Archivi categoria: Ostia

The historical salt works of the coastal plain of Rome

The coastal plain of Rome is characterized by two wide depressions that were occupied originally by ponds, the Stagno di Maccarese and the Stagno Ostiensis, separated by the Tiber river (figure 1).
Historical salt works have been established in each of the marshes.

Fig. 1 - Simplified topography and geology of the coastal plain of Rome; C, harbour basin of Claudius; T, harbour basin of Trajan; F, “Fiume Morto”, the river course before 1557 A.D.; with a star are marked the known historical salt works.
Fig. 1 – Simplified topography and geology of the coastal plain of Rome; C, harbour basin of Claudius; T, harbour basin of Trajan; F, “Fiume Morto”, the river course before 1557 A.D.; with a star are marked the known historical salt works.

The salt works of Ostia
The Roman age salt works of the Stagno Ostiensis have not been located exactly nor excavated, so we don’t even know their layout. It is only possible to presume that the warehouses and wharfs of the harbour situated in the suburban zone of Ostia, along the later filled in meander of the Tiber, were the hubs from which the salt was transported to Rome.
One of the most ancient salt deposits is recognizable in the late medieval building called Casalone, now incorporated in the modern township and close to the abandoned river course. After the cut off of the meander in the sixteenth century, salt storage occurred in the Magazzino de Sali, which is now the Museum of Ostia Antica.
The exact size of the lagoon of Ostia was partly defined thanks to recent archaeological excavations, which pinpointed most of the banks of the lagoon in the Roman period (Pannuzi, 2013).

The Romans considered Ostia their first colony and they attributed its founding for the purpose of salt production to their fourth king, Ancus Marcius (second half of the 7th century B.C.), but no archaeological proofs have been found for this. In fact, the soil of Ostia (not even the Castrum, which is the first “urban” development), has so far delivered no findings dating back to the time of the Kings.

Fig. 2 The salt works of Ostia indicated on the map of Amenduni 1884; also visible is the oxbow lake, remnant of the river course abandoned during the flood of 1557.
Fig. 2 The salt works of Ostia indicated on the map of Amenduni 1884; also visible is the oxbow lake, remnant of the river course abandoned during the flood of 1557.

The paleo-environmental reconstruction of Bellotti et al. 2011 could clarify the discrepancy between archaeological and historical sources on the origin of Ostia. The Authors state that initially the coastal barrier belt separating the marsh of Ostia from the sea would have been too narrow and insecure against storms to support a permanent human occupation. Therefore, in the 7th century B.C. there would have been only an outpost, with the aim of controlling the strategic river mouth and, eventually, to set up the first salt works in the marsh. In fact, the data of pollen and molluscs of a drilling core indicate around 600 B.C. a sudden intrusion of sea water, which would have allowed salt extraction. It is not clear if this is a natural event or a man induced breakthrough of the barrier belt.

According to this hypothesis, only around 450 B.C., when the cusp had expanded more than 1 km into the sea following a progradation rate of about 5–6 m/year, the sandy substrate was supposedly large and safe enough to set up a fortified camp (the Castrum of Ostia) and to further develop the salt works.

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The salt works of Ostia have continued to function until the nineteenth century, and are indicated on a map of 1884 (figure 2) and visible on an aerial photograph taken from a balloon in 1911 (figure 3).

Fig. 3 - Part of the salt works of Ostia visible on an aerial photograph taken from a balloon in 1911; to the left the abandoned river bend of the Fiume Morto; an arrow indicates the original stream direction; modified from Shepherd 2006.
Fig. 3 – Part of the salt works of Ostia visible on an aerial photograph taken from a balloon in 1911; to the left the abandoned river bend of the Fiume Morto; an arrow indicates the original stream direction; modified from Shepherd 2006.

At the time, the decay of the coastal plain was total: it is described in 1831 as an unhealthy marshy environment. The 19th century painting of Jean Baptist Adolphe Gibert sets this atmosphere rather well (figure 4).

