it had two rows of arches adorned with marble and columns.

However, it did not take long for the Romans to change its purpose later on. The Romans feared that the amphitheater’s size and position outside the city would threaten the well-being of the town if it fell in the enemy’s hands. Therefore, during the Byzantine invasions, Lucca’s Roman amphitheater was transformed into a fortress. All of its embellishments disappeared and its outer arches were shut.

During the medieval times, the structure’s foundations were used for making houses and the arena itself became home to multiple vegetable lots used for domestic use. Later on, the amphitheater was used as a prison and then a salt warehouse. By the beginning of the 18th century, it was Lucca’s public slaughterhouse. Luckily, Carlo Ludovico decided to spare the one-glorified structure and commissioned famous architect Lorenzo Nottolini to restore the square to the ancient Roman attraction.

The buildings created in the arena were demolished and an oval space with the same perimeter and volumes of the ancient building was constructed. Dedicated to the town market, the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro retained the original amphitheater’s structures two meters below the road surface whereas arches and vaults emerged at the shops facing the plaza. However, the area is bustling with life thanks to numerous shops and cafes, making it the center of cultural activities and music festivals. International performers such as Van Morrison and The Eagles have had their concerts in the area.

Due to the numerous restoration efforts across the amphitheater, visitors may be disappointed at the lack of ruins. However, if you close your eyes long enough, you can hear some of the echoes of the past, including the lions and gladiators fighting.


Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.