Etrusco-Roman Temple, Fiesole

Etrusco-Roman Temple, Fiesole

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ARCHAEOLOGY | The archaeological area of Fiesole – Florence

The excavations in the archaeological area of Fiesole include a Roman theatre, the baths, an Etruscan-Roman temple and an archaeological museum, which houses finds dating from the third century BC to the second century BC

The archaeological area, bordered to the north by the Etruscan walls, preserves traces of Fiesole history: on the Etruscan temple of the 4th century BC, the Romans, after having conquered the city in the 1st century BC, built another temple and enriched the area with theatre and baths. Near the sacred area of the temple, a necropolis show the subsequent use of the area.

Roman Theatre

Built between the beginning of the first century BC and the beginning of the first century AD, it was the first building in the area to arouse interest and to be excavated: its ruins must have always been visible, if in the Middle Ages and in the following centuries the place was indicated by the villagers as “Buca delle Fate”, as evidence of some suggestive stories telling the Fairies of Fiesole, symbol of a happy time, had hidden themselves in dark cavities underground, in order not to see the horrible havoc that the Florentines made after having conquered the city in 1125.

In 1809 the Prussian Baron Friedman von Shellersheim, digging in search of precious objects, claimed to have found two rich sets in the ancient layouts of the theatre, but the news remains difficult to verify. The excavations for bringing the theatre to the light were systematically resumed in 1870 and ended between 1882 and 1900, with the reconstruction of the left side of the steps (cavea), also in view of public use.

The building had a large semicircular cavea, partly carved into the rock of the hill, and four main entrances (vomitoria), which gave access to the covered crypta gallery, which was to support a portico or another order of seats, of which, however, no traces remain. The cavea was divided into four sectors by means of narrow stairs, which allowed the public to take place more easily. Below is the orchestra and, opposite, the space dedicated to the theatrical representation a wall with a central niche (the pulpitum) frontally delimited the stage (proscenium), behind which stood three doored stage front (the scaena frons), of which no architectural layouts remain, but only the foundation and some marble decorations.

The Roman Baths

Behind the theatre there are the ruins of the baths, dating back to Sulla’s times (1st century BC), restored and enlarged in the Hadrian period. They were discovered in 1891, when, finally, it was possible to let three arches operating that have always been visible: they, in fact, constituted the terrace of the baths towards the valley.

The baths are located along the walls and consist of the three classic rooms of the calidarium, tepidarium and frigidarium, plus other tubs and rooms. A rectangular pool and two basins (one of which immersed) were used for public baths: on their bottom many amphorae were found, used to purify the water, collecting the impurities that went to the bottom.

There are the remains of rooms for water heating and the production of steam, which was distributed in the various rooms by means of lead or terracotta pipes. In the calidarium, characterized by the cocciopesto floor, boiling water arrived, while in the tepidarium (consisting of three basins) lukewarm water was collected and, finally, in the frigidarium there was cold water the frigidarium is divided by an arched layout (which has been rebuilt) which has a semicircular shape and is located next to the latrines. Perhaps there was also a cryptorticus that separated the basins. Some of the layouts were rebuilt following excavations.

The Temple

The Etruscan-Roman temple was built between the second half of the fourth century BC and the second century BC, although the area was in use for sacred rituals at least from the 7th century BC. It was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century and most likely corresponds to the ancient Fiesolano Capitolium .

The cell is the oldest part and is divided into three parts: this has led us to suppose that the temple was dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva (the latter is an attribution almost certain, as suggested by a Hellenistic bronze depicting an owl found nearby and now exhibited in the museum). In front of the temple there is a small decorated sandstone altar (4th century BC – 3rd century BC). In the Republican era the temple was rebuilt, raised and enlarged both on the wings and on the front, partly by reusing the walls of the previous building. The staircase, well preserved, has seven steps and reaches the stylobate on which stood the columns of the portico, surmounted by the pediment of the temple. The longest part of the stylobate suggests that the portico connected the temple to the Collegium.

