The Ruins of Alba Fucens
Alba Fucens, an ancient Roman city at the base of Monte Velino in Abruzzo, is an archaeological jewel. The ruins that emerged from excavations initiated in 1949, continued throughout the 20th Century and recently taken up again, are truly remarkable.
Given that the city lies in a rather strategic position at the intersection between the territories inhabited by the Marsi and Equi, it was long contested between the two tribes. It became a Roman colony in 303 B.C. and eventually received the status of municipality.
The name Alba Fucens is derived from the place it inhabited, where one could admire the beautiful dawn that rose every morning on Lake Fucino. Due to its enviable position, the city has been known since antiquity as the Marsican Balcony. In fact, according to some sources, the word “Alba” is the transposition to Latin from the word “alb” or “alp” which signifies hill or high ground. Alba Fucens would then refer to “high ground of the Marsica.”
Constantly allied with Rome, Alba Fucens helped to defend the Empire against Hannibal during the second Punic War and continued to demonstrate its loyalty during the Social War. However, for having taken the side of Marius against Sulla, its territory was parceled up and given to veterans of Sulla’s lieutenants. Having been part of the war between Pompey and Caesar, the city became a stronghold for the Anti-Caesarians commanded by Domitius Ahenobarbus, who later surrendered to Caesar.
In the Imperial Age, Alba Fucens thrived; its archaeological remains testify to such, including a dominating amphitheater that was commissioned by the Praetorian Prefect Naevius Macro. Because after a succession of events, Macro was condemned by Caligula and stripped of his office. He soon committed suicide, but not before he requested the amphitheater’s construction to leave his legacy on his birthplace.
Among other finds discovered within the last century, one can admire the macellum or marketplace, the thermal spas, baths and pagan chapel of Hercules.
Structured as a typical Roman fortress, the city developed along a grid of the ancient decumanus and cardo roads. Taking the Decumanus Maximus, visitors can see an ancient Domus Romana divided into apartments featuring dry-wall construction, characteristic mosaics, typical pagan votive spaces or stroll along its columns raised up again by archaeologists. Notice the craftsmanship of the milestone (marking the 68 Roman miles to the Imperial Capital) and depicting a gladiatorial battle with an inscription to the usurper-Emperor Flavius Magnentius. On the other side, on the so-called Via dei Pilastri, are the ancient tabernae with their original pavements, lead water ducts and the counters and sinks of a wine bar. The enormous walls defending the city have also been very well preserved, extending for nearly two miles around the inhabited zones.
Remnants of the city’s theater evoke the image of a rich cultural life financed by the wealthy merchants of the day.
The subterranean zone reveals an efficient sewage system in polygonal masonry, a unique example in all of Italy that is the subject of study by both archaeologists and speleologists.
Of particular interest is the Church of San Pietro from the 12th century, partially destroyed by the earthquake of 1915. Built on the city’s highest hill above a pagan crypt making up the Temple of Apollo, the Christian church still preserves excellent sculpture work, such as the spiral columns of the Iconostasis (the dividing wall usually used in Eastern churches) done in the Cosmatesque style. Greatly appreciated is the church’s apse, which on its exterior is decorated with theomorphic motifs.
The amphitheater, with optimum acoustics, is used today for cultural events, concerts and theatrical works of the classics.
The site is always open and visitors can see it all for free unless they prefer a guided visit. Headstones, coins, vases, statues and other finds from Alba Fucens are also on view in the museums of Chieti and Celano.