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 III century BC to the II century AD.
The Archaeological Area, delimited North by the etruscan walls, contains a temple, the Roman Theatre and the Baths. A Longobard cemetery was also discovered in the sacred area near the etruscan-roman temple.
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 researched 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 was established in the Pretorio palace with the material that came to light. The director of the excavations nominated by the municipality was Professor Demostene Macci, 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.
Fiesole Roman Theater
The Roman Theatre was built between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD and its ruins had been visible for a long time. In the Middle Age people have called the place “Buca delle Fate” (Fairies’ Cave) and an ancient legend tells that Fiesole’s Fairies, symbol of an ancient and happy period, have hidden themselves in some dark underground holes not to see the Florentines destroying the city after its conquest in 1125.
The theater was built according to Greek models (i.e. it exploits the natural slope of the ground, dug to make the cavea steps) and was built at the time of Silla and embellished by Claudio and Septimius Severus. The one in Fiesole is still considered one of the oldest existing Roman theaters (the first arose in Rome only at the beginning of the second century BC). It was raised towards the end of the first century BC, probably in the last twenty years (when the republican age was already ending), but it underwent numerous restorations and embellishments over time (especially under the Empire). As a structure it is very 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 compared to the previous tradition are the
The cavea has a diameter of 34 m. The upper tier is destroyed, while the lower ones are well preserved. In the theater, below, there were three distinct orders of 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 there is also the well, they rest on vaults supported by concentric walls. At the top of the steps there were the lodges called tribunalia, for the most eminent characters. The theater could hold about three thousand people.
The front scene was made up of a two-storey loggia which was destroyed, of which only the foundations that show the three doors reserved for the actors remain. Two covered wings (le versurae) framed the scene laterally and led to a portico to the east behind the scene (of which nine pillars remain) and to the warehouses to the west, used for costumes and scenic material. The orchestra was originally paved with polychrome mosaics and was concluded by a proscenium. The tiers, the orchestra and the scene were accessed from the propylaea, which had shelves for the stages and were adorned with fluted columns. The theater is still used in the summer for performances of lyrical works of the Fiesole Summer.
The prussian baron Von Shellersheim dug into the area of the Theatre and discovered two rich grave goods near the ruins of the theatre itself, but there are no certain proves about that. The systematic excavations started in 1870 and finished between 1882 and 1900; meanwhile the left tiers (cavea) were rebuilt for public use.
The building had a huge half-round cavea, created directly in the rock of the hill; four vomitoria (passages) allowed the entrance in a covered gallery (crypta), that unfortunately doesn’t exist no more.
Cavea was divided in four zones by narrow stairs in order to let people find their seat more easily. In the space below it, there was the orchestra and a space where theatrical performances took place; a wall with a recess (pulpitum) delimited frontally the stage (proscenium). Behind it there was the scaena frons (an architectural stage design), whose foundations and marble decorations are still visible in the Museum. Thanks to these decorations is possible to say that the Theatre was used until the 3rd century AD.
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 tiers. These arches, located east and west of the building, were the first remains that were found in the Middle Ages (the inhabitants of the place renamed them vulgarly “Buche delle Fate”). 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 “make 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. This is the main reason why, until 1814, the theater was shamefully used as a quarry for stone (it was not even the first time in its history; in fact it seems that already around the year 1000 some of its stones had been used by none other than for the construction of the Duomo). So, to limit the destruction, from 1815 the Florentine Chapter again decided to make the area cultivable, 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 territories of Fiesole became Florentine. It was in those years that the Chapter decided to resume the excavations, which however were interrupted again, since Professor Migliarini, director of the Florentine Galleries and esteemed city authority, judged the theater to be of little cultural interest (at the time, in fact, it gave real value historical only to Etruscan works). However in 1870, with the forfeiture of ecclesiastical assets by the state, the land of the theater first returned to the state property and then, a short time later, it was purchased by the Municipality of Fiesole, which decided to give a turn to the excavations. In fact, in 1873, under the direction of Carlo Strozzi and the Florentine Deputation (commissioned by the Municipality), work began (also financed, for the first time in Italy, by the “collection of an entrance fee”) which, in 1911, with the restoration of part of the steps, returned the Teatro Fiesolano to the community.
In any case, at the time there were many fierce criticisms of the Municipality. Most critics criticized the municipal institution for having carried out a too heavy restoration on the theater, which had distorted the essence of the building. Other criticisms were due to the fact that the Administration had taken on the workforce of the local farmers for the remainder, all at the expense of the quality of the work.
In the 50s and 60s the last ones were carried out on the walls, consolidating the thermal baths and the temple. From 2004 to 2006, the theater steps and proscenium were consolidated and restored.
As of 2016, they were subject to degradation and urgent restorations in the areas of the calidarium, laconicum and labrum pools, and in the theater inside the pulpitum, cavea and crypta.
Behind the theater there are the ruins of the baths, built in the time of Silla (1st century BC), restored and enlarged in the time of Hadrian. They were “discovered” in 1891, when it was finally possible to give a function to the three arches that have always been visible: they constituted the terrace of the spa towards the valley. The roman Thermal Baths were built, like the theatre, in the 1st century B.C. in the eastern part of the Archaeological Area.
The spas are located along the walls and consist of the three classic rooms of the calidarium, tepidarium and frigidarium, plus other pools and rooms. A rectangular swimming pool and two basins (one of which immersed) served for public baths and many amphorae were found on their bottom, used to purify the water, collecting the impurities that went to the bottom.
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, in the tepidarium (consisting of three tanks) lukewarm water was collected and finally cold water was introduced into the frigidarium; the frigidarium is divided by an arched structure (reconstructed), one of which has a semicircular shape and is located next to the latrines. Perhaps there was also a cryptoporticusthat separated the tanks. Some of the structures were rebuilt following the excavations.