Fig. 4 - Jean Baptiste Adolphe Gibert (1803-1889), painting of the salt marshes of Ostia.
Fig. 4 – Jean Baptiste Adolphe Gibert (1803-1889), painting of the salt marshes of Ostia.

It is evident from the images that, at least in later times, these salt works were structured in serial basins, as described by Georgius Agricola in 1556, who recommends to build salt pans by evaporation “near that part of the seashore where there is a quiet pool, and there are wide, level plains which the inundations of the sea do not overflow”.

According to the indications, the brine is collected into shallow ponds and allowed to evaporate in the sun. A stepped process along a series of interconnected basins separates the undesirable substances from the fine salt. The basin should be moderately deep depressions, surrounded by embankments and separated by ditches with adjustable openings. The gentle drop down applied to the complex would allow the water to flow from one basin to another. The low tidal range of only 30-40 cm, common to all coastal plans along the Tyrrhenian Sea, should make it impractical, but not impossible, to use the high tide for letting the marine waters enter the salt basins.

The Maccarese saltworks
An important environmental event that occurred, before or during the Etruscan period, with an almost stable sea level, is the transformation of the water of the Maccarese lagoon from fresh to salt/brackish (naturally and/or artificially promoted?), enough to allow the construction of salt works. This change is recorded to have occurred after 910-800 cal B.C. (calibrated 14C dating) by Giraudi 2004. The cause of this transformation should have been the re-opening of the connection with the sea.

Following this “environmental revolution”, the area of Maccarese became an important centre of salt production under both Etruscan and Roman domination. Although mentioned by the ancient sources, the Etruscan salt pans have never been found. After the conquest of Veio in 396 B.C., the salt works came under Roman control and were used under the name Campus salinarum romanarum throughout the Republican and Imperial period.

The salt pans of Maccarese were exploited at long, and are mentioned in several documents at least until the end of the fifteenth century, under the names Campus Maior, Campus salinarius or Campus Salinus Maior (Morelli & Forte 2014).
Recent trench prospection and excavation campaigns (Grossi et al. 2015) have brought to light Roman imperial salt works, composed of a complex of canals dug into the earth, used to channel and distribute salt water from the Maccarese Pond. Connected to the salt extraction systems was a structure composed of a one-kilometre string of 1439 amphorae inserted upright into the muddy substrate (fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Principal features of the Maccarese hydraulic system (1st century A.D.) overlain on the map of Amenduni 1884; a dotted line marks the historical lagoon shore. D, amphorae dam; W, ground canals departing eastward from the main walled channels; yellow squares mark the position of the masonry canals with sluices. Modified from Grossi et al. 2015.
Fig. 5. Principal features of the Maccarese hydraulic system (1st century A.D.) overlain on the map of Amenduni 1884; a dotted line marks the historical lagoon shore. D, amphorae dam; W, ground canals departing eastward from the main walled channels; yellow squares mark the position of the masonry canals with sluices. Modified from Grossi et al. 2015.

The row of amphorae, datable between the Augustan period and the middle of the first century A.D., composed the framework of an earthen dam and was crossed by two canals in cement with opus reticulatum facing, each about 25 m long and provided with a sequence of two sluices. These canals have a characteristic funnel shape, with the opening to the west, which confirms their function as collectors of water from the lagoon (figure 6).

Fig. 6 - Aerial view of one of the funnel-shaped masonry channels crossing the earthen dam with the string of amphorae. Standing out is the white travertine of the two sluices; West is on the right hand side of the image (from Morelli & Forte 2014).
Fig. 6 – Aerial view of one of the funnel-shaped masonry channels crossing the earthen dam with the string of amphorae. Standing out is the white travertine of the two sluices; West is on the right hand side of the image (from Morelli & Forte 2014).

From the brick channels branch off to the east two long canals dug into the earth. The system is completed by two ground channels or “basins” reinforced with rows of wooden poles (guaranteeing walkways), located parallel on both sides of the amphorae dam, and probably intended as water collectors. Their depth is shallow, max. 0,40-0,50 m, which coincides with the tidal range of these coastal plains.

