Vicus Caprarius: Imperial Roman Town Planning at its Best
Before digging into the Vicus’s mysteries, we’ll start our visit by discussing town planning in antiquity: the size and population of Rome in the first century B.C., the criteria with which this ancient neighborhood was developed, and how very modern plumbing was part of the plan. We’ll then descend under the Cinema Trevi and discover ancient Rome in all its glory. 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. They are currently the oldest apartment blocks or insula to have been uncovered 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. The story starts with Octavian (soon to be known as Caesar Augustus). He asked a wealthy friend, Marcus Agrippa, to create a suburbia in the relatively empty field immediately to the north of Rome. To do so, Marcus Agrippa had an aqueduct, called the Virgo, built in 19 B.C. (After all, it takes infrastructure to build a suburbia!) Now skip to an author called Frontinus. He was Rome’s Director of Water Works, who was in charge of maintaining the city’s 11 aqueducts. In his treatise De Aquaeductu, 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 is the only tank of the 18 to have survived… See it with your own eyes!
Vicus Caprarius is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The site generally takes a little over an hour to visit. It pairs up well with the Campus Martius (as a brief digression from the standard itinerary), the Homes on the Celian Hill (for the theme of apartments in antiquity), underground attractions like San Clemente, and any other site visitors think appropriate…