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Bononia the Roman city

Best known for its past connected to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Bologna still shows, in the old town, some remains dating back to the Roman age: architectural structures, road sections, fragments of mosaics and artefacts displayed in its museums which tell the story of the ancient Bononia, founded in 189 BC.

The Roman city took the place of the ancient Etruscan town Felsina and was arranged according to a very symmetrical layout, based on two main roads: the cardine Massimo (the main cardo), running north to south (via Galliera - via Val d'Aposa), and the decumano Massimo (the main decumanus), running east to west (via Rizzoli - via Ugo Bassi). A series of minor cardines and decumani run parallel to the major roads forming a web of rectangular blocks, about 105 m long and 70 m wide. Overall, these roads made up a grid about 600 metres wide. Particularly important for the city were Emperor Augustus, who had it rebuilt and embellished, and Emperor Nero, who convinced the Roman Senate to fund major building works, necessary after a massive fire had destroyed various monuments.

Extracts from the texts by Daniela Ferrari. Cultural Association ‘FE.BO. Archeologica’

Salaborsa Library  -  Piazza del Nettuno, 3

Salaborsa Library - Piazza del Nettuno, 3

The indoor square of the ‘Salaborsa’ library reveals the remains of the ancient basilica of Bononia, a civilian building that overlooked the central square (the Forum), used as a place of public meeting and administration of the riches and the justice. Only some parts of the foundations still remain, partly hidden by later layers of buildings; yet, one can still picture a rectangular building, 70 m long and 20-22 m wide, on the inside probably divided into three aisles by two rows of columns. Next to the remains of the basilica, also visible is a stretch of road dating from the Augustan age, made with large slabs of trachyte, perhaps intended only for pedestrians since it shows no traces of wear and ruts left by the passage of carts. www.bibliotecasalaborsa.it

Re Enzo Palace -  Piazza Re Enzo

Re Enzo Palace - Piazza Re Enzo

In the basement of ‘Palazzo Re Enzo’, a stretch of one of the minor cardines is displayed along with part of the corresponding sidewalk. The road network of Bononia was renewed during the Augustan period: the simple pavement of the roadbed of the Republican era was replaced by solid paving made of hard trachytic stone, coming from the hills round Padua (Colli Euganei). This valuable and expensive paving was devoted to the streets of the city centre, while the suburban streets were lined with cheaper river cobblestones. Under the Augustan road, one can also see the remains of a sewer of brick masonry, with a spire roof, dating back to the Republican period.  The former underpass just under ‘Palazzo Re Enzo’, also houses a fragment of mosaic floor in black and white tiles from the Imperial age.

The Roman Theatre - Via Carbonesi, 5

The Roman Theatre - Via Carbonesi, 5

It was built during the early decades of the 1st century BC, when the inhabitants of Bononia gained the status of Roman citizens. After the first building works, the theatre structure was extended: the cavea (the seating sections) was enlarged to a 93 m diameter and the whole building was adorned with precious imported marbles, mosaic floors and walls, stucco and frescos featuring vegetal patterns. The theatre’s distinctive feature is its structure based on a close web of exposed radial walls of sandstone obtained by cementing up different irregular elements.

Museum of Bologna History - Via Castiglione, 8

Museum of Bologna History - Via Castiglione, 8

The halls of the Museum house a part of the main decumanus, made with large trachyte flagstones, found in via Rizzoli during the excavations for the underpass. This stretch of road shows signs of wear and grooves, thus shedding light on what road sections were open to cart passage and on traffic intensity. A reconstructed groma allows to get to know the instrument used by the agrimensore (the person in charge of land surveying) to draw perpendicular streets on the ground. Said instrument consists of a vertical rod which sank into the ground and featured a support arm at the top for two orthogonal rods. Two plummets were suspended from the two ends. The hall dedicated to Bononia also houses the head of a statue of woman originally located in the Basilica, dating from the second half of the first century AD. www.genusbononiae.it

Santo Stefano Basilica - Via Santo Stefano, 24

Santo Stefano Basilica - Via Santo Stefano, 24

An inscription dating from the middle of the first to the middle of the second century AD in a marble slab in the outer wall of the ‘Chiesa del Crocefisso’ reports the existence in Bononia of an Iseo, a sacred building dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis. This temple must have been located in the area of the Holy Sepulchre (the octagonal church next to the ‘Chiesa del Crocefisso’), inside which they are still visible seven columns in Cipollino marble (onion-stone) from the Roman period, flanked by medieval brick columns. Inside the ‘Chiesa dei Santi Vitale e Agricola’ one can find, in the colonnade to the right, an Ionic capital, probably coming from the Basilica in the Forum. Along with a few slabs of Roman age, the capital provides evidence of the medieval custom to destroy and strip buildings of all those old building materials that were considered still reusable in new constructions.

Lupari Palace - Strada Maggiore, 11

Lupari Palace - Strada Maggiore, 11

The Via Aemilia, the ancient road linking Rimini and Piacenza which was built in 187 BC by the consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, ran just underneath the current shop; a stretch of it is still visible in the basement. The numerous grooves are marks probably left by the means of transport used at the time. In one of the rooms, an elegant mosaic belonging to a wider mosaic floor is displayed on the wall. It dates from the second half of the second century AD and it decorated a rich domus (the Roman upper class house) parallel to the Via Aemilia: the decoration features black floral patterns into mouldings on a white background.

Archaeological Civic Museum - Via dell'Archiginnasio, 2

Archaeological Civic Museum - Via dell'Archiginnasio, 2

The courtyard of the museum provides various testimonies to the ancient Bononia: along the left side a number of tombstones from a necropolis of the first century AD allow to recall the stories and crafts of the citizens of Bononia, while on the opposite side one can marvel at a massive base of a fluted column and an Ionic capital, probably belonging to one of the colonnades which divided the inside of the Basilica. [...] A statue of the Emperor Nero, originally located in the theatre, is now kept in the hall of the museum. After the death of the Emperor, the statue was beheaded to erase the memory of what was by then considered an enemy of the State (damnatio memoriae). In the upper floor, the display continues with three mosaic floors coming from dwellings in Bononia and its immediate surroundings, all dating back to the Imperial age. www.museibologna.it/archeologico

Lenzi - Caprara Palace - Piazza Galilei, 4

Lenzi - Caprara Palace - Piazza Galilei, 4

The value of the dwellings of Bononia’s wealthy families is evidenced by the numerous findings of different mosaic floors. In the entrance of the palace, one can see a fragment of a mosaic found during the excavation works carried out in the second courtyard in 1955. With its black and white tiles, it portrays the image of a dolphin and dates from the second century AD.