Month: October 2018

Lost Churches of Terracina – Appendix 1 – The frieze of the Cathedral

Lost Churches of Terracina – Appendix 1 – The frieze of the Cathedral

A little digression in our journey in search of the lost churches of Terracina. A Spasso con Sara to discover the frieze of the Cathedral.


It decorates the lintel (the horizontal surface that rests on the columns) of the Cathedral. Some have called it a bestiary, others a succession of fantastic figures. But what is it represented and what message is hidden behind the frieze of the Cathedral of San Cesareo? Let’s try to discover something more.


The left side: what we have lost

The left side of the frieze, still present in a 19th century engraving and in some early 20th century photographs, has been completely lost.

Details from recent restorations allow us, however, to hypothesize what was represented there. A fragmentary inscription on the upper edge of the entablature mentions, in fact, Caesareus, Consul Leontius (one of the protagonists of the Saint’s passion) and Bishop Silvianus, another terracinese martyr, whose remains, together with those of his father Eleuterius and those of his sister Rufina, are kept in the Cathedral. It is therefore highly probable that the missing section of the frieze depicted local saints and martyrs.


Photo from the National Institute of Archaeology and Art History of Rome, Ricci fund. In the photo, taken between 1911 and 1912, you can still see the left side of the frieze of the Cathedral.


The right side: what’s left

The right part of the frieze, that is to say the one behind Palazzo Pironti (formerly Venditti), has been preserved. It consists of a series of figures that, alone or in small groups, stand out against a white background.

Qualitatively and technically speaking, it is unique in the panorama of marble workshops in southern Lazio between the 12th and 13th centuries. The execution technique adopted, all played out on the skilful alternation of stone tesserae and glass paste and on the use of inlays that mark the course of the frames, gives a strong naturalism to the animals (of which extraordinary details are defined, such as teeth, tails and claws) and to the vegetable elements depicted.

Detail of the frieze of the Cathedral of Terracina. Two peacocks and a bird in a cage in the middle. From the detail it is possible to admire the composition scheme and the executive technique adopted (Credits:


The narration, proceeding from left to right, presents a pistrice, the large fish in whose belly the prophet Jonah remained for three days and three nights, in a kind of prefiguration of the Resurrection of Christ. We then find an eagle with extended wings, the symbol of John, the author of the Apocalypse. Followed by a pair of deer faced on the sides of a tree, an early Christian reference to the soul that foretaste the joys of eternal life. And then a bird in a cage with a pair of peacocks, which Orietta Sartori wanted to interpret as the symbol of monastic life that protects the soul from the temptations of the world. Three demons also appear, two of them armed with swords and spears and flanked by two bulls with a central sacred building with a bell tower and a candelabrum next to it. And then the most famous scene of the entire cycle: knights armed with a spear and banner, faced at the sides of a cross on a small relief (Golgotha?) with a duck at their feet, are followed by a large rowing boat led by a helmsman. The representation is also accompanied by an inscription that perhaps indicates the patrons of the work: the Milites Goffredo di Egidio and Pietro del Presbitero. Finally, two griffins follow at the sides of an ansato vase, two magpies drinking from a cantaros and a basilisk, emblem of the temptation to lust.


Detail of the frieze of the Cathedral of Terracina. Names of the clients of the frieze? (Credits:


But how to interpret this succession of figures? Di Gioia, already in 1982, pointed out that the animals and figures represented would allude to the eternal struggle between good and evil.


Detail of the frieze of the Cathedral of Terracina. Armed devils and a church with a bell tower on the right (Credits:


The general message of representation

The entire mosaic frieze, also considering the theme of the left section, now lost, would therefore like to provide the following message: the salvation of the soul of man is possible only through Faith, witnessed by the blood shed by the martyrs.


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Hidden Rome. The Tiber Island and the Brotherhood of the Red Sack.

Hidden Rome. The Tiber Island and the Brotherhood of the Red Sack.

