Thursday, February 26, 2009

Caffarella Valley: an oasis of nature in Rome

This afternoon we took a picnic lunch to the Caffarella Valley, located between two ancient Roman roads, Via Appia and Via Latina, and just about 2 km from our home. The Almone River runs through this valley from the Alban Hills to the Tiber River. It provides Roman landscapes, almost as they were viewed by the ancient Romans.

This is a view of the site of Bosco Sacro (the Sacred Wood)
first planted by Herodes Atticus in the 1st century. 

Starting in the 2nd century BC this valley was inhabited mainly by burial grounds and tombs. (This is the area with the catacombs of St. Sebastian and St. Calistus.) Big villas started appearing in the Imperial Age. During the middle ages the area around the Via Appia belonged to Counts of Tuscolo. The abundance of water in the valley made it a good agricultural area, with several water-powered mills. In 1529 most of the valley was brought together into the estate of the Caffarelli family. In the 1950s, the urban expansion of Rome almost covered the valley with a “concrete flood.” The efforts of concerned Roman citizens persuaded politicians to make this valley part of the Appia Antica Regional Park.

 The Nymphaeum of Egeria

We ate our lunch near the Nymphaeum of Egeria. The nymph Egeria was one of the lesser goddesses associated with water and springs. Legend has it that at this place Egeria would meet Numa Pompilius (715-673 BC), the second king of Rome, to talk and make love. Here was where the nymph inspired her lover-king to design the laws and basis of the religious system of ancient Rome.

The 2nd century AD structure was restored in 1999. The fountain’s spring water travels from its source by terra cotta pipes and comes out from the large niche under the reclining stature of the god Almone. The side niches were probably for statues of river divinities. The walls were originally covered in white and green marble.

We also walked to the Casale della Vaccareccia, the farmhouse built in the 16th century when the valley was the Caffarelli estate. It was built around a 13th century tower that you can see rising from the roof on the right side of the farmhouse roof, behind the tree.

As we left the valley we passed the ancient Temple of Ceres and Faustina which was transformed in the 9th century to a church dedicated to St. Urban, a bishop who was martyred at the time of Marcus Aurelius.

No comments: