FRASCATI, Italy – Once a well-heeled retreat during the Roman Republic and the Middle Ages, the city of Tusculum, now reduced to an archaeological site near the gates of Rome, was forgotten for centuries.
Almost 25 years ago, however, the Spanish School of History and Archeology in Rome (EEHAR), which is dependent on the Spanish public research body CSIC, began to excavate the area to shed fresh light on Tusculum, which is home to several monumental ruins.
“We have been working here since 1994. We excavated all of the monumental areas of the forum and the theater until 2010,” Valeria Boelchini, head of the Tusculum project, told EFE. “In 2012 we started researching the western area of the city where, three years ago, we dug up the forum’s thermal baths, a huge structure which we are uncovering step by step and will dedicate the whole excavation campaign to next year.”
The EEHAR has just signed a new contract allowing it to continue working at the historical site for another four years.
Tusculum, around 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, was originally founded in the 10th century B.C. and soon began to spread out along the external crater of the Alban volcano.
Its Roman theater, which had the capacity for around 2,000 spectators, has become symbolic of the forgotten city.
Roman emperors such as Tiberius (42 B.C.-37 A.D.), Nero (37 A.D.-65 A.D) and statesmen such as Cicero (106 B.C.-43 B.C.) had summer villas in Tusculum.
It was also a seat of great power during the Middle Ages under the Counts of Tusculum, a powerful family from where many of the 11th-century popes hailed.
The family invested money into buildings at the time, such as the church which remains partly intact at the site to this day.
However, Tusculum family feuds with Rome boiled over into violence and the city was all but totally destroyed on April 17, 1191.
The memory of the city lived on in the works of scholars like Petrarch, even though nobody knew for certain where the remains of the former upscale Roman suburb actually was.
That was until 1806, when Lucien Bonaparte, one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brothers, bought a house in the nearby town of Frascati and stumbled upon the ruins of Tusculum by accident.
He carried out excavations of the area and later sold the land onto the House of Savoy.
Excavations came to a halt in around 1846, however.
The city was forgotten about once again for more than a century until, in 1984, the Montana Community in Lazio, which incorporates around 13 villages in the region, bought the site and began excavations again with the help of the EEHAR.
The Tusculum archaeological park reopens again this weekend after a year of restoration work – at a cost for the Community of around 1.2 million euros ($1.3m) – which, among other things, has allowed the team to design a new visitor itinerary, finish up some excavations and restore some of the existing monuments.
The tour runs through what was the old city center, the forum, where visitors can see the remains of an old basilica, a fountain and a temple to the Roman god Mercury, one of the buildings restored during the year of renovations.
“The Community of Montana has restored it and has installed a metal structure which allows you to see in 3D how it was exactly,” Boelchini said.
“They called it ‘Pompeii at the gates of Rome’ because it is one of those rare cases (of a city) where life ended abruptly. We have an interruption so clear – like in Pompeii – that it allows us to witness a city where life ended abruptly in the 12th century,” Boelchini said.