The layout of the system suggests that the dam and the two masonry canals with sluices allowed to control the salt water flowing from the Maccarese Pond, which was then distributed over the vast territory behind the dam through canals dug into the earth. One or more times a year, from the start of the dry season, the salt water would have been let in during high tide. Then the sluices were closed, thus isolating, together with the amphorae dam, the system temporarily from the main body of the lagoon. Behind the dam, a shallow water surface would spread out over the flat areas between the canals, where salt concentrated and could be harvested.

Such a single-cycle process, without the use of interconnected basins to gradually purify the brine, would imply that these salt works produced unrefined marine salt. These salt works might be similar to the system is described by Rutilio Namaziano (I, 475-486) in the fifth century AD near Volterra.

For service and salt storage activities, two building complexes attributable to the late-Republican and Imperial age, have been identified along the Via Portuensis. In one of them an epigraph was found datable to 135 A.D., of a dedication to Neptune made by two men identified as conductores campi salinarum romanarum, i.e. Roman salt work contractors (Morelli & Forte 2014).


References

  • Agricola, Georgius, 1556, De Re Metallica, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/38015/pg38015.txt
  • Amenduni, G., 1884, Sulle Opere di Bonificazione della Plaga litoranea dell’Agro Romano. Roma, Tipografia Eredi Botta.
  • Bellotti, P., Calderoni, G., Di Rita, F., D’Orefice, M., D’Amico, C., Esu, D., Magri, D., Preite Martinez, M., Tortora, P., Valeri, P., 2011, The Tiber river delta plain (central Italy): Coastal evolution and implications for the ancient Ostia Roman settlement, The Holocene 2011, 21, pp. 1105-1116. DOI: 10.1177/0959683611400464.
  • Giraudi C., 2004, Evoluzione tardo-olocenica del delta del Tevere. Il Quaternario, Italian Journal of Quaternary Sciences, 17 (2/2), pp. 477-492.
  • Grossi M. C., Sivilli S., Arnoldus-Huyzendveld A., Facciolo A., Rinaldi M.L., Ruggeri D., Morelli C., 2015, A complex relationship between human and natural landscape: a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the ancient saltworks in “Le Vignole-Interporto” (Maccarese, Fiumicino – Rome); in Archaeology of Salt. Approaching an invisible past, Robin Brigand, Olivier Weller (eds), Sidestone Press, pp. 83 – 101.
  • Morelli, C., Forte, V., 2014, Il Campus Salinarum Romanarum e l’epigrafe dei conductores, Mélanges de l’École française de Rome – Antiquité, 126-1 | 2014, URL: http://mefra.revues.org/2059; DOI: 10.4000/mefra.2059
  • Rutilio Namaziano, De redito suo. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Rutilius_Namatianus/text*.html
  • Pannuzi, S., 2013, La laguna di Ostia: produzione del sale e trasformazione del paesaggio dall’età antica all’età moderna. Mélanges de l’École française de Rome – Moyen Âge, 125-2, http://mefrm.revues.org/1507; DOI: 10.4000/mefrm.1507
  • Shepherd, E. J.,2006, Il rilievo topofotografico di Ostia dal pallone (1911), Archeologia aerea 2 (2006), pp. 15-38. (The Topographical Survey of Ostia from a Balloon, 1911, English translation by David Wilkinson, 2012; https://www.academia.edu/4314559/).

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This text has been published under a Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Feel free to publish it on your websites, blogs… under the following conditions: You must give appropriate credit, mention the author and provide a link to this original publication and to the license indicated above. You may not use the material for commercial purposes.


The hidden harbour of Claudius


The two breakwaters

Pope Pio II in his Commentarii (1614[1]) wrote:“Emperor Claudius built a harbour protected right and left by jetties, with a mole at the entrance where the sea is deep.”

The harbour basin of Claudius is located about 3.5 km north of Ostia, near the Roman town of Portus (Figure 1).

Fig. 1 - The extension of the harbour basin of Claudius, with in black the exposed part of the moles and in red the "hidden" parts; a dotted line indicates the Roman coast.
Fig. 1 – The extension of the harbour basin of Claudius, with in black the exposed part of the moles and in red the “hidden” parts; a dotted line indicates the Roman coast.

