Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Lunch at the Tomb of Priscilla

Following a strict chronological narrative the next post in my "History in one place" narrative should be the Church of Quo Vadis, which I discussed earlier.  I went over and had a quick peek at this while my travel companions were deciding on lunch options. They considered a snack bar that was doing a busy trade versus a little restaurant which looked cool and shady.  Cool and shady won out.

I am not going to do a real restaurant review because I suspect we did not catch Trattoria Da Priscilla at their best.  Dining in Italy - especially for dinner but to some extent for lunch - is intended to be a relaxed, extended experience.  As Via Appia day got underway the whole area was getting crowded.  In one of the few useful applications of my Italian language abilities it became clear that if you saw a table available and asked for it in Italian you got seated.  Those who asked in English....none available.

Lunch was pretty good.  I won't hold against them that glass of vino della casa that we ordered and never got.  We were perhaps a bit impatient to get on our way as the day was slipping away.

But Trattoria Da Priscilla gets a big plus mark, maybe an entire star, for having as its back wall a small section of the ancient Tomb of Priscilla!

Lets just go around the back for a closer look.  (Note, this is often not possible, we'll get to opening hours in a later post)

The Trattoria is on the right.  This is fairly impressive, but what are we actually seeing here?

Lets rewind chronologically first and have a look at an engraving from 1756.  This by the way is incorrectly identified by the artist, a Mr. Piranesi, as being the Tomb of the Scipios...

I am not sure if this is from the same side or the opposite in my photo.  The tomb has been knocked about a great deal and Piranesi seems to have altered the scale a bit. Note the difference in ground level.

The tomb is generally felt to be that of Priscilla, wife of Titus Flavius Abascanto, a freedman of the Emperor Domitian.  The contemporary poet Statius describes the elaborate preparations for her funeral and gives a rough location of the tomb.  An inscription said to have been found nearby is additional evidence.

What grabs your attention first is of course the central tower.  This is actually a much later construction.  Like so many other ancient buildings this was converted into a medieval watch tower using whatever old and new stones were available.  The actual tomb was two concentric cylinder the inner one having 13 niches for statuary.  

Here is the view walking around inside the inner cylinder.  The tower is indeed an architectural mess.  I assume the entry door is where the bricks can be seen above. There was a little opening to peek into on this.  My photo shows not hidden mysterious structures, just what looks like some lawn furniture covered with sheets.

The actual burial chamber is below our feet here.  It is descibed as a barrel vault that can be entered via a passage from one of the adjacent buildings (I am betting the Trattoria).  It is, or was, lined with travertine blocks and contained niches for three sarcophogi.

In recent times the burial chamber has been used to age cheeses!

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