EMINENT FIGURES | Sarah Belzoni, love and adventure in the shadow of the pyramids

The Belzoni couple portrayed in oriental clothes

Sarah Belzoni was an artist, archaeologist and explorer. Wife of the eclectic Paduan antiquarian and explorer Giovan Battista Belzoni, she continued to conduct research and edit publications even after the premature death of her husband.

Love at first sight with the beautiful Italian guy

Little is known about the youth of Sarah Belzoni, born Sarah Banne in Bristol in 1783. She probably did not attend any classical studies, but she was a woman of discreet culture.

In 1803 she met Giovan Battista, who had recently moved to England. Here the eclectic Italian traveller was performing in a circus, taking advantage of his mighty physical appearance (he was over two metres tall!). It seems that it was love at first sight. Sarah, described by Charles Dickens as a “delicate and good-looking” woman, sometimes performed together with her husband: the couple spent their first years of marriage in England, following travelling shows.

However, Belzoni, who had studied archaeology and engineering in Rome, wanted to be much more than a circus performer and, certainly, Sarah encouraged him to resume his aspirations and become an explorer and an antiquarian.

Egypt, at last!

In 1815 the couple reached Egypt, where Giovan Battista found employment as a hydraulic engineer in the service of Governor Alì Pasha. Soon, however, the Italian was hired by the English consul Henry Salt to recover Egyptian antiquities for the British Museum. At this point, a series of journeys and expeditions began which, however, did not include the presence of Sarah, punctually left in the nearest large city (Cairo, Rosetta, Aswan).

In the absence of her husband, the young Englishwoman devoted herself to deepening her knowledge of the customs and traditions of her host country, especially as far as women were concerned. This is testified by one of the very few writings we have left of Sarah Belzoni, a chapter entitled “Mrs. Belzoni’s trifling account of the women of Egypt, Nubia and Syria”, published in Giovan Battista’s “Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries Within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia”.

During her stay in Egypt, Sarah showed great sagacity, intelligence and a spirit of adaptation, as well as being an acute observer of the civilization around her. The cultivated relationships with Egyptian, Arab and Nubian women are told to us with perspicacity and wit by Mrs Belzoni herself. Interesting is the story of how Sarah had begun to exchange artefacts and English costume jewellery, especially beads, with ancient necklace beads that the local inhabitants brought her as a gift.

At the front line, alone

Tired of being on the margins of the scene, at the beginning of 1818 she left alone, dressed as a man, for Palestine and visited, as the first European woman to do so, the esplanade of mosques in Jerusalem. Accompanied only by a local guide, always dressed as a young Turkish man, Sarah travelled along the Jordan Valley to Jericho.

Back in Egypt, she helped saving the wall paintings of the tomb of Sethi I, threatened by a flood; in the first months of 1819, she was stuck for a period of time in Rosetta, while her husband was in Libya, due to a plague epidemic. Here she spent the time of quarantine raising chameleons, which she apparently loved very much and even kept them as pets.

Sarah Belzoni at old age
Bitter return

In 1919 the Belzoni family returned to England, where two years later they set up a large exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in London with casts of the tomb of Sethi I, some scale models of the pyramids and Abu Simbel temple and a large collection of mummies and small finds.

In 1823 Giovan Battista Belzoni returned to Africa, where he found death, probably in Benin, while searching for Timbuktu and the springs of Niger. Sarah, who remained in England, continued to take care of her husband’s work, trying to show her discoveries in an exhibition in 1925, which however had very little success.

She spent the last years of her life first in Brussels and then on the Channel Islands, where she died in 1870. From 1851 the English Parliament granted her a modest pension for her husband’s cultural merits.

Tradotto da: https://archeome.it/personaggi-sarah-belzoni-amore-e-avventura-allombra-delle-piramidi/


BEHIND THE FASCISM | Stone Fascism, Mussolini’s Forum

Mussolini had used the myth of Rome to provide historical legitimacy for fascism. The reference to the past was found in the looting carried out by the Duce to bring to light the glories of ancient Rome. One of the most important places of the fascist regime was Mussolini’s Forum. Designed by Enrico Del Debbio, it was one of the places created to last over time. It kept its original and symbolic function intact due to the architectural quality and the name itself, “Foro Italico”, with which it had been called starting from August 1943.