    Fig. 2 - Nero’s coin showing the harbour basin of Claudius; from www.ancientportsantiques.com/a-few-ports/portus/#5. Source: Oleson, 2014 (British Museum); the sea is on top of the image, north is to the right.

Fig. 2 – Nero’s coin showing the harbour basin of Claudius; from www.ancientportsantiques.com/a-few-ports/portus/#5. Source: Oleson, 2014 (British Museum); the sea is on top of the image, north is to the right.

Construction commenced in A.D. 42 and was completed by Nero in the year 64. On the occasion of the inauguration, the emperor authorized the production of a series of bronze coins depicting details of the port on the reverse. The harbour of Claudius is depicted in great detail, with merchant ships floating in the sea, the two breakwaters curving on either side of the coin, and the sea entrance with a central lighthouse and statue (Figure 2).

Even today, part of the southern breakwater is preserved, but it is hidden under the Tiber embankment. The landside part of the northern pier, instead, is well exposed at the surface and visible over a length of ca. 750 meters along the Via dell’Aeroporto di Fiumicino and behind the Museo delle Navi (Figure 3). This stretch was excavated on the occasion of the construction of the new airport of Rome in the 1960’s.

Fig. 3 - Part of the northern mole of the harbour of Claudius exposed behind the Museo delle Navi of Fiumicino.
Fig. 3 – Part of the northern mole of the harbour of Claudius exposed behind the Museo delle Navi of Fiumicino.

Further to the west no traces of the breakwater can be seen at the surface level. In fact, trenches excavated under the auspices of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Ostia uncovered no remains of this breakwater, even at the depth of several meters. The disappearance of this breakwater is due to the strong growth of the dune belt in historical times, particularly in the last centuries. The moles of the harbour of Claudius were covered by sandy sediments (see contribution on the coastline of Ostia), and the real size and orientation of the harbour basin were forgotten for centuries.

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A forgotten outline
Let’s get a short historical overview of how the basin of Claudius has been depicted. In the images of the 16th and 17th centuries the basin was always (correctly!) shown to be wide, delimited to the north and south by breakwaters curved toward the western entrance, where the lighthouse island was located (Figure 4).

Fig. 4 - Reconstruction of the harbour basins of Claudius and Trajan by Antonio Labacco 1552-67, tav. 29. Distances are indicated in “canne romane” (1 canna = ca. 2,234 m). The orientation is E-W inverted.
Fig. 4 – Reconstruction of the harbour basins of Claudius and Trajan by Antonio Labacco 1552-67, tav. 29. Distances are indicated in “canne romane” (1 canna = ca. 2,234 m). The orientation is E-W inverted.

But from the first half of the 19th century we begin to see plans of the harbour showing a much smaller basin, and with the central axis rotated 90 degrees towards an entrance in the north, and with the lighthouse to the left of that entrance. This mistaken reconstruction has been unfortunately preserved even in recent publications (see Figure 5[2]). The cause of this misinterpretation is almost certainly the sheer magnitude of deposits which covered the structures during the coastline advancement of the last centuries.

Fig. 5 - Erroneous reconstruction of the harbour basin of Claudius, with a reduced size and a northern main entrance; modified from Testaguzza 1970, p. 40.
Fig. 5 – Erroneous reconstruction of the harbour basin of Claudius, with a reduced size and a northern main entrance; modified from Testaguzza 1970, p. 40.

From the 19th through the first half of the 20th century, this wrong reconstruction was generally accepted. In the 1960s it was called into question specifically by Castagnoli and Giuliani[3]. Aerial photographs, among other things, led these scholars to return to the former hypothesis: a large E-W oriented basin. But even then the size of the harbour was underestimated, as was later discovered.

Return to a former idea.
Only in the last decade a series of deep drillings (Figure 6) have confirmed, without a doubt, that the basin is indeed east-west oriented and that it juts out farther into the sea than previously suspected: the distance between the inland margin (Monte Giulio) and the lighthouse island is about 2 km.