On the left you can see the bases of three residual columns of the portico that surrounded the cell. Among these ruins were found bronze and silver coins (3rd century BC – 10th century AD). In this place, moreover, the remains of a barbarian burial ground from the Lombard period (7th-8th century AD) were found, built on an area of the cell, and the ruins of a Christian temple, built on the remains of the pagan one around the 3rd century AD


Fiesole lies on high ground, dominating the Arno Valley to the south and the Mugnone Valley to the north-west. It spreads over two hills, San Francesco and Sant’ Apollinare, and the saddle in between, where the modern town is situated.
There has been a human presence on the two hills, which from a distance evoke the characteristic shape of a sickle moon, and indeed are represented as such on the town’s crest, since as early as the Bronze Age (around 2000 BC).
Some form of settlement continued through to the Iron Age, during which the Etruscan civilization (circa 8th–4th century BC) gradually flourished. The main characteristics of this civilization was the use of a different language to that of the Italic and Latin populations, strong integration with the Hellenic culture, a political and territorial organization based on the city state, and a rich and complex economy. The primitive settlements on the hilltop were greatly developed into a distinct urban plan. An imposing ring of walls stretching for over two and a half kilometres (lengthy stretches of which can still be seen along the eastern and northern perimeter) were erected to defend Fiesole from northern invasion (the Gauls) and to control trade and communication routes between the Arno, central and southern Etruria and Etruscan cities in the Po Valley.

The most well-known and significant archaeological remains, which reveal the presence of a well-organized layout and a considerable level of development, date to the Hellenistic Age. The terracing, the construction of a temple and probably of other places of worship as well, the necropolis, and the walls that circle the two hills and the saddle between them suggest the extent of the city’s growth. In 217 BC, Fiesole seems to have been allied with Rome against Hannibal. However, in 90 BC, the city was destroyed by Marcus Porcius Cato for having adopted an anti-Roman stance in the Social War. Ten years later, it was Romanized by Sulla, who established a colony. Subsequently Fiesole was the centre of Catiline’s revolt against the Roman Republic, with the resulting consequences of another defeat.

From that time on, the city acquired the typical appearance of a Roman town, with a Forum – the political and commercial heart of the town, which was situated in the area now occupied by Piazza Mino – a theatre (built in the Augustan Age) and a new temple, erected over an earlier Etruscan temple. The layout of the city remained almost unchanged until the second half of the 19th Century.

In the age of the comuni, Fiesole was finally conquered by Florence in 1125, amidst widespread destruction. Florence needed to exert direct control over the contado – the rural area in its immediate vicinity – as a necessary prerequisite for establishing the comune as a city state.
The story goes that the conflict between Fiesole and Florence was sparked off by a trivial incident: a Florentine merchant was robbed in Fiesole. To gain revenge, the Florentines attempted to occupy Monte Ceceri, the plan being to descend and surround Fiesole from above. Although Fiesole managed to hold out, partly due to the arrival of winter, hostilities resumed the following summer, and, despite stubborn resistance by its inhabitants, in the following year (1125) the Florentines entered Fiesole and brought it under their yoke.
This marked the decline of the city, which was reduced to a heap of ruins and was used as a source of building materials for the nearby dominant city. Fiesole thus became part of the legacy of ancient memories and of legends about the origins of Florence that are recalled by Dante in his Divine Comedy.
Florence granted administrative autonomy to Fiesole, which imitated it in the organization of its public offices, with a podestà, gonfalonieri and craft and professional guilds. Impetus for the intellectual and spiritual life of Fiesole was provided by two major religious orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans. The former settled on the western hill on the spot occupied by the ancient fortified stronghold, hence the name San Francesco, setting up what became the oldest Franciscan convent in Tuscany. The Dominicans based themselves in San Domenico, whose importance is reflected in some of the illustrious figures who spent time there: Domenico Buonvicini, Sant’ Antonino and Giovanni da Fiesole, known as Angelico.

Few traces of the medieval period remain today. Apart from some architectural and urban features in the eastern area of Borgunto, what has survived was remodelled in the 19th Century. Much of the Gothic-style architecture, especially around Fiesole, was reconstructed in the 19th and early 20th Century, an expression of a late Romantic taste of Anglo-Saxon origin. Indeed, from the 17th Century onwards, many well-known travellers, artists and writers began to sojourn in Fiesole, leaving memories and traces of their presence in the local and Tuscan culture. The peak of this foreign presence was undoubtedly the 19th Century.