There is a hidden Rome, different from the one usually known. A Spasso con Sara to discover the Tiber Island and the Brotherhood of the Red Sack.


Our adventure today starts from the heart of Rome and more precisely from the Tiber Island, the only island of the Tiber, the river of the Capital.

From its mythical origin (according to a legend it was born from a pile of sheaves of wheat belonging to the Tarquini and thrown into the river by the Romans after the expulsion of the last king, Tarquinio the Superb), the island has been the protagonist of the history of the city since its foundation. Thanks to the Ponte Fabricio (the one that leads to the Ghetto) and the Ponte Cestio (which connects it to Trastevere), it became the meeting place between the people of the north and those of the south, encouraged the birth of trade and cultural relations and played a key role in the development and growth of ancient Rome.


The Tiber Island with the Cestius and Fabricio bridges in a famous engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Credits:


A magical island

But a halo of mystery, of magic, surrounds it since the third century BC.

Several Latin writers tell us that at that time the Eternal City was plagued by a terrible plague. On the advice of the Sibylline Books, ten wise men embark on a journey to Epidaurus, the Greek city where the sanctuary of Aesculapius, the god of medicine, is located.


Reconstructive hypothesis of the temple of Aesculapius at Epidaurus (Credits:


Once at its destination, a large snake, interpreted by the Romans as a zoomorphic translation of the god, boards the ship. The Romans left again and, having landed on the Tiber Island, the snake, coming out of the ship, indicates the exact point where to build a temple in honor of Aesculapius. When the work is completed, the plague is eradicated.


The Tiber Island during the Roman Age. In the centre, the temple dedicated to Aesculapius. According to some Latin authors, the island was given the characteristic shape of a ship, in memory of the episode that occurred in the third century BC. (Credits:


The Hospitaller vocation of the place

Next to the temple, on the remains of which the medieval basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola was built, the Romans had also built a series of hospitals where priests took care of the sick.

The therapies practiced on the island were of various types: surgical interventions, herbal medicines and/or natural substances, and especially the incubatio, the healing of the sick through dreams, induced by the administration of particular drugs or herbs or, perhaps, by a suggestion of hypnotic type.


Graphic reproduction of the interior of a sanctuary of Aesculapius. Therapy of the incubatio (Credits:


This hospital function has been perpetuated over the centuries, so much so that on the Tiber Island stands today the Hospital Fatebenefratelli, one of the most famous of the Eternal City, founded in the sixteenth century by the order of the Hospitallers of St. John of God (called precisely Fatebenefratelli).


The Fatebenefratelli Hospital of Rome on the Tiber Island (Credits:


The Confraternity of the Red Sack

The Island, therefore, has always been associated with life, to which one returned after recovery, but also with death. In fact, the cures put in place by the priests did not always have the desired effect.

And the red thread of death links the Tiber Island to the Red Sack, the confraternity founded in 1760 by the will of three craftsmen.

Their initial aim was, in addition to alms in silence and prayer, to go every day through the stages of the Way of the Cross (which at the time still arose inside the Colosseum) to acquire suffrages in favor of the souls of Purgatory. For this reason, they wore a long red coat, the color, that is, the blood of Christ. Their “uniform” included, then, a cordon to the waist, to which was hung a rosary, and a hood with two holes for the eyes.


The characteristic red dress (here in a modern version) of the Red Sack brothers (Credits:


From 1768, the Red Sack were welcomed by the Franciscan Friars Minor at the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola and, in 1780, they bought a room with three naves on the ground floor of the left wing of the convent that they transformed into the Oratory of Our Lady of Sorrows, their historical home.


“Under” the Tiber Island: the Crypt of the Red Sack

The underground chapel of the Oratory of Our Lady of Sorrows is one of the “hidden” and lesser-known places in Rome. The crypt can still be visited today and the atmosphere there is really suggestive.

