Monday, June 5, 2017

Tomb of the Scipios - First Stop

Note:  Our May trip to Rome and environs was in part an attempt to spend a bit more time at places that eluded us on the first trip.  Sometimes things were not open. Sometimes we lacked sufficient time.  A few I had not heard of previously.

I am going to organize things in a "History in a Place" format in which I group together places worth visiting that are geographically close enough to take in on a single day or part of same.  Rome is a daunting city, spread out, chaotic, even intimidating at certain times and in certain places.  You don't want to plot our a zig zag route across it.

I will try to spend an entire week on one area.  Sometimes this will be the usual M-W-F posting schedule, sometimes more often. At the end of each series I will put together some very specific advice, things like transportation options, places where food, drink and bathrooms can be located, etc.

First up, a return to The Appian Way.

The Queen of Roads as it has been called, exits Rome and heads south east.  It is in some sections very well preserved and on our last trip we did a bike tour that went down it a ways.  Then we had no chance to stop and browse, so its back for another visit.

The first little stretch of Via Appia is quite tranquil.

So relaxing in fact that I rode past our first stop.  But just a little past it I halted to examine this.  I  just love funky, medieval looking old doors.

But what's the name plate say?  The translation is a bit sketchy but it seems to say "Entrance to the Colombarium is at number 14 Via Di Porta Latina".  So this appears to be the "back door" not to the Tomb of the Scipios, but to another even cooler one, the Columbarium of Pomponio Hylas.  Alas, this was not on our agenda for the day.  

The sharp eyed will note that an apparently abandoned back door to a 1st century AD tomb still gets junk mail in the slot!

Back up a hundred yards and we were at the Tomb of the Scipios just as the tour was starting.  Note that this was a special "Via Appia" day in which many rarely open sites could be visited.  But you had to have reserved a time for your tour which was a bit of a logistic challenge when it was impossible to predict how long various stages of the journey would actually take.

The Tomb of the Scipios is the final resting place for members of the Scipio family, a quite prominent bunch in Republican Rome. Of course the one Scipio many of us have heard about, Scipio Africanus, is buried elsewhere.

It was in active use from the 3rd Century BC up into the 1st Century AD.  After that it was a known location - sort of a local attraction - until the later Empire.  After the advent of Christianity interest in pagan burial sites vanished.

The site was found and "lost" several times, with a fair amount of looting along the way. 

What can be seen today are the rock cut tombs that represent the earlier use, and a later columbarium, yes, another one, that was used for cremation urns.  This mode of burial was in vogue for lesser members of Roman society such as freed slaves. A few photos.  Sorry about the quality, it was blazing bright sun outside and dim, tomb like lighting inside.  

Around the side there are the openings to the earlier tombs.  This site has had excellent conservation work.

Still a bit of the original paint job!

In the oldest chamber of the tomb was the sarcophagus of L. Cornelius Scipio.  He was consul in 298 BC.  I say was in the past tense, the original has been taken to the Vatican museum and replaced with a replica.

Here' the real thing.

And here is the columbarium.  Fun but minimally useful fact.  The name comes from the Latin for pigeon.  Niches of this sort look a great deal like the little places carved out for pigeons in the larger chambers created by folks who kept the birds for food. In fact sometimes in archaeological sites it is hard to tell if a columbarium was for birds or for the ashes of their owners! We will be seeing a few more of these, of both types, in our journeys.

All for now.  I will be covering a range of Appian Way sites this week.  On Friday I will wrap things up and give my suggestions for places to hit or miss, and advice on how to see as much as you can in this ridiculously history rich stretch of road.

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