The five towns that make up the Tuscolo area [ Frascati, Grottaferrata, Monteporzio Catone, Montecompatri, Rocca Priora ], and which are organized in the ‘Azienda Autonoma di Turismo e Soggiorno del Tuscolo’, are located south of Rome in the most peaceful part of the Lazio hills. According to ancient greek myths, Telegonus, son of Ulysses and Circes, created the village, which was actually built during the ninth century B.C. and rose to a greater power due to the influence of the Lega Sacrale Albana [ an association of local cities of the Albano area ] prior to Roman times [ the Roman civilization lasted from the tradional founding of the walled city in the mid-8th century b.C. to the final collapse of the western part of the Empire in AD 476 and flourished beginning from the sixth century b.C. ].

Indeed, Tusculum was defeated by Rome around 500 B.C. at Lake Regillo. The Lega was led by Dictator Tuscolano Ottavio Mamilio, a close relative of the last Roman King Tarquinio il Superbo. The origin of the name Tusculum is supposed by some experts to be related to the Tusci or Etruschi, an ancient and warlike civilization, although the area has not revealed significant artifacts which might highlight the presence of Etruscan civilization or culture. There is, however, proof of ancient Greek religious rites, as can be deduced by the ruins of a temple dedicated to Jupiter and of two statues of the same God, discovered nearby. Where once used to stand the Acropolis, there also was a temple dedicated to Castor and Pollux, which was destroyed during the Middle Ages.

Tusculum came under total Roman jurisdiction in 380 B.C., when Romans occupied the town and annexed its territories to those of the Papiria tribe, eliminating all military and legislative functions. The only magistrates left, of those who previously ran the city, were the ‘edili’, chiefs of police and market controllers. Soon, Tusculum was noticed by the most important Roman families and, due to the relaxed atmosphere and richness of the water, many noblemen had luxurious villas built in this area.

To enter Tuscolo from Frascati, go to Piazza Marconi and follow the path on the left of Villa Aldobrandini; after crossing via Cardinal Massaia, follow the road fo rapproximately 4 km ( 2.5 mi ). You will then see the ruins of the ancient theater ( Anfiteatro ), where, in ancient times, people gathered to watch fights between gladiators and animals or athletes exhibiting their prowess. This 'stadium' could keep 3000 persons, and measured 53 by 80 meters ( 164 by 248 ft ), the arena being somewhat smaller ( 149 by 90 ft ). The building was based on a tight pattern of pieces of stone with square bases set diagonally in rows and wedged onto the concrete walls.

The building was erected in the second century B.C., as the date stamped on some of the remaining bricks show. Thus, the anfiteatro was built a century later than the Coliseum, the great stadium in Central Rome which was to be the base pattern for most of this period's architecture. Facing east of the theater are the ruins of the Villa di TIberio, a roman emperor of the first century who had moved his residence from Capri, where he lived with Antonia, widow of previous emperor Druso. When the villa was discovered, in the sixteenth century, the ruins were mistaken for those of the legendary villa where the great Roman orator Cicero withdrew to write the famous 'Tusculanae' letters, though later expeditions have never been able to produce evidence of this location. Primarily, this area was used as a fancy resort for political figures, which explains the abundance of rich and luxurious villas. The praetorium ( central palace ) was located in the woods, among the shade of trees and bushes, and included big open porches, portici and fashionable rooms decorated in the Greek style.

On the higher part of the villa, large containers fueled the private thermal baths and the fountains with rainwater. Furthermore, the palaces used to contain librairies, gyms, guestrooms for all castes of visitors ( noblemen, actors, villagers, guards, etc. ), and separate barns for feeding and keeping horses. Nearby, other villas have been found, notably those built for the Quintili family, for Paisseno Crispo, Matidia Augusta, Asinio Pollione, and others. On the northern section of the hill, where now stands a high cross, are the crumbling remains of a second century b.C. village wall and a small arched well in the ancient greek style, dating approximately back to the fifth or sixth century b.C.

A large space was used for the Forum of Tusculum, east of which an ancient paved road leads to another theater, dating back to the first century, still standing due to the efforts of Queen Maria Cristina( widow of Carlo Felice king of Northern Italy in the beginning of the nineteenth century ), who loved the town deeply and requested serious excavations to be made around the area; Pope Gregory the Sixteenth visited Frascati in 1839 and, to show his approval of the innovations brought by, left a plaque bearing the seal of the Holy See. The queen also supported financially one of the greatest artists of her age, P. Camina, who painted a grand ' Descrizione dell'Antica Tuscolo' ( Description of the Ancient tuscolo )which can be seen inside the theater. This could contain an audience of 1500, was equipped with lateral exits ( vomitoria ), a round stage for the chorus and orchestra, seats for the noble magistrates that used to attend the shows, the Royal door, in the center of the theater and various rooms for the actors behind the scenes. Following down the via dei Sepolcri, you will find several other rooms of statues and sculptures in the lower part of the area ( Molara ).

During the middle ages, in the eleventh century, the Teofilatti family got hold of the ruins of ancient Tuscolo and became known, from then forward, as the Counts of Tuscolo, gaining absolute control on the whole area of the Colli Albani. When the Crescenzi family lost its leverage in Rome, the Conti dinasty got hold o fthe church: thereafter, prince Teofilatto, when still very young, was consecrated as Pope in 1033, during one of the worst periods of the Church's history. The clear hostility shown by roman aristocracy towards the new Pope, now named Benedictus the Eleventh, led him to leave his seat to Giovanni Graziano, who became Pope by name of Gregory the Sixth. This situation would eventually lead to the first non-Italian Popes. The ancient tuscolan fort was totally destroyed on the 17th of april 1191 by the armies of Rome. When Tuscolo decayed, the powerful Conti family also lost its leverage in Rome, although one of its descendants was the founder of the important Roman Colonna dinasty.

Text translated by A. Srivastava from:

January, 26, 2001

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