One of the most historic and best preserved Roman archeological sites in Umbria is along the western branch of the ancient Via Flaminia, north of Narni. Carsulae was founded in about 300 B.C. and grew when the Roman Road was built right through the center of town in 220 B.C. Settling into the gentle valley amidst rolling hills, the land was ripe for cultivation and during its “Golden Age” of Augustus when he rebuilt portions of the Via Flaminia in 27 B.C., it was a wealthy and prosperous agricultural center and way station along the road. It became a Roman municipium during the reign of Augustus and major building works created the Forum, the marble Arch of Trajan (now the Arch of San Damiano) at its north entrance and a Temple Complex.
It became a beehive of activity when wealthy “tourists” from Rome attracted by the bucolic setting with its many thermal baths started building vacation homes. One can imagine the spectacles staged in the huge theater and amphitheater complex.
The city declined as the western branch of Via Flaminia fell into disuse and was abandoned in the 4th Century A.D. after an earthquake and the people relocated to nearby San Gemini. Long after it was abandoned, in the 11th Century the Church of San Damiano was built on the foundations of a Roman building.
This Church is a perfect example of Romanesque architecture with its rounded nave and Greek cross and Roman pillars. Frescoed walls adorn the altar with animals and people celebrating the fullness of Early Creation.
Visitors today can walk in the footsteps or literally in the grooves worn down by passing chariots on the Via Flaminia and climb to the top of the temple complex. On a sunny day in Umbria, it is a welcome visit to ancient Roman history!
Today, large archeology digs are ongoing by the Valdosta State University of Georgia under the direction of Jane Whitehead. Buried under just 30 centimetres of dirt, lays the vast majority of ruins in this complex.
On an unusual note, there is a small memorial to Sandro who used to live nearby and play in Carsulae. The marble pillar with Sandro’s photo marked the place that he died, struck by lightning at the age of 20 years. Just like the ancient Romans, a young man’s legacy will live on. Visitors’ center has good information in English.
For more info: www.carsulae.it