All Souls’ Day: November 2nd

All Souls’ Day: November 2nd

On this day the Christian Church remembers all the deceased.
A Spasso con Sara at the origins of this commemoration.


The Church has always been linked to the memory of the dead. In the Christian vision of existence, man’s destiny does not end with death. At the end of earthly life, the soul reaches the vision of God and, at the end of time, after the Last Judgment, it will rejoin its mortal remains resurrected. The faithful, therefore, pray to their loved ones who are extinct to ask for their intercession with God and to join them and the elect after death.


Michelangelo. Sistine Chapel. The Last Judgment (


Since the Middle Ages: Odilone of Cluny

The anniversary of November 2 has its roots in the tenth century, although already St. Augustine, between the fourth and fifth centuries AD, praised the custom of praying for the dead outside of their anniversaries.

In the seventh century AD, the monks devoted a full day to prayer for the dead. And Amalarius, theologian and liturgist of the age of Charlemagne (8th-9th century A.D.), already placed the memory of those who had passed away on the day after that of the Saints.

The first, however, to officially set the date of 2 November was the Benedictine abbot Saint Odilone of Cluny in 928 AD. Sources report that he was particularly devoted to the souls of Purgatory for whom he addressed all his prayers, penances and sufferings. One of his brethren, returning from the Holy Land, told him that he had been shipwrecked on the coasts of Sicily. On the island he met a hermit who told him that he had heard in a cave the voices and cries of purging souls who, together with those of the demons, cried out against Odyloon. Listened to the testimony, the abbot fixed November 2 as the commemoration of the dead and passed a law that required all the monasteries of his congregation to ring the bells with funeral tolls after vespers of November 1.


Abbot Odilone of Cluny (Credits:

Ancient roots

The liturgical celebration of the day of the deceased, dominated by the color purple, symbol of penance, expectation and pain (used, among other things, also in funerals) has, in fact, even older origins of the tenth century and the choice of the day of its recurrence, that of November 2, is not entirely random.

According to some interpretations, this date should in fact be referred to the Universal Flood which, according to Moses’ account, fell on the “seventeenth day of the second month”, to be identified with our November. The Feast of the Dead would therefore have been born to remember those people who God himself had annihilated, in order to exorcise the fear of new similar events.


Lorenzo Lotto and Giovan-Battista Capoferri. The Universal Flood. Bergamo, church of Santa Maria Maggiore (Credits:


Remarkable is the echo of the Celtic culture and, in particular, of the night of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, a celebration halfway between death and rebirth and which fell between October 31 and November 1. The customs and traditions of this feast are lost in the world of myth and legend and the rituals concerned roughly the world of the dead through divination and storytelling.


Re-enactment of the Celtic New Year (Credits:


The commemoration of the dead also took place in ancient Rome with the feast of Parentalia, a nine-day period dedicated to the celebration of the dead of the family and which began on February 13 and ended on the 21st of that month, the day of the real feast of the dead.


Mosaic of the “Memento Mori”, Pompeii Officina Coriariorum – Tannery, now in the Archaeological Museum of Naples (Credits:


The Byzantine church also celebrated all the dead. This happened, however, at a different time of the year, namely on the Saturday before the Sunday of Sessagesima (about 60 days before Easter), in a period roughly between the end of January and the month of February.

And there are many connections that can be found between the Christian recurrence and very distant worlds, such as Mexico and Central and Latin America in general (Dia de los Muertos) and even China (festival of Qingming), countries that are teeming with rituals and customs in which the souls of the dead are consoled in favor of the living.


El dia de los Muertos (Credits:


The feast of the dead between Rome and Terracina

There are many celebrations between Rome and Terracina. As mentioned in one of my last articles, in Rome, for example, the Brotherhood of Sacconi Rossi holds on this day an impressive procession that, by candlelight, runs through the Tiber Island, throws in the Tiber a wreath of flowers in memory of the “dead of the water” and ends with the blessing of bones in the underground crypt of the brotherhood.


The night procession of the Sacconi Rossi on the Tiber Island (Credits:


In Terracina, the fulcrum of the commemoration of the dead is the Church of Purgatory in the Borgo of Cipollata, consecrated to the memory of the deceased, as recalled by the inscription inside the dome: “holy and just is the thought for the dead”. After the celebration of the Holy Mass at 6 am, from the church starts a procession directly to the city cemetery (this year the procession will not be held because of the events of these days). Another mass is celebrated at the cemetery.


