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Excavation campaigns


In 1993, Monte Tuscolo was purchased by the XI Mountain District "Roman Castles and Prenestini Mountains" which set out to develop the environmental-historic aspects of the area, to the benefits of the Tusculum territory municipalities. In particular, the Agency proposed to develop the archaeological start, above all by safeguarding the remains which, at that time, were subject to looting and burglary. In fact, the area was fenced off and research immediately started, conducted by the Escuela Española de Historia y Arqueología (Spanish School of History and Archaeology) in Rome.  Thanks to a precious contribution from the Spanish government — which has co-financed the ELEVEN excavation campaigns performed to date — new monuments have been brought to light such as the ancient Roman basilica or Hall of Justice found two years ago, the Forum, the Theatre and two temples: one dedicated to the god Mercury, the other to Hercules. Thus the historic phases of the city have been completely revamped, correcting the reconstruction offered by 19th and mid-20th century archaeologists such as Canina or Borda.

New dating techniques and research have enabled the archaeologists of the Spanish School of History and Archaeology in Rome (CSIC) directed by Prof. Xavier Dupré (who passed away in April 2006) to identify several layers reflecting various periods in the life of the city. The oldest traces found, dated to the initial phases of the Iron Age, prove that Tusculum has very ancient origins — around the 10th century BC; tradition, however, has it founded by the son of Ulysses (Telegonus) in the 13th century BC. Other remains — such as an ancient fountain (6th-5th century BC), small temples dedicated to Mercury and Hercules — have confirmed that Tusculum did indeed have a Latin phase which lasted to 381 BC, the date on which this important city-state surrendered to the Romans. This kicked off the third phase in Tusculum's history, the so-called Roman phase. During this period the city became a major urban hub and, starting in the 2nd century BC, prime summer retreat for the most important people of the times like Marcus Porcius Cato and Marcus Tullius Cicero.

The Roman basilica or Hall of Justice that was brought to light during the last excavation campaign (2002) was built during the years the great orator lived in Tusculum. Another important building is the Theatre. Built in the early 1st century BC, it underwent major expansion during the reign of Emperor Tiberius who had strong ties with Tusculum. Instead, greater controversy revolves around the dating of the Amphitheatre, a structure which has not yet been fully excavated. Again, according to the reconstruction by the Spanish School, after a period of crisis following the fall of the Roman Empire (476 AD), the city of Tusculum once more became a powerful county during the Middle Ages when it was dominated by the Counts of Tusculum , opponents of the Papacy which destroyed them in 1191. We do have some remains from this phase of the city's history: remnants of the homes that once occupied the ancient Roman forum area, an interesting nave-and-aisle church of the Eastern rite, most likely dedicated to Saint Nilus, and the foundations of the Grottaferratta Abbey. 


At the close of the 11th archaeological excavation — performed by the Escuela Española de Historia y Arqueología en Roma (CSIC) in the forum area (south sector: Roman Hall of Justice/east sector: Theatre) of the ancient city of Tusculum — the following results had been achieved:

Definition of the southernmost limit of the city forum and precise indication of the eastern end of the southernmost section of the piazza.

The works performed have identified the formal characteristics of the Roman Hall of Justice (45 x 23 m), build around the mid 1st century BC. This rectangular building opening on the forum square has a central hall marked by a colonnade counting nine ionic columns on the long sides and four on the short sides. At the axis of the Roman basilica or Hall of Justice, an overhanging body facing toward the valley has been brought to light, identified as the tribunal, that point in such basilicas where the magistrates sat in judgement.

The architectural features of a second monumental building (10 x 23 m) has also been defined to the east of the Roman Hall of Justice. This is a large rectangular structure built on powerful concrete foundations, the inside presenting a large substruction vault. Future studies will tell us what this structure was used for.

The southern sector of the forum was an imposing, terraced structure, clearly visible from the underlying Latina Way which, downstream of the forum, included a large cistern (50 m in length) to collect rainwater. A major result of this year's campaign traced out of the full path followed by the rainwater. Gathered and decanted on the forum piazza, the water was then channelled through underground ducts to a large reservoir that fed a monumental fountain open on one of the roads on the southern side of the city.

