AssisiAlready established in pre-Roman times, the layout of Assisi includes an extensive circuit of defense walls dating to the 2nd century BC. The town rises on the slopes of the hill, set on terraces supported by great blocks of travertine.
The Temple of Minerva and the Forum, which is below the level of the square and open to the public, represent respectively the focal point of monumental religious architecture and the public area par excellence. The temple is of the Corinthian hexastyle type with fluted columns. It dates from the last quarter of the 1st century BC, and is one of the best preserved temples of this type. The holes in the architrave for attaching bronze letters made it possible to deduce the names of the magistrates who oversaw its construction.
Numerous monuments were later added to the town, and still visible today are the imposing large cisterns, the ruins of the amphitheater and the theater, the baths, and a majestic public fountain. Standing out in importance among the private buildings is an opulent domus discovered underneath the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, called the House of Propertius. The excellent painted decoration and various epigrams provided a clue to the ownership of the house, traced to the Latin poet Propertius.
Temple of Minerva and the Forum
The Temple of Minerva has a perfectly preserved façade and is one of the most complete and legible examples of Roman sacred architecture. It was built on one of the terraces of the ancient town, the central terrace that faced the square below, identified as the forum.It has a square cella preceded by a very short pronaos, now covered by a cloister vault. The cella was made from small blocks of local limestone joined with mortar; its façade and counter face are visible, while the side walls have been incorporated into the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, built in the 17th century. In front, six fluted Corinthian columns stand on high plinths, topped by capitals with a double order of acanthus leaves.Above them rests the architrave, upon which there was a dedicatory inscription with bronze letters, now lost. The message can be deduced from their position, however, and it referred to the five-year quadrumvirate who had the temple built at their own expense. The building dates from the 1st cent. BC. The square below it is identified as the city’s forum. It was reached by means of two symmetrical stairways opened into the temple support wall. The forum was paved with square slabs of limestone and was surrounded on three sides by a colonnade of Doric columns.
The Roman Houses
Underneath the apse of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore there are the remains of a wealthy Roman domus. Excavations in the 1800s and mid-1900s have unearthed three communicating rooms, two of which preserving their original mosaic floor and the remains of painted wall decorations. One room has a floor in opus sectile made up of squares of colored marble (antique yellow, porta santa, pavonazzetto, africano, veined grey, etc.), evidence of the house’s magnificence; the other room has a floor in black and white mosaic with marble inserts, and painted decoration on the walls, with plant and animal motifs over a red background. Next to the three rooms a long section of cryptoporticus (a vault-covered portico) was found, which most likely had surrounded an open central area, probably used as a garden and adjacent to the three rooms. It has walls painted with fine decorations over a yellow ground, divided into three horizontal sections. The middle section is divided vertically by palm trees and candelabra; between these, small tablets (pinakes) are painted in tempera. The northern wall has a niche (viridarium) decorated with delicate green shoots and small red blossoms, upon which are perched small birds of various shapes and colors.
Stylistically, the paintings can be included in the early stage of the 4th Pompeian style, and date from about the mid-1st century AD.
The scholar Guarducci attributes this house to the poet Propertius from a graffito inside it in which it says “… I kissed the house of the Muse…”
The Roman Cistern
Incorporated in the town’s northeast terrace wall and perfectly preserved, the Roman cistern can be seen inside the Cathedral of San Rufino, where it is used as the foundation for the bell tower.
The cistern is a quadrangular chamber built from square blocks (opus quadratum) of travertine without mortar, covered by a barrel vault made from well connected blocks. A projecting cornice runs along the longer sides and on the rear wall, marking the face upon which the ceiling rests. The water passed through a long, narrow, vertical opening in the rear wall, framed at the top by a ring of radial stones.
The monumental entrance reflects the public use of the cistern, which, given its capacity, was probably utilized by the townspeople for drawing water. It dates from the latter half of the 2nd century BC.
At Santureggio there are the remains of a nymphaeum. This is a monumental public fountain composed of a large rear wall in opus quadratum, set on the side of a steep hill, and a large basin, paved with large slabs, for collecting water. It is closed of at the sides by two walls made from small blocks.
The rear wall has a deep recess (esedra) and an opening from which water would pour in, falling on the floor of the esedra and, after decanting, would go into the basin below. The water poured out from a shelf decorated with two lion protomas.
The finding of various votive objects shed light on the use of the monument, which must have been both a source of healthy water as well as a place of worship.
The monument was probably first built in the late 2nd cent. BC, and its greatest expansion and use can be dated between the late 1st cent. BC and the mid 1st cent. AD.