Rimini museums

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New wings for an ancient heart

Satiro e Menade

The visit begins a million years ago with traces of the presence of homo erectus on the Hill of Covignano, at the time situated by the sea submerging the plain on which the town was to come to life. Flint tools can be compared with well-known prehistoric finds of the same period like those from Cà Belvedere di Monte Poggiolo in the Forlì area.

Continuing our fragmented journey we come across ‘precious’ heirlooms: polished flint implements from the New Stone Age flanked by the earliest pottery shapes typical of the new agricultural-pasture economy; the Bronze Age hoards, preserved by trader-metalworkers; tomb equipment from the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age burial grounds of people influenced by the settlement of Verucchio; products of various ethnic groups (Etruscans, Umbrians, Greeks, Celtic tribes…) present in the valley and estuary of the River Marecchia between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C. One of the most interesting pieces of evidence for the cultural mix characteristic of “Rimini before the town of Rimini” is the votive deposit at Villa Ruffi unearthed in 1890 on the Hill of Covignano – the acropolis of Ariminum - and late sold off by antique dealers. A similar cultural/ethnic mix emerges from the excavations in the area of the former seminary, on the lower slopes of the hill, especially from the fascinating Warrior’s Tomb.

The foundation of Ariminum, the Roman colony dating from 268 A.D., on the estuary of the river of the same name, was part of the occupation of the Po Valley. Together with votive offerings, this period is represented by coins known as aes grave, bearing the head of a Gaul, as well as the so-called pocola deorum, bowls with names and emblems of gods and the territorial layout of the colony.

A profile of Ariminum from the 3rd to Ist centuries A.D. follows. In this period typical Roman houses combine living space with workshop areas. Under Palazzo Battaglini a large amount of black painted table and kitchen ware, as well as lamps were unearthed. Other features of production are kiln slag and large numbers of ring and cylinder spacers.

The soul of the town is to be seen in the gravestones and funerary monuments in the burial grounds along the main roads leading to the town and the sculptures and decorative terracottas from religious and civic buildings. Covignano, with its woods and springs maintained its ancient vocation throughout the Roman period. In the early years of the 1st century A.D. the religious nature of the hill took on a monumental appearance. The eight column capitals, traditionally linked to San Lorenzo in Monte, like the Greek marble head of a goddess, recall a large temple.

Encountering the great men of Roman history (from Camillus, to Flaminius, Marius to Caesar), Ariminum entered the Imperial Age as a colony re-founded by Augustus, who, apart from reorganising the street plan of the town and surrounding area, endowed it with important monuments (from the Arch to the bridge over the River Marecchia and the theatre), aqueducts and a drainage system. Industrial areas were turned into residential districts. The Roman houses (at Palazzo Massani, the Arch of Augustus, the former church of S. Francesco, the former Bishop’s Palace, the Market Hall, Via Sigismondo…) have sophisticated mosaic floors with complex geometrical patterns, elegant figures, monochrome borders embellished with coloured marble. Furnishings and fixtures, frescoes, statues, ceramics and instrumenta are further evidence of a luxurious lifestyle in a prosperous, sophisticated town.

Two typical representatives of the mid-Imperial period are the Roman house at Palazzo Diotallevi (from which, among other things, the mosaic showing the entry of ships into the harbour comes, the harbour perhaps being that of Ariminum, - the emblem of the room devoted to the theme of the sea) as well as the Surgeon’s House.

The Surgeon’s House was unearthed during excavations in nearby Piazza Ferrari. It is internationally famous for its unrivalled sets of Roman surgical instruments and equipment for the preparation of medicines. The glass paste panel depicting fish, a sophisticated decorative item in the triclinium is extremely rare. The graffito on the plaster of the room serving as a ‘day hospital’, the engravings on small medicine vases and the inscription on the pedestal of a statue recall Greek-Oriental culture. The display is introduced by the taberna medica reconstructed on a scale similar to the original room.

Our itinerary continues into a kind of pantheon housing the gods and herpes of Ariminum: Eros, Dionysus, Priapus, Silenus, Venus, Minerva, Fortuna, Orpheus and the mythical Hercules…. Flanked by Eastern religious cults.

Floor mosaics are also foregrounded in the Rimini of Late Antiquity. This sector displays some splendid examples from the excavations at Palazzo Gioia, Palazzo Palloni and the Market Hall. Here remains of palatial residences dating from the 5th and 6th centuries came to light, in the context of a new building impulse from the Imperial court at Ravenna. Complex geometric patterns in delicate colours surround figures covering large surfaces. One of them is the so-called Venus looking into a Mirror and the scene of a procession with gifts from the Roman house at Palazzo Gioia which also gave us the mosaic of Victories, on the threshold of a large reception room; as an example of the best mosaic art of the 2nd century, the flooring lasted for centuries maintaining the original function of the room even when the house was rebuilt on a grand scale.

The mosaics provide evidence of the lifestyle of the late Imperial residences at the height of their splendour. But they also show their rapid decline, a prelude to their being abandoned in the mid 6th century, at the time of the Greek-Gothic war, the point where Roman Antiquity turned into the Middle Ages. A late Imperial mosaic is intruded upon by an anonymous tomb. This is a prelude to the Early Medieval sector which will link the Classical itinerary to the medieval sector.