The outer limit of the cavea or subterranean cells in the theatre area, east of the forum, and the structural relationship between these and the cistern at the back of the building have now been defined. Stratigraphic excavation has further clarified the date of the theatre's construction, around 75-50 BC.

The digs performed have confirmed prior observations, proving that this area was well settled during the middle Ages (11th-12th centuries). Indeed, the period when the city was controlled by the Counts of Tusculum saw the ancient Roman structures systematically stripped away. In particular, the ancient stone building blocks were reused for medieval constructions.

Among the various finds — the classification of which has enabled us to identify when the various layers were formed — worthy of particular note are the many small fragments of sculptural elements and architectural decorations, the base of a column and a silver coin (minted in 98 BC.) in superb condition.

The architectural structures — which at the time of their discovery required emergency intervention — have now been consolidated to ensure conservation.


Works management:

Xavier Dupré – Assistant Director Escuela Española de Historia y Arqueología en Roma (CSIC)


17 archaeologists from different Spanish universities (Tarragona, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona, Cáceres)
8 Italian scholarship holders from different universities (Rome, Viterbo, Bologna, Verona),

The 2005 excavation campaign was financed by:

Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)
Ministerio de Cultura
XI Lazio Mountain District “Roman Castles and Prenestini Mountains”


Lazio Superintendency for Archaeological Heritage (Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities)
Municipality of Monteporzio Catone
Gruppo Archeologico Latino (GAL)


The excavation campaign envisaged for September 2008 in the ancient monumental centre of Tusculum falls under the much broader research project being carried forward for over a decade by the Spanish School of History and Archaeology in cooperation with the Lazio Superintendency for Archaeology and thanks to the fundamental support of the XI Mountain District. In fact, after an inexplicable interruption, the Spanish School resumed archaeological research in the city of Tusculum in 1994, carrying forward the fortunate campaigns performed by Biondi, Canina and Borda in the 19th and early 20th centuries. To understand how such a vast, ambitious research project like the “Tusculum” project — currently the most important Spanish project of archaeological research outside the Iberian peninsula — could be possible, we need to consider that, over the last thirteen years, the project saw the collaboration of various Spanish universities and research centres (the Universities of La Rioja, País Vasco, Murcia and Alicante, as well as the Catalogna-Empúries Museum of Archaeology and the Consortium of the Monumental City of Mérida). Moreover, thanks to scholarships established by the XI Mountain District, since 1996, young Italian researchers have participated in the digs, bringing to life a mutually profitable Italian-Spanish cooperation which, over the years, has never wavered. The main credit for the growth and development of the Tusculum project in these years goes to the person who, from 1994 until last year, was the heart and soul of the project: the dearly missed Xavier Dupré. With his trademark passion and enthusiasm, this Assistant Director of the Spanish School laid the foundations for a solid research project that has renewed itself over the years, always open to new topics and scientific objectives. The premature passing of Prof. Dupré inevitably brought excavations to an abrupt halt. Today, however, just over a year after the new management of the Spanish School was named, they are ready to resumed work with renewed vigour. In recent months, the foundations have been laid for a new phase of research in the “Tusculum” project. Works will be resumed with a new internal organization, new goals to expand research and investments for publication of the results. We of the old guard will be flanked by young scholars with all their enthusiasm and the Spanish School itself will soon move into new headquarters in the archaeological heart of Rome, just behind the Trajan Column, in a building offering four times the space currently available. Last year's pause was a time for reflection, a time to review the current situation and assess the results achieved thus far. In fact, during these years, the project has achieved many goals. First and foremost, the Tusculum experience has helped train a series of young specialists in various fields of research including historiography, classic and medieval archaeology, epigraphy, classic art history, and so many more. 


A project is currently underway to restore the forum and theatre area so that the monumental centre of the city exhumed by excavations can be visited by the general public. The main goal is to consolidate those structures in precarious condition and work on some monuments — such as the basilica or Hall of Justice in the forum, a structure that was significantly damaged by reuse in the Middle Ages and excavations in the last century —, rendering them easier for the general public to understand. To this purpose, in agreement with the Superintendency, simple insights were applied such as restoring the levels of the ancient walkways and marking structural elements that are no longer visible. The restoration project is strictly functional, linked to another major work: opening an itinerary to visit the monumental archaeological area to the general public within a few months. The itinerary will start out on the western side of the forum and, from there, pass by the main monuments in the centre of the city — the theatre and the “ancient fountain”. This route has a series of explanatory panels that lay out the history and urban evolution of the city over the centuries, from ancient times until its final destruction in 1191. Moreover, an archaeological guide to the city will soon be published — part of the “Museum Grand Tour” series covering all the museums and archaeological sites within the municipalities falling within the XI Lazio Mountain District. However, scientific publication will continue. Indeed, a third volume of the monographic series on Tusculum — issued by Bibliotheca Italica — dealing with the excavations performed outside the city is slated for publication soon. These excavations have brought to light an extremely interesting nave-and-aisle church dated to the late 10th-early 11th century and historically identified with the renown Church of Sant’Agata where Saint Nilus ended his earthly life. The volume will be accompanied by a CD-ROM containing a 3D reconstruction of the building showing its architectural evolution in time. In addition, a fourth volume in the series — on the most famous monument of Tusculum: the Roman theatre — is currently in the works, with publication expected in 2008. Moreover, there are plans to resume organizing specialization courses in classical archaeology — three such courses were held in the summers of 2001, 2002 and 2003, respectively focusing on “Classical Roman topography and urban planning”, “the Etruscans” and “Republican Rome”. Thus a new cycle of activity is ensuing, the organization and goals have been partially revised, updated, always working in conjunction with the Lazio Superintendency for Archaeology and with the XI Mountain District. 


As regards excavations, before proceeding with and setting up new research products, it is essential at this stage to answer the questions left open with the death of Prof. Dupré. In fact, some problems arose during the 2005 campaign, questions which are still open and which a robust team of archaeologists from the Universities of Murcia and País Vasco, Tarragona and the Spanish School will seek to answer by performing works in the sectors highlighted in red. In particular, as regards the southern sector of the forum, the south-west edge of the Roman Hall of Justice was uncovered in September 2005 and, to the east of this, another, rather monumental building was found, a facility hypothesized to be a temple or curia. This basilica or hall of justice dates to around the mid 1st century BC and has a rectangular layout measuring 14 x 23 m. The side facing the forum is open and has a central hall marked by a portico bearing nine ionic columns on the long sides and 4 on the short sides. Along the axis of the building, an architectural body has been found which may have been the basilica's tribunal. However, further excavation is required to confirm or refute this interpretation, and to more precisely define distribution within the building and its chronology. The second building, found to the east of the basilica is also monumental, with a rectangular layout of 10 x 23 m and open toward the forum's central square. As previously mentioned, it has been posited that the facility may have been a curia or a temple; however, only additional research will be able to establish what its original function really was. Moreover, during surface cleaning, a large cistern (nearly 50 m wide) was found between the southernmost limit of the basilica and a road running up toward the forum; this structure was used to gather rainwater runoff from the piazza, channelling it through a system of underground ducts. The façade of the cistern opening onto the road has an articulation typical of monumental fountains and this, too, will be the object of future excavation. As regards the south-western sector, the 2008 campaign sets out to analyze in greater detail the remains of the temple dedicated to the god Mercury, dated to the late Roman Republic period, and located at a prime site at the entrance to the forum. Finally, the archaeological works to be performed in the north-eastern sector will define the relationship between the Roman theatre and the remains of the forum's northern portico, the aim being to reconstruct pedestrian traffic routes. After this last campaign in 2008, new archaeological research can be set up in parts of the city that have not yet been studied, areas which, according to recent historic and topographic research, may yield very interesting results, not only as regards the city's history, but also for future opening of the zone to public view under the broader framework for the creation of an archaeological park. By way of example, for some time now the Spanish School has been considering expanding research into the fortress area where historic sources, topographic data and some rare archaeological data — drawn from the excavations performed by Canina — hint at the existence of a rich, vibrant medieval city developed between the late 10th and late 12th centuries. At that time the site was the capital of the aristocratic Tusculum faction that controlled not only the Latina Valley region, but even Rome itself and, in particular, the Papal State and the main imperial charges of the times. And who knows, perhaps this project could finally come into being in 2009, kicking off a new season of excavations in pursuit of the goals already laid out, but enhanced with new scientific goals.