The location of the building

The place chosen for the construction of Mussolini’s Forum is the Farnesina plain, between Ponte Milvio and the districts of Piazza D’Armi, which are crowned by the hills of Monte Mario and Macchia. A place where the greenery and the silence of the woods helped to create a sort of classic utopia in which stadiums and theatres were usually located. A place not chosen by chance: in fact, the Via Flaminia connects the Forum with the city centre via the Duca d’Aosta bridge, which acts as a direction. However, a run down place as well, up to the time of the construction of the Forum, due to the stagnation of the water and the difficulty of drains towards the Tiber. For this reason, the whole area was raised by 5 metres.

The reference to the ancient

For the construction of the Forum the concept of the ancient Gymnasium was taken up, enlarged and modernized. Del Debbio does not create a kind of Forum in the classical way, with colonnades, arches and scenographic walls, but buildings corresponding to the modern conception of their function. For example the central buildings of the Opera Nazionale Balilla, where Italian teenagers had everything they needed for training and physical education. The Duce, like the great Roman emperors, had his own Forum built recalling the myth of the “new Caesar”. Mussolini’s Forum was, therefore, a group of listed buildings linked to the most solemn monuments of Roman antiquity for the richness of marble, works of art and grandeur of lines. We wanted to celebrate beauty through it, creating an immortal work, thanks to the use of pure white Carrara marble, which perfectly suited the green of the slopes of Monte Mario.

The architectural layout of the Forum
The Fascist Academy of Physical Education

Mussolini’s Forum had a pedagogical, sporting, political, monumental and symbolic function. It consisted of a central core, the Fascist Academy of Physical Education, made up of two symmetrical blocks, joined together by a diagonal and central block. The building was plastered in Pompeian red, with windows framed by thin columns, topped with broken gables of white marble.

The Stadio dei Marmi (Marble Stadium)

Through a passage, one entered the Stadio dei Marmi, consisting of 10 tiers of steps, obtained thanks to the difference in height derived from the backfill of the area. The stadium’s capacity was around 200,000 people. The foundations of the building were in reinforced concrete, while the supporting framework of the steps was in tuff and brick masonry. The steps were made of blocks of white Carrara marble and housed 60 statues, 4 m high, placed as a crown, on bases 1.20 m high and 2 m in diameter. The statues represented athletes, intent on various game actions, and were donated by the Italian Provinces. To complete the sculptural part, in correspondence with the heads of the entrances, there were two niches in which two bronze statues were placed, while on the sides of the tribune of honor stood two groups of bronze wrestlers.

Mussolini’s monolith

The entrance to the Forum was characterized by the presence of a large obelisk in Carrara marble, erected in 1932. Made from the drawings of Costantino Costantini, it is the largest block of marble ever extracted from the Apuan Alps. The entire project describes a solemn space, the heart of the entire complex of the Forum, a further demonstration of how Mussolini took inspiration from the majestic architecture of imperial Rome to manifest fascist power. Initially placed in the centre of the Forum, it was then moved to the entrance.

The Avenue of Foro Italico

Located between the monolith and the Fountain of the Sphere is the Avenue of Foro Italico. Made in 1937, it is decorated with black and white mosaics which, together with the symbols and slogans of the regime, illustrate the historical phases of the conquest of power, the Balilla, the subjugation of Ethiopia, the arts, the activities sports and the achievements of the regime. The dowels used are the same used in ancient Rome, about one centimeter in size.

The Fountain of the Sphere

At the western end of the square stands the Fountain of the Sphere. It consists of a large circular basin of 3 metres in diameter and a large sphere, made from a single block of marble from the Carrara quarries. The ring-shaped basin of the fountain is decorated with a mosaic of black and white marble tiles with marine subjects.

The Stadium of the Cypresses

Behind the Academy is the Stadium of the Cypresses, formed by terraces cut into the side of the hill, with a capacity of one hundred thousand spectators. During the war the construction site was abandoned and used as a car park by the allied troops until 1949. Then, CONI, its owner, entrusted the completion project to Annibale Vitellozzi, who completed it in 1953. After reopening it was known as “Stadio dei Centomila”, given its capacity, but was renamed “Olympic Stadium” when, in 1960, the 17th games were assigned to Rome.

The southern part of the Forum

In a symmetrical position with respect to the Fascist Academy is the building intended for the Baths and the Academy of Music, built in 1937. Then there are the sports facilities dedicated to tennis, which consisted of the monumental Olympic Stadium, a stadium containing six training fields and a building used as the service areas of the two fields. The southern side of the Forum ended with the Casa delle Armi, assigned to the discipline of fencing, and the guesthouses used to host the athletes.

