Contextualising the past in the Alban Hills (Colli Albani)

Villa, tomb and sacred space from the 12th to the 18th milestones of the ancient Via Appia from ca. 100 BC to AD 500

Contextualising the past in the Alban Hills (Colli Albani)
The Alban Hills were central to the founding myth of Rome and the area retained close relations to the city through the Republican and imperial period. From the late 4th century BC the Via Appia made it easy to reach the Alban Hills from the metropolis. The Alban Hills have several advantages: they are cool during the summer with easy access to water and two deep volcanic lakes at Albano and Nemi. The hills were an important sacral place housing the famous Latin sanctuary of Diana at Lake Nemi, and they were also much favoured as a setting for luxurious villas and tombs of the Roman elite, senators as well as emperors. From the late Republican period, the Roman elite had large properties in the region close to the political important sanctuary of Diana, and Julius Caesar – and later Caligula – had built a huge villa on the shore of Lake Nemi where also the two large floating palaces (luxurious barges) of Caligula were anchored. Domitian had his villa at Lake Albano, the present-day Castel Gandolfo, the former summer residence of the Pope, and also several of the later emperors had villas in the Alban Hills. The region was therefore closely related to the political arena of Rome and the centre of power.

Travellers leaving Rome – then as today – along the Via Appia will notice the remains of a number of huge tombs on either side of the road. The majority has now been stripped of their revetment of precious stone and sculptural embellishment and only the opus caementicium (concrete) cores now witness their size and importance. Many of these tombs have neither been studied nor measured and they have never been related to the surrounding building remains, which in several cases have been identified as villas along the Via Appia Antica. During recent years, the archaeological activities have been intensified in the area around Lake Nemi, and the present team is establishing an international project focusing on this important environment.

The project aims to contextualize older and more recent findings and investigate the relationship between villa, tomb and sanctuary. It will partly consider the archaeological remains partly combine these studies with the abundant unpublished documentation preserved in the archives.