Roman Insula (Rome)

Roman Insula (Rome)


Description of Roman Insula

Roman Insula (Rome)

Piazza d'Aracoeli

Tel. 06-0608
Bus: 40, 62, 63, 64, 110, 170.
Trolleybus: 8
Open by appointment only: call first.

Roman insula is tucked between the monument to Victor Emmanuel and the Aracoeli stairs. This ruined Roman tenement building dates back to the times of imperial Rome, when thousands of people from all over the Mediterranean tried to find themselves in the Eternal City. Most of them lived in the cramped rooms of apartment buildings with which they built up neighborhoods. In terms of their size, these houses became known as "islands" or insulin in Latin. The owners poorly supported these buildings and they often burned. Nevertheless, the apartments in the city were very expensive. This multi-unit block of the 2nd century is the only surviving similar building in Rome from this era. The fourth, fifth and part of the sixth floor remain above the current ground level, and the first three floors below ground level. In the Middle Ages, part of these upper floors was converted into a church. Today, its 14th-century bell tower and Madonna are visible in a niche from the street.

In the fascist years, the area around the Roman Insula was cleared, and for the first time archaeologists studied the three lower floors. Approximately 380 people lived in this apartment building, in the squalid conditions described by satirical writers of the 1st century AD. e., Martsialom and Juvenal. The latter mentions that he needed to climb 200 steps to get to his attic. This insula may have more floors. The higher the citizens of Roma lived, the more gloomy the conditions were, as indicated by the close spaces of the upper floors of the building.

Roman Insula (Rome)


The structure dates back to the 2nd century and was built in brick, leaning against a reticulated wall which was probably built in the 1st century to consolidate the Capitoline hill. In the Middle Ages the upper part of the building was occupied by the church of San Biagio de Mercato while in 1653, in place of the latter, the church of Santa Rita da Cascia was built, which was then dismantled in the 1930s to allow the construction of the Victorian and rebuilt a few hundred meters away near the theater of Marcellus.

It was during the dismantling of the church that the remains of the building were found which, unlike many other archaeological finds in the area, were preserved. Of the church of San Biagio only some parts of the Romanesque bell tower remained and an arcosolium decorated with a fourteenth-century fresco.



The building had a total of six floors of which four (including the mezzanine) have been recovered, for the most part located below street level, and represents an important testimony of Roman building architecture, with some similarities to the residential buildings found in Ostia. Of the four visible floors, only the last one is damaged and only a few traces remain.

The ground floor, as is customary in the Roman insulae, housed the shops, or tabernae, while the housing modules began from the first floor. There are traces of the wooden floor and traces of the rectangular windows with wooden frames. The layout of the rooms and their size suggest the typical distinction in value between the lower floors, which were more appreciated and reserved for wealthier individuals, and the higher floors, of lesser value and intended for the plebs.

It has been calculated that the Roman insula could accommodate about 380 people and is considered direct testimony of how the plebeians lived in any case near the monumental area of ​​imperial Rome, on the slopes of the most important and holiest hill of the city, even if in conditions. not very comfortable.

Roman Insula (Rome)

Site reconstruction
According to the reconstructions of the archaeologists Antonio Maria Colini and James E. Packer, the remains belong to a large multi-storey complex with four wings grouped around an internal courtyard.

The German archaeologist Sascha Priester, based on the archaeological remains and the remaining documentation, proposed a new reconstruction of the area: There was a "West Building", which today, except for its massive brick facade still visible, it is almost completely under the modern Via del Teatro di Marcello. The surface of this ground floor with its row of shops (tabernae) was up to 400 m². A "North Building", which could have access stairs to the inside, would have been reinterred immediately after the discovery. A "south wing" which until now had only been assumed hypothetically, has never been. Instead the "East Building" - now known as Insula dell'Aracoeli - is the most visible part of this building situation. Between the "West Building" and the Insula of the Aracoeli S. Priester has reconstructed an alley, crossed by arches; the porticoed pillars of the "East Building" and the traces of arches and the corresponding brick pillars of the opposite "West Building" are proof of this. Due to the subsequent extension of the portico of the Insula dell'Aracoeli this street as a via tecta was reduced in width to about 3.8 meters. The alley was quietly paved in a secondary phase and was eventually abandoned as a roadway at the latest in Late Antiquity.