Mussolini’s Forum is one of the major urban interventions carried out during the regime and all of its works must be evaluated from an architectural point of view. Originally created as a Sports Forum, it became one of the places of mass mobilization, taking on great political and symbolic value. Sport is also used as a propaganda tool, capable of appealing to people. Courage, sacrifice, will, strength, which are the typical aspects of sport, became the identifying features of the Italian race and the constituent elements of the new Mussolini man.

Tradotto da: https://archeome.it/dietro-al-fascismo-il-fascismo-di-pietra-il-foro-mussolini/




ARCHAEOLOGY | Veleia Romana (Piacenza), the city of longevity

Veleia Romana (460 m below sea level), in the Chero valley, an ancient city whose name derives from the Ligurian tribe called Veleiates, was founded in 158 BC, after the definitive submission of the Ligurians to Rome. A Prosperious Roman municipality and important administrative capital, it ruled over a vast hilly and mountain area located between Parma, Piacenza, Libarna (Serravalle Scrivia) and Lucca.

The territory and its resources

The presence of saline waters, which the Romans have always been able to exploit with ingenuity, undoubtedly helped urban development, in which it is possible to identify various baths. This natural resource, along with the tranquility of the place, made Veleia a favorite holiday destination for various consuls and proconsuls from Rome, who were under the illusion, perhaps, of being able to extend their lives. In fact, it was known that among the population of Veleia, as confirmed by the last census of the emperor Vespasian (72 AD), there lived six people aged 110 and four even 120.


Remains of the Bathes

The urban sector of the city of Veleia is spread over a series of terraces along the “boreal slope of the knoll” of the Moria and Rovinasso mountains. The toponyms of these two peaks, which in ancient times seem to have been a single mountain, allude to a catastrophic event whose memory has unfortunately been lost in the haze of the times. This Apennine area, like many others in the Apennines, is known geologically for its tendency to landslides: many experts claim, in fact, that the decline and end of Veleia was caused by a large landslide or a series of landslides along the coast of the mountain above.

The archaeological area of Veleia


View of the excavations of Veleia

The forum, dating from the Augustan-Julian-Claudian age, extends over a plane obtained artificially by means of a massive excavation, as revealed by the readable stratification under the staircase on the eastern side. The paving, with four rainers, drained by a perimeter gutter with settling wells at the corners is well preserved. It is surrounded on three sides by a portico, dilated in ancient illusionistically by murals, on which there are shops and rooms for public use, almost all equipped with heating systems.

The whole is completed by the lowest of the terraces, formed by the accumulation of materials coming from the excavation of the slope above, contained by robust substructures, still clearly visible in the eighteenth century. Connected to the upper one by an imposing entrance with double tetrastyle elevation, inserted in the colonnade of the forum, the terrace was perhaps reserved for religious functions.

The final destination of an upward path that comes from the valley floor is the basilica that closes the complex to the south: a building with a single nave, with rectangular exedras at the ends, was the seat of the imperial cult; in fact, the twelve large Luni marble statues depicting the members of the Julio-Claudian family rose against the back wall.

To the west of the forum, recent excavations have again brought to light the remains of buildings, recognized as prior to its creation, as well as traces of its original entrance, replaced after the middle of the 1st century. AD from the monumental one located on the northern side. Upstream of the forum there are residential quarters.

The terrace on which a parish church dedicated to S. Antonino has stood since the Middle Ages probably housed a building of worship already in antiquity. Higher is placed a building, identified, already at the time of its discovery, as a water reservoir, later mistakenly interpreted – and consequently rebuilt – as an amphitheatre.

Inside the archaeological area, an Antiquarium has been set up, where casts of the Trajan’s Tabula Alimentaria and the bronze table containing the lex de Gallia Cisalpina, as well as furnishings and architectural elements relating to Roman cremation burials, are kept.

Tradotto da: https://archeome.it/archeologia-veleia-romana-la-citta-della-longevita/


ANCIENT EGYPT | Hatshepsut and the damnatio memoriae

Hatshepsut was the pharaoh-woman who reigned over Egypt between 1473 and 1458 BC. Her name is linked to the building program that culminated with the construction of the great Temple of Deir el-Bahari in West Thebes.


