Villa Magna, Lazio

Villa Magna is located about 45km southeast of Rome on the foothills of the Monti Lepini range. Its position commands an impressive view over the Sacco Valley and across to the town of Anagni, some 7 km to the north.
Little is known of the imperial Roman villa but two poignant letters from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to his tutor, Fronto, reveal elements of his visit to the villa in AD 144-5. There is also an inscription, held in the cathedral of Anagni, that records the paving of a road from Anagni to the villa (CIL X, 5909, AD 207) attributed to Emperor Septimius Severus in AD 207 (Fentress et al:forthcoming).

Excavations taking place in the shadow of the ruined church of San Pietro at Villa Magna.

Today, the standing remains are scant but along the spur, on which the site is located, there are the remnants of Roman walls. Most notable, a revetment wall constructed in opus quasi reticulatum with bands of opus latericium, stands to a height of about 5m along the side of the modern track leading to the 19th century casale. Portions of the casale utilise Roman vaulted substructures in its foundations. The basin of the Roman nymphaeum is visible in southwest corner of the courtyard and its back wall has been incorporated into the build of the casale. The remains of the church of San Pietro lie half way down the spur. Associated with the church are the standing remains of part of the monastic complex.
Work at this site began in 2006, commissioned by Elizabeth Fentress on behalf of the sponsors of the Villa Magna Project: the 1984 Foundation and the Comune of Anagni. The project is a result of the collaboration of the University of Pennsylvania, the British School at Rome, and the Soprintendenza Archeologica del Lazio.

Composite image showing the results of the 2006 magnetometer survey at Villa Magna overlaid with interpretation of the features found. (Fentress et al: 2006)
The magnetometer survey aimed to cover a large area (14Ha) of the site to establish the nature and possible extent of the buried archaeological features associated with the Roman villa and the later ecclesiastical remains.
The survey results (Fentress et al: 2006) were extremely clear along the top of the spur and a detailed plan of a main body of the villa was identified covering an area of about 150m by 80m to the north of the San Pietro. The large dimensions of an open courtyard, or peristyle, bordered by a portico and a series of small rooms denote the grand nature of the villa’s construction. The villa complex continues to the south of the church and assumes a slightly different alignment. At least one clear structure can be determined; a large rectangular building with a potential apse-like curve at one end. On the eastern margins of the ridge a large rectilinear structure was identified, possibly serving as a cistern. Below this building, the sloping field produced a wealth of features associated with the villa complex. The most recent discovery was that of a building composed of a grid layout with a colonnaded portico lying adjacent to a Roman road (Fentress et al: 2007).
Excavation of the site, conducted by the Villa Magna Project, has started in earnest and the findings are beginning to reveal the complexity and richness we would associated with an imperial villa and an important ecclesiastical centre. Work is currently being undertaken to model the geophysical survey with the Digital Elevation Model based on the topographic survey carried out by Andrea Angelini and Roberto Gabrielli of ITABC-CNR.

Further Reading

Fentress, E., Gatti, S., Goodson, C., Hay, S., Maiuro, M. (2006) Excavations at Villa Magna, in
Fentress, E., Fenwick, C., Goodson, C., Kuttner, A., Maiuro, M. (2007) Excavations at Villa Magna, in
Fentress, E., Gatti, S., Goodson, C., Hay, S., Maiuro, M. (forthcoming) Scavi di Villa Magna, (2006) in Residenze Imperiali nel Lazio, a cura di Massimiliano Valenti. Tusculana: Quaderni del Museo di Monte Porzio Catone, 2.