set 092017

Ostia was founded along the Tiber river and close to the sea. Each of these strategic conditions was lost over the centuries: the position near the sea through the gradual growth of the dune belt (see, and the position along the Tiber on the 15th of September 1557, as the result of an exceptionally high flood, which shortened the river course by cutting off the narrow meander. On this occasion the castle of Ostia, constructed only 60 years earlier by pope Julius II, became suddenly isolated from the Tiber.

Fiume morto-2
Fiume morto-4The remains of the cut-off river curve is called the Dead River (Fiume Morto) and can still be seen on an aerial photograph of 1911, and – if you know where to look for it – even on modern Google Earth images. The event was somewhat predictable, given the sharp curve of the river course near the castle in the decades before the catastrophe.

Until the end of the 19th century the remains were still visible in the landscape as a small lake. It was later filled in with materials from the excavations. Nowadays it requires some imagination to envision in the grassy fields one of the major rivers of Italy flowing alongside the Castle and the excavations of Ostia.

Fiume morto-3

Tonnie Huijzendveld (Arnoldus)

ott 082012


As the Albano lake and Monte Cavo were linked to the sun and to Jupiter, lake Nemi was related to the moon and to the triple goddess Diana. Still now during the summer, the full moon as seen from the town of Nemi is reflected in the lake, and about an hour later in the Tyrrhenian sea (that is the moon three times !).
During the “wake” of 21 august 2002, we observed that around 4.0 h. am, the image of the moon reflected in the water started to be visible close to Diana’s temple along the lake, under the steep wall of the town of Nemi. From that point on, the reflection has crossed the water in about an hour, reaching the opposite shore in a point below the town of Genzano. That night the clouds have hampered the observation of the moon reflected in the sea.

Lake Nemi WP_nemi_lake_from_town.jpg

The lake seen from the town of Nemi, with in the background a strip of the Tyrrhenian sea (photograph Caroline Lawrence).


Northern border of the Nemi lake; the remains of Diana’s sanctuary are ( just) visible in the lower right part of the photograph taken from Nemi town (photograph Caroline Lawrence).

Two painting of the Lake Nemi, one with the crescent moon reflected in the lake, the second with the sun reflected in the lake and the sea.

Enrico Coleman: Speculum Dianae – Lake Nemi Oil painting  - 1909

Enrico Coleman: Speculum Dianae – Lake Nemi
Oil painting, 1909

Verde e violaceo, cupo, muto, in mezzo al grande stormire dei boschi [...] Secondo le vicende della luce, il lago varia. Il suo verde si fa talvolta splendido e limpido come lo smeraldo; il suo violaceo si fa oscuro e vellutato come la foglia della viola tricolore”
G. D’Annunzio, Taccuini, 1897.

Sanford Robinson Gifford: Il lago di Nemi (1856-57) Toledo (Ohio), Museum of Art

Sanford Robinson Gifford: Lake Nemi (1856-57)
Toledo (Ohio), Museum of Art

Lake Nemi (1856-57), a work that Gifford painted for exhibit in New York while in Italy, is the first of his paintings to have the sun as a focal point of the painting using light and tone to unifying and simply the landscape. This was to become a trademark of his work. We can trace his fascination with the transfiguring effects of light on the natural landscape throughout the exhibits in such works as ‘A Gorge in the Mountains’ (1859) ‘Mansfield Mountain’ (1859) and ‘The Wilderness’ (1860).

Diana’s temple on Google Maps

See also the page on Alba Longa.

See also Caroline Lawrence‘s blogspot on a day around Albano lake, the 17th of september 2008.

set 222012
Macine WP_villaggio_macine_panorama

I pali sporgenti del Villaggio delle Macine visibili al margine del lago Albano, agosto 2012 (foto Matteucci)

Lungo il lago Albano nel 1984 sono stati rinvenuti i resti del “Villaggio della Macine”, un insediamento della media età  del bronzo di ca. 4000 anni fa. Il nome deriva dalla grande quantità  di macine in pietra recuperate. Si suppone che l’abitato sia stato abbandonato non oltre il XV secolo a.C., in seguito ad un innalzamento del livello del lago. Campagne di scavo archeologico si sono svolte nel 2001 e nel 2009 (info Wikipedia).

Dovuto all’attuale abbassamento del lago di ca. 1 metro ogni 3 anni, i pali sporgenti sono ben visibili. Questi mutamenti del livello delle acque sarebbero resi possibili dalla presenza, sotto la falda acquifera del lago, della camera magmatica del Vulcano dei Colli Albani. Un’altra ipotesi corrente è che l’abbassamento del livello del lago sia dovuto esclusivamente all’abuso che ne fa l’uomo attingendo dalla falda attraverso pozzi.


I resti del del Villaggio delle Macine lungo il lago Albano, agosto 2012 (foto Matteucci)


Dettaglio di uno dei pali (foto Matteucci)

set 152012

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

salt pans WP_Locatelli_salt_pans

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.


acconcio fishing system of Puglia


“lavoriero” of the lagoon of Comacchio (FE); foto Sargentini.


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.