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The Nymphaeum Under Via Annibaldi: Garden Art from 2000 Years Ago

 A hop, skip, and a jump from the Colosseum and six meters (approximately 18 feet) under the modern road, are the remains of a monumental ancient Roman water feature.  What’s it doing there?  Waiting for you to come down to its level and investigate the history of garden art, fountains, and elite Romans tastes at the end of the 1st century B.C.!

As construction works dug to build Via degli Annibaldi at the end of the 1800s, they discovered traces of a nymphaeum.  Ancient Romans used the Latin word to mean “water feature.”  It was often a real or artificial grotto that was surrounded by gardens.  They often referenced sacred landscapes and legends about the Gods.  In this case, sometime towards the end of the Republic, around 50 B.C., a wealthy home-owner – indisputably one of ancient Rome’s jet-set – sat down with an architect, an interior decorator, and a fleet of landscapers to create a well-manicured garden, complete with at least one water-feature—the one that has survived!   Its decorations include different types of shells: small murexes define architectural elements (like columns and a cornice), which large mussels reflect the light thanks to their mother-of-pearl finish.  Completing the faux-natural effect are tufa and pumice concretions.  They were applied to the wall to imitate the rough interior of a grotto.

While surviving architecture from the Empire demonstrates that garden art, nymphaeum, and their decorations became more and more lavish, the Nymphaeum of Via Annibaldi is important because it documents an earlier, more rustic phase.   The garden and its nymphaeum suffered during the fire of 64 A.D., when much of the immediate area burned.  Damaged and partially buried by debris, the property was sold. It was then reinforced with ancient Roman concrete and backfilled—work which may belong to the foundations of Nero’s palaces.  At that point, the Nymphaeum was hidden from view and had became a time capsule, a tiny fragment of an aristocrat’s playground...

 

This visit requires special permission. Besides the 4 euro / per person ticket, there is a euro 20 surcharge to reserve a private entrance. For more information, please see "the costs" section of this webpage.

The nympheum of Via Annibaldi pairs up nicely with the Colosseum (for its proximity), with San Clemente (for the underground theme), and with the Palatine Hill (with an emphasis on gardening).