On the traces of pre-Roman civilizations
The modern Aurelian Way corresponds in large part to the route of the ancient consular road that from Rome, along the coast, extended into the Etruscan territory reaching Liguria and Arles. The Aurelia Vetus was built in 241 B.C. and the Aurelia Nova in 119 B.C., to sanction the conquest of southern Etruria. This territory preserves, in the rugged and evocative countryside of the hinterland, the fascinating necropolis of Cerveteri, while along the sea there are bathing centres, some of which heirs of the ancient Etruscan fortified ports: Santa Severa, Santa Marinella and what is today the main port of the province of Rome, Civitavecchia.
The road, starting on the Tiber at the Pons Aemilius, today known as “Ponte Rotto” (broken bridge) left the city passing through the Aurelia gate, corresponding to the current Saint Pancras Gate. The route continued more or less on the current trail heading towards Castel di Guido and Torrimpietra up to Cerveteri.
The ancient town of Cerveteri (for the Etruscans Cisra, for the Romans Caere) controlled a vast territory, thanks to the commercial vocation due to the short distance from the sea (6 km), guaranteeing the maritime traffic in particular with Carthage, as the three harbors connected to it.
The first relations with Rome were friendly, but in 273 B.C. Cerveteri had to accept Roman dominance, gradually losing importance. The Etruscan city preserves only parts of the boundary walls, while the most consistent archaeological remains are those relating to the four necropolises, among which the largest is the one named Banditaccia. One of the most representative tombs is the Tomba della Capanna (7th century), excavated in the tuff, owing its name to the sloping roof shape. The Tomba delle Cornici, on the other hand, has two seats inside carved in the tufa.
Cerveteri had three harbors on the sea: the port cities of Palo (near the current town of Ladispoli), Punicum (the present Santa Marinella) and the largest Pyrgi, the present Santa Severa. Here, near the castle, a sacred area dedicated to the Etruscan goddess Uni was brought to light. In 1964 three engraved gold plates were discovered, one in Etruscan, one in Phoenician-Punic, preserved in the Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome.
Other decorations and ruins can be admired inside the Antiquarium of Pyrgi, located near the castle of Santa Severa, whose earliest records date back to 1068. In the 12th century, the characteristic Saracen Tower was built. Formerly a pontifical summer residence, today the castle hosts exhibitions, concerts, cultural events and the Santa Marinella Civic Museum.
In the Middle Ages, all coastal towns became prey to Saracen raids. To resist powerful fortifications were erected, such as those from which originated the castles of Santa Marinella and Santa Severa. The population abandoned the coast to take refuge inland to higher places, easy to control and defend: the village of Ceri is an evocative example.
A bit further North, the road reaches Civitavecchia, the ancient Centumcellae: a coastal town with many inlets, chosen for this purpose by the emperor Trajan to build the largest military port in Rome, between 106 and 110 A.D.
The architect of the great work was Apollodorus of Damascus, the architect of the forum and the baths of Rome. After the destruction of World War II, of this great construction there area few traces in the Roman dock of the tourist port. To follow the works, Trajan wanted to build a villa, whose impressive remains are located a few kilometers from the city, in the archaeological area of the Terme Taurine, an impressive well-preserved spa complex.
Near the archaeological site in the rolling hills of the Lazio countryside, there is the modern establishment of the Ficoncella thermal baths, a sulphurous spring that feeds, with water from 35°C to 53°C, five thermal baths, very popular for the therapeutic properties already known to the Etruscans.
Next to the ruins of the Roman Civitavecchia, the Renaissance fortifications prove the resumption of the vitality of the civic center, after the abandonment following the Saracen raids. Of these important structures, however, after the bombardments of World War II, it remains little more than the Forte Michelangelo, a true symbol of the city.