Monday, February 27, 2012

Exploring Rome: The Forum Holitorium

Just to the north of the Forum Boarium at the southwest corner of the Palatine lies the area known as the Forum Holitorium – ancient Rome’s vegetable market. It was, however, far more than a mere farmer’s market, including one of the oldest cult sites in the city, a theater, several major temples and a  likely location of the Porta Triumphalis, through which victorious generals entered Rome to celebrate their conquests.

At the south east corner of Vico Jugario and Via dell Teatro Marcello lies an excavation known as Area Sacra di Sant’ Omobono. The site, discovered (as so many others) in 1937, is one of the most complex in the city having as many as 17 occupational phases. The lowest layers date to the middle of the 7th century BC and contained the earliest known Etruscan epigraph in Rome.  By the 5th century the area was reorganized and began to take on a more Roman character with a pair of temples dedicated to Fortuna and Mater Matuta. The site remained an active religious center through the 2nd century AD and about beginning of the 6th century became a Christian cult center.

Area Sacra di Sant’ Omobono is currently an active research project being handled jointly between the University of Michigan, the Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali of the Comune di Roma, and the Università della Calabria. The UM website for the project is Sant'Omobono Project

Porta Carmentalis

Just across Vico Jugario to the north is a neat double archway called Porta Carmentalis. This gateway was originally part of the Servian Wall. 

North Façade of S. Nicola in Carcere
South Façade of S. Nicola in Carcere

Across Via del Teatro Marcello to the west is the  Basilica di S. Nicola in Carcere. This remarkable church is built over the ruins of three ancient temples (from north to south): Janus, Juno Sospita, and Spes. 

Underground S. Nicola in Carcare

In addition to the extensive re-use of ancient materials in the exterior walls, the basilica contains a large underground area. Admission to the underground area was 2 Euro at the time of our visit. 
As you leave S. Nicola in Carcere turn left and walk north on  Via del Teatro Marcello. Be sure to take a look at the north façade of the basilica as well as the ruins of the north temple and then continue to the Theater of Marcellus, about a block further on. 

Theater of Marcellus and Temple of Apollo
Dedicated to Augustus' nephew Marcus Marcellus. Marcellus stepped upon the Cursus Honorum as aedile in 23 BCE and with Augustus' assistance sponsored a spectacle and funded the theater. Unfortunately, he died soon after - at the age of 19 - a tendency that would become all too common among the first emperor's male relatives. The theater was adapted as a fortress in the middle ages, became a palace in the 16th century and today houses some no doubt very expensive apartments.

The area around the theater contains the remains of a number of public buildings, the most prominent of which are the three columns of the temple of Apollo. (The columns were re-erected in the 1930's.)There had been a cult of Apollo in this area since the 5th century BCE and the first Republican era temple was built about 431. The temple was rebuilt several times, finally by Gaius Sosius in 34 BCE. Sosius sided with Antony after Caesar's murder and led a Roman army in support of Herod. For his success in placing Herod on the throne in Jerusalem he was allowed a triumph. 

He began to rebuild the temple in 34, but when war erupted between Antony and Octavian, he stuck with Antony and had a good deal of success as a naval commander. He was captured following Actium and pardoned by Octavian. He is known to have attended the Secular Games in 17 as one of the Quindecimviri - a group of magistrates responsible for the Sibylline Books and the cults of foreign gods (like Apollo) that had come to Rome.

Barely visible just east of the remains of the Temple of Apollo is the podium of the Temple of Bellona. It looks more or less like what it is - a big rectangular mass of cement.

Porticus Octavia
 Immediately west of the Theater of Marcellus is the remains of the Porticus Octavia. Built by Augustus in honor of his sister it originally enclosed the temples of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina as well as a library dedicated to Marcellus.

View Forum Holitorium in a larger map

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gardening 2012 - Seed Starting

Well, it's 8 weeks to the "last frost" date for our area, so it's also time to start starting seeds. For the first batch we've got parsley, thyme, basil, eggplant, and some spicy Calabrese peppers. In a couple more weeks we'll start tomatoes, then about the middle of March zucchini. This year we're also growing broccoli raab, beets, carrots, and swiss chard, all of which will be direct seeded along with some red cippolini type onions that will go in from sets.

To get things moving in our chilly basement, we're using a heating pad underneath the seed starting tray. In a perfect world it will provide just enough (and not too much) warmth to get the seeds moving. According to the instructions, that's 10 degrees warmer than ambient. The manufacturer suggests using a thermostat, but the basement is cool enough that I'm hoping it won't be necessary.

The tray with the first five varieties loaded, the tray looks like this:

And after a couple hours with the heat on it's looking good; not too hot, but warmer than my basement:

The heated seed starting tray is this one:

We've also got a lighting system we won't actually need for a week or so:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Farro Salad - Because nobody gets enough fiber

Based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis:


1 1/2 cups farro perlato
Water to cover by 2 inches
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 sweet red pepper, diced
3 scallions including green parts, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped black olives
4 oz. sheep's milk feta, crumbled

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
Salt and Ground black pepper to taste


Bring the water to a boil in a large sauce pan and add the farro. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost done, about 15-20 minutes.  Stir in the salt and continue cooking until the farro is tender, about another 5-10 minutes. Drain the farro and spread it on a plate to cool.

Prepare the vegetables and feta as described and set aside. Feel free to add whatever else you like. The original has green beans. We've also made it with asparagus (poached briefly), snow peas, and diced carrots.

