The ancient city of Capua reached a very high and prestigious level, and it has been even called by Cicero second Rome because of its wealth and splendor, that are attested still today by the archaeological remains: there are the second bigger amphitheater in Italy after the Colosseum, a celebrative arch of the emperor Adrian and the very particular Mithraeum rich of frescos.
The History of Capua
Ancient Capua has been a long-tradition city that passed through different phases and was inhabited by different populations. The archaeological remains that have been found lead to the first prehistorical settlement in IX century BC, and they can be attributed to Iron Age and Villanovan culture.
The exact date of foundation of the city is unknown, and Latin writers like Cato, Virgil and Velleius Paterculus gives different dates for this event. On the contrary is well known that the first phase of development of Capua is related to the Etruscans, between V and IV century BC and then the Osci became the dominant population in this area. They expanded the borders of the city and strengthen its position compared to the other inhabited centers of Campania, because Capua became leader of a local league of cities.
In IV century BC it was the biggest city in Italy and became part of the Saminites’ orbit and then of the Romans’ one, in 338 BC with the status of civitas sine suffragio. The rural and urban extension of Capua influenced the events in the roman age. During the second Punic war, Hannibal chose Capua as one of its military bases, and occupied the cities between 216 and 211 BC. After the roman victory Capua was punished for have been collaborated with the Punics and the cultivated land were subtracted to the Capuans and attributed to Rome (at first they were considered public land- ager publicus, and then disposed to individuals).
However the city grow in importance thanks to the manufactural sector and became wealthy and prestigious, and this fact can be confirmed by the remains of the monumental buildings. The maximum splendor of Capua was in the Republican age, and it was also even called by Cicero altera Roma (second Rome). One of the most famous historical events associated with Capua, was the riot of the gladiators in 73 BC, leaded by Spartacus that started the Third Servile War. After the victory of the roman army, guided by Crassus, survived rebels were crucified on the way between Capua and Rome.
In the imperial age, the city lots its importance, most of all after the buildings of via Domitiana, a commercial street that excluded Capua, from the way of mercantile exchanges. During the reign of Adrian, however there has been an urban restoration of the city, and were built the triumphal arch and the amphitheater, that is the second biggest one after the colosseum.
In the late empire Christianity spread easily in this area, and Capua became an episcopal center, but after the fall of the Western Roman Empire the city was partly destroyed and invaded by the barbarians, at first the Ostrogoths and then the Lombards.
The archeological area of Ancient Capua
The most important archaeological remains of ancient Capua that you can see belong to the roman age, particularly interesting are the Anfiteatro Campano and the Mithraeum.
The Amphitheatre was built between I and II century AD, it was restored and concluded during the reign of Adrian, as we can know thanks to an epigraph dedicated by Antoninus Pius. It is the biggest Amphitheatre in Italy excluding Colosseum (its measurements are 165 meters on the major axis, and 135 meters on the minor one), but its less well preserved.
The external perimeter is well visible, but of the original structures that was composed by four orders of 80 arcades each, only a few of them are preserved and only from the first two floors. The arcades were meant to be all of the same dimensions, except from the ones situated at four cardinal points that were used as entrances and were emphasized by Tuscan style pilasters. In the first two orders of arcades the keystones were decorated with busts of Gods, and some of them maintained their original shape. There are still preserved also the frontal plutei and balustrade of the vomitoria (the access galleries to the stands). You can also see the concentric perimeters of the stalls that show the structure of the internal part of the arena.
Near the Amphitheatre there is a museum of Gladiator dedicated to the main entertainment form performed in this space. It is structured in three rooms in which there are reconstructions of the original structure of the amphitheater, and are preserved also the remains of its decoration. You can also see installations of gladiator’s fights.
A Mithraeum is a place of worship of the Persian god Mithra, and the presence of one of them in this area is testimony of the spread of this cult in the western part of the empire. It has been built between II and III century AD and it is structured with a main subterranean room, with cocciopesto flooring and marble inserts, covered by a barrel vault.
The initiated to the cult stayed long stoned bars called praesepia where there were also small pools for purification. The particularity of this sanctuary is the decoration with frescos that is the most expanded collection of pictorial representations of the symbols of the cult of Mithra, that includes a representation of the god that kills an ox (on the wall back of the altar), on the left and right sides in the upper and lower corners there are frescos that portray the personifications of the Land, the Ocean, the Sun and the Moon. There are also frescos of religious scenes like a procession with torches, and different moments of the initiation of a faithful of the cult.
It is unconventional the presence of a bass relief portraying Cupid and Psyche.
It is possible to have a widest view of the history of Capua, and not only of the roman age, if you visit the archaeologic museum of ancient Capua, that organized in 12 rooms the archaeological remains of the different development phases of the city.
Imagine Copyright: By Vincenzo Romano - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Tuesday-Sunday: 9 am- 7 pm
Closing day: Monday
Full ticket: 2, 50 €
Reduced ticket: 1, 25
Tickets include the entrance to the Museum, Amphitheatre, Mithraeum and Museum of Gladiators)
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE CARD:
FOUNDATION: VI century BC
DECLINE: V century AD
CIVILISATION: Etruscans, Romans
ADMINISTRATION: Polo Museale della Campania
How to get to Capua
By car: it is possible to get to Santa Maria Capua Vertere by car, from northern and southern cities, through motorway A1 Milano-Napoli and take the exit Santa Maria Capua Vertere.
By bus: From Naples or Caserta you can take the bus number 7 in direction Capua and get to Santa Maria Capua Vertere, in particular near the archaeological areas, if you get off at the stop Anfiteatro Alifana
By train: You can get to Santa Maria Capua Vertere by train, because there is a train station that is part of the railway line Rome-Naples. The station is near to the archaeological area of main interest.