Mirabilia Urbis: Rome Walking Tours

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Vicus Caprarius: Ancient Roman Town Planning at its Best

Around the corner from the Trevi Fountain, approximately 27 feet under the modern street level, is Vicus Caprarius (“Goat Alley” in Latin). The site contains two ancient Roman apartment buildings that were subject to multiple (and surprising!) renovations over the centuries.

Before digging down into the Vicus’ mysteries, we'll start our visit by discussing the town planning in antiquity: the size and population of ancient Rome, the criteria with which this ancient neighborhood was developed in the 1st century B.C., and how very modern plumbing techniques were instrumental to its development...  Then we'll descend under the Cinema Trevi, where a small piece of ancient Rome awaits us.  Here we'll discuss two apartment buildings that date to the Emperor Nero’s era and may be part of his strategy to renovate Rome after the fire of 64 A.D.  These may be the oldest known apartment blocks or insula in Rome!  (Despite the fact that the ancient city was rife with towering tenements and middle-class housing, very few of those buildings have survived.)

The site is even more impressive for another reason...  one of the apartments’ ground-floor was turned into a water distribution tank.  While this does not sound earth-shaking, it's extraordinarily important!  The story starts with Octavian (soon to be known as Caesar Augustus).  He asked a wealthy friend, Marcus Agrippa, to develop this neighborhood.  To do so, Marcus Agrippa order an aqueduct, called the Virgo, built in 19 B.C.  (After all, in these years, Rome’s population had hit or surpassed the one million mark and supplying the city with fresh, running water was fundamental!)  Ancient Rome boasted a Director of Water Works, who was --among other things-- in charge of maintaining the city's 11 aqueducts.   One Director, called Frontinus, wrote a text regarding his responsibilities.  In it, he states that different pipes “distributed the Virgo’s water throughout the seventh, ninth, and fourteenth regions, thanks to 18 tanks” (Book II, 84).  The distribution tank in the Vicus Caprarius site is the only tank of the 18 to have survived… it is also the only tank from any of the lines to have been found within city limits.  See it with your own eyes!

 

Vicus Caprarius is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The entrance fee is euro 3 a person.

This site pairs up well with Campus Martius (as a brief digression from the standard itinerary), the Homes on the Celian Hill (for the theme of apartments in antiquity), other underground attractions, and any site visitors think appropriate...