Her life

Hatshepsut, exclaimed her mother Ahmes giving birth to her, in other words “She has the face of the Noble Ladies”. Daughter of Thutmose I, from an early age she proved to be more gifted than her half-brothers, but to access the throne she had to marry the eldest of them Thutmose II, physically and mentally weak, who soon left her a widow. He then assumed the regency in place of Thutmose III, but gradually he was acquiring more and more the characteristics of a king: in fact, he was represented with the false beard typical of the pharaohs.

For her coronation the queen had a mythological text written, in which she justified her coming to the throne at the behest of the gods. Furthermore, in this text she claimed to be the result of the union between her mother and the god Amun and that her father Thutmose I had named her his successor before his death.

Despite the apparent success of her reign and a burial in the Valley of the Kings, the monuments dedicated to her were marred after her death with a drastic damnatio memoriae, apparently desired by her co-ruler and stepson or grandson, Thutmose III.

The fact that a woman had become pharaoh of Egypt was very unusual. In the history of Egypt, during the dynastic period, there were only two or three women who actually managed to rule as pharaohs rather than to exercise power as the “great wife” of a king.

Hatshepsut launched a new artistic movement, called for a theological reform, administered state finances with rare effectiveness and organized very profitable expeditions, such as those in the mysterious land of Punt, from which Egyptian ships returned full of incense and strange animals. An activism that undermined the already delicate political-religious equilibrium and that procured her dangerous enemies: the young pupil, the priests of Osiris and all those who could not stand the influence of Senenmut, the powerful adviser who, perhaps, was something more for the Queen.



The queen worked in the temple of Karnak, where she had chapels built, a sanctuary for the sacred boat and erected two obelisks. Deir el-Bahari was the site chosen by the sovereign to place her mortuary temple, while her tomb was built in the valley of the Kings.

The Mortuary Temple, also known as djeser-djeseru (“holy among the saints”), is a temple located close to the rocky heights of Deir el-Bahari, on the west bank of the Nile, near the Valley of the Kings. It is dedicated to the solar deity Amun Ra and is located near the temple of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II.

The complex exploits a revolutionary planimetric solution of dividing the structure on different levels, in harmony with the underlying rocky scenario. The temple is considered the point of greatest contact between Egyptian and classical architecture: an example of the funerary architecture of the New Kingdom, it marks a turning point, abandoning the megalithic geometry of the Old Kingdom to move to a building that allows worship active.


Deir el-Bahari, view from above

damnatio memoriae hatshepsut
Inscription from the Chapel of Anubis, Deir el-Bahari: on the left, the names of Hatshepsut deleted; on the right, those of Thutmosis III left intact.


HISTORY | His Majesty, Etna

The superb peak of Mount Etna that soars up to the sky, and its valleys that are already all black, and its snows that shine with the last rays of the sun, and its woods that tremble, that murmur, that stir. G. Verga, Story of a Capinera

This is how Verga describes Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe with its 3326 mt. Declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2013, the Mongibello (another name of the Sicilian volcano), rises majestically and bursting on the Ionian coast. From its top you can admire a wonderful panorama, which includes not only the Ionian coast and the sea, but also Calabria, the Nebrodi mountains, the mountainous ridge of the Madonie and the inland areas of Sicily.

Called by the Greeks Αἴτνη (Aítnē), the Romans Aetna, and the Arabs Mongibello, Etna has inspired legends, myths, stories and tales in anyone who saw it.

It is quite difficult to reconstruct the etymology of the name, which seems to derive from the Greek toponym Aitna (Aἴτνα-ας, a name also attributed to the centre of Catania), which derives from the verb αἴθω (aitho, “to burn”). Another possible origin is from the noun “sicano” aith-na (“burning”). Perhaps the most evocative denomination is that of the Arab authors who called it Jebel al-burkān (“mountain of the volcano”), Jebel Aṭma Ṣiqilliya (“sum mountain of Sicily”) or Jebel an-Nār (“mountain of fire”). From these expressions it is possible to trace the dialectal name “Mongibello”, which seems to derive from the fusion of the Latin word Mons (“mountain”) and the Arabic word Jebel, with the same meaning. Today, instead, Sicilians often refer to the volcano with the appellation “a Muntagna”.

Etna (geologically a volcanic stratum) has its origins around 570,000 years ago, in the Quaternary period (during the middle Pleistocene), when construction and destruction processes took place, which started violent eruptive activities. Today Etna is one of the main places for geology studies: in fact, in Catania there is the important National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology which monitors its activities. In this regard, the presence of the Astronomical Observatory at an altitude of 2900 mt. cannot not be forgotten. This one, no longer in operation today, is one of the oldest in Italy.

