Anne's Blog

In Spello, a Parking Lot Hides Roman Treasures

Date: November 14, 2020 - categories: , , - 1 Comment

Once again, my mantra “only in Italy” is most fitting:   after all, where else might you find the splendid mosaic floor of a Roman villa when digging out a parking lot?

It happened in 2005 in Spello when they were about to enlarge the parking lot not far from the glorious Roman city gate of the 1st-c B.C., Porta Consolare:

If you pass that medieval tower flanking the Roman arch, you’ll see indications to that parking lot.  Fortunately, that plot of land had never been used for construction of a building or the Roman villa floor adorned with stunning mosaics would have been heavily damaged, if not completely destroyed. – and for this reason, the construction workers immediately knew they had unearthed a treasure:  mosaic tesserae (tiles) peered out through the dirt.

A call was made immediately to the office in Perugia of  Dottoresss Maria Rosa Salvatore, at that time Superintendent of the Cultural Heritage of Umbria.  Dr. Salvatore headed immediately to the parking lot site in Spello;  at the site, she was instantly aware of the archaeological treasure which had peeked out.

In an interview, la Dottoressa affirmed that she was aware of the dilemma: the spellani needed  the planned parking lot. She made it clear to the city authorities of Spello  – “who understood fully, though not all the people did” – that “you are losing a parking lot but gaining a huge resource.”

Restoration of the 500 sq. meters of mosaic splendor took over ten years…

…..and the work .included the building of a protective structure over the mosaics:

Thanks to financing contributed by the Region of Umbria, the Italian government and the European community,  Spello’s Villa dei Mosaici opened to the public in March, 2018.

…..and to celebrate the opening, a group of twenty of Spello’s infioratori (creators of the floral tapestries carpeting the Spello streets each year for the Feast of Corpus Domini) created an infiorata (floral tapestry) of ten square meters inside the Villa dei Mosaici. A Roman consul was created in flowers, flanking one of the mosaics…..

And above the mosaic, the infioratori had created a floral image of one of Spello’s Roman city gates, Porta Venere, flanked by its two medieval towers, le Torri di Properzio.

Guglielmo Sorci, president of the Associazone degli Infioratori di Spello, shared the sentiments of his collaborators that day:

“We feel very tied to the history of the villa for as creators of the flower petal tapestries we share in the patience needed by those who created the mosaics so many years ago – that same patience with which the infioratori adorn with petals and flowers the huge tapestries which trace the streets of Spello on the Feast of Corpus Domini”

Archeologists date the stunning villa to the 2nd and 3rd-c. A.D. and surmise that an enterprising, wealthy citizen had decided on construction of his family villa just outside of the Roman walls of Hispellum.

This was a flourishing period for Roman Hispellum, thanks to its inclusion in the Rescript of Emperor Constantine (mid-4th-c. A.D.).  Ranking this Roman municipium among the cities distinguished for beauty and appearance, Constantine therefore replied affirmatively to three requests from Hispellum. 

Implored to give his family name to the city, Constantine officially  re-named Hispellum “Flavia Constans.”  The Emperor granted permission for the requested building of a temple called “Templum Flaviae Gentis” (i. e., a temple of Constantine’s Flavian family).  Thirdly, the citizens requested  an annual Hispellum festival presided by a selected priest involving gladiatorial games and theatrical presentations:  previously, a designated priest had been sent to Volsinii (Bolsena) to represent them at the festival there.

Found in the 18-century near Spello’s Roman amphitheater, Constantine’s edict is one of the treasures of Spello, incised in marble and housed in Spello’s Palazzo Comunale (city hall):

 

I’ve no doubt that the residents of Spello’s villa dei mosaici also celebrated the rescritto – perhaps hosting banquets in their triclinium, guests feasting from reclining lounge chairs set out around three sides of the stunning mosaic floor, the motifs celebrating the seasons.

Those guests  must have admired the mosaic splendor at their feet.

The villa still astounds:

Read about memorable visits to Spello’s Roman mosaics

Click here to read about other Roman treasures of Spello

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