My new book is out.
A few miles out of town on the Via Nomentana is the Mausoleum of Constantina, built in the mid-fourth century CE. There is an associated basilica which looks like a circus. The nearby 7th century church of Saint Agnes (S. Agnese fuori le Mura) is also worth a look. Didn’t have a chance to visit the catacombs beneath it…
With our study abroad class drawing to a close today, Dr. Meyers and I took the opportunity to explore a new place: the Roman Houses of Palazzo Valentini (Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini). This archaeological site, located underneath a sixteenth century palazzo near Trajan’s column, features parts of two Roman houses from the imperial period. The brochure calls it “an unforgettable journey through time” and I suspect it is unforgettable. I’ve certainly never seen a site presented like this before. You spend most of the tour looking down through glass floors at the Roman remains while experiencing a kind of son et lumière. The narration is at times kind of cheesy (e.g., “The horse was the Roman motor car”), bombastic, or poorly translated from Italian (e.g., “the Trajan column”) but that hardly detracts from the overall effect. The tour takes you through, among other things, the bathing complex of one house, a segment of Roman road, an impressive mosaic floor from the second house, and some nice opus sectile floors as well. The images projected onto the floors, walls, and ceilings recreate the ancient environment while the narration discusses how the Roman houses were destroyed as well as the subsequent occupation and use of the site. There are a couple museum-like sections with displays of marble, ceramic, epigraphic, and numismatic finds. The tour ends with a couple of presentations about Trajan’s Column. The visuals are quite impressive although I have the sense that the narration is being delivered by a computerized voice. They discourage photography and, given the way the site is lighted, it would be hard to take good photos anyway. However, their website provides a nice gallery of images. They advise booking tickets in advance. The whole tour lasted about an hour and a half. Definitely worthwhile.
The remains of this 4th century CE villa near Piazza Armerina are one of the great treasures of Sicily and indeed the world.
The decision to replace the villa’s old see-through roofs with opaque ones was an excellent one. It is now much easier to see (and photograph) the mosaics.
I saw more than ever before on this latest trip to the Vatican Museums…
The Villa of Poppaea at Oplontis is not nearly as well known as the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum but it should be. Buried in the same 79 CE eruption of Vesuvius, this villa has amazing frescoes, plenty of rooms to explore, and is easily accessible via the Circumvesuviana. Also, it’s never been the slightest bit crowded when I’ve visited.
Many people prefer Herculaneum to Pompeii. Perhaps this is because it is smaller and more manageable? There are some nice new facilities since last I visited but it seemed like fewer buildings were open than usual… Still, there was plenty to see.