To inspire more the works of ancient and modern writers, poets and directors is precisely its grandeur and its unpredictable behaviour.

Particularly suggestive are the explanations of the eruptive activity of the volcano, described by ancient authors such as Thucydides, Diodorus Siculus and Pindar. For example, it is said that the god of the winds Aeolus had reclosed, after a bitter fight, some winds in the caves below Etna.

Hesiod, Aeschylus and Virgil, instead, tell that the reason for the eruptions is linked to the rebellions of some giants like Enceladus. This one, defeated by the gods after a war, was buried under an enormous heap of land, the island of Sicily. Under Etna would be found, therefore, his head and the crater would coincide with his mouth. The eruptions would be the cries of pain of the defeated giant. The ancients, however, also thought that in the belly of the Mountain there was the workshop of Hephaestus (or Vulcan), god of fire, metallurgy and blacksmith of the gods.

The Volcano

Today there are four slopes of Mount Etna that can be visited, but the most easily reached are the northern slope (Linguaglossa) and the southern slope (Nicolosi).

Characterized today by a variegated flora and a very rich fauna, Etna represents a unique place in the world. It satisfies, in fact, the interest of mountain and winter sports enthusiasts (alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ski touring, snowboarding), nature lovers and hikers (Etna Park). Moreover, the most demanding “palates” can enjoy unique dishes and taste the famous “Nero dell’Etna” wine, both during local festivals (Sagra del Pistacchio di Bronte, etc.) and in very characteristic places. For art lovers it is possible to buy works of the typical Etnean handicraft and to admire in the ethnic villages (Bronte, Randazzo, Maletto, Milò, Paternò, Adrano, just to name a few), numerous sanctuaries, churches, fountains or the wonderful buildings built in lava stone.


– Patanè, S. La Delfa, J. Tanguy, L’Etna e il mondo dei volcani’, Catania, Giuseppe Maimone editore, 2004.

– AA VV, Etna, myth of Europe, Catania, Giuseppe Maimone publisher, 2000.

– Etna Cooperativa Etna Sud – Environment, history, traditions, 1990, Tringale Editore.

– Carlo Gemmellaro, La vulcanologia dell’Etna (anastatic reprint by Salvatore Cucuzza Silvestri), Catania, Giuseppe Maimone Editore, 1989.

– Pierre Grimal, Mythology, Garzanti, 2005.


BEHIND THE FASCISM | Scipio the African, the clay giant

During the Fascist period, theatre and in particular cinema, had to adapt to a new mentality, that of the mass regime. One of the most important examples is certainly the production of Scipio the African. The blockbuster film of 1936-1937, directed by Carmine Gallone, exalted the imperial power of Rome identified with that of Fascism and superimposed the figure of Mussolini victorious over the Ethiopians on that of the Roman general.


Poster of Scipio the African (1936-1937)

Carmine Gallone, a cosmopolitan director

Carmine Gallone was defined by critics as a “cosmopolitan director” for his productions abroad, carried out between 1926 and 1935. He made hundreds of silent and sound films. He had great mastery of technical innovations such as feature films, sound, playback in opera films, the introduction of colour and style changes from realist to historical films.


The director Carmine Gallone

The plot of Scipio the African

Scipio the African reconstructed the events of the Second Punic War, from the departure of Scipio for Africa in 207 BC to the Battle of Zama in 202 BC. The consul Scipio, adored by the Roman people, obtains control of the province of Sicily from the Senate and prepares the military campaign against the Carthaginian army. Veterans of the Battle of Cannae join the departing troops as large numbers of volunteers flock from all over. Meanwhile, Hannibal is stuck in the Bruttium due to lack of food, so his troops plunder villages and crops. The soldiers break into the villa of Velia, a Roman noble and take her prisoner together with her fiancé Arunte and the servants. In Cirta, Sofonisba, the daughter of Hasdrubal, pushes her husband Syphax to ally with the Carthaginians. Scipio, after having besieged Utica and defeated the army of Hasdrubal and Syphax, prepares to face Hannibal, who leaves Italy to defend Carthage. Velia and Arunte manage to escape and reach Scipio’s camp. The two generals face off, Scipio on a white horse, Hannibal on a black one. Elephants hinder Roman soldiers, but the union of cavalry and infantry guarantees victory. Hannibal escapes along with a few other survivors while Scipio, having thus avenged the Battle of Cannae, returns to Rome, where he is celebrated with a night party.


