The Alba Fucens site, nestled in the heart of Italy at the foot of the Apennines (Abruzzo), is one of the oldest Roman military colonies. Founded in 304/3 B.C. to control the territory of the Aequi, the city structure adheres to a regular urban planning. Surrounded by a powerful rampart made of polygonal blocks, the city has been divided into long insulae along the two main streets, Via del Miliario and Via dei Pilastri. A series of large squares mark the relief from North to South: the North Terrace, the Forum, the Sanctuary of Hercules and the Sanctuary of the Eastern Gods. The site was destroyed in the Late Roman Empire by a terrible earthquake whose archaeological traces are perfectly recognizable. The same tragic fate would strike in 1915, when the medieval village, located on the former acropolis, was destroyed.
The research history
The archaeological research campaigns carried out by CReA-Patrimoine, in collaboration with the Royal Museums of Art and History, are the result of an invitation from the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio dell'Abruzzo, following the resumption of excavations and the exhibition organised at the Academia Belgica in Rome and the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels in 2006/7. These excavations had been started by a Belgian team in 1949, at the instigation of the Academia Belgica and the Catholic University of Louvain (Fernand De Visscher, Franz De Ruyt), with regular campaigns led by Joseph Mertens until 1979. From the beginning, some participants came from the ULB such as Jean Bingen and, a little later, Jean Ch. Balty, who was co-director for several years.
Fig. 1. The city centre with the CReA survey in the foreground on the right
Our research concerns the forum area, the least known in the whole colony. From the beginning, we chose to focus on the western side of the square, south of the "schola" excavated by J. Ch. Balty in 1960. Two new buildings have been cleared. The first, the "Hall of Columns", very monumental, is paved with a white mosaic and decorated with two rows of three Corinthian columns. The second, the "Salle aux Marbres", has the same dimensions as the schola, half the size of the previous room. Its walls were covered in their lower parts with marble crustae and its floor paved with large slabs of grey Carrara marble at the front, and with an opus sectile of coloured marbles to the rear, all testifying to a luxurious ostentation in the decoration. All three rooms overlooked a portico with a mosaic floor which gave onto the Via del Miliario, linking it to the forum square. They backed onto one of the walls of a large sewer at the foot of a powerful polygonal terrace wall. At the upper level of the latter runs the Via Nova. The "Columnar Hall" was probably a large reception and banquet hall for city magistrates or members of a professional or religious association. An apse at the back of the room makes the religious function of the "Marble Hall" obvious. Behind it, we excavated a 5 m deep well with the help of an archaeo-speleologist. It contained large amounts of material (almost complete terracotta jugs, wooden utensils, coins, lamps, etc.). The "Marble Hall" was used after the earthquake as a dump; its rich material testifies to the reoccupation of the site until the beginning of the 6th century AD. In 2011, we uncovered the fragmentary remains of an important administrative document (the Fasti Albenses), thrown in a heap on the mosaic of the portico in front of the "Marble Hall". This large calendar completed by a list of Rome's consuls, painted in rustic red capitals on a white background, covered a wall at least 4.50 meters long and 3 meters high. In addition to the excavation of these rooms, the portico preceding it, and the investigation of their links with their immediate environment (Via del Miliario and forum), we are also conducting a new study of the city's impressive underground sewer system.
The site is extremely rich and has revealed all kinds of materials, from terracotta to glass, frescoes, wood and metal. Inscriptions, coins, bones and other items are studied and treated on site with the help of specialists in the relevant disciplines and a team of conservators.
Fig. 2. The upper part of the calendar with the calendars from April to July
Restoration - conservation
The archaeological mission of Alba Fucens includes two teams of conservators who participate fully in the study and reconstruction of the objects, and are responsible for their cleaning, conservation, and conditioning. The first is made up of Isabelle Vranckx (ENSAV - La Cambre) and students - trainees in restoration, the second includes conservators from the Royal Museums of Art and History (Isabella Rosati and Stéphanie Caeymaex). In addition to the work on the site itself (preservation of walls, floors, wall paintings and crustae), four main areas have been studied since 2017: the Fasti Albenses, marble objects and plaques, ceramics, conservation and packaging.
The Fasti (including a calendar and a list of consuls) are preserved in hundreds of fragments of white plaster on which inscriptions have been dry painted. The latter are very poorly preserved and have proved to be extremely fragile, which makes the puzzle of this immense ensemble (ca. 4.50 x 3 m. originally) particularly difficult. In 2017, for the first time we spread out all the fragments and tried to place them on our model of the original structure. Indeed, until now, only isolated portions of the calendar had been assembled. This operation made it possible to identify and replace a large number of fragments at their rightful location. At the same time, very careful work was carried out to clean the remains of hundreds of untreated fragments in order to try to insert them into the structure.
We are also trying to reconstruct the wall covering panels of the marble room. After grouping the fragments by material, the different stratigraphic units were combined in order to identify possible joins and make the collages. About fifteen plaques and plinths were partially reconstructed.
In order to preserve them in the best possible way, we have cut out cellular polypropylene sheets and set blocs around the plaques to prevent the marbles from moving and allow the plaques to be stacked in the storage room.
In preparation for the futur opening of the on-site museum, we have drawn a list of the most interesting vases to be exhibited. Some of them require a fuller restoration; we chose the first ceramic to be thus treated: a plate in African sigillata (AF 08-078-08). After consolidating the glues that had not withstood the humidity, a recessed filling was carried out, which was then coloured.
Fig. 3. Wall covering panels of the marble room - assembly and gluing
Fig. 4. Signposted before and after gluing
Fig. 5. Sealing with shrinkage and colour retouching
Contact: Cécile Evers