The celebration of November 2 at the Church of Purgatory of Terracina (Credits:


The “sweets of the dead” and the many different Italian traditions

In many parts of Italy there is a widespread belief that on 2 November the dead come to visit their loved ones who have remained alive. The journey made is long and tiring. It is therefore necessary to prepare something to eat and/or drink that allows them to refresh themselves.

And, in fact, during this time of year, in different parts of our country, the so-called “cakes of the dead” are prepared. Based on simple ingredients, such as flour, eggs and sugar, but also almonds, candied fruit, jam and chocolate, these sweets, in consistency and shape, resemble, in some cases, to bones. They adorn the tables set for the dead and are consumed almost as if to soothe the sadness and emptiness left by the disappearance of loved ones.

In Umbria they prepare the “stinchetti”, sweets in the shape of broad beans (for this reason they are also called “broad beans of the dead”); in Naples, instead, the so-called “nougat of the dead”, which, different in consistency from the Christmas nougat, is given by the boy to the family of his girlfriend; in Sicily, however, protagonists are the children. If they have behaved well, the deceased will bring gifts that they will find in the morning under the bed. These are toys, but above all sweets, such as the so-called “pupi di zuccaro”, real dolls made of sugar. And still in Sicily, they prepare the “scardellini”, biscuits made of sugar and almonds in the shape of bones, or they use to eat (as in the area of Trapani) the “martorana fruit”, colorful, and made of sugar paste. In Veneto, lovers offer their brides a bag with “dead bones” inside, biscuits of coloured short pastry, flat and oval shaped. Finally, in Liguria, “bacilli” (dried broad beans) and “balletti” (boiled chestnuts) are prepared.


The so-called “fave dei morti”, typical sweets of Umbria prepared for November 2nd (Credits:


Neapolitan nougat prepared for 2 November (Credits:


The “sugar puppets” prepared in Sicily for November 2nd (Credits:



The “martorana fruit” prepared in Sicily for November 2 (Credits:


But the “sweet of the dead” is not the only ancient Italian tradition linked to the commemoration of the dead. In some regions, for example, it is customary to leave a jar of fresh water at home so that the dead can quench their thirst; in others, it is customary to leave a lit light, a bucket of water and bread. In Rome, tradition had it that on the day of the dead a meal was eaten next to the tomb of a relative to keep him company.


In some parts of Italy it is usual to leave a lit light for each deceased at the window (Credits:

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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:


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ART & CULTURE, 0 comments
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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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


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in CHURCHES & HOLY SITES, 0 comments
The Roman Theatre of Terracina (Latina, Italy)

The Roman Theatre of Terracina (Latina, Italy)

The Roman theatre represents, without a doubt, the real archaeological dream of Terracina.
A Spasso con Sara to discover this unique archeological site!


The theatre of Terracina, located along the northern front of the ancient Forum Aemilianum, occupies an area of about 70 meters by 60 in the area of the square Urbano II (nowaday it doesn’t exist anymore). The location in that specific section of the ancient city was dictated by purely practical reasons. At that point, in fact, it was possible to place a large part of the steps on which the spectators sat (cavea) on the natural slope of the ground.


Position of the Roman theatre complex in Terracina (Credits: Google 2018).


The building technique (for experts, opus incertum) places it among the oldest in Lazio region. Its original nucleus is, in fact, datable between 70 and 60 BC.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. The red arrow indicates a wall in opus incertum referring to the first phase of construction.

During the first century AD, the complex was affected by a radical restructuring that enhanced its appearance. Refined and coloured marbles, coming from the most remote corners of the empire, replaced the previous local limestone. The modest white mosaic, which was the floor of the first theatre, was replaced by large slabs of marble, some of which are still preserved. Significant changes also affected the stage building. These works, which began under the reign of Augustus (27 BC -14 AD), were probably completed in the phase of his successors (14 AD, the year of establishment of Tiberius – 68 AD, the year of Nero’s death and the end of the Julius-Claudian dynasty).


 Roman Theatre of Terracina. The first floor of the complex made of white mosaic.

The maintenance of the theatre was constant throughout the Flavian age (second half of the first century AD) and continued until that of the Severi (late second – early third century AD). Some traces, found in the more recent layers, document, however, a violent fire after which the environments, heavily damaged and left without maintenance, were abandoned. The curtains of the curtain fell and a new story began.