Fig. 7 - The drilling data collected until 2007 and their interpretation overlain on a photo mosaic of 1911; red diamonds indicate structures encountered in the drillings; the N-S road is the modern Viale Coccia di Morto.
Fig. 7 – The drilling data collected until 2007 and their interpretation overlain on a photo mosaic of 1911; red diamonds indicate structures encountered in the drillings; the N-S road is the modern Viale Coccia di Morto.

 

Fig. 6 - A deep drilling in action over the pier remains (2005)
Fig. 6 – A deep drilling in action over the pier remains (2005)

Remains of structures were encountered in the drillings executed between 2004 and 2007, only from a depth of several meters on, being covered by dune and marine sediments (Figure 7).

The buried remains of the lighthouse island and the final parts of both piers are located to the west of the Viale Coccia di Morto of Fiumicino. The extremity of the southern breakwater is under the Leonardo Da Vinci Rome Airport Hotel (a former glass factory) along the Via Portuense, and the lighthouse island is below the junkyard to the north of the Via della Foce Micina opposite the Via dei Capitoni.

Fig. 8 - Reconstruction of the outline of the piers, the lighthouse island and the entrances of the Claudian harbour, based upon drilling data collected between 2004 and 2007.
Fig. 8 – Reconstruction of the outline of the piers, the lighthouse island and the entrances of the Claudian harbour, based upon drilling data collected between 2004 and 2007.

The modern reconstruction shows two protruding moles and a lighthouse island, separated by evident entrances[4] (Figure 8). A third, narrower entrance (probably only a channel) was demonstrated to exist between the northern pier and Monte Giulio[5].

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It is very interesting that the various distances indicated by Antonio Labacco[6] on a reconstructive map of the 16th century turned out to be approximately correct (see Figure 4). The collected data have also been overlain, as well as possible, on a (digitally stretched) image of a fresco of A. Danti of 1582 (Figure 9) which demonstrates not only the reliability of this fresco but also the visibility, at the time, of the remains of the lighthouse island and the mole extremities still in the sea, before their burial by the sediments of the advancing coast.

Fig. 9 - In red lines the outline of the Claudian harbour overlain on a digitally stretched image of the fresco of A. Danti of 1582 (Vatican Museum).
Fig. 9 – In red lines the outline of the Claudian harbour overlain on a digitally stretched image of the fresco of A. Danti of 1582 (Vatican Museum).

Contemporary writers confirm the visibility of the ruins of the lighthouse (Figure 10) in the sea. Giuliani mentions Biondo Flavio, who on that subject writes in 1558: “We still see a good part of this tower standing, although there is not much left of the marble with which it was covered[7]”. But it is Pio II, writing in 1614, who conveys the most useful information: “There are still traces of this tower which can be seen from far out at sea. Everything else has perished utterly.[8]

Fig. 10 - One of the over 20 images of the lighthouse known from Ostia and Portus (mosaic in statio 46 on the Square of the Corporations, Ostia)
Fig. 10 – One of the over 20 images of the lighthouse known from Ostia and Portus (mosaic in statio 46 on the Square of the Corporations, Ostia)


Two different stretches

In the drilling cores executed along the outer stretches of both piers, no hydraulic mortar was encountered, only large blocks of basalt and lithoid tuff embedded in coarse sand (Figure 11), forming a ridge-like rubble mound with a maximum base width of at least 55 meters.

Fig. 11 – The main stone types composing the rubble mounds of the moles and lighthouse island: from left to right: basalt, red lithoid tuff and the same blackened from long immersion in sea water.
Fig. 11 – The main stone types composing the rubble mounds of the moles and lighthouse island: from left to right: basalt, red lithoid tuff and the same blackened from long immersion in sea water.

