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The Traianic Nymphaeum, Chambers and its Surroundings

The Fiora Nymphaeum is one of the only remaining Aqueduct Sources from Roman times visible and explorable by our generation. The system of filtration of its spring water sources is uniquely preserved in modern times.

A map from the year 1718 held in the State Archives in Rome shows a small church with an open space in front of it labeled "Piazza della Chiesa", and a well with a bucket lifted using a lever pivoted in a tree. This mechanism was known in ancient Egypt and is often called a shaduf.

Based on 1718 map: "Chiesa, et Eremitorio della Fiora della Casa di S. Spirito posta nella Manziana" by Domenico Giammerile, held in the Archivio di Stato di Roma, Coll. Dis. & Piante. Adapted by Penny O'Neill, © MEON HDTV Productions 2011.

We entered the site through an ordinary farm gate, from a road which follows the town boundary between Bracciano and Manziana, arriving in the church piazza which is now a gently inclining field used as grazing land for pigs, chickens and other farmyard animals.

Walking up the slope of the field, with no hint of what passes beneath it, we reached a second gate and a modern bore hole which Bracciano Council uses to pump water to their town and which drains the water table surrounding the church and its underground chambers.

The Three Principal Chambers of the Nymphaeum

Adjacent to the modern bore-hole, until very recently were a clump of eldar and fig trees, and a lush growth of wild flowers hiding a steep slope. Only by descending vertically through these trees, beating the ground with staffs to ward off the snakes, and with birds chattering around our ears were we able to reach the central vaulted chamber of the Church, which was then out of view from the surrounding countryside.

The picturesque cave-like complex is wonderfully well preserved, and its vaulted roofs are particularly undamaged. It has a continuous, curved rear wall, and the width of the space is divided into three chambers connected at one time by deep arches.

Nymphaeum Chamber

When Prof. Lorenzo Quilici of University of Bologna first entered the complex on June 24th 2009, he immediately exclaimed "È tutto Romano" - it's all Roman.

Nymphaeum Chamber

The right hand chamber is four meters deeper than the other two chambers, leading observers to believe that the centre and left hand chambers have been filled with mud or other debris over the centuries.

The centre chamber shows clearly the post-roman use of the complex as a church, since the rear wall contains a centrally aligned, beautifully decorated frame which once held a portrait of the Virgin Mary, and beneath that frame, a previously covered over niche, containing medieval paint which appears to extend below the current floor level.

Turning left, and passing under an arch of roman bipedale bricks, we reached a low chamber, which is clearly filled with soil, but which supports a unique triangular cross vault - a very unusual type of vaulted roof, which our explorers had never seen before.

There are also pillars which almost reach the ceiling of this chamber. It seems as though a heavier structure (such as a church tower), had once held down the vault and its subsequent absence has allowed that vault to spring up away from the pillars. In the top of this vaulted roof there is an occulus to allow daylight to enter the chamber, lined with coloured roman bipedale bricks. The occulus has subsequently been blocked with large pieces of stone - perhaps a paving slab from a roman road.

Next page: The most interesting chamber in the complex...
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Plans and Cross Section

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To the right of the central chamber is the most interesting chamber in the complex, the spring chamber. The original archway leading into the spring chamber has been blocked with random building material after the original date of construction. However a small doorway still leads from the Central Church Nave through the top of the archway and emerges near the ceiling of the Spring Chamber. Descending another three meters, with our cameras and lights, we were able illuminate the most spectacular piece of archaeology that we have seen.

The lower part of the walls of three sides of this chamber consists of very large blocks of volcanic stone with gaps inbetween them to allow water to filter through. The blocks are not supported by either mortar or clamps, although they do have clamp holes in them. We have observed from places where a blocks have fallen out of place that behind each row of blocks is another row of identical blocks.

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