Having acquired the new headquarters and obtained official recognition from Pope Pius VI Braschi in 1784, the Sacconi Rossi began, in fact, to devote themselves completely to the dead. During the night, supported by the light of torches, they recovered the bodies of people drowned in the Tiber and gave them a worthy burial.

The bodies, taken from the waters of the river, were lowered into the crypt through a trapdoor and placed inside some marble tanks (still visible today, although covered with large slabs) filled with a layer of lime. The body, so stripped down, was reduced to a heap of bones that were either used to compose decorative elements (such as the chandeliers that we can still admire) or were neatly arranged in small niches along the walls. The custom, strange at first sight, follows what happened in other places in Rome in the eighteenth century, as in the case of the famous Capuchin Crypt in Via Veneto.



Bones arranged in the niches of the crypt (Credits:


Most of the bones preserved belonged to members of the confraternity who, in some cases, were even dressed to continue to attend and attend the ceremonies and meetings of the brotherhood. For this reason, in the crypt we find a body with the characteristic red dress of the confraternity.


A skeleton preserved in the crypt that still wears the characteristic dress of the confraternity (Credits:


The Re Sacks today: the annual commemoration of the dead

The confraternity, which came to almost complete extinction in the sixties, still exists today but has clearly ceased its activity of collecting corpses in the Tiber. Instead, some liturgical rites that had great importance in the past have been perpetuated.

And, in fact, at sunset on November 2, the day on which all the dead are commemorated, the Tiber Island, illuminated with oil lamps, is the place where the Red Sack hold a unique ritual. It is a night torchlight procession on the banks of the river accompanied by special prayers for the souls of those who drowned and the throwing of a garland of flowers in the waters of the Tiber.


The commemoration of November 2 by the confraternity (Credits:


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Lost Churches of Terracina. 2 of 5

Lost Churches of Terracina. 2 of 5

Second appointment A Spasso con Sara to discover the lost churches of Terracina.


Our journey in the Christian and medieval Terracina continues.

As we saw at the beginning of this special series, the first Christian churches of Terracina are born in the area of La Valle, outside the town.

Their presence in the urban fabric is certain only between the 8th and 9th centuries AD. This was the period in which documents presuppose the existence of the Cathedral of San Cesareo, the most important church in the city. To it are then added new churches, born between the 11th and 12th centuries AD. (Romanic age) and the 13th and 14th centuries (Gothic age) A.D., phases in which Terracina was affected by profound historical, political and urban changes.


Detail of the decoration of the pulpit of the Cathedral of San Cesareo of Terracina (Credits:


The fulcrum of this second chapter is the area of the Emilian Forum, the ancient square paved by the local magistrate Aulus Aemilius at the end of the 1st century BC.


Detail of the original paving of the Emilian Forum. You can still see the furrows of the bronze letters bearing the signature of the magistrate Aulus Aemilius who paid for the pavement of the square.


The life of this public space did not stop, in fact, with the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD), but continued, under new forms, throughout the Middle Ages.

The landscape of the area changed. Tower houses, Romanic domus and Gothic style invade much of the paved forensic, whose free space narrows. Once the open side towards the sea has disappeared, Piazza San Cesareo – this is the new name taken from the square dominated by the Cathedral – is defined as a place closed in on itself.


The square of the ancient Emilian Forum in an engraving by L. Rossini (Credits: MR Coppola 1984).

S. Maria della Scala

And, in fact, right next to the current seat of the Municipality, there was S. Maria della Scala.


The area once occupied by Le Scalelle.

Located along Via delle Scalelle, from which it clearly derived its name, the church must have existed as early as the thirteenth century AD. The Scalelle flanked the Torre dei Rosa (the Tower next to the Bar del Duomo and home to the Pio Capponi Civic Museum) and, descending to the Vicolo Sottosusto (between Palazzo Braschi on the right and the foundations of the new Municipium on the left), connected the current Piazza Municipio with the area of Posterula.


The Vicolo Sottosusto in an old photograph (Credits: MR Coppola 1984).