This suggests that the mole was constructed by piling stones on the seabed, which lines up with Pliny the Younger’s description of the construction of the harbour at Civitavecchia[9]: “The left arm of this port is defended by exceedingly strong works, while the right is in process of completion. An artificial island, which rises at the mouth of the harbour, breaks the force of the waves, and affords a safe passage to ships on either side. This island is formed by a process worth seeing: stones of a most enormous size are transported hither in a large sort of pontoons, and being piled one upon the other, are fixed by their own weight, gradually accumulating in the manner, as it were, of a natural mound. It already lifts its rocky back above the ocean, while the waves which beat upon it, being broken and tossed to an immense height, foam with a prodigious noise, and whiten all the surrounding sea.”

In the westernmost drillings the base of the northern breakwater has been found at a depth of 15-16 meter from the surface. Furthermore, it was found that the level of the sea bed directly beneath the structure is deeper than the surrounding area, with a difference of up to two meters. We may presume that this is due to the weight of the stones sinking into the soft sea bottom, a process that may have started from an early phase of the construction on. But there is more. De Graauw[10] shows how modern, loosely-piled-up breakwaters undergo a lowering of the top and a widening of the base due to wave action, transforming it from an emerging into a submerged mole. This usually happens in a later phase.

The gradual sinking of the base and lowering of the top of the rubble mounds, combined with the accumulation of sandy sediments due to the changing coastline, helps us to understand why the top of the remains are found several meters below the surface. We must also keep in mind that when the remains were first revealed in the waters close by the advancing coastline, people may have taken stones away from the moles for reuse elsewhere. As noted above, even today the inland part of the northern breakwater is well preserved. Testaguzza has given us an elaborate description of the structure. It is composed of several stretches made with different construction techniques: whole square blocks or mixed layers of concrete, tuff stones, brick fragments and mortar (Figure 12).

Fig. 12 - The western extremity of the exposed part of the northern mole, view to W; Testaguzza 1970 p. 85.
Fig. 12 – The western extremity of the exposed part of the northern mole, view to W; Testaguzza 1970 p. 85.

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It has been shown that the western extremity of this construction rests upon a sea bed at a depth (in Roman times) of about 7.5 meters[11]. This inland stretch was probably constructed, according to the indications of Vitruvius, with wooden formworks filled with hydraulic mortar and stones (Figure 13), eventually resting on top of a rubble mound. It would have been built out from land, using lorries moving over the top of the pier above sea level[12].

Fig. 13 - Concrete reinforced with timber, a construction type possibly used for the exposed part of the northern breakwater; from www.ancientportsantiques.com/a-few-ports/portus/#5
Fig. 13 – Concrete reinforced with timber, a construction type possibly used for the exposed part of the northern breakwater; from www.ancientportsantiques.com/a-few-ports/portus/#5

The most recent drillings, executed within the Airport of Fiumicino on behalf of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Ostia, are confirming the direction and base width of the “hidden” part of the northern breakwater as hypothesized earlier by Morelli et al.

Our current hypothesis explaining the difference in preservation of the two stretches of the northern breakwater of the harbour of Claudius is a difference in construction technique: the inner stretch made from caissons filled with hydraulic mortar and stones, against the seaward part made only of stones loosely piled upon the sea bed. The abruptness of the transition between the two stretches, proven to occur at a distance of less than 50 meters, is one of the arguments in favour. But not everything is resolved and understood, e.g. why didn’t we find, at least up to now, any traces of the arches indicated on the coins along the northern pier?