In 1873 work began to excavate the Roman theatre, under the direction of Marquis Carlo Strozzi. The dig was then extended to the thermal spa complex and the Roman-Etruscan temple, leading to the gradual definition of the urban archaeological area. The Municipal Museum was established five years later to display the antiquities of Fiesole, quickly becoming one of the finest museums of its kind in unified Italy and bringing sweet revenge over Florence, the former ruling power. Later moved to new premises on the current site, the duly reorganized museum houses the principal archaeological finds made in Fiesole and the surrounding area.

The current premises of the Bandini Museum were erected in 1913 to house the collection of 12th- to 15th-century paintings set up in the Oratory of Sant’ Ansano by the humanist Angelo Maria Bandini, the librarian of the Laurenziana Library in Florence and Canon of the chapter house of Fiesole Cathedral.

Some years later, the Missionary Museum of Ethnography was established in the Convent of San Francesco. It houses items collected by missionary monks in Egypt and China, and interesting archaeological finds from Fiesole.

The extension of the city boundaries of Florence, decided upon in 1865 following the constitution of the Italian State, resulted in Fiesole losing significant portions of territory: Rovezzano, Settignano, Pellegrino, Coverciano and Mensola. However, indelible traces of their shared history with Fiesole can be seen in settlements of great historic and artistic interest, high-quality street and water systems, and tasteful, highly functional parks and gardens.

In the early 1980s, the Primo Conti Foundation and the Museum of Historic Avant-garde Movements was established at the foot of the hill on the northern side. Facing onto Via Fra’ Beato Angelico is the Giovanni Michelucci Foundation, an active social, urban planning and architectural research centre. Art and documentary exhibitions are held at Palazzina Mangani.
The Municipal Library and the Municipal Historic Archives are a good reference source for anyone interested in learning more about and researching the history of the area. The rich and extremely well-organized Ecclesiastical Archives of the bishopric may also be consulted by scholars.


The early Etruscans seem to have worshipped in open air enclosures, marked off but not built over sacrifices continued to be performed outside rather than inside temples in traditional Roman religion until its end. It was only around 600 BC, at the height of their civilization, that they began to create monumental temples, undoubtedly influenced by the Greeks. [4] That these buildings developed essentially from the largest types of Etruscan house has been both asserted and challenged. [5]

Usually, only the podium or base platform used stone, with the upper parts of wood and mud-brick, greatly reducing what survives for archaeologists. [6] However, there is evidence for the portico columns sometimes using stone, as at Veii. [7] This has left much about Etruscan temples uncertain. The only written account of significance on their architecture is by Vitruvius (died after 15 BC), writing some two centuries after the Etruscan civilization was absorbed by Rome. He describes how to plan a "Tuscan temple" that appears to be a Roman "Etruscan-style" (tuscanicae dispositiones) temple of a type perhaps still sometimes built in his own day, rather than a really historically-minded attempt to describe original Etruscan buildings, though he may well have seen examples of these. [8]

Many aspects of his description fit what archaeologists can demonstrate, but others do not. It is in any case clear that Etruscan temples could take a number of forms, and also varied over the 400-year period during which they were being made. [9] Nonetheless, Vitruvius remains the inevitable starting point for a description, and a contrast of Etruscan temples with their Greek and Roman equivalents. There are also a few model temples in pottery, and depictions on tombs or vases. Remains of the architectural terracotta elements sometimes survive in considerable quantities, and museums, mostly in Italy, have good collections of attractively shaped and painted antefixes in particular. [10]

Vitruvius specifies three doors and three cellae, one for each of the main Etruscan deities, but archaeological remains do not suggest this was normal, though it is found. [11] Roman sources were in the habit of ascribing to the Etruscans a taste for triads in things such as city planning (with three gates to cities, for example), in ways that do not seem to reflect reality. [12] The orientation of the temple is not consistent, and may have been determined by a priest watching the flight of birds at the time of foundation. [13]