A district of S. Maria delle Scalelle is attested by some of the documents of the 16th century. However, nothing remains of it or of the church. The bombardments of 1943-44 and the subsequent construction of the current Municipium have erased all traces of this urban layout.



S. Maria del Tempio

We move just outside the square, near the Vicolo Pertinace.

Here, in Roman times, stood the four-sided arch. Articulated in four large arches straddling the ancient Via Appia, it guaranteed access to the Foro Emiliano from the East.


 Reconstruction of the ancient four-sided arch of the Emilian Forum (V. Grossi 2003).


The area, starting from the medieval age, was occupied by a series of buildings (you can even see the hinge of a door along the jamb of one of the arches) that survived even in modern times and were swept away by the bombardments of 1943-44.

The medieval quarter was that of the Templum (perhaps because of the proximity of the presumed temple of Vicolo Pertinace) and in its heart, exactly at the crossroads between Vicolo Pertinace and the first stretch of the current Salita dell’Annunziata, was located, since the 9th century AD, S. Maria del Tempio. More than a church, it was a chapel, whose existence is still documented at the beginning of the 16th century. At the beginning of the following century it was transformed into a cellar.


The area behind Vicolo Pertinace and the ancient four-sided arch of the Emilian Forum (the remains of which are still visible on the right).


S. Domitilla

Just in front of it was the Church of Santa Domitilla.

A plaque still in situ, walled on one of the sides of the present Piazza Santa Domitilla, reminds us that the original chapel was built in 1619 by Pomponio de Magistris, bishop of the city, in the area of the room where the virgins Domitilla, Euphrosyne and Teodora were burned. The place of worship stood, therefore, close to the Porta Albina, the eastern entrance to the ancient city demolished between 1831 and 1850 (its presence is remembered by the still existing funerary lions that in the Middle Ages were placed in front of the door).


Piazza Santa Domitilla. In evidence is the plaque walled up still in situ that remembers the location of the original church before its destruction and its transfer to the Palazzo della Bonificazione Pontina.


Some works of enlargement and reorganization of the square, however, determined the demolition of the church in the nineteenth century that was rebuilt within the adjacent Palazzo della Bonificazione Pontina.

The new chapel, of neoclassical shape, disappeared, however, in turn. Deconsecrated after 1950, it was purchased by the Municipality of Terracina in 1986. Today it houses the entrance and the bookshop of the new museum of Terracina.


The old Chapel of Santa Domitilla in the Palazzo della Bonificazione Pontina (today the bookshop and the entrance of the new museum of Terracina).


S. Nicola a Porta Albina

Immediately outside Porta Albina, mentioned above, stood instead San Nicola a Porta Albina, whose presence is attested since the eleventh century AD. The religious building was just outside the door, along the Salita dell’Annunziata.

Still in operation in the fourteenth century AD, disappeared in subsequent centuries. The parish of reference of Borgo dell’Annunziata was, in fact, progressively replaced by the Chiesa dell’Annunziata.


One of the funeral lions placed in front of Porta Albina. Behind it stood the Church of San Nicola a Porta Albina.




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Archaeology & Technology: the holographic pyramids of Acme Cubo at Maker Faire 2018 in Rome

Archaeology & Technology: the holographic pyramids of Acme Cubo at Maker Faire 2018 in Rome

When archaeology meets technology. A Spasso con Sara for an appointment for brains!



Everything happens at Maker Faire, the biggest European event on innovation that, now in its sixth edition, will animate the pavilions of the Fiera di Roma between 12th and 14th of October.

And among robots, drones and 3D prints, on the red carpet of technology will also parade the archaeology. The discipline of Indiana Jones is no longer just fragments, unsolved mysteries and lost treasures. In recent years it has become a modern discipline, a real science in step with the times.

Engineers, technicians and archaeologists have been working side by side for some time now. But this year, the Maker Faire has gone much further! We set off on a fascinating journey that is revolutionizing the cultural heritage sector.


