Albano Laziale has many cultural and archeological offerings right in town. The most impressive is following the 2000 year old history of Castra Albana (Albano Laziale today) and the settlement of the Emperor Severus’s Second Parthian Legion. Even with just a couple hours, you get a vast historical panorama through Albano’s network of 2 museums and 3 monuments at bargain ticket prices.
Start at either the Villa Ferrajoli Civic Museum or the Museum of the Second Parthian Legion. When purchasing the 3€ museum ticket, you can also choose what monuments to see, which are closed otherwise. In one day we visited Villa Ferrajoli and all the monuments part of that circuit; the church S. Maria della Rotanda, the Cisternoni (Cistern) and the l'Anfiteatro (Amphitheatre), each additional monument costing €2.50.
Villa Ferrajoli Civic Museum
Villa Ferrajoli has an eclectic archeological collection spanning from the lower Paleolithic age to the Renaissance period and many of the findings are local.
My daughter Grace’s highlights of the museum were artifacts from the stone age including the Australopithecus child's skull, tools and elephant tusks, as well as the interactive “Touch History Stations”.
Mine were from more recent periods; frescos by Caretti from the early 19th century, the marble head of Tiberius and the basement floor filled with mosaics, sarcophagi and statues from the Roman empire era.
When we were finished, museum custodian Giancarlo
accompanied us to our further stops. That
Thursday afternoon it was just three of us visiting all these monuments by
Second Stop: Church of Santa Maria della Rotonda
Giancarlo opened the church of S. Maria della Rotonda, originally an ancient nymphaeum of Roman construction dating back to the first century. This church deserves an article by itself, but here I’ll list what stood out:
-Architecturally, it preceded the famous Pantheon in Rome
and has a similar dome ceiling and central opening
- In the sacristy there is a small antiquarium where powerful fragments of sarcophagi and sepulchral inscriptions from the Severan era are on display, in particular a funeral poem inscribed to the child Eutyches.
-Frescos from the 14th & 15th centuries, floor mosaics of sea monsters and the exterior walls of Roman construction.
Giancarlo locked up and then led us to our third stop
Third Stop: Cisternoni
Amazingly still intact 2000 years later, the cistern was designed by Legion architects around 202 AD to supply water to the surrounding area. Hollowed out of rock, the cistern is rectangular in shape, roughly 47m x 30m or 50 x 32 yards (enormous), divided into five aisles with vaulted roofs and supported by 36 pillars—it’s often compared to an underground cathedral.
The architecture and engineering is impressive, the history alive, the lighting dark, the air cool. We were only allowed to go down the steep staircase halfway for closer viewing, but each step was a leap of courage for my spooked daughter (who later told me it was the best part of the day). It was an exciting visit for both of us, this is a treasure that does not get enough recognition. A must see, but remember you need to go through the museums as the gates are usually locked.
Fourth Stop: Anfiteatro:
The amphitheatre was built in the 3rd century AD for the Legion's entertainment and able to seat up to 16,000 people. Today it hosts musical events and historical reenactments during the summertime, or at least before Covid-19; at the time of writing 2020 summer’s programming was on hold. We walked around the entirety of the structure, literally sat on history and viewed the burial caves along with the adjacent land where the Legion’s barracks were located.
You can get an impressive view of the amphitheatre from the road if the gate is locked, but walking throughout the structure gives you a better feel of history.
Museum of the Second Parthian Legion
We came back another day to visit this museum by itself; however since it is a small space it can be included in the circuit above if you want to see everything in one day.
The museum is devoted to the Second Parthian Legion and located in an area of the thermal baths which the Emperor Caracalla built for the soldiers.
Both my kids (ages 12 and 10) were really into this museum and it was one of their favorite stops. Here is why:
-It is visually engaging; Mannequins
wore reconstructions of the intricate Legion breastplates, decorative metals,
diverse helmets and held the various weapons and shields.
-The didactic area. Kids (and adults) have the chance to wear and touch faithfully reconstructed legion uniforms and weapons. The metal chainmail and elaborate breastplate were too heavy for us to pick up, but my son kept running to the mirror to check himself out wearing the different helmets and leather breastplate while wielding weapons.
-The dice and lead gladiator figurine. In the “everyday life” section you can find a pair of dice made of ivory, along with gaming chips, amphitheatre tickets and a figurine of a gladiator, a reminder that they wanted to have fun just like we do.
We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but here are a few from outside and a Roman die.
Below are the latest hours, but call before going to confirm you can visit the monuments.
Ferrajoli Civic Museum, Viale Risorgimento n. 3
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9.00 - 13.00
Tuesday and Thursday 16.00 - 18.00
1^ and 3^ Sunday of the month 9.00 - 12.30
Second Parthic Legion’s Museum, Via Volontari del Sangue, 11 - 13
Opening Times: Monday to Friday 9.00 - 13.00
Wednesday and Thursday 16.00 - 19.00
Saturday 8.00 - 14.00
Sunday 9.00 - 13.00
After your visits, you may need refreshments. Here is where I go for quicker meals, coffees and snacks when I am in town:
Fortini Lab Café; Corso Giacomo Matteotti, 108, 00041 Albano Laziale. A cute café, bar, bakery, pastry shop restaurant, tastefully decorated, quality food and drink.
Sesta Corso Giacomo Matteotti, 40 –a welcoming café, a vast tavola calda of many pastas, meats, fish and sides to choose from and delicious pastries.
Forno a Legna, via San Martino 8 for A simple forno (bread bakery) for excellent takeaway white and red pizza
Salad Express, via Cavour 20 I love a salad and this place lets you build your own with the freshest ingredients. Closed on Sundays.
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