There are so many amazing things to see and do in Rome.
Today I want to tell you about a fantastic place that you may want to fit into your Rome itinerary. It is located along the Appian Way at the 3 mile marker, so is near the catacombs of San Callisto and San Sebastiano.
The Tomb of Caecilia Metella
This ancient Roman mausoleum dominates the view along this particular stretch of the Appian Way, with its huge tower and castle-like fortifications. One of the best preserved and most visited monuments along the Appian Way, it is intriguing and fascinating, and like everything in Rome, has a great back story.
Who Was Caecilia Metella?
This particular Caecila Metella (there were several) was born into one of the wealthiest families in ancient Rome. The Metella family wealth and power dated back to the 3rd century B.C and lasted until the end of the Republic. The family held both political power and important military seats.
In that time female names were often taken from the father’s family tree, so the Caecilius Metellus clan had multiple Caecilia Mettelas. Every daughter in the family had the same name, as if they had no importance at all, and were just human chattels. The males were given first names – her father was Quinicus Caecilius Metellus. This Caecilia was born around 100 B.C and was married to a powerful Roman general and politician who was actually instrumental in the conversion of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. His name was Marcus Licinius Crassus
Positioned as it was on the highest and most prominent point on the Appian Way, this glorious structure could be seen for miles. You could be forgiven for thinking it was built as a testament to a husband’s inconsolable grief at the loss of his wife, but it wasn’t. We don’t know the reason for her death or even exactly when she died. We don’t actually know anything much about her, and her mausoleum gives us no clues either. Which is a little odd. Well, actually it tells us two things in an inscription on the wall.
But we’ll get to that in a minute.
The tomb or mausoleum is made up of a rotunda sitting atop a square podium, with the Caetani Castle attached to the back. The podium is 8.3 meters tall and the cylindrical drum rotunda standing on it is another 12 meters tall. The diameter of the drum is 29.5 meters or 100 Roman feet. Caecilia’s sarcophagus originally sat in a funerary sill inside wall of the massive tower, facing the Appian Way, but now calls the Palazzo Farnese home.
Although as a side note, there is some dispute over whether this is in fact Caecilia’s sarcophagus. At the time of her death cremation was the norm, so her ashes would have been placed in a funerary urn. Also a study that was done on the sarcophagus suggests it dates to 180 A.D. But who knows?
The exterior of the mausoleum was made of travertine. The upper level of the tower was decorated with a marble frieze depicting wreaths and the skulls of oxen, both of which were a reference to sacrifices made to the Roman gods. Quite a masculine motif – not what we would expect for a tomb dedicated to a woman. The relief in the center is also very masculine, depicting a helmet, shields and a prisoner. The only nod to Caecilia is on the inscription:
CAECILIAE Q.CRETICI.F METELLAE.CRASSI
Which translated reads Caecilia, daughter of Quinicus Metellus Creticus and wife of Crassus. (The Creticus part refers to her father having conquered Crete.)
Not beloved wife and daughter, not any descriptors of her. Just an indication that she was the daughter of one man and wife of the next, like a possession passed around.
In the middle ages the fortress was built, eventually becoming the Cetani Castle. The earth covered, rounded roof of the mausoleum had battlements built onto it and it became an important fortress, guarding the Appian Way and the southern entrance into Rome. The castle houses a museum and has ancient statues throughout the courtyards
Why Build the Mausoleum?
So why build this huge, spectacular mausoleum for a woman not important enough to have her own name? It is thought to have been built towards the end of the 1st century B.C, sometime after Caecilia’s death, but in all likelihood not to celebrate her. Her death probably coincided time wise with the opportunity to show off the wealth and power and greatness of this eminent family, and celebrate the glory of the men named on the inscription.
A single ticket is valid for 7 days and gets you into the Baths of Caracalla, the Villa of the Quintilii and the Tomb of Caecilia Metella. A great way to enjoy the Appian Way is by bicycle, and the area surrounding the Tomb of Caecilia Metella and the Cetani Castle is fabulous both for taking photos and for having picnics!
Would you like to go wine tasting in Rome but don’t know where to go?
I have three favorite places to go wine tasting in the Eternal City. Each is quite different from the next and each offers a very different experience. I have made a downloadable PDF with all the information for you, as well as some tips for Walking Wine Tours. (If you are subscribed to my newsletter this will already be in your inbox) Get your Wine Tasting In Rome PDF Here