One of the famous Riace Bronzes. The image shows the application of new technologies to the study and restoration of the famous sculpture (Credits:


The flagship of this innovative archaeology will be the holographic pyramids presented by Acme Cubo, a Roman company formed by a team of professionals working in different sectors, including the Cultural Heritage.

Special effects in the offices of Acme Cubo: 3d print and holographic pyramid (Credits:


But exactly what are we talking about?

The hologram is a three-dimensional representation that is obtained by projecting a light source on a special film (holographic precisely), previously impressed with a laser and then applied to a plate of plastic material. The image thus produced, although the result of an optical illusion, is of great effect and has a strong impact on the observer.

By placing 4 holographic plates (previously impressed) in the shape of a pyramid and with an inclination of 45 degrees, you get a holographic pyramid. And when the light of a projector, tablet or screen hits these surfaces, the projected images are reflected towards the centre of the structure and, as they fuse, they generate a three-dimensional hologram.


A holographic pyramid made by Acme Cubo (Credits:




Acme Cubo thought, however, to further amaze us.

The other protagonist of the weekend will be, in fact, Akhenaton, the exclusive system patented by the Roman company to interact with holographic images through the recognition of gestures. And so, without having to touch any object (mouse, joystick, keyboard, etc.), you can for example rotate the holographic image in all directions of space, admiring it from every angle and point of view, or even increase or decrease the zoom level in order to grasp the most hidden details … In essence, a real magic!


Akhè at work (Credits:



New technologies applied to Cultural Heritage: what usefulness?

These new frontiers, creating clear and engaging presentations, undoubtedly contribute to establishing an empathetic relationship with visitors, including those who normally do not attend museums, perceived by them as elitist structures, unable to communicate or difficult to understand.

Holograms, three-dimensional digital models, 3D photographs, have therefore led to a real revolution. The archaeological and historical-artistic heritage is in fact a common good. As a consequence, culture can no longer, as in the past, limit itself to talking only to experts, but must try to involve the widest possible public, encouraging their active participation and making that day at the museum an unforgettable experience.


The hologram of the Sarcophagus of the Bridegrooms in Bologna. The famous artifact was not really exhibited. What we see is only a 3d reconstruction (Credits:



WHERE: Nuova Fiera di Roma (Via Portuense 1645-1647), Hall 4, Stand C10

WHEN: 12-14 October 2018

OPENING HOURS: Friday, October 12th h. 14.00 / 19.00, the ticket offices close at 18.00; – Saturday 13rd and Sunday, October 14th h.10.00 / 19.00, the ticket offices close at 18.00

PRICE: 12 €. Presenting at the entrance a BIT (metro ticket / bus) stamped, 7 €



Posted by Sara Pandozzi in MUSEUMS, 0 comments
Lost Churches of Terracina. 1 of 5

Lost Churches of Terracina. 1 of 5

A tale between the Middle Ages and the modern and contemporary age. A real walk through time. 5 mini episodes about the lost churches of Terracina (Latina, Italy). A special edition of A Spasso con Sara.

A unique case: a history linked to that of Rome

Terracina is an example of a city with continuity of life. Probably the center of the Ausoni at the end of the sixth century BC, was perhaps already under Roman rule shortly after, being mentioned in the first treaty between Romans and Carthaginians reported by the Greek historian Polibius. It fell into the hands of the Volscians and was regained by the Romans in 406 BC. After a bloody spring and pull with the Volscians, in 329 B.C. the descendants of Romulus founded a colonia maritima there. From that moment, the fate of Anxur-Tarracina was indisputably linked to that of Rome and its history can be largely inscribed within the wider framework of the city.


The city of Terracina and its distance from Rome.


Christianity in Terracina

And like Rome, also the ancient Terracina was invested, starting from the first century AD, by that phenomenon of universal importance that was Christianity. The new religion, centred on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, saw in Terracina the birth of an early community, presumably thanks to the Appian Way and the port, which had the merit of connecting the small town of Lazio with Rome (at the time the largest metropolis in the ancient world) and with the most remote corners of his empire.

