The Baths of Diocletian on the Viminal Hill in Rome

‘Within’ the Baths of Diocletian from the Piazza della Repubblica, Viminal Hill.

Good news for visitors to Rome, particularly those of you who enjoying exploring the eternal city’s ancient heritage. After four years of restoration work the architectural feature that once acted as the cistern for the Baths of Diocletian has just opened to the public. And, taking up this newly restored space is one of the largest ancient mosaics found in Rome, which has been in storage for the last 50 years.

Although the Piazza della Repubblica is situated on what was a large semi-circular terrace with commanding views over the city, some of the features of the Baths of Diocletian complex, constructed at the beginning of the 4th Century AD, are probably the best preserved of the large thermal baths. And the complex has been used to house one of Italy’s greatest national collections, Museo Nazionale Romano delle Terme – founded in 1889.

Since this time the collections quickly outgrew the space, and parts of the complex became unsuitable and structurally unsound. Consequently the collections were split, and so now the Museo Nazionale Romano comprises four different museums: the Crypta Balbi, Palazzo Altemps, Palazzo Massimo and Terme di Diocleziano. A programme of restoration of the baths complex has been in place for sometime now. The completion of the cistern room is the latest development on site.

Hall X1, as it is known, was used a collection tank and designed to increase the water flow of water to the outdoor pool. Restoration has not only revealed the techniques that were used to make this room water-tight, but that the room appears to have been adapted almost immediately as the feed of water to the pool was insufficient.

Placed within this vast, newly restored space is an eighty square meter mosaic, one of the largest from ancient Rome to have been recovered. The mosaic was found in 1931 during the excavation of the Villa of Nero at Antium (modern day Anzio). One of the intriguing motifs of this mosaic is a victorious Hercules shaking the horn he has just ripped from the head of the river god Achelous, who is depicted bleeding. The mosaic has been in storage for the last 50 years.

The re-opening of another feature in the Baths of Diocletian follows on the news last month of the opening of the underground tunnels and Mithraeum at the Baths of Caracalla. This is a time when one sees reports of so many closures across the country due to the current economic climate in Italy.

Visiting Rome and want to include the Baths of Diocletian?

I strongly recommend getting yourself a Roma Pass. The Museo Nazionale Romano is included in the scheme, and your entry to this important museum includes entry to the four satellite exhibitions in Crypta Balbi, Palazzo Altemps, Palazzo Massimo and Terme di Diocleziano. Further details such as opening hours can be found on the official website. And, for a decent guidebook, I recommend Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Amanda Claridge.

Baths of Diocletian, Palaestrae

Looking on to what was the Palaestrae, open courts, at the Baths of Diocletian.

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