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, pepper, and salt until emulsified.

When the farro is cool enough to handle, place it in a large bowl and mix in the vegetables and feta cheese. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and mix well.

A one cup serving contains about 7 grams of fiber.

A note about farro - you want to get farro perlato, pearled farro not whole farro.  If you can't find farro in your local store:

(Yes 3 pounds. You'll use it. Really.)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Exploring Rome - The Forum Boarium

The area near the Boca della Verita is one of the most historically significant locations in Rome, yet few tourists do more than snap a picture at the famous drain cover before heading off to lunch in the Ghetto[1] or Trastevere.

Known to archaeologists as the Forum Boarium (Latin boarius -a, -um, of oxen or cattle) and Forum Holitorium (Latin olitor, vegetable grower) this section of the Tiber’s east bank served as an important religious center as well as the cattle, vegetable, and olive center of Rome for centuries. A tour of the area is well worth the couple hours invested, if only for the knowledge that you’re one of the few non-professionals who’s taken the time to look.

The Forum Boarium


After you’ve taken your pictures at the Bocca della Verita, take some time to step inside the church of S. Maria in Cosmedin. This church marks, more or less, the southern boundary of the Forum Boarium. It is built above the city’s oldest center of the cult of Hercules. There was a cult center here before the founding of Rome itself in the 8th century BC and in the 2nd the Ara Maxima was rebuilt with the tufa blocks that now form the church's crypt.

Inside you’ll see a series of Corinthian columns embedded in  the west and north walls. These originally formed part of a gallery built in 4th century AD and attached to the Ara Maxima. It was once believed the gallery was a sort of administrative center but it is more likely it was simply part of the shrine. By the 7th century the structure had become a well established Christian church and in the 8th the tufa blocks that form the altar's foundation were hollowed out to create the church's crypt.

To descend to the crypt, simply ask the attendant if the gate is not open. Once below you’ll find reasonably clear signage describing the Ara Maxima as well as other parts of the crypt. 

Tufa Blocks of the Ara Maxima

But that’s not the only Hercules site in the area. After you leave the church carefully cross Lungotevere Pierleoni at the stoplight. You’ll see a small round temple: the Temple of Hercules Victor. This temple is still misidentified on some tourist maps as a temple of Vesta due to its resemblance to that goddess’s temple in the Forum Romanum. Marcus Octavius Herrenus dedicated the temple to Hercules Victor (called Olivarius, the patron deity of olive oil merchants). It seems likely that Herrenus’ wealth came from the olive trade.  

Temple of Hercules Victor

But wait - there's more! Though no longer extant, there was yet another temple to Hercules in this area: the Aedes Aemiliana Herculis.  It was likely dedicated by Scipio Aemilianus during his censorship. Unfortunately, it was torn down in the 15th century.
So, what the heck are three temples to Hercules doing in a commercial area of ancient Rome? I’m glad you asked!

While Hercules was returning from his 10th Labor, rustling the Cattle of Geryon, he paused to rest at this very spot on the bank of the Tiber. One night while he slept, the fire breathing monster Cacus (who normally only ate people) snuck down from his cave on the side of the Palatine and re-rustled some of the cattle, leading them away backward so they would leave a misleading trail.

The next morning, not surprisingly, Hercules noticed half his cattle were missing. A very annoyed Hercules then went in search of his cattle and eventually heard them mooing from behind an immovable rock. Of course the rock was easily movable by Hercules and shortly thereafter the hero fought and killed Cacus. Naturally, the locals  and their king, Evander, were grateful so they established suitable worship of the hero at the site of the Ara Maxima. As a result, the area became an obvious place to locate temples to Hercules (but not the only one - the Romans were rather fond of Hercules).
Temple of Portunus

Just north of the Temple of Hercules is a more conventional rectangular temple. This one is dedicated to the god Portunus, not a bad deity to have on your side if you happen to be operating a major port next door. At least that’s what the Romans felt, and in fact a temple has existed in this location since the late 4th century BC. While we were there in February 2012 there seemed to be quite a lot of maintenance activity at this temple – perhaps it will be open to the public in the future.

Concordia Augusta Monument Fragment
Now, carefully cross Via Luigi Petroselli and you'll be face to face with a pedestal and a small altar with a fragmentary inscription. These are the remains of a statue dedicated to Concordia Augusta by Augustus in 11 AD.

Quadrifrons Arch of Janus
Just to your right as you face the little altar is a large parking lot that lies in front of the Arch of Janus (also known as the Quadrifrons Arch). It's the only four sided arch still standing in Rome. It was probably built by Constantine and marks the eastern side of the Forum Boarium. It stands directly over the Cloaca Maxima which opens to the Tiber adjacent to the nearby Ponte Rotto.

Arch of the Argentarii

Finally, if you continue up the stairway on the north side of the Arch of Janus you'll come to the little church of San Giorgio in Velabro. On the west side of the church is the Arch of the Argentarii, a heavily decorated monument celebrating Septimius Severus and the imperial family. You'll notice that in several places portraits are missing. In fact, they were deliberately erased by Caracalla after he had his brother Geta, wife Plautilla, and  her father Plautianus killed.

View Forum Boarium in a larger map

After you've visited these site walk a few blocks north to the Forum Holitorium.

Note: All the archaeological information in this post comes from Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide, known in our family as "the big book of ruins": 

[1] Nonna Betta, a rather good kosher restaurant is open for lunch 12:00 to 4:00 daily.


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