The Garden of Gods
The Horti Lamiani
The space that appears before the visitor’s eyes was occupied in Roman times by a sector of the Horti Lamiani, a sumptuous Roman private residence surrounded by lush gardens. The residence was built by the consul Lucio Elio Lamia at the beginning of the 1st century AD. and it soon became imperial property: many emperors, including Claudius, Caligula, Severus Alexander lived and modified these spaces: each emperor wanted to leave his mark by personalizing the residence.
Inside the Horti, buildings decorated with precious marbles and statues alternated with green spaces, small temples, gardens, squares and groves. The luxury and refinement of the decorations gave these spaces an aspect of magnificence and sacredness, where the presence of wild animals and exotic plants completed a dream landscape.
The tour of the museum winds around the remains of a large square with a nymphaeum, and shows the decorations that adorned it, the objects that were used here, the plants and animals that graced the gardens.
The excavation of this sector of the Horti Lamiani has returned over 100,000 ceramic fragments and an enormous quantity of other finds, including marble, painted plaster, bones of domestic animals, oysters and shells.
Patiently analyzed and studied by archaeologists, these finds provide a cross-section of the millenary history of the Esquiline and allow us to know the stories of women and men who lived before us in these same places. In the museum windows, the visitor discovers the foods that were eaten here, the objects used in everyday life, the amphorae that transported wine, oil and fish preserves from every corner of the Mediterranean.
The visitor can observe the most widespread ceramics used for the preparation, cooking and preservation of food, the pictorial and marble decorative styles, and see how they changed over the centuries, adapting to new tastes and new fashions.
As they extracted the materials from the Flavian-era drainage channel, the archaeologists discovered two extraordinary heads made of a plaster of marble dust.
From their expression, caught in a cry of terror, we can recognise them as masks of Greek tragic theatre. The two heads were decorative elements projecting from the painted walls of a building of the 1st century AD. We can still see some traces of the blue colour that filled the hollow of the eyes and mouth, and the red that coloured the curly hair of the female mask. In order to understand the various stages in the making of the heads, artist-technicians scanned the originals using structured light, and then used these records in the preparation of copies.
The models seen here demonstrate the three stages of the artisanal work: shaping the oval of the face, adding features, and finally applying the hair and the colour.
THE GRAND FRESCO
Adjacent to the piazza-nymphaeum, the museum offers a small reception and conference space, incorporating features that also narrate the first phases of the horti of Elio Lamia.
Along one side is a fresco with a red background, including an original panel reassembled from almost 90,000 fragments deposited in the layers of abandonment of a space adjacent to the piazza-nymphaeum. The long sides of a room were painted with repeated modules like this one, at around 30- 50 AD.
ESQUILINO THROUGH THE CENTURIES
From its origins, the Esquiline Hill, a peripheral area of the city, was used as a burial ground.
During the 6th century BC, King Servius Tullius order the construction of the first defensive walls, crossing through this area.
At the end of the 1st century BC, Gaius Maecenas (68-8 BC) reclaimed part of the Esquiline burial areas for construction of his luxurious residence. Others of the Roman aristocracy soon followed, and among these was Lucius Aelius Lamia, a politician close to Emperor Augustus, who built a luxurious noble residence with vast gardens.
These Horti Lamiani soon passed into the ownership of the emperor and then maintained their functions in imperial representation until the 4th century AD, when they seem to have been abandoned.
During the Middle Ages, the landscape, by then ruralised, was characterised by small settlements, with adjacent fields and gardens, clustered around churches and convents, including Santa Maria Maggiore, Sant’Eusebio, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and San Giovanni in Laterano.
In the 16th century, with the commissioning of the Felice aqueduct by Pope Sixtus V, the area between the Servian and Aurelian Walls once again became a residential area, hosting the extensive villas of the most important Roman families. Among these were Villa Altieri and Villa Palombara, built in the area of the Horti Lamiani, and recalling the grand residential model of the ancient era.
After Rome was proclaimed capital of the Kingdom of Italy in 1871, the city prepared a Regulatory Plan providing for the necessary residential expansion. From this came the sale and demolition of the 17th-century villas and development of the Esquilino quarter, designed in large part by the architect Gaetano Koch.
Between 1882 and 1887 the new buildings, still seen today, rose around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, named in tribute to the first Savoy King of the united Italy.