Notes:
[1] Testo originale in Inglese: http://www.ostia-antica.org/anctexts.htm, Later Texts, Pius II.
[2] Testaguzza O., 1970 – Portus, Illustrazione dei Porti di Claudio e Traiano e della Città di Porto a Fiumicino; Julia Editrice, Roma.
[3] Giuliani C.F., 1996 – Note sulla topografia di Portus; in: Manucci V. (eds), 1996, Il Parco Archeologico Naturalistico del Porto di Traiano; Ministero per i Beni Culturali Ambientali, Soprintendenza Archeologica di Ostia, pp. 29-44.
[4] Morelli C., Marinucci A, Arnoldus-Huyzendveld A., 2011 – Il Porto di Claudio: nuove scoperte, in Portus and its Hinterland, recent archaeological research, Simon Keay & Lidia Paroli (eds), Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome, pp. 47-65.
[5] Goiran J.-Ph., Salomon F., Tronchere H., Carbonel P., Djerb H., Ognard C., 2011 – Caractéristiques sédimentaires du bassin portuaire de Claude: nouvelles données pour la localisation des ouvertures, in Keay S., Paroli L. (a cura di), Portus and its Hinterland, Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome: 31-45.
[6] Labacco A. (1552-67) – Libro appartenente a l’architettura nel quale si figurano alcune notabili antiquità di Roma. Roma, Antonio dall’Abacco.
[7] “di questa torre ne veggiamo insino ad hoggi una buona parte in pie, se non che ne sono stati tolti i marmi, dei quali ella era incrustata”
[8] “ancora rimangono vestigi della torre le quali si vedono là nel mare; tutti gli altri monumenti sono periti interamente”
[9] Letters LXXI; translation from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2811/2811-h/2811-h.htm#link2H_4_0071.
[10] De Graauw A., http://www.ancientportsantiques.com/ancient-port-structures/failure-of-rubble-mound-breakwaters-in-the-long-term/
[11] Goiran Jean-Philippe, Hervé Tronchère, Ferréol Salomon, Pierre Carbonel, Hatem Djerbi, Carole Ognard, 2010 – Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of the ancient harbors of Rome: Claudius and Trajan’s marine harbors on the Tiber delta, Quaternary International 216 (2010) pp. 3-13.
[12] De Graauw A., http://www.ancientportsantiques.com/a-few-ports/portus/#5.

This text has been published under a Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Feel free to publish it on your websites, blogs… under the following conditions: You must give appropriate credit, mention the author and provide a link to this original publication and to the license indicated above. You may not use the material for commercial purposes.

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Locatelli’s painting of the salt pans near Ostia

Andrea Locatelli (Rome, 1695 – 1741): “View of the Salt Pans near Ostia“, 89 x 137 cm.

WP_Locatelli_salt_pans1

Recently this painting was sold to a private collector by the Matthiesen Gallery in London. From their website:

(..) In 1833 most of Ponte Galeria, formerly Campo Saline, was acquired by the Genoese Pallavicini family. Since this painting came originally from the collections of the Rospigliosi family, which from the end of the seventeenth century was closely allied with the Pallavicini, it is not improbable that the painting entered their collection in the nineteenth century when the latter acquired this property (..).
This Marine Landscape retains many obvious topographical features rare in Locatelli’s oeuvre which, for the most part, are fantasy classical landscapes. In the foreground we observe a few shepherds with animals grazing and, in the centre, the salt works with fishermen intent on their task. On the land there is a small warehouse used to store salt deposits. In front of this, a few figures are loading mules and horses with goods. This painting represents one of the finest examples of Locatelli’s view paintings, much rarer than his idealized landscapes.

The location must effectively be near Ostia, since at the time the Maccarese salt pans where not active any more. In the background one observes the unmistakable outline of the Colli Albano volcano, which is well visible from Ostia. The relief to the right could be that of Castel Porziano.
The view is to the east, so the sun is rising, probably in the summer (the tree might be a deciduous oak), the right season for salt extraction.
There are evident wooden structures to catch and conserve fish (the zigzag lines, like the lavorieri of the lagoon of Venice or the acconci of Puglia), and towards the little building there seem to be salt pans and mounds. The two functions often went together in the same plant, as until recently was the case in Comacchio (FE), which can clearly be seen on an image of Google Earth of 2005.

WP_acconcio_puglia_lesina
acconcio fishing system of Puglia
WP_lavoriere_Comacchio_Sargentini
“lavoriero” of the lagoon of Comacchio (FE); foto Sargentini.
WP_GE_Saline_Comacchio_2005
The salt works of Comacchio on an image of Google Earth of 2005: salt pans to the east and south, fishing ponds and “lavorieri” to the west and north.

See also the pages Ostia & Portus and Le saline tirreniche, and the article The quest for Grosseto’s original saltworks.

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