A stretch of the Appian Way along the northern side of the Aemilian Forum of Terracina.


St. Peter’s in Terracina?

It is said that, thanks to the Appian Way, Saint Peter visited Terracina. When he landed in Puglia, the Prince of the Apostles set off on a journey to the city where, according to tradition, he lived for twenty years and found himself martyred.

The Appian Way, as is well known, was built in 312 B.C. and extended until Brindisi, connecting Rome with the south of Italy. And the Regina Viarum (the name by which the Appia was known throughout the world) crossed the heart of the town of Terracina. Consequently, anyone who wanted to reach Rome from the south of Italy, had to pass through our city. Although we do not have material traces that concretely document the stopover of St. Peter at Terracina, we can declare quite plausible the hypothesis of his crossing of the city.


The Crucifixion of St. Peter in a famous painting by Caravaggio in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome (Credits:


The first Christian community in the city

A Christian community certainly existed in Terracina in the sixth century AD. In fact, a letter written by Pope Gregory the Great dates back to that time and, in 590 A.D., was addressed to Peter, bishop of the city, and to his community. The document, very precious, indirectly attests to the existence of an Ecclesia Terracinese (and also of a Jewish) but not that of a cathedral building connected to it.

It is very likely that the first churches of Terracina were located in the western part of its territory, outside the town protected by the walls (the last of which date back to the first decade of the fifth century AD). This area, drained by the Romans through special hydraulic systems and divided by them into many small agricultural plots, housed, in fact, the tombs of San Cesareo and San Silviano, the first martyrs of the city. Not by chance, it has gone down in history with the name of Valley of Saints.

La Valle of Terracina. Scheme of the ancient Roman centuriation and position of the ancient town (in orange).

Religion and Christian rites were practiced in hiding. In fact, it was necessary to wait until 313 A.D., the year of Constantine’s edict of tolerance, so that Christianity could be professed in the light of the sun like the many other new religions that were spreading at that time.

In Terracina, therefore, in the early Christian era (III – IV century AD) the churches as we understand them did not exist! Perhaps the ancient rustic villas of La Valle were used, with a phenomenon very similar to that of the domus ecclesiae of Rome. Those who, in essence, had a large space, made it available to the community for the celebration of Mass.


Basement of the large rustic villa in Monticchio ne La Valle di Terracina.

Churches come into the city

Churches only entered the city in the Carolingian age (VIII-IX century A.D.). At that time, in fact, Pope Leo IV (847-855 AD) donated a series of liturgical objects and furnishings to the Cathedral of Terracina. Its donation presupposes the presence, at least from the ninth century AD, of a cathedral building, which used, in part, the remains of the ancient Tempio Maggiore of the Aemilian Forum. Shortly after, the original city parishes connected to the first churches were also born, on which the subsequent urban development depended.


The Cathedral of Terracina.

A new phase began in the Romanic period (XI – XII century A.D.), marked by the birth of new churches. The city, characterized by a strong increase in population, expanded with five new villages leaning against its walls and each with its own parish church.

The subsequent Gothic period (13th-14th centuries AD) also saw the construction of new Christian buildings of worship. Two important convents were also built, that of San Francesco, on the hill of the same name, and that of San Domenico, inspired by the Cistercian tradition of the nearby Abbey of Fossanova.


The last transformation: the modern age

In modern times, after a first partial abandonment of the religious building heritage of the city (XVI – XVII century AD), it was recovered thanks to Pius VI Braschi, whose name is inextricably linked to that of Terracina, chosen as the physical end of the great work of draining of the Pontine Marshes promoted by him. And so, as part of a more general plan for the reorganization and revision of the city, some of its ancient churches disappeared, others were renovated, others were built from scratch.


The pope Pius VI (Credits:



But now I’m stopping here! For further details and to discover the names, location and traces of the lost churches of Terracina, I invite you to follow me in the next episodes of #aspassoconsara


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