ITALY & BEYOND
ROMAN EMPEROR'S TREASURE
BATHS of DIOCLETIAN
Built in the year 306AD, this great bath house was the last built in the city of Rome and was a huge bathing complex, complete with gardens, libraries, gymnasia, hot, cold and tepid baths, steam rooms, massage, fast food restaurants, sculpture gardens, and was often attended by theater troops and political debate. All classes of Roman citizens and foreign visitors attended. You came to the bath daily, men and women alternating day by day, arriving in the morning and only departing at dusk. The hot water was fed by hypocaustic heating. You paid an honorarium equivalent to today’s quarter and pegged your clothing on a hook, being given a wooden number to reclaim what was yours. The Romans were hygienically cleaner than we were in the western world up until the 1920’s. The large bath houses, and there were many, typically served over two thousand guests each; this bathing complex, over three thousand. They were fed by spring water from the aqueducts and were in continuous operation into the seventh century. The ruins were converted into the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli by Michelangelo.
The emperor Caligula, Gaius Caesar 37-41AD, built two huge pleasure ships in Lake Nemi just outside Rome in the Castelli Romane. These were discovered in the fifteenth century, twenty meters down and were known to be there for centuries by local fishermen. Brought to the surface by the draining of the lake under Mussolini in the 1930's, they were destroyed in an artillery exchange between retreating Germans and American forces in 1944.
Take a look at this magnificent collection of antiquities. They are in the National Roman Museum across the street from the Baths of Diocletian.
Maxentius was Emperor of Rome from 306 to 312 AD. He contended with Constantine for rule of the West and was defeated at the Milvian bridge. This famous fight is the one in which Constantine had a dream before the battle that his army would win by the sign of the cross. After defeating his enemy, Constantine legalized Christianity and eventually elevated it to be the state religion.
Maxentius built the great Basilica Nova or new basilica, the final great addition to the Roman Forum. It was the headquarters of the Prefect of Rome, a man who in late antiquity held most of the duties of what we now would call a mayor. The basilica could hold upwards of 3,000 people and was used as a place of business and occasionally a law court.
The insignia of office belonging to Maxentius was found buried near the Coliseum and was probably put there by senatorial followers of the Emperor upon his death but before Constantine entered the city. Few things can ever be attributed to a specific emperor as personal belongings. These, remarkably are!
This amazing city is just outside of Rome and worth a visit. Unlike Pompeii, a three hour trip to the south, Ostia can be visited by a short train ride of twenty minutes. While Pompeii was burned and collapsed under the weight of burning pumice and lava flow, Ostia, the great port which served Rome in Antiquity, was simply abandoned. Many of the buildings are in terrific condition and you can walk through the dead city excavations, even climbing to the third stories of some apartments. Nearby, a short walk away, is a castle built by Pope Julius the Second surrounded by a quaint medieval town, also worth a visit.
The island of Capri is situated in the Bay of Naples and is an island resort for the rich and famous. It serves its role as the backdrop for Max and Molly in my book Summer of ’71. I have included pictures of the Bay of Naples with the volcano Vesuvius in the background as well as the town of Positano, built on the cliff.
Another fabulous short day-trip outside Rome is to Hadrian’s Villa and nearby Villa d’Este. This complex of gardens and fountains is every woman’s dream of a place to be married or to renew their vows. An incredible example of renaissance building and water management, there are literally a thousand fountains on the grounds. Great restaurants in the nearby town of Tivoli.
My home town.