You can see…

Archaeological excavations, which have been going on for several years now (the first conference was organized more than 10 years ago), have brought to light a large part of the eastern sector of the theatre and have also traced its western border, obliterated by the presence of modern buildings. During the research, the demolition of a modern house in dilapidated condition and the stratigraphic removal of other buildings, without medieval walls, has allowed the rediscovery of other parts of the complex.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. Image from above and illustrative scheme of the archaeological excavation (The image was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).


Climbing along the current Via S. Galba (the small road that runs along the four-sided arch leading to the Foro Emiliano) and continuing along the stairs, looking to the left, you will have a beautiful view from above over the excavation of the theater. There are 14 perfectly preserved rows of steps on which we can imagine the richest citizens of Terracina (the places reserved for the plebs and women are not visible as obliterated by a water preserve already in the eighteenth century and a cobblestone road then traced by the ramp that we walked to get to the top of the excavation). In fact, the places closest to the orchestra were intended for them, the semicircular space, decorated with precious marbles, reserved for musicians and separated from the stage by a long horizontal wall. Beyond this wall, there are a series of septa on which were placed the wooden boards of the stage, the space in which the actors, with expressive masks, staged tragedies and comedies. Behind them, the architecture of the scene was raised, with statues, marbles and columns.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. Explanatory overview of the visible remains.


Reconstructive drawing of a Roman theatre (Credits:


A large portico opened behind the scene (it is the cd porticus post scaenam). Surrounded by columns on four sides, arranged around an open central space, it was the place where spectators could shelter themselves in case of rain or walk during the intervals of the shows. It was directly accessible from the Appian Way and from the piazza del Foro Emiliano, from which it is still visible today.


Roman Theatre of Terracina. The porticus photographed by the Aemilian Forum (now Piazza Municipio). Below, in the photo, a stretch of the ancient Via Appia (decumanus maximus).

 Roman Theatre of Terracina. Remains of the columns of the porticus.

Archaeological Findings

The findings made within the complex have given important emotions to archaeologists and citizens. Togated statues, male portraits, heads of divinities, architectural elements such as frames, columns, capitals and fragments of marble, give an idea of how the building should look in ancient times.


Roman Theatre of Terracina. Fragment of a fresco that decorated the eastern entrance of the theatre (the photograph was shown by Dr Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).


The most significant finds have been found near the scene. Worthy of note are two female marble statues, headless and larger than life. Perhaps, judging by their dress and hair, they are two priestesses of Isis. Famous are the fragments of a monumental male statue more than two metres high and made of ancient yellow (a precious marble). It represented an oriental barbarian, as can be deduced from his clothing: tight trousers, short tunic, belt under the chest and Phrygian cap.


Roman Theatre of Terracina. One of the female acephalous statues at the time of their discovery (the photograph was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).


Perhaps you don’t know that…

Inside the theater was found a marble altar dedicated to Jupiter Anxur, the god who has always been attributed the famous shrine of Monte Sant’Angelo that stood on the artificial platform visible from every corner of the city. This is a fundamental discovery. The find is, in fact, the first epigraphic attestation of the existence of the cult of Jupiter Anxur in Terracina, previously known only through literary testimonies.


Roman Theatre of Terracina. The altar with dedication to Jupiter Anxur at the moment of its discovery (The photograph was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES, 0 comments
Terracina. September 4th, 1943. Story of a massacre.

Terracina. September 4th, 1943. Story of a massacre.

Today, September 4th, marks the anniversary of the first Terracina bombing. The tragic episode cost the lives of 138 people (according to the number of officially ascertained victims) and destroyed most of the houses in the historic center bringing to light several ancient monuments including the Capitolium.


A cursed Day

It’s a sultry day at the end of summer and children play in the streets. Men and women are in the countryside. Fishermen put their nets in place after a day at sea. My grandmother Giovanna is 17 years old and her day runs slowly and quietly out of the door of her house at Vicolo Rappini, near the Spiaggetta.

Women walking near Porta Napoletana (Credits:

I asked her several times to tell me what happened that day, but she often cried. The eyes were wiped dry and the hands were put on the ears. Then I let her stay and we ate an ice cream on the terrace. But a few weeks ago, grandmother began telling me about that ominous day. At first they were just flashes. Sirens, whistles of bombs, a boy engraving her infected heel with a razor, linen, the only memory of my great grandmother Giuseppina, mistaken on the black market for a handful of flour … and then hunger, misery, fear for a future that seemed hopeless. It was the story of the war.

