IL TEATRO ROMANO DI CASTELLONE
The Roman theater of Castellone
A site turned into a living neighbourhood.
History, legend and theories
We all know that it was built around the Augustan period in the 1st century B.C. and, according to a legend, S.Erasmo’s martyrdom occurred there on the 2nd of June 303 A.D. by the order of the Roman Emperor Massimiano.
It is located in the area of the Borsale, west of Castellone area and south of S.Erasmo’s abbey which was run by Benedictine monks until 1500, then replaced
by Olivetan monks until the end of 1700.
The “cavea” or flight of steps of the theatre, just like all roman theatres, was supported by the builders on the slope of Castellone hill, built in a way the spectators would be facing south towards the sea and they would be probably protected from a “Velarium” (a sort of covering made of layers of canvas that covered the spectators from harsh weather).
The pulpit was supposed to be 1,50m high, 24m long and 6,60m deep with a «scena » (scenery) that in its back displayed a hallway which led to two different side areas that were used as storage rooms for the different sceneries used during the acts.
It probably suffered its last destruction in 1532 by Turks invaders together with S.Erasmo’s abbey which had just passed from Benedectine to Olivetane management.
This is the story of the Roman theatre of Castellone with a short reference to the popular legend about the martyrdom of S.Erasmo which probably occurred just there.
From this point forward we can only make assumptions, even thanks to what Pasquale Mattej has written about the ‘gate’ which he had really came across and that gave rise to the toponym we received ‘gliu cancieglie’ ( the gate in formian dialect), as it is still called today in Castellone, the area of the Theater.
What has always wondered me about is that nobody has never written about that fantastic and majestic ‘baroque’ Portal equipped with an emblem, which stands for the entrance of the Theater area and obviously can give us some more information about what happened in the last three centuries, and so we can simply establish that its placement may have taken place between 1500 and 1700.
Unfortunately the emblem turned out to be ruined from the passing of the centuries, but I consider it may have been put by the Olivetans monks who became the owners of the whole area of the ‘Borsale’ since 1492 and up to 1785.
The above-mentioned area, where actually the Theather is set, at that time started from the S. Erasmo abbey up to the Appian Way, where a second ‘Olivetan’ plaque was placed to specify the southern border of the entire monastic property. ( check on my 26th August post).
The same area, as in an act dated 1355, is already called “Lu Borsaro next to another proprety of the abbey and to ‘Lu Montano…. ‘” (this last one referred to the place set to the crushing ofolives to obtain olive oil)
The so called spot must therefore have belonged to the Abbey that since 1468 became “commenda” (a type of medieval contract) which was run by the commendatory abbot Giovanni Gattola and then by the “perpetual” abbot Giuliano della Rovere from 1472 to 1491 by the order of the Pope Sisto IV.
In another act of 1472 a vineyard is mentioned in a place called “Lo Borsale close to the goods of the monastery…and of the public road”.
Going back to the gate, whoever constructed it must have been the owner of the area and of the remains of the Theatre that were modified by the indications of a single “mind” necessary to create a majestic but mostly consistent architecture in the style.
This leads us to consider with a good probability that the entire area of the Borsale and of the archeological site was owned by a single person or a community that turned it into lodgings for the monks, also in the intention of the abbey after being badly damaged by the Turks in 1532 coming back from Fondi where the kidnapping of the beautiful Giulia Gonzaga was supposed to happen as a gift for the sultan Solimano I, also known as the Magnificent.
After the abbey was restored in 1538, the Olivetan monks could have decided to sell the entire area of the theatre to several people in the future, after having separated it from the Borsale area, that included the new parts that were placed on the “media e summa cavea”(middle and top cavea) just like they arrived to us today.
It became therefore necessary the abolition of the gate placed on the portal that until then marked out a private area and that is mentioned by Mattej.
We all know by some documents kept in the abbey, that has always been a military barracks deducing it by the structure which is placed on the theatre.
In an act dated 1464 when the abbot Giovanni Gattola was in charge, Castellone was already associated to a site called ‘La Guardia’ (the Guard).
Mattej himself, in one of his works, recognizes the garden called ‘La Guardia’ (the Guard) to the Borsale where the remains of the theatre actually were found.
The sale could have been made between 1600 and 1700 by St. Erasmo’s abbot under the Olivetans’. These are obviously some hypotheses that I hope could be confirmed by further researches on the unciary land registry or maybe by the discovery of some transfer act which is kept in the same Church of St. Erasmo, set in Castellone area.
Personally, I really hope in this second option thanks to the support of the former parish priest of S. Erasmo Don Antonio Punzo who has been helping several researches in St. Erasmo Church’s Archieve.
Several readers have mentioned other Roman websites to add to the other seven listed by me.
Obviously I had just depicted the most glaring situations by the number of the buildings as well by for the number of dwellers.
In fact, it’s almost unknown that Formia was a Roman town since the third century B.C. and an “Hadrianean “ colony in the second century A.D.
With the current article I would underline this aspect which in my opinion is even unknown to many Formia citizens.
In the first and second pictures, I have just marked what was supposed to be the main shape of the theatre ,overlooking the underlying hole which is essentially the main character of this site.
From the curving of this site it was estimated that the “scene” of the theatre was supposed to be around 25mt long with a backstage that developed all the way which was called until ten years ago “Anticaglie way”,being rich of archeological finds, and then it was changed to “Umberto Scipione way”.
The houses inside the structure of the theatre aren’t limited to the 21 apartments of the building with the white façade (photo n.3),an obvious evidence of a third of the “superior cave ”.
We can find many other lodgings in about twenty other buildings (photo n. 4-5-6-7),some of them quite big, built on the lateral structures, on the facade and on the “scene” of the original theatre which was built in the Augustan period.
As you can clearly see from the photos, many of the buildings were built on the east side of Gradoni del Duomo street and on the south side of the ex- Anticaglie way.
We can find others on the border with “del Borsale” area,and some others still inside the original structure.
It is actually an area of Formia where less than 300 people live in almost seventy flats , without considering lots of ground floor structures that are at present some warehouses and offices, but after the Roman period they should have been like ambulatories used as lodgings.
Apart from the palace between Anticaglie street and Gradoni del Duomo street, built on the period after the second world war, all the remaining ones have walls of ‘opus reticolato’, (that’s a particular Roman construction technique used to make a wall ) vaulted rooms, pillars, cisterns and more other elements linked to a theatrical structure of the roman period.
In one of these ground rooms, as mentioned in a letter written by Pope S. Gregory Magno in the VI century A.D, the martyrdom and the burial of S. Erasmo (bishop of Antiochia and Formia) would have taken place.
This is the Roman Theatre of Formia, the so called ‘Gliu Canciegl’ (the gate) which is the most representative example of housing reuse of archeological sites of the Roman period.
Fact: There are only seven roman Theatres and amphitheaters used as houses in Italy.
Marcello’s Theatre, Rome
Pompeo’s Theatre, Roma