ARCHAEOLOGY | The archaeological area of Fiesole – Florence

The excavations in the archaeological area of Fiesole include a Roman theatre, the baths, an Etruscan-Roman temple and an archaeological museum, which houses finds dating from the third century BC to the second century BC

The archaeological area, bordered to the north by the Etruscan walls, preserves traces of Fiesole history: on the Etruscan temple of the 4th century BC, the Romans, after having conquered the city in the 1st century BC, built another temple and enriched the area with theatre and baths. Near the sacred area of the temple, a necropolis show the subsequent use of the area.


Roman Theatre

Built between the beginning of the first century BC and the beginning of the first century AD, it was the first building in the area to arouse interest and to be excavated: its ruins must have always been visible, if in the Middle Ages and in the following centuries the place was indicated by the villagers as “Buca delle Fate”, as evidence of some suggestive stories telling the Fairies of Fiesole, symbol of a happy time, had hidden themselves in dark cavities underground, in order not to see the horrible havoc that the Florentines made after having conquered the city in 1125.

In 1809 the Prussian Baron Friedman von Shellersheim, digging in search of precious objects, claimed to have found two rich sets in the ancient layouts of the theatre, but the news remains difficult to verify. The excavations for bringing the theatre to the light were systematically resumed in 1870 and ended between 1882 and 1900, with the reconstruction of the left side of the steps (cavea), also in view of public use.

The building had a large semicircular cavea, partly carved into the rock of the hill, and four main entrances (vomitoria), which gave access to the covered crypta gallery, which was to support a portico or another order of seats, of which, however, no traces remain. The cavea was divided into four sectors by means of narrow stairs, which allowed the public to take place more easily. Below is the orchestra and, opposite, the space dedicated to the theatrical representation; a wall with a central niche (the pulpitum) frontally delimited the stage (proscenium), behind which stood three doored stage front (the scaena frons), of which no architectural layouts remain, but only the foundation and some marble decorations.


The Roman Baths

Behind the theatre there are the ruins of the baths, dating back to Sulla’s times (1st century BC), restored and enlarged in the Hadrian period. They were discovered in 1891, when, finally, it was possible to let three arches operating that have always been visible: they, in fact, constituted the terrace of the baths towards the valley.

The baths are located along the walls and consist of the three classic rooms of the calidarium, tepidarium and frigidarium, plus other tubs and rooms. A rectangular pool and two basins (one of which immersed) were used for public baths: on their bottom many amphorae were found, used to purify the water, collecting the impurities that went to the bottom.

There are the remains of rooms for water heating and the production of steam, which was distributed in the various rooms by means of lead or terracotta pipes. In the calidarium, characterized by the cocciopesto floor, boiling water arrived, while in the tepidarium (consisting of three basins) lukewarm water was collected and, finally, in the frigidarium there was cold water; the frigidarium is divided by an arched layout (which has been rebuilt) which has a semicircular shape and is located next to the latrines. Perhaps there was also a cryptorticus that separated the basins. Some of the layouts were rebuilt following excavations.


The Temple

The Etruscan-Roman temple was built between the second half of the fourth century BC and the second century BC, although the area was in use for sacred rituals at least from the 7th century BC. It was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century and most likely corresponds to the ancient Fiesolano Capitolium .

The cell is the oldest part and is divided into three parts: this has led us to suppose that the temple was dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva (the latter is an attribution almost certain, as suggested by a Hellenistic bronze depicting an owl found nearby and now exhibited in the museum). In front of the temple there is a small decorated sandstone altar (4th century BC – 3rd century BC). In the Republican era the temple was rebuilt, raised and enlarged both on the wings and on the front, partly by reusing the walls of the previous building. The staircase, well preserved, has seven steps and reaches the stylobate on which stood the columns of the portico, surmounted by the pediment of the temple. The longest part of the stylobate suggests that the portico connected the temple to the Collegium.

On the left you can see the bases of three residual columns of the portico that surrounded the cell. Among these ruins were found bronze and silver coins (3rd century BC – 10th century AD). In this place, moreover, the remains of a barbarian burial ground from the Lombard period (7th-8th century AD) were found, built on an area of the cell, and the ruins of a Christian temple, built on the remains of the pagan one around the 3rd century AD