Anne's Blog

In Assisi, Hidden Treasures in the Roman Amphitheater

Date: June 19, 2021 - categories: , , , , , - Leave your thoughts

Assisi’s Piazza Matteotti is not just an accessible parking lot on the east end of town…..

…but also site of vestiges of Roman Asisium:   the parking area was built on the site of Roman structures, probably the circo (circus, site of chariot races), visible in the upper righthand corner of this map of Assisi romana.
Visitors coming back to the parking lot after exploring Assisi, can enter the lower level of the parking lot through a Roman via tecta (a covered road – or gallery)  and as I walk it, I often think of excited Romans centuries ago anticipating the chariot races on their way into the circus or perhaps gladiatorial battles enroute to the anfiteatro  near the circus:

That tunnel leads to the crumbled sustaining walls of the circus on the lower level of the parking lot:

Across the street from this parking lot in a charming neighborhood, medieval homes loop in an ellipsis round a garden:  this was once site of the 1st-c. A.D. Roman amphitheater.

Sometimes, I have seen confused visitors scrutinizing their Assisi map in this area, then looking around, puzzled..  They’re looking for the ampitheater.

I’ll now and then stop to let them know that  medieval houses are built over the area of the foundations but little remains of that amphitheater with seventeen thousand seats.

The houses in local pink limestone lining a curvy lane are the sign of the pre-existing structure:

On one side of the amphitheater, the local lavatoio (communal wash area) used to draw together the Assisi signore  who chatted as they scrubbed their wash.  

Even up until the 1970’s, women would wash quilts and blankets there (with other items put into their washing machines):

Angelo Maccabei’s photo (he’s the bambino you see) immortalizes those past Assisi wash-days:

The pink local limestone slabs on which they scrubbed slanted downwards towards the basins full of water…. Next to the wash area is the Fonte Perlici of the 13th-centuryand the inscription in Gothic characters to the left of the fountain affirms date of the fountain and sponsorship by the local Capitano del Popolo (he who kept order in the medieval towns):

Four coats-of-arms surmount the fountain, including that of Assisi, the cross:

On the other side of the wall of the fountain, an animal is sculpted in 1294 – perhaps a bear, sometimes used for combat in the amphitheater.  Or the animal might be a beaver, an animal associated with water sources. The fountain had been built above all for use by the lanieri (those who worked in wool) and tintori (those who dyed fabrics) as they were not allowed to work within the Roman walls during the Middle Ages.

The flour mill was incoporated into the amphitheater many centuries later, though closed now. I remember bringing our wheat and barley to the amphitheater for grinding in the late 1970’s.
That anfiteatro neighborhood hides many a treasure and Dr. Torretti and his family found quite a number  – both Roman and medieval –  during restoration of their home from 1994-1997 as a plaque in their courtyard indicates:

The wall with plaque is medieval but crumbling remnants of the 1st-A.D.Roman amphitheater wall flank that wall:

Years ago, kind – and justly proud – Dr. Torretti had invited me into the courtyard for a “tour” of the Roman excavations just completed.  He is elderly and recently took a fall but his (masked) caregiver, Luigi, opened the door to me recently so that I could take photos of this important Assisi archaeological site.

A battered yellow Ape (literally, “bumble bee” truck was parked in front of the gate opening into the Toppetti courtyard with a flowering yellow plant welcoming visitors just to the left of their front door:

With that Ape at your back, you’ll see remains of 1st-A.D. Roman amphitheater walls as you peer through that wrought iron gate:

Inside the Toppetti home, wooden beams spread out over limestone amphitheater-wall remnants:

A massive medieval arch curved over the dining room table with a section of Roman wall to the right:

On that section of Roman wall, pottery fragments – Roman to medieval – found during restoration were displayed, carefully labeled and with amphitheather wall backing those ceramic finds:

A window, framed with a medieval arch,  just behind the pottery looked out on the courtyard and I could see Roman wall backdropping the deep pink geranium plant:

Luigi and I went into the courtyard to view the massive sections of the mortar-less amphitheater wall of local limestone,…including a section which had probably collapsed in a past earthquake:

As during my first visit, the workmanship simply awed me.  And Luigi, too, for he told me,  “Even seeing these splendori daily, the skills of our ancestors amaze me.”

And how the Torretti family had enjoyed many an outdoor family feast among the amphitheater ruins.

A  colorful maiolica dining table is tucked into a covered area near the amphitheater wall, motorbikes nearby:

Assisi hides many a wonder – and sometimes, just behind a wrought-gate:

Mille grazie, Luigi, for taking time to share the splendors with me.

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Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)