View of Formia © Antonio Casti

Roman Formia

During Roman times Formia was a busy town known as Formaie.  However legend has it that this was once the mythical land of the Laestrygonians, who were fierce man-eating giants who attacked the hero Ulysses when he voyaged around these shores. Meanwhile, the Roman historian Strabo claimed that the town was founded by the Laconians. However historians say that this was originally the land of an Italic tribe known as the Aurunci.  Subsequently it was claimed by the Volsci people. Ancient fortifications and cyclopean polygonal walls composed of large closely-fitting blocks of stone surrounded these settlements. They are still visible today within the town of Formia.

Ancient Polygonal Wall in Castellone Formia Italy

Formiae

Formiae was a port and staging post sited along the route of the ancient Appian Way or Via Appia.  It was also a fashionable holiday resort on the Gulf of Gaeta for several wealthy Romans and statesmen. The Roman poet, Marco Valerio Marziale, wrote of Formiae “O Temperatae Dulce Formiae Litus …..” which translates as “gentle coast of Formia with a mild climate …..”. Today many roman ruins and ancient monuments of this era are still visible.

Cicero and Villa Rubino

Villa Rubino is situated in the Caposele district.  Here are the remains of a sumptuous Roman villa, that some say was owned by the Roman lawyer, statesman, politician and philosopher – Marco Tