The ancient Roman city of Veleia is located in the verdant hills of Lugagnano Val d’Arda in the province of Piacenza. Throughout the centuries its story has been told by renowned scholars from all over Europe, with intention of spreading its priceless historical and artistic value.
It has a recognizable strategic importance, in terms of its civil and military position in the area, of which was a vital aspect for the Empire.
In fact, it’s strongly linked to the discovery of the Tabula alimentaria; the longest inscription on a bronze tablet, from the Roman period, now kept at Parma’s National Archaeological Museum. The inscriptions note the loans granted to the local land owners by the Trojan Emperor, including details concerning the organization of the population and the social and economic structure of the territory.
Veleia’ fascination goes beyond the site’s architectural importance, but to the contoured features of the surrounding landscape. The Romans choice to settle here was also based on the pure enjoyment of the area’s environmental characteristics and therapeutic properties of water, which contains high levels of sodium chloride. The 73 ac. Vespasian/Titus Census revealed astonishing facts on the age of the locals, of which six inhabitants stated to have reached 110 years, four reached 120 years and one an impressive 140 years of age. Thus leading us to associate Veleia as the ancient city of well-being, where the fatigues of daily activities could be soothed at the thermal baths and the healthy diet provided strength and nourishment, not forgetting the miraculous powers of the local water with its high levels of sodium chloride.
The Boar house in Veleia is a clear example of a typical “atrium“ Roman house; this kind of dwelling shows how the experience of daily living was considered in a very different way from our modern concept.
The Roman house was a centre of social communication and self-representation: the facade on the street and the doorway reveal the status of the relevant owner; in addition, in the daytime, doorways were always open, and this allowed to look in depth inside, thanks to the “scenography” of the visual axes.
The organization of space and furniture contained several optical signals, aimed to the distinction of the representative areas and the merely private or functional spaces.
The Roman house safeguarded, as well, the memories of its origin. In fact the atrium that gives the name to the specific type of residence, in remote ages, represented the cornerstone of the family, and marks of this ancient destination still remain in some furnitures, such as the lararium, a sacred aedicule, with the images of the deities protectors of the family; the cartibulum, small table in memory of the hearth, and the lectus genialis, in memory of the destination of the wedding room.
Cispadana climate, colder than the Central Italy one where the atrium house is born, determined some modifications in the structure of the dwelling, with different functional charachteristics: the atrium lost its functions and the system of impluvium and compluvium disappear, replaced by a court provided of a reservoir; the function of storage is now carried out by the hallways (especially useful during wintertime) on which the living rooms open. In the end, the recognition of the main visual axis is represented by absidal locations that suggest, as well, a priority path.
Forum and Basilica
The forum is, for Roman people, the main square, the nucleus of the city, charachterized by a multiplicity of functions: it is a marketplace, a religious and political centre, a business centre, and so it represents a meeting point par excellence.
According to the instructions of the well-known architect Vitruvio, the forum would have been balanced to the number of inhabitants, it had to be of rectangular shape, and its largeness should have been two-thirds of its lenght.
Despite the fact that not always Vitruvio regulations had been respected, the Forum became the fulcrum of the urban planning. It was usually situated at the corner of the main way axes (kardo and decumanus), nearby the urban traffic, but not crossed by it; it could have been also located in a snug area, as it was in Veleia, in which a large system of terracing had been used.
Because of the multiplicity of its functions, the forum reflected the image of the city, it represented its shop window, and for this reason, both inside and outside, a lot of honorary monuments were built, dedicated to famous citizens or really important authorities: Veleia forum still hosts the base of two equestrian statues of Claudius and Vespasian with relevant dedications.
The forum was closed on its lenght sides by shops (tubernae), and on its short sides by the Capitolium, main temple of the city (not yet identified in Veleia) and by the basilica building. The basilica is, from a urban and functional point of view, a sort of continuatiun of the forum.
The basilica in Veleia, is placed on the short side of the forum, according to Vitruvio indications, providing in this way a proper space for the indoor implementation of all the activities hosted by the external forum, of which it represented the continuatiun.
The planimetry, with entry on the long side and two little rectangular exedra on the short sides, makes this basilica conform to the model proposed by Vitruvio, and diffused in the first half of I sec. BC.
In the Veleia basilica twelve marble statues were also been found, representing personalities of imperial family; this shows emblematically the acceptance of the ideology proposed by the Emperors members of the Julius-Claudius family.
The basilica, born as location for the judiciary and administrative authority, and for this reason symbol of the autonomy of the municipium, became the place designated for hosting the images of the imperial family, nearly an admonishment of the continuous omnipresence of the central power.
The Thermal Bath
The use of thermal water with therapeutic aims and the construction for the same aim of public buildings, is not an innovation invented by Roman, but only in the Roman world the practice of bath became a habit phenomenon, that involves every social class.
The great diffusion in the Roman empire of public baths is observable in Veleia too, where one of the main characteristic evidence is the thermal building, one of the best conserved of the Cisalpina Italy, clearly visible in the planimetry and functions of its locations.
Veleia thermal baths present the classic spaces with cold water (frigidarium), lukewarm (tepidarium) and hot water (calidarium), positioned across a longitudinal axis, according to a plan that is visible also in Pompei. The comparison with the thermal bath of this lattest city allows to build also the elevation with barrel vault and tanks along the short sides.
In Veleia we can find a perfectly preserved heating plant of the settings, with hypocaust and pillars, composed by bricks of circular shape, on which there is a plan of bipedal bricks. On this plan there was the real flooring, often composed of marble plate, a good conductor. The heating diffusion could be directed to the walls, through the realization of double partitions, with the diffusion of the same warm air that circulated under the flooring.
The presence in Veleia of a thermal bath has a particular meaning, referring to the presence of thermal water in this place.
The therapeutic properties of the water were well-known and used: the sweat phase was followed by a moment of relax in lukewarm ambients or immersions in cold water, massages or physical exercises in a daylong itinerary. The great care for the hygienic and health angles, and also the relax granted by a series of several optonial services (masseurs, unguents sale, hair removers and sale of food and beverages), persuaded people to spend a lot of time in thermal bath, which became in this way the place for meeting, business and for the creation of political alliances.
This practice was so diffused and appreciated, that soon people considered it as one of the most important pleasure of life; for this reason Roman said: “baths, wine and love will ruin us, but they make our life beautiful”!
How to get:
The archaeological site of Roman Veleia you reach exit at Fiorenzuola of the A1, and continuing for Carpaneto Piacentino and Veleia.
Weekday hours: December, January, February, from 9.00 to 15.00 – other times of the year from 9.00 to 18.30
Holiday opening: December, January, February, from 9.00 to 15.00 – other times of the year from 9.00 to 18.30.
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