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Archaeological area of Fiesole


Excavations in the archaeological area of Fiesole include a Roman theater, thermal baths, an Etruscan-Roman temple and an archaeological museum. They are located between via Duprè, via delle Mura Etrusche and via Bandini. It contains finds from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD.

In 1809, the Prussian baron Friedman Schellersheim was the first to have excavations carried out on a farm, called Buche delle Fate, where he found Roman ruins. He did research until 1814, then the work was suspended and resumed later in 1870. The Municipality in 1873 bought the land where the excavations continued and in 1878 a first museum with the material came to light was established in the Palazzo Pretorio. The director of the excavations appointed by the municipality was Professor Demostene Macincia, who held the position until 1910.

In the esplanade of the excavations there was the ancient forum of Faesulae, in the valley between the hills of San Francesco and Sant’Apollinare.

Il museo fu costruito dall’architetto Ezio Cerpi fra il 1912 e il 1914 a forma di tempietto romano di stile ionico, e conserva reperti provenienti da Fiesole e dal suo territorio e donazioni private, tra le quali la Collezione Costantini di ceramiche greche, magnogreche ed etrusche e la Collezione Albites, con pregevoli sculture romane. Among the finds from Fiesole and the territory are exhibited a fragment of a bronze statue perhaps of a Capitoline she-wolf dated between the Etruscan age and the first century BC, “Fiesolane” sandstone stele from the archaic Etruscan period, and Etruscan cinerary urns ( on one of them the theme of the Boar of Meleager is depicted in bas-relief), as well as votive bronzes, Etruscan and Roman ceramics, terracotta and bronze lamps, and other objects from the Etruscan and Roman period. The museum also exhibits some Lombard burials found in Fiesole, weapons, jewels and other medieval objects.

The Theater is built according to Greek models (that is, it exploits the natural slope of the ground, excavated to make the steps of the cavea) and was built at the time of Silla and embellished by Claudius and Septimius Severus. The one in Fiesole is still considered one of the oldest existing Roman theaters (the first ones were built in Rome only at the beginning of the 2nd century BC). It was raised towards the end of the 1st century BC, probably in the last twenty years (when the republican age was already ending), but over time it underwent numerous restorations and embellishments (especially under the Empire). As a structure it is decidedly close to the Greek theatrical model (not surprisingly it rests on a natural slope), even if there are already many elements of detachment from the Hellenic tradition. For example, the orchestra, which has much smaller dimensions than those of Greek theaters (which is justified by the fact that in Greek tragedies much importance was given to the choir). Other fundamental and evident differences with respect to the previous tradition are the insertion of the lateral arcades (which connect the steps of the cavea to the scene), of the “frons scenae” or proscenium (a facade external to the structure that served as a background to the representations but not only) , and of the curtain (operated by machinery hidden from the public).

The auditorium has a diameter of 34 m. The upper steps are destroyed, while the lower ones are well preserved. In the theater, at the bottom, there were three orders of distinct seats and nineteen tiers divided by five stairways (today only ten); on one side the steps are dug into the boulder and on the other side, where the well is also located, rest on vaults supported by concentric walls. At the top of the steps there were the loggias called tribunalia, for the most eminent characters. The theater could hold about three thousand people. The front scene consisted of a two-storey loggia that was destroyed, of which only the foundations remain, showing the three doors reserved for the actors. Two covered wings (the versurae) framed the scene laterally and led to a portico towards the east behind the scene (of which nine pillars remain) and to the warehouses towards the west, used for costumes and props. The orchestra was originally paved with polychrome mosaics and ended with a proscenium. The steps, the orchestra and the stage were accessed from the propylaea, which had shelves for the boxes and were adorned with fluted columns. The theater is still used in the summer period for performances of operas of the Fiesole Summer.

For the construction, the Romans mostly exploited the natural slope of the land, according to the model of the Greek tradition. However, where the depression was too high, innovative arches were built, capable of supporting the weight of the remaining steps. These arches, located to the east and west of the building, were the first remains that were found in the Middle Ages (the locals commonly renamed them “Buche delle Fate” [1]). However, the official discoverer of the theater is to be considered the Prussian archaeologist Friedman Schellershein, who in the year 1809 decided to undertake excavations to “give this wonderful historical document to the city of Faesule”. Unfortunately Schellershein, as soon as he had recovered some objects of relative economic value from the site, closed it a few months after its opening. È questo il principale motivo per cui, fino al 1814, il teatro venne vergognosamente utilizzato come cava per la pietra (non era nemmeno la prima volta nella sua storia; pare infatti che già attorno all’anno Mille alcune sue pietre fossero state utilizzate nientemeno che per la realizzazione del Duomo). So, to limit the destruction, from 1815 the Florentine Chapter again decided to make the area arable, completely covering the theater with earth.