Scene from Scipio the African (1937)

The critics’ opinion

The making of Scipio the African was done in ten months of work and cost about eight million lire. It constituted the greatest organizational effort made by the film industry for the use of masses, for the splendour of the interiors and for the impressive reconstructions. Despite this, it was considered by the critics of the time a total failure for several reasons: it represented an opera film both for its dramaturgical construction and extras (such as the choir) and for its music and theatrical acting; there was no collaboration between the various, indeed too many, assistant directors; others pointed the finger at the production and not the director, considered only a coordinator. The interpretation of Annibale Ninchi in the role of Scipio was considered negative, not loved by the crowd, not very charismatic. He could not bring the strong and daring figure of the Roman leader onto the screen, unlike the character of Hannibal played by Camillo Pilotto. The bad interpretation of the figure of Scipio consequently accentuated the melodramatic character of the film. The difference with the American blockbusters, which were based on strict rules and divisions of tasks supervised by the producer, was clear. Hard enough judgments on Scipio the African were also found in modern criticism. Carlo Lizzani wrote:

Scipio the African is the classic clay giant who would like to glorify impossible relationships between fascism and Roman times. The film is as redundant as it is provincial and painful is Mussolini’s illusion of resembling the Caesars.

Scipio the African (1937). Carlo Nicchi, Fosco Giachetti, Francesca Bragiotti

A political project

The film, wanted by Mussolini, had to be a productive and spectacular challenge, in competition with American cinema, and it was an opportunity to highlight the conquest of Ethiopia and the colonial empire created by the Duce. Scipio was not supposed to be just a film, but a blockbuster capable of being superior to all the other films shot up to that moment. The Scipio project was simply a political project, it was not created for the show and Gallone, naively, accepted advice and suggestions from everyone, especially from those who saw the world of cinema and, in general, of the show only as a propaganda medium for political consensus. This explained the reason why Mussolini chose Gallone as his own director: a director with experience, especially foreign, able to adapt to any circumstance and above all politically compliant.


Mussolini on the set of the film

Mussolini as Scipio the African

Scipio the African was a film made to celebrate the glories of ancient and new Rome and two important personalities: Scipio and Mussolini who, despite the chronological gap, had accomplished the same feat. While Scipio had defeated one of the greatest powers of his time, Mussolini had used advanced technologies to destroy a backward army, from that point of view. After the successful African feat, fascism presented itself as a new imperial power. A power that had changed the fate of Italy, which from a backward country became an economic and military power. The African feat pleased the masses, because in those subaltern regions they would find the job and land they had long sought. Africa was seen as a long-dreamed myth and achieved only thanks to Benito Mussolini. The African victory raised nationalist morale, but on the historical level there were negative outcomes with regard to international relations. Italy was moving away from Western democracies, getting closer and closer to Hitler’s Nazi Germany; the Second World War will sweep away the memory of the colonial conquests, which were immediately compared to the conquests of the Roman Empire. Scipio was considered a film that united the Italians and spurred political consensus towards Fascism and the Duce.


27 October 1937. The audience waiting to watch the film in front of the Barberini Theatre in Rome

The contrast between Roman and Carthaginian society

The creation of Scipio the African inevitably led to the launch of the figure of the Roman leader and, consequently, Mussolini became the main protagonist. The figure of the Duce was charged with a mystical halo, almost a divine light. The film inserted within it a considerable amount of symbols and also put Roman society in contrast with the Carthaginian one: the Romans were presented as a model of discipline, while the Carthaginians as hateful people who did not respect the truce and were ferocious with women. Carthaginian society was devoid of moral principles and dominated only by the god of money, as England was considered in the time of Mussolini. On the contrary, Roman society, after Scipio’s seizure of power, was compact and constructive, based on popular consensus. Scipio like Mussolini, was considered a predestined, a natural leader who had a privileged relationship with the people.


A bogus classicism

Scipio was a failure on several fronts. The film represented the end of the film made for the masses trend and Garrone, despite his long and satisfying career, will remain forever labelled as the director of Scipio the African. Scipio’s production shows how the myth of ancient Rome was widely used by fascist propaganda and how it was modified and shaped according to Mussolini’s ideas only. A use of the past, however, that risked reducing history to a myth, leading to a bogus classicism, emptied of content and reduced to a simple celebratory aesthetic.



