CARACALLA BATHS – VILLA DEI QUINTILI – CECILIA METELLA – CATACOMBS
Villa dei Quintili
The Villa dei Quintili, located at the 5th mile of the ancient Appian Way, was the largest and most sumptuous residence of the Roman “suburbium”. The original nucleus belonged to the Quintili brothers, consuls in 151 AD. The emperor Commodus put forward a death sentence for the Quintili brothers in 182 AD to take possession of their properties, including the Villa. The villa was enlarged by Commodus, who loved living here for the peaceful countryside and the villa’s thermal baths, and it became imperial property up to the end of the 3rd century AD. The monument overlooks the Roman countryside and offers a panorama that through time has inspired many famous artists.
Tomb of Cecilia Metella
The mausoleum was built at the third mile of the Appian Way in the years 30-20 BCE, on a dominant position overlooking the road, just at the point of arrestation of a leucite lava flow ejected 260,000 years ago from the Alban Hills volcanic complex.
It is a monumental tomb erected for a Roman noblewoman whose degrees of kinship are known, albeit only partially, thanks to the inscription, still preserved. Her father was Quintus Caecilius Metellus, consul in 69 BCE, who, between 68 and 65 BCE, conquered the island of Crete, whence he derived the agnomen Creticus; her husband was, in all probability, Marcus Licinius Crassus, who distinguished himself among Caesar’s retinue on the campaign in Gaul and was the son of the celebrated Crassus, member of the First Triumvirate along with Caesar and Pompey.
The imposing tomb is, therefore, to be interpreted both as an homage to the deceased and as a celebration of the glories, riches and prestige of the client family.
The tomb-lined tunnels of the catacombs stretch for miles and are many layers deep. Many of the first Christians buried here were later recognized as martyrs and saints. Others carved out niches nearby to bury their loved ones close to these early Christian heroes. While the bones are long gone, symbolic carvings decorate the walls: the fish stood for Jesus, the anchor was a camouflaged cross, and the phoenix with a halo symbolized the resurrection.
By the Middle Ages, these catacombs were abandoned and forgotten. Centuries later they were rediscovered. Romantic-era tourists on the Grand Tour visited them by candlelight, and legends grew about Christians hiding out to escape persecution. But the catacombs were not hideouts. They were simply low-budget underground cemeteries. The Appian Way has two major Christian catacombs, each offering visitors a half-hour underground tour to see the niches where early Christians were buried. The Catacombs of San Sebastiano also has a historic fourth-century basilica with holy relics, while the larger Catacombs of San Callisto is the burial site for several early popes.
The Thermae Antoninianae, one of the largest and best preserved ancient thermal complexes, were built in the southern part of the city under the initiative of Caracalla, who dedicated the central building in 216 CE.
The rectangular plan is typical of the “great imperial Bathhouses”. The Baths were not just a building for bathing, sports and the care of the body but also a place for walking and for study. Four doors on the northeastern facade were the entrance to the main part of the building. On the central axis may be observed, in sequence, the calidarium, tepidarium, the frigidarium and the natatio, and, on the sides of this axis, other environments, arranged symmetrically around the two other palaestras.
The Baths of Caracalla are one of the rare cases where it is possible to reconstruct, albeit only partially, the original decorative scheme.
The written sources speak of huge marble columns, coloured Oriental marble flooring, vitreous paste mosaics and different varieties of marble sheathing the walls, painted stuccoes and hundreds of colossal statues and groups, both in the niches of the walls of the environments and in the more important halls, as well as in the gardens. For supplying water, a special branch of the Acqua Marcia aqueduct, the Aqua Antoniniana, was created.