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Archaeological complex of Barco Borghese

In a scenic position overlooking the Roman Countryside as if leaning against Frascati, Barco Borghese is a vast square esplanade (approximately 219 x 245 metres), decorated with a monumental tufa fountain, its boundaries marked by an uninterrupted Renaissance wall, with a group of farmsteads of the same age opening on to it.

Owned first by the Altemps family and then by the Borghese family (situated in the so-called Burghesianum, along with the nearby Villa Tusculana – Vecchia, Villa Borghese and Villa Mondragone), it was eventually taken over by the Jesuit Fathers.

The Western third of the esplanade is set above an intricate, spectacular sequence of Roman vaulted halls (180 have been identified so far), covering approximately 16000 square metres.

The substructural areas are covered by monumental concrete low-arched barrel vaults arranged around two long (137.70 metres long) and monumental (approximately 8.00 metres high) aisles, with a north-south direction.

Traces of many restorations and refurbishments, probably the consequence of the change of use of some areas and the underpinning required after some structural failure or a change of load on the vaults, reveal the intensive life of the complex, which, built (in the early – late I century BC?) over an area which had already been occupied in the late Republican age (late II – early I century BC) was alive until at least the first half of the II century AD.

During one such change of use, a rare, precious series of inscriptions was engraved on the plaster of a hall, presumably around the I century AD, for a Ratio marmoraria, that is, a place where a depot of marble dust, used to make painted plasters, was managed.

Archaeological surveys started at the north-western face of the building revealed a monumental face consisting of two parallel rectangular halls connected to a monumental open area, with a central niche at the back, bounded by latticed walls decorated with brickwork half-pillars with pietra sperone Doric capitals on top.

Traditionally designed as the huge podium of a monumental Roman villa, Barco Borghese will still need extensive, in-depth archaeological surveys before its function can be fully understood.

While so far the layout of its halls could only be compared to the podium in the area in front of the suburban sanctuary of Tusculum, its painted inscriptions, the type of materials that have been unearthed so far and the lack of any element that might be suggestive of such a function, would indicate that a lot of caution should be used before giving any definitve interpretation.

What is sure is that, since the first half of the I century AD, the complex had been included in the vast imperial holding centred on the villa, on which Frascati is based nowadays, and the one rising at Cocciano (a few hundreds of metres further down from Barco).

Massimiliano Valenti

Address and Contact details:
Via Frascati 62 - Monte Porzio Catone
Tel. 06/94341031
Tel. 320/7871831 (reservations)

Opening hours:
11.00-12.00-15.30 (winter)
11.30-16.00-18.00 (summer)
(by appointment only; escorted tours compulsory)

ticket € 5.50; concessions € 4.00
Barco Borghese + Museo della Città € 4.50; concessions € 3.00
Polo Museale Urbano € 5.50; concessions € 4.00

external view of the archaeological excavations view of the tanks