ARCHAEOLOGY | The Archaeological Site of Contrada Diana

The Archaeological Site of Contrada Diana is located in Lipari, in a plain south of the Vallone Ponte and north of the Vallone S. Lucia. The large fenced area near the Palazzo Vescovile, bounded to the south by the former via Diana (now via G. Marconi), and other small adjacent archaeological sites belong to the main unearthed park. The entire archaeological area was established in 1971 by the then Superintendence of Antiquities of Eastern Sicily. In 1987, however, following the birth of the Superintendency of Cultural Heritage in Messina, it became the archaeological heritage of the province of Messina.

Systematic archaeological excavations have been carried out since 1948. For about twenty years, starting in 1954, the investigations were led by Luigi Bernabò Brea and Madeleine Cavalier, who helped found the site and, above all, the Archaeological Museum. The entire area of the site preserves memory of the entire history of the island and has returned evidence of the prehistoric, Greek and Roman age. Among these, of particular interest are the Greco-Roman necropolis and the remains of the city walls, to which are added two thermal complexes.

The necropolis of Contrada Diana

The heart of the Archaeological Site of Contrada Diana is the large necropolis. The first site to be excavated, for over sixty years of excavation it has yielded nearly 3,000 burials. The tombs were neatly arranged, in rows, and superimposed on several orders: the most recent, in fact, are located above the older ones. All the burials have a kind of N-S orientation and each of them was accompanied by an internal and an external furnishing. Eight types of burials have been identified: they are mainly burials in sarcophagi, more rarely in defunctionalized amphorae. The external furnishing, first placed inside a large vase, starting from the middle of the 4th century BC, is placed inside a shell of raw clay. In the imperial age, from the 1st to the 5th century AD, in addition to the reuse of old Greek burials, the tombs also took on a monumental form with enclosures and familiar hypogea.

The funeral rite was mixed and included both burial and cremation, with a clear prevalence of the first over the second. The rich grave goods, preserved inside the Aeolian Regional Archaeological Museum, were composed of figured and non-figured ceramics, metal jewels and objects, terracotta statuettes and masks, which reproduce characters from Greek and Roman comedy and tragedy.

The Walls

Archaeological excavations have brought to light the remains of two city walls, one dating back to the period of the first foundation and the other to the reconstruction of the mid-4th century BC. The oldest walls were found in 1954, under what is now Piazza Luigi Savior of Austria. These are polygonal walls, with large blocks of perfectly hewn lava stone, built with the aim at protecting the Greek settlement, which extended between the Civita hill and the Castle.

What is visible in Contrada Diana is the reconstruction of the first half of the fourth century BC: it is a 50 m long stretch, which highlights the presence of square protective towers. The new and wider curtain was adapted to the expansion of the Greek town. This second construction technique involved a filling of compact stones, lined, on both sides, with isodomic blocks of stone coming from Monte Rosa di Lipari.

With the arrival of the Romans, the Greek city was destroyed and obliterated by the remains of the Roman reoccupation. In the second half of the 1st century BC, the citizens built a new parallel line of fortification, which is 6.50 m from the previous one: it is the agger of Sesto Pompeo, an irregularly shaped work, composed only of dry stone and blocks of bare. The new walls were part of the fortifications commissioned by Sextus Pompeius during the civil war of 36 BC against Octavian. The walls, as well as the necropolis, are implanted in an area that had been the seat of the prehistoric village, pertaining to the culture of Capo Graziano: in fact, they cut the remains of ancient oval huts, built with the technique of the wall dry.



The Roman Baths

Besides, the Roman Baths are added of via Mons. Bernardino Re and via Franza. The first is located almost in front of Palazzo Vescovile and shows the remains of public spaces, with floor mosaics and drainage channels, dating back to the imperial age. Furthermore, the remains of a horseshoe-shaped tank, the frigidarium, and some adjacent spaces referred as tepidarium and calidarium are clearly visible. In via Franza, nestled in what scholars interpret as a working district, there is a more modest spa building. This is made up of three rooms, equipped with a cocciopesto floor, one of which, due to the presence of the characteristic tile columns under the floor, has been recognized as a calidarium. This second spa building dates back to the late imperial age.




Area of the Archaeological Site of Contrada Diana and Lipari Castle