They were discovered between 1882 and 1900 and hurriedly restored before the end of archaeological excavations.
West there was the entrance (today are visible some steps), from which Romans came in a monumental arcade, that enclosed the building North and South. Inside the arcade there was an opening space with tanks and an area for gymnastics.
From North to South, inside the covered area there were the typical roman thermal baths spaces:
Frigidarium: pool with cold water characterized by a half-round tank (covered by marbles in ancient times). In front of it there were three arches (the ones you can see now have been rebuilt afterwards); crossing them Romans entered in a space for meetings and conversations. In there was found the base of baby Hercules’ sculpture, which is now preserved inside the Archaeological Museum.
Tepidarium: lukewarm space between Frigidarium and Calidarium.
Calidarium: the pool with hottest water. It was warmed up by two ovens situated in the next room; at present ovens are visible and partially rebuilt, so it is possible to understand how they worked: the warm air came from under the floor (higher than the other rooms because of some little tile pillars) and spread out of the walls through perforated bricks (tubuli), that formed a sort of simple pipe. In southern side, there is still the labrum, the pool for taking a bath after sweating.
As the theatre, Roman thermal baths were early rebuilt during the 3rd century AD and, during the next century, they were abandoned and used like a cemetery.
The Etruscan-Roman temple was built between the second half of the fourth century BC and the second century BC, although the area was in use for sacred rituals at least from the seventh century BC, and was excavated in the early twentieth 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 would suggest a Hellenistic bronze depicting an owl found nearby and now in the museum). In front of the temple there is a small altar stone sandstone decorated (IV century BC – III century BC). In republican times the temple was rebuilt, raised and enlarged both on the wings and on the front, partly reusing the walls of the previous building. The staircase, well preserved, has seven steps and reaches the stylobateon which stood the columns of the portico, surmounted by the pediment of the temple. The longer part of the stylobate suggests that the portico connected the temple to the Collegium.
On the left you can see the bases of three remaining columns of the portico that surrounded the cell. Among these ruins bronze and silver coins have been found (III century BC – X century). In this place, moreover, the remains of a barbaric burial site from the Lombard period (VII – VIII century) were found, built on an area of the cell and the ruins of a Christian temple, built on the remains of the pagan one around the third century.
In 1872 ruins of a monumental staircase, that seemed to be part of a roman building, was discovered in the western side of the archaeological area; in 1923, after the total excavation of the staircase and the pedestal, archaeologists understood that the building was a roman temple (4th century BC). New excavations between 1952 and 1965 also brought to light the etruscan temple (6th century BC).
We know few things about the ancient etruscan temple because the only evidences found by archaeologists are part of the architectural decoration: nowadays inside the Museum it’s possible to see the carved polychrome shingles (maybe shaped like a Gorgon) that were upon the extremities of the roof. The earlier etruscan temple was 1probably destroyed and, at the beginning of the 4th century BC, another hellenistic temple, whose elevation is now still partially preserved, was built over it: a staircase (visible beyond the roman one) led to a little colonnade (pronao) in front of the sacred room reserved to the god’s worship (naos). Beside it there were two storages and down the staircase it’s still present an altar. Part of a votive ditch has been found into the naos, the central red painted room; archaeologists have found votive bronzes and coins; a little bronze owl suggests the temple was dedicated to Minerva. During the 1st century BC the building was destroyed by fire, probably after the roman conquest of the city in 90 BC.
Afterwards the Etruscan temple’s ruins were included in the new and bigger roman temple; it had, like the earlier building, an altar in front of the staircase. In southern side was built a colonnade for pilgrims’ rest. The temple has been used until the 3rd century AD, when the altar and the staircase were buried to build the new road between temple and thermal baths.
When Longobards arrived in Fiesole at the end of the 6th century AD the ancient sacred area of the city became a burial ground zone; between 1910 and 1912, in fact, a lot of male and female graves were discovered there. Inside them, there were grave goods, composed of iron, glass, bronze and baked clay objects. Other Longobard tombs were recently dug in the centre of Fiesole, behind the City Hall. Inside the archaeological museum is possible to see the grave goods and three recreated Longobard tombs.
In the esplanade there are also: the door of an Etruscan tomb of the III century BC; a tomb from the time of the barbarian invasions (4th century or 5th century), leftovers from epigraphs and decorations, pillars with architectural motifs.
Furthermore, the north side is closed by the ancient walls of Fiesole, built by the Etruscans with large blocks of sandstone.
Museums of Fiesole
The Museums of Fiesole are constituted by the Archaeological Area, in which are the remains of the ancient theater, of the Etruscan and Roman temples and temples, by the Archaeological Museum, which contains finds from the Etruscan, Roman and Lombard Fiesole as well as important ceramic collections and from the Bandini Museum which houses the collection of the Bandini Canon in which paintings and terracotta from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance are exhibited.
The museum was built by the architect Ezio Cerpi between 1912 and 1914 in the shape of a Roman temple of Ionic style, and preserves finds from Fiesole and its territory and private donations, including the Costantini Collection of Greek, Magno-Greek and Etruscan and the Albites Collection, with valuable Roman sculptures. Among the finds coming from Fiesole and from the territory there is a fragment of a bronze statue perhaps of a Capitoline she-wolf dated between the Etruscan age and the first century BC, “Fiesolan” stele in sandstone from the archaic Etruscan period, and cinerary urns Etruscan (on one of them the theme of the Wild Boar of Meleager is depicted in bas – relief), as well as votive bronzes, Etruscan and Roman ceramics, terracotta and bronze lamps, and other objects of the Etruscan and Roman period. The museum also displays some Lombard burials found in Fiesole, weapons, jewelry and other medieval objects.