The Roman villa of San Vincenzino

Finding the Roman villa of San Vincenzino: a short history of the excavations

It is from the end of the 16th century that appears in the map the name “Villa Albini” at the mouth of Cecina. This expression means the Villa Decius Albino Cecina, a member of the noble family of Volterra Caecina, who was prefect of the City in 414 AD and that hosted at his residence friend Rutilio Namaziano during his journey from Rome to Gaul, his country of origin.

Since 1700 on top of the hill of Fico, now known as San Vincenzino, took place numerous discoveries of statues, marble fragments, pottery, mosaic floors and walls; in 1882 the great underground cistern was emptied of the soil that filled it and was later used as a foundation for the hunting lodge of count Leonetto Cipriani.

The excavation carried out in the 60’s by Giorgio Monaco, inspector of the Archaeological Superintendence of Tuscany, were followed from 1983 by excavations of the University of Pisa and, in 1995, the Archaeological Park of the villa of San Vincenzino was opened.

 

The building of the villa

Around the 30 BC, on top of the hill, was built – quite probably by an aristocratic family of Volterra – a large villa, surrounded by a wide estate. Since its construction the villa was equipped with an underground tank for rainwater collecting and with an extended and functional water network. The entrance, flanked by two towers, led to a small hall (atrium) and, further on, to a large garden surrounded by a colonnade (perystile), around which a small spa, dining and resting rooms were located.

Axonometry of the Roman Villa of San Vincenzino (Second half of the Ist cent. BC - mid Vth cent. AD - drawing by M.C. Panerai)

Axonometry of the Roman Villa of San Vincenzino (Second half of the Ist cent. BC – mid Vth cent. AD – drawing by M.C. Panerai)

 

The villa between the Ist and the IIIrd cent. AD

Between the Ist and the IIIrd cent. AD the villa underwent its first transformations. During the Ist century in its Northern sector a warehouse containing more than 20 large underground containers was built for the collecting of wine – the most significant production in the villa’s estate. Among the late IInd and early IIrd cent. AD – during a phase of monumentalization – Northwestwards of the main villa’s body new and larger baths, with mosaics and sculptures, were built, while a round fountain and a banquet room (triclinium) were added in the peristyle area.

Marble head of the so-called "Antinous" (IInd cent. AD)

Marble head of the so-called “Antinous” (IInd cent. AD)

Alabaster statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis (Late IInd - early IIIrd cent. AD)

Alabaster statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis (Late IInd – early IIIrd cent. AD)

 

The villa during the Late Roman Empire

Between the IVth and the half of the Vth cent. AD the villa of San Vincenzino lived its last moment of greatest splendor. The wealthy owners – most likely to be identified with the noble Caecina family, of Etruscan origin – built a large banquet hall with a rich marble floor along the North side of the peristyle. The atrium was then dramatically transformed, losing its role as a luxury hall and becoming a living quarter for the villa’s personnel. Close to it a new large apsidal room – accessible from the outside – was used by the owner as a reception room where he could rule on the surroundings of the villa.

The hot room (calidarium) of the villa's bath (Late IInd - early IIIrd cent. AD)

The hot room (calidarium) of the villa’s bath (Late IInd – early IIIrd cent. AD)

 

The end of the villa (V-VIIth cent. AD) and the Early Medieval Cemetery (VIII-X cent.)

Around the half of the Vth cent. AD the villa goes through a deep crisis, when many areas of the complex are completely abandoned. Afterwards the settlement resumed only in part; some areas are used as cemeteries, while others are reconstructed. Within the VIIth century, slowly, the villa is completely abandoned. During the VIIIth century a Christian cemetery develops all around the apsidal hall, now likely transformed into a church; the tombs – about a hundred of them have been dug out – date until the Xth century.

 

The underground water tank

Shortly before the construction of the villa all the facilities necessary to water supply were built. A large underground cistern in concrete, with a barrel vault, is able to contain thousands of cubic meters of rainwater. A narrow tunnel reaching the main sectors of the villa started from the main chamber; on the surface three wells allowed the collecting of the water for the daily needs of its residents. Remarkably ingenious is the filtering water system, consisting of a series of perforated big terracotta tiles closing the entrance of the tunnel.

Underground water tank of the Roman villa of San Vincenzino

Underground water tank of the Roman villa of San Vincenzino