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.

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ARCHAEOLOGY | The wonders of the Archaeological Museum Luigi Bernabò Brea in Lipari

Luigi Bernabó Brea and Madeleine Cavalier

The Regional Aeolian Archaeological Museum Luigi Bernabò Brea, born from a previous Antquarium and located on the plateau known as “Il Castello” (The Castle), was inaugurated in 1954.

Its arrangement was strongly desired by the scholar Bernabò Brea, to whom it was later dedicated, and by the famous Madeleine Cavalier. The latter, after having carried out prehistorical excavations and research in Liguria, was his research partner since 1951, when she took over the scientific direction of the excavations in Lipari and of all the archaeological activity in the Aeolian Islands. The collaboration between the two significantly allowed so much the expansion of the previous museum collection that it was necessary to open new centres. Today, the Archaeological Museum of Lipari consisting of six pavilions that contain respectively: Prehistory, Epigraphy, Minor Islands, Classical Age, Vulcanology and Paleontology of the Quaternary which are located in as many buildings. The exhibition makes use of a rich and exhaustive information that spread across captions in Italian and English. It documents the development of human settlements and the development of the successive civilizations in the Aeolian Archipelago.

The Prehistoric Section

This Section is located in an eighteenth century building which, built on the ruins of the Norman monastery, was the seat of the “Palazzo Vescovile” (Bishop’s Palace). The finds preserved in it show the succession of cultures from the Neolithic age (end of the 5th millennium BC) to the Late Bronze Age (11th-10th century BC). The materials come from excavations carried out in the area of “Il Castello”and in the areas that have given their names to successive cultures. From Piano Conte, for example, we get the typical ceramics of the homonymous Middle Eneolithic culture; from Castellaro Vecchio, on the other hand, the traces of the most ancient Neolithic settlements come. To these are added the artifacts found in Contrada Diana and Spatarella. In this section, for the Bronze Age, the finds from the settlements of the culture of Capo Graziano (Filicudi) and the culture of Milazzese (Panarea) are also exhibited.

The exhibition itinerary of the Prehistoric Section of the Museum continues with the evidence of Ausonius I and Ausonius II, whose handcrafted ceramics seem similar to those of the Late-Apennine and to the Protovillanovian culture of the Italian peninsula. Finally, the itinerary ends with the interesting votive offerings, found inside the bothros dedicated to Aeolus, dating back to the Cnidian foundation of Lipàra (580-576 BC).

The Epigraphical Section of the Museum

The Epigraphical Section of the Archaeological Museum of Lipari is also located in the former “Palazzo Vescovile”, inside Room X. This exhibits numerous memorial stones and funerary stelae from the Greek and Roman age, found in the archaeological area of Contrada Diana. The inscriptions bear the names of the deceased, to which, at times, dedicatory or auspicious formulas are added. The large number of finds made it necessary to place the numerous stelae also in the adjacent garden, where they are accompanied by numerous sarcophagi from the same necropolis.

The Minor Islands Section

This section, on the other hand, is located in a small building opposite the Pre-Historic Section. Inside its showcases, there are numerous finds, coming from the archaeological contexts of the smaller islands and datable between the Upper Neolithic and the Middle Bronze Age. The highlight of this exhibition is the reconstruction of a Bronze Age hut. This reproduction, which occupies the central area of the pavilion dedicated to the archaeology of the smaller islands, was made possible through the joint study by archaeologists and archaeobotanists.

The Classical Section of the Museum




Room XIX with reconstruction of the excavation trench of the Bronze Age necropolis

The Classical Section is certainly the largest and occupies the largest number of rooms inside the main twentieth-century building of the Museum. Through the three floors dedicated to it, the finds are exhibited in order to reconstruct the rich historical-cultural framework of the Greco-Roman city. Beyond Room XX, in which the different types of burial are exemplified (sarcophagi and vases of medium and large dimensions), there is Room XIX, which offers a faithful reconstruction of the excavation trench of the Bronze Age necropolis, located below the former Piazza Monfalcone. On the upper floors are exhibited the numerous finds from the rich funeral objects, including the magnificent masks, divided by age and type: they are masks of Greek and Roman comedy and tragedy. Other exhibition spaces are dedicated to the numismatics and jewellery objects.


The great pyramid of the amphorae of Wreck A Roghi on display in room XXVII

Finally, the large room dedicated to underwater archeology is part of the Classical Section. In this room Greek and Roman ships are showcased unfortunately shipwrecked in the waters of the Archipelago, as well as materials from various eras, coming from port dumps in landing areas that have now disappeared. The visitor is immediately attracted by the pyramid-like display of the wreck amphorae of A. Roghi of Capo Graziano , which occupies the centre of Room XXVII. Subsequently, the visitor continues the exhibition itinerary through the finds from different eras, masterfully displayed in chronological order.

The Vulcanological Section

The Vulcanological Section is based in a 14th century building, next to the Minor Islands Section, which was later enlarged in the 17th century. The collection is named after the great vulcanologist Alfred Rittmann and showcases the geomorphology of volcanic origin of the Aeolian archipelago. The exhibition itinerary leads the visitor to observe a series of geological samples – including the famous obsidian – and the plastic reconstructions, which have the didactic purpose of getting him in touch with the productive and economic aspects of the various human settlements that have occurred on the islands .

The Paleontology of the Quaternary Section

Finally, this Section currently occupies a small room located in the south-western sector of “Il Castello”. The collection includes a series of sediments and fossils that must have been present on the various islands of the Aeolian Archipelago during the Quaternary. Of considerable interest is a fragment of the shield of a terrestrial turtle, incorporated in the pyroclasts of Valle Pera di Lipari and dating back to a time period between 127,000 and 104,000 years ago.


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 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