CHIAVARI, Italy - The Quintili brothers, Sextus Quintilius Maximus and Sextus Quintilius Condianus, held Rome’s highest political office, that of Consul. In 151 BC. they decided to build on the foundation of an old Hadrian era villa and create what would become the largest and grandest residence Rome had ever seen.
The villa of the Quintili, and the adjoining farming complex of Santa Maria Nova, covered such a large area along the old Appian Way, that when it was first discovered centuries later, everyone thought they had found another Rome, an older Rome. It had to be a town, they reasoned, for no villa could be so expansive. They even named the archeological site Vecchia Roma.
But it wasn’t another Rome. Needless to say a villa of such extraordinary size and beauty did not go unnoticed by the Gladiator Emperor Commodus Antonius. At his first opportunity he declared the villa Imperial property and had the brothers arrested for treason and put to death. And then he moved in.
He made some changes to the villa including a private bath complex fed by its own aqueduct, and a separate steam room for the Emperor's Pretorian guards. The a hippodrome, a racetrack for horse and chariot racing may have been the work of the Qunitili brothers, but most certainly it was the Emperor who had added an additional training area for gladiators.
Today the villa and S. Maria Nova are part of the Appia Antica archaeological park, and what was found in the most recent excavation has set Rome and the Romans buzzing. It is a work of extraordinary engineering, a semi-subterranean gallery or passageway whose vaulting supports portico structures above ground, lit from openings at the top of its arches. It’s called a cryptoporticus.
The cryptoporticus may be a simple brick structure but it bears the marks of an extraordinary history. The walls, which were 6 to 7 ft. high were covered with white marble with blue-green veins pulled from the Algerian quarries of Hippo, and accented with strips of red marble taken from ancient quarries in Greece
Two perfectly preserved black and white mosaic floors were found, one depicting a gladiator named Montanus, a retiarius with net and trident. The other floor design shows horses tied together in pairs around a tree. The horses were for the fationes, the teams that vied for victory during the chariot races that were held at the racetrack of the villa.
But perhaps the most amazing part of this new discovery is the secret stash of bricks that was found, carved with the names of the consuls who ordered the work – Petino and Aproniano (123 BC). Even more amazing is that above the names of the consuls there is a series of dots clustered together like Morse code, which is how workers and slaves signed the bricks on projects they worked on. Even though we can’t decipher what the dots actually say, they do tell us that these men were there and created this structure.
The archeological site houses a museum with marble friezes and sculptures that once adorned the villa. You can also visit the nympheum, a natural grotto where local nymphs were thought to reside. There is also the hall of the tepidarium, a warm room which was the first stop after working up a sweat in the palaestra or gym and the frigidarium, the cold pool.
Open every day from 9.00 to 16.30. Closed Mondays (except Easter Monday), 25 December, 1 January.
Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays: entrance is also from Via Appia Antica, n° 290.
Single ticket valid 7 days at 3 sites: Baths of Caracalla, Villa of the Quintilii, Mausoleum of Caecilia Metella.
Full Price: € 6.00.
Reduced: € 3.00 for citizens of the European Union 18 to 25 European Union teachers.
Free: Visitors 17 and under.
Copyright © 2016 Phyllis Macchioni