Fortunately, after the movement of the capital to Florence in 1864 (with a consequent increase in funds and investors in the lily city), the Fiesole territories became Florentine. Fu in quegli anni che il Capitolo decise di riprendere gli scavi, che però vennero nuovamente interrotti, poiché il professore Migliarini, direttore delle Gallerie Fiorentine e stimata autorità cittadina, giudicò il teatro di poco interesse culturale (al tempo, infatti, si dava effettivo valore storico solo alle opere etrusche). However in 1870, with the confiscation of the ecclesiastical assets by the State, the land of the theater first became state property and then, shortly after, it was bought by the same Municipality of Fiesole, which decided to make a change to the excavations. In 1873, in fact, under the direction of Carlo Strozzi and the Florentine Deputation (appointed by the Municipality), the works began (also financed, for the first time in Italy, by the “collection of an entrance tax”) which, in 1911 , with the restoration of part of the steps, they returned the Fiesolan theater to the community.

In any case, there was a lot of fierce criticism of the municipality at the time. Most critics criticized the municipal institution for having carried out an overly heavy restoration on the theater, which had distorted the essence of the building. Other criticisms were due to the fact that the Administration had hired the labor of the local peasants for the rest, all at the expense of the quality of the work.

Negli anni ’50 e ’60 furono effettuati gli ultimi effettuati sulle murature, consolidando le terme e il tempio. From 2004 to 2006, the steps and proscenium of the theater were consolidated and restored.
As of 2016, they were subject to decay and urgent restoration in the areas of the calidarium, laconicum and labrum tanks, and in the theater inside the pulpitum, cavea and crypta.

Dietro al teatro vi sono i ruderi delle terme, costruite ai tempi di Silla (I secolo a.C.), restaurate e ingrandite al tempo di Adriano. They were “discovered” in 1891, when it was finally possible to give a function to the three arches that have always been visible: they formed the terrace of the thermal baths towards the valley.

The baths are located along the walls and consist of the three classic rooms of the calidarium, tepidarium and frigidarium, plus other pools and rooms. Una piscina rettangolare e due vasche (una delle quali a immersione) servivano per i bagni pubblici e sul loro fondo furono trovate molte anfore, usate per depurare l’acqua, raccogliendo le impurità che andavano a fondo.

There are the remains of rooms for water heating and the production of steam which, by means of lead or terracotta pipes, was distributed in the various rooms. In the calidarium, characterized by the cocciopesto floor, boiling water was sent, lukewarm water was collected in the tepidarium (consisting of three basins) and finally cold water was introduced into the frigidarium; the frigidarium is divided by a (reconstructed) arched structure, one of which has a semicircular shape and is located next to the latrines. Perhaps there was also a cryptoporticus that separated the pools. Some of the structures were rebuilt following excavations.

The Etruscan-Roman temple was built between the second half of the 4th century BC and the 2nd century BC, although the area was in use for sacred rituals from at least the 7th century BC, and was excavated in the early 20th century. Most likely it was the ancient Capitolium Fiesolano.

The cell is the oldest part and is divided into three parts: this suggests that the temple was dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva (the latter attribution almost certain as suggested by a Hellenistic bronze statue depicting an owl found nearby and now in the museum ). In front of the temple there is a small decorated sandstone altar (4th century BC-3rd century BC). In the Republican era the temple was rebuilt, raised and enlarged both on the wings and on the front, partly by reusing the walls of the previous building. The staircase, well preserved, has seven steps and reaches the stylobate on which stood the columns of the portico, surmounted by the pediment of the temple. The longest part of the stylobate suggests that the portico linked the temple to the Collegium.

On the left you can see the bases of three columns left from the portico that surrounded the cell. Among these ruins were found bronze and silver coins (3rd century BC-10th century). In this place the remains of a barbarian burial ground from the Lombard period (VII-VIII century) were also found, built on an area of the cell and the ruins of a Christian temple, built on the remains of the pagan one towards the third century.