The Roman Theatre of Terracina: why discover and promote it?

A little in-depth analysis on the theatre of Terracina dedicated to my fellow citizens. The opinion of A Spasso con Sara.


When I decided to be an archaeologist I was four years old. I was running in the farmyard of the farmhouse built by my grandfather Battista on the remains of a mighty ancient cistern. I brought my books and, under the watchful eye of my uncle Michele, I went down between the arches of a large Roman substructure and dreamed of being the Indiana Jones of 2000. I imagined statues, treasures and mysteries to discover. Yes, because that’s how films and documentaries make us believe that it’s archaeology. But when at the age of 20 you’re catapulted onto a construction site and surrounded by fragments of pottery and archaeological layers that intertwine in every way possible and imaginable, you realize that Indiana Jones is very little.


Indiana Jones in the year 2000. A Spasso con Sara working with her colleague Stefania in a geophysical exploration in the Corvaro Plain during the Cicolano Survey 2009.


I still remember my first lesson in methodology of archaeological research at the University of Roma Tre. Daniele Manacorda, the first to carry out an urban stratigraphic excavation inside the Balbi Crypt in Rome, a stone’s throw from the most famous sacred area of Largo Argentina, in Italy (back in the 1980s), was in the chair. The first thing he taught us was that excavation is a destructive operation. On the train home, I read that phrase more than once: “but how destructive? With the excavation we give new life to the rubble and that stuff we find… but what does that say?”


Daniele Manacorda (


Now, as the years go by, I fully understand what that professor meant with his checkered jacket and glasses resting on his nose. In fact, digging for example the theater, has caused Terracina to open a “wound” in the heart of the historic center, characterized, at that point, by a kind of large void, which will be further magnified with the demolition of the last house in progress these days.


 The excavation of the theatre of Terracina.


The first excavation tests, carried out more than 20 years ago, then led to the imposition of a constraint by the Superintendence and, as a result, prevented the contemporary city from advancing in that area with its new buildings.

But if therefore the excavation seems, at least at first glance, even a negative thing, a kind of enemy of progress and modernity, why should we in Terracina invest in the discovery of the theater? Why spend money on its cleanliness, maintenance and enhancement and not use that money to “pile up the holes” as the people of Terracina would so much like?


Marbles from all over the ancient world, statues and paintings of singular value, are not enough, in themselves, to justify the undertaking that, from this point of view, would seem to satisfy only archaeologists, resemble, that is, more to their whim than to something of public utility.

Portion of painted plaster found in the theatre of Terraina (photo Giuseppe Moscarello).


The discovery of the past has, in reality, a deeper value and meaning. We choose to look for our roots to understand who we have been, to find a point of reference. Without the past, we cannot understand the present or build our future.

Archaeology, then, is configured as a powerful educational tool, the basis of the formation of the good citizen of tomorrow. Respect only what you know. For this reason, on more and more occasions, school children participate in trips and excursions to discover the most beautiful corners of our Italy. With these “explorations”, they discover the value and importance of the place and time in which they wake up every day, study, eat and spend their days. This is the only way to create a sense of belonging to a place, take root there, defend and respect it, get involved in its reconstruction, even when a tornado takes away its most beautiful face.


Children during an educational visit (Credits: GATC on Facebook).


And so it is necessary that archaeology leaves the academic classrooms, or rather, that it stops being the exclusive prerogative of experts in the field and of the superintendencies that exercise an absolute monopoly on archaeological excavations and that organize conferences understandable only to a few elected!


The theatre of Terracina, but in general the monuments, the churches and the historical sites that we know, belong to all of us and, as such, must be discovered, managed and conceived!


Unfortunately, this conquest is still a long way off. The “greats” of archaeology continue to treat certain situations as the garden of their own home. Yet, something is changing and I think that we Terrakineses should take our cue from these virtuous examples if we really want to turn our “treasures” into our true fortune!


To give you an idea of what I mean, I will bring you what, in my opinion, should be considered a paradigmatic example: the excavation of the Roman colony of Castrum Novum in the territory of Santa Marinella, not far from Rome.

A red thread links us to this city. The first excavations in the area were, in fact, started by Pius VI Braschi with the aim of finding statues and treasures to embellish the Vatican Museums. Beyond this casual link, what interests us most is the fact that children, young people, citizens of Santa Marinella, actively participate in the excavation through the GATC, the Archaeological Group of the Cerite Territory, led by the energetic Paolo Marini. In this way, all those who wish can dig together with the archaeologists (I saw it with my own eyes)! These operations take place under the supervision of the Superintendence of Southern Etruria and Dr. Flavio Enei, archaeologist and scientific director of the Museum of the Sea and Ancient Navigation of Santa Marinella.


GATC volunteers involved in the archaeological excavation of Castrum Novum (Credits: GATC on Facebook).


This is an extraordinary initiative that has generated, over time, a virtuous triangle that is leading to incredible results. It is excavated every year and done with the latest technologies.

The participation of foreign universities is also fundamental (three in total: the French Universities of Lille and Amiens and the West Bohemian University), which has given Castrum Novum an international resonance and a significant return of image. More and more people find, in essence, a further reason to visit Santa Marinella, determining, in turn, a significant increase in demand for tourism with consequent repercussions on all the induced (more and more accommodation is required, more restaurants, bathing establishments etc etc …).


On the other side of the world: students from Tajikistan working on the archaeological excavation of Castrum Novum (Credits: GATC on Facebook).


The members of the GATC are active all year round and are the real “guardians” of Castrum, because, as you well know, at some point the Superintendence lifts the anchors and part. GATC volunteers are, however, constantly present in the area and do not know breaks: they take care of cleaning the archaeological site, set up information panels, are available for guided tours, organize conferences and periodic initiatives that gather hundreds of people each time, publish scientific notebooks to spread the latest discoveries.


GATC volunteers setting up an information panel on the Castrum Novum excavation (Credits: GATC on Facebook).


Without the past there is no future. When will we also decide to be an active part of the discovery of our city? If you want, Flavio and Paolo will bring them to you! Just look them in the eye to understand how important it is to discover, protect and defend our past!


Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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