The Regina viarium and the historic towns reflected in their lakes
In 312 B.C. the censor Appius Claudius decided to build a military road to connect Rome to Capua, Benevento, Venosa and Brindisi, a Roman colony from 244 B.C. Its importance, linked to the connection with Southern Italy, made the Romans named it as the regina longarum viarum (queen of long roads). The road exited from Saint Sebastian Gate and continued towards the Alban Hills, surrounded first by mausoleums and tombs of the classical era and then by residential villas, rustic dwellings, Christian catacombs.
The route of the Appian Way, despite speculative constructions, the looting of the territory perpetrated for too many years and today’s incessant traffic, is now protected by a natural park, allowing to enjoy all its ancient charm.
The territory of the Roman Castles coincides with the area once inhabited by the Latins: the legendary Alba Longa seems to be located between Albano Laziale and Castel Gandolfo. During the Roman Empire it became a holiday resort for the richest Romans; the mild climate, the abundance of water and the ease in reaching them made it a favorite destination, even later, when the Roman nobles built mansions and castles, later transformed into villas and palaces that can still be visited today.
Castel Gandolfo, nowadays known as the Pope’s summer residence, had to house the villa of Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) whose magnificent nymphae, known as Bagni di Diana, is still preserved inside the gardens of the Papal Palaces. It is precisely in the papal complex that the famous architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini left an unmistakable mark, completing the Palazzo dei Papi, designed by Carlo Maderno in 1623. He also built the Liberty Square and the church of Saint Thomas of Villanova.
On the opposite side of the lake, Marino was a possession of the Colonna family (who erected their palace and the basilica of Saint Barnabas). Today, the town is known for its link with wine, celebrated by a famous festival and the famous stornello (short song) “na gita a li Castelli”.
Not far away, in the modern urban area of Albano Laziale, there are some visible interesting archaeological remains, including those related to the military camps built during the imperial age by Septimius Severus, the Castra Albana. Also worthy of note are the Mausoleum of the Orazi and Curiazi and the Cisternone, a still functioning water tank from the 2nd century A.D.
The name of Bernini is closely connected with the Ariccia access square, that was originally only reachable through the narrow streets that wind up to the south, within the medieval settlement. It was in fact originally the “court” or internal courtyard of Chigi Palace, almost a fortress suspended in the nature. The magnificent building overlooking the large open space is faced by the Church of Saitn Mary of the Assumption, which with its central plan and the slightly flattened dome evokes the structure of the Pantheon.
From Ariccia, the Appian Way leads to Genzano that, every year, in the month of June, hosts the famous Infiorata (flower) festival during the Corpus Domini celebration. On the road an immense carpet is laid out, made using as colours the petals of thousands of flowers and plant essences, “depicting” various subjects, mainly sacred ones.
The nearby Lake Nemi has a real archaeological appeal. At the end of the Twenties, remains of some Roman ships, built by the emperor Caligula for probable ceremonial functions, were found almost intact in its waters. Unfortunately, the following events, a fire and above all the bombardments of the World War II, destroyed almost completely what the waters of the lake sacred to Diana had kept for two thousand years. Nowadays, the Naval Museum of the homonymous town exposes the remains of those archaeological finds as well as interesting reconstructive models.
A town of pre-Roman origin, situated in a panoramic position towards the sea, on the slopes of the Alban Hills, Lanuvio was the seat of a famous shrine dedicated to Juno Sospita in Roman times, whose remains are still visible on the hill of Saint Lawrence. Destroyed by the Roman settlement in 380 A.D., the city was rebuilt by the Benedictine monks with the name of Civitas Lanovina. The town still preserves a stretch of the ancient walls of dark lava stone dominated by the 14th century fortress. Ruins of the Middle Ages can also be found in the sanctuary of the Our Lady of Graces. Completely rebuilt in the 17th century is the Collegiata Maggiore, built in 1240, whose 17th century sculptures are kept in the medieval section of the Civic Museum.
Continuing along the Appia road, there lies Velletri, the most important town of the Alban Hills, that owes its fame especially to an excellent wine production. The city, despite having Roman origins, owes its current structure to the municipal period, which dates back to the characteristic Tower of Trivio. The impressive Municipal Palace is the work of Giacomo della Porta and was rebuilt following the bombing of the last war according to the original Vignola design.