Monday, August 21, 2017

Roman Tivoli

After the heat, noise and troublesome citizens we encountered near Termini station, we did go someplace nice.  Tivoli.  And people have been making this same trip and for much the same reasons for a very long time.

Tivoli is a delightful little town in the hills above Rome.  It was cool and pleasant when Rome was not, and many prominent Romans had villas out that way.  The most famous of course being the Emperor Hadrian.

Tivoli was a sort of resort community.  The name has a familiar ring to non Romanists as it was adopted for a famous amusement park in Copenhagen that opened in 1843. 

Tivoli is a very old town.  It goes back to the 13th century BC and may have been founded by Greeks.  The name perhaps references the Tibur river.  At first an ally of Rome the people of Tivoli made common cause with the invading Gauls in 361 BC. This hardly endeared themselves to their neighbors and the defensive wall still visible today dates from that era.

The city was eventually conquered by Rome and after only a couple of centuries was forgiven to the extent of getting citizenship rights in 90 BC.  A long list of Roman worthies including Augustus and the poet Horace had villas there.

In the tumultuous 6th Century AD Tivoli was at various times held by the Byzantines and by the later but no more pleasant version of the Goths.  Procopius says that a group of traitorous Isaurian soldiers (again? really?) let the Goths in, at which point pretty much the entire population was exterminated.

The Middle Ages were the usual confusing Italian anarchy. Oh, it had its ups and downs but overall the regrowth of Tivoli was sporadic and it remains a small town.

So lets have a look around.  What remains of Roman Tivoli after the Goths and the Anarchy?

Our B and B was right across from the Cathedral.  And literally under our window sill was this bit of excavated Tivoli.  It is said to be a mensa ponderaria which was the office where official standards for weights and measures were kept.  This has suggested that the Roman Forum is nearby, probably under the Cathedral.  One of the local businesses had a doorstop that might or might not be part of the Roman remains!

Here's the city wall.  Not needed during the glory days of the Republic and Empire. But when things started to go south the old walls were put into service again. They did not, alas, keep Totila and his Goths out.

On my early morning walk I ran across this nice remnant of the city gate that faced Rome.  The Porta Romana of course.

I got pretty excited over this spot.  The sign says "Vicolo deli Rovini"  The Alley of the Ruins!  Ah, but when you go down the alley it just leads to some dumpsters.  The Ruins mentioned are these nifty Roman columns.  They look almost in situ but I understand that they are an example of re-use.  Specifically these decorated a palace in the modern day Palazza Palatina.  This was said to be a place where one could claim sanctuary from the authorities.

Tivoli has its own little "Acropolis".  Two very early temples on the edge of a scenic gorge.  One is round.  The other rectangular.

The attribution of the round temple to the worship of Vesta, the Roman god of family; and the rectangular one to the Tiburtine Sybil are both uncertain.  By late Antiquity legend a Sybil, or prophetess, was said to have here foretold the birth of Christ to Augustus.  

After our little tour of Roman bath tubs you should be rightly skeptical when running across something like this on the back side of the Cathedral.  It is a Roman era sarcophagus, re purposed as a medieval sarcophagus and then later as a water fountain!

Tivoli is chock full of interesting re-use.  We shall see a few more examples presently.

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