The war arrived in Terracina with all its violence at 16:30 on September 4th, 1943. It was afternoon when two American squadrons bombed it. And that was just the first of a long series of air raids. For 8 consecutive months, Terracina was bombed (the last bombing was that of the Germans on 27th May, 1944). Once, on 21st January 1944, the threat came even from the sea. The Americans, for diversification purposes in the landing at Neptune, carried out with six ships two cannonade from the sea along the entire coast of the city.

Planes flying over the Spiaggetta of Terracina. In the background Monte Sant’Angelo (Credits:


But that cursed 4th September, the people of Terracina were not ready.

My grandmother and her brothers told me that the siren announcing the approach of aircraft loaded with bombs had been ringing since the beginning of the war. Those deadly airplanes, which the children, without even knowing what they were doing, reproduced by running in the street with their arms outstretched, had often “caressed” Terracina, but had never struck her. And in a sense the people of Terracina were almost tired of hearing that sound and having to escape to the shelters as a precaution. Many people had become accustomed to this practice and thought they had nothing to fear.

What could the war from Terracina want? Very few German soldiers were in the city. There were no major military objectives.

And so, as happened almost every day, that afternoon the siren also rang. And it was a moment, just a handful of seconds and the American bombers appeared from behind Monte Sant’Angelo, preceded by a strong bang that anticipated that wind of death. The four engines opened their bellies and unloaded all their load onto the charming town in Lazio. The bombs, which someone described in his stories as similar to large cylinders, fell everywhere, destroying, without distinction, men, buildings, animals, exterminating and tearing apart anything they encountered along the way. At the same time as the fall of the bombs, there were machine guns, responsible for the death of many unfortunate people.

It all lasted a few minutes. It was a quick, but extremely painful step. Huge chasms opened up along the main streets. Cadavers everywhere. Unexploded bombs lay here and there. Tradition has it that some brave people from Terrachins defused them. Many are the victims. The butcher and his apprentice, surprised while working in the small shop near Via del Rio. The daughter of Perugini, owner of an activity in Piazza della Repubblica. And then the children, who intrigued by that sound, had come out to watch those monsters that would soon kill them.


The first bombing of Terracina took place on September 4, 1943 and cost the lives of 138 people (Credits:


A senseless massacre

It was then discovered that the bombing, an integral part of a series of missions aimed at convincing Italy to conclude the armistice, was a useless bloodbath. Terracina was in fact hit after the armistice of Cassibile, whose signature, for various reasons, was kept hidden until September 8th, 1943. The American command did not stop its war actions on the secondary Italian cities, among which Terracina, a strategic objective because it had a port.

First page of the newspaper Corriere della Sera. It is announced that the armistice was signed on 8 September 1943. As you known, the armistice was signed a few days earlier, but was officially announced only September 8 (Credits:


It is shocking to know, as the historian Bianchini reports, that part of the population was completely unaware of what had happened. The women who returned from Frasso, at the end of a day spent picking grapes, walked and sang. Monte Leano had hidden the sight and sound of that terrible moment. And so, once they learned the misfortune of people fleeing to the countryside, they immediately rushed to the city to trace their loved ones.


The Storia di Terracina written by Arturo Bianchini (Credits:


The power of hope: the history of the a “miracle”

And in this context of death, there are a number of folk tales, including the Pentolaccia.

In Terracina Alta, in the old town centre, there were many houses built directly on Roman antiquities. Some of them were even excavated inside the ancient city walls.

In one of these houses lived a lady who that afternoon was preparing a pot of legumes for the evening dinner. When the preparation was finished, he placed the pot on the window sill of the house. Suddenly the siren rang and then the woman ran with her family to take cover. Back at the end of the bombing, the house was no longer there, but the pot had remained miraculously still there, on the windowsill, just as it had left it.

True or not, little interests us. That pot is the symbol of a daily life that wanted at all costs to survive the violence and barbarity of war, a war that still represents a painful plague in the souls of those who experienced it over their skin.


The pot that the woman left to cool on the windowsill of her house during that famous September 4, 1943. The house was destroyed, but the pot still remained there. The house is located more or less in Via Anxur 100.

The back of some of the houses (including the house of the history of the pot) dug into the walls of Terracina. As you can see, nothing remained after the bombing.

An indelible memory

Years later we continue to remember that sad afternoon with some ceremonies that generally include a tribute to the monument of the fallen in Piazza Garibaldi. The city of Terracina was awarded the Gold Medal of Civil Merit. This year the commemoration in Garibaldi Square will take place in today’s day at 10:45 a.m.


The monument in memory of the victims of the Second World War created by Duilio Cambellotti and located in Piazza Garibaldi (credits: – photo by Gianni Porcellini).



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