The exteriors of both Greek and Roman temples were originally highly decorated and colourful, especially in the entablature and roofs, and this was if anything even more true of Etruscan temples. When wood was used for columns, the bases and capitals were often encased in painted terracotta. [14] All the edges of the roof were decorated, mostly in brightly painted terracotta, and there seem often to have been a row of sculptures along the central ridge of the roof, going beyond the acroterion group above a pediment in Greek and Roman temples. The Apollo of Veii was part of an acroterion group. [15] Substantial but broken remains of late sculptured pediment groups survive in museums, in fact rather more than from Greek or Roman temples, partly because the terracotta was not capable of "recycling" as marble was. The groups from Luni and Talamone (both now in Florence) are among the most impressive. [16]

Features shared by typical Etruscan and Roman temples, and contrasting with Greek ones, begin with a strongly frontal approach, with great emphasis on the front facade, less on the sides, and very little on the back. The podia are also usually higher, and can only be entered at a section of the front, just presenting a blank platform wall elsewhere. There may only be columns at the front portico. [17] In Etruscan temples, more than Roman ones, the portico is deep, often representing, as Vitruvius recommends, half of the area under the roof, with multiple rows of columns. [18]

At least in later temples, versions of Greek Aeolic, Ionic and Corinthian capitals are found, as well as the main Tuscan order, a simpler version of the Doric, but the attention to the full Greek detailing in the entablature that the Romans pursued seems to have been lacking. fluted Tuscan/Doric columns can also be found, against Greek and later Roman conventions. [19]

Etruscan architecture shared with Ancient Egyptian architecture the use of large cavetto mouldings as a cornice, though not on the same massive scale. The cavetto took the place of the Greek cymatium in many temples, often painted with vertical "tongue" patterns (as in the reconstructed Etruscan temple at Villa Giulia, illustrated above), and combined with the distinctive "Etruscan round moulding", often painted with scales. [20]

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Edit

The first building of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill was the oldest large temple in Rome, dedicated to the Capitoline Triad consisting of Jupiter and his companion deities, Juno and Minerva, and had a cathedral-like position in the official religion of Rome. Its first version was traditionally dedicated in 509 BC, [21] but in 83 BC it was destroyed by fire, and was rebuilt as a Greek-style temple, which was completed in 69 BC (there were to be two more fires and new buildings). For the first temple Etruscan specialists were brought in for various aspects of the building, including making and painting the extensive terracotta elements of the entablature or upper parts, such as antefixes. [22] But for the second building they were summoned from Greece.

The first version is the largest Etruscan temple recorded, [23] and much larger than other Roman temples for centuries after. However, its size remains heavily disputed by specialists based on an ancient visitor it has been claimed to have been almost 60 m × 60 m (200 ft × 200 ft), not far short of the largest Greek temples. [24] Whatever its size, its influence on other early Roman temples was significant and long-lasting. [25] Reconstructions usually show very wide eaves, and a wide colonnade stretching down the sides, though not round the back wall as it would have done in a Greek temple. [26] A crude image on a coin of 78 BC shows only four columns, and a very busy roofline. [27]

Temple plan, following Vitruvius and the Portonaccio Minerva temple, with three doors

Etrusco-Roman Temple, Fiesole - History

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Etrusco-Roman Temple, Fiesole - History

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The Roman "Faesulae" boasts Etruscan origins and was the region's epicenter for quite some time. Fortified in 1325, it was also a Medici family favorite. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Fiesole witnessed the construction of many villas and gardens, becoming a top destination among foreigners. And besides its rich history and culture, it's easy to reach! Hop in a taxi or take the bus (line 7) to get there.

If you’re in Florence, don't forget to add Fiesole to your list of day trips. Located on a hilltop overlooking the Arno and Mugnone valleys, this charming town offers an unrivaled view of Florence and its surroundings. Fiesole’s beautiful countryside, archaeological remains and wealth of artistic masterpieces will blow you away.

Here are a few treasures not to miss:

Fiesole’s main cathedral is a Romanesque structure that was enlarged in the 13th and 14th centuries, though the façade and bell tower (dating to 1213) were both remodeled in the 19th century. Inside, works by Giovanni della Robbia, Bicci di Lorenzo and Mino da Fiesole adorn the church, not to mention the Salutati Chapel vaunting frescoes by Cosimo Rosseli.

In an enchanting setting and mysterious atmosphere, you’ll find a Roman theater of the Imperial era vaunting seats for over 3000 spectators. The area also includes thermae (bath complexes), a Roman temple and a stretch of Etruscan walls.

Perched on the hilltop where the ancient acropolis once stood, you’ll find the 13th-century Church of San Francesco, which underwent a number of renovations throughout time. Don't miss visiting the 15th-century cloister next to the church! And on a beautiful and warm day, enjoy a picnic in the small park near the church: the area affords jaw-dropping views of Florence, a Tuscan treasure not to be missed.

The Bandini Museum is a small treasure chest of art, collecting thirteenth- to fifteenth-century Florentine paintings and polychrome-glazed terracottas by Della Robbia.
Located next to the Duomo of Fiesole, the structure that houses the museum was built by architect Giuseppe Castellucci in the early 1900s.

In the immediate vicinity of the center of Fiesole are the church and convent of San Domenico, where Beato Angelico lived and created many of the works that are now in some of the world’s leading museums.

The Badia Fiesolana - the ancient Cathedral of Fiesole - deserves a visit for the rare architectural setting of its Romanesque façade, covered with white and green marble, for the many works of art and the panoramic setting it can be reached from the Convent of San Domenico, turning left if coming from Florence.

A little more than one kilometer from Piazza Mino there is Villa Peyron. The entire complex includes a museum, a monumental garden, woods and olive groves the location is beautiful and with a spectacular view of Florence.

Ruins of Roman temple, Fiesole, Tuscany

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History of Fiesole

First of all Fiesole was important as a great city in the internal Etruria, since VI century B.C. It was positioned in a strategic place to control the Etruscans communication routes.

The city was allied with Rome since the III century but maintained its independence, until 90 B.C. when it was destroyed by Cato when Fiesole fought against Rome in the Social war. Then the city was reconstructed and transformed in a typical roman city, and it was an important center in the final part of Catilina’s conjures, in 63 B.C.

Then it maintained a condition of prosperity during the imperial age until the invasion of the Goths and Ostrogoths, and then it underwent a destiny common to the roman cities of the area, when it was conquered by the Lombards, and this fact reduced the importance of the city, that came back to greatness in Renaissance.

Etrusco-Roman Temple, Fiesole - History


Just 20 minutes by car from the center of Florence, Italy, the town of Fiesole boasts great restaurants, shops, and incredible views of Florence’s iconic skyline from the hilltop monastery of San Francesco. Fiesole is rich in Roman ruins and provides significant insight into the development of the area’s older Etruscan civilization. The Etruscan town likely dates back to the ninth and eighth centuries B.C., and the settlement reached the height of its prosperity between the fifth and second centuries b.c. Archaeologist Marco de Marco of the Civic Archaeology Museum of Fiesole says that Vipsl, as ancient Fiesole was known, owed its fortunes to its strategic position on the roads linking central-southern Etruria to the Po Valley. This period came to an end with the Roman conquest of Fiesole in 90 B.C., which resulted in the destruction of most Etruscan buildings there.

Today, there are three main Etruscan features still visible. An Etruscan temple was found on the north side of the town, and archaeologists have been able to reconstruct its original layout from surviving pieces of its walls. City walls dating to the fourth century b.c. are also visible, and extend for approximately a mile and a half around the city. Outside these walls are the remains of Etruscan tombs known as the Via Bargillino tombs. Six in all, they date to the third century b.c., and consist of large stone slab walls and roofs. The Civic Archaeology Museum holds the tombs’ contents, including pottery, weapons, and tools. The Romans left their own mark on Fiesole after a brief period of abandonment following the conquest. In addition to reorganizing and rebuilding the original Etruscan temple, the Romans constructed both a theater and baths, as they did in many towns and settlements. The semicircular theater is one of the best preserved in Tuscany, and includes parts of the original seating (cavea), exit tunnels (vomitoria), and entrances.

While you’re there

Watch the video: The Trouble with Temples Friars Wash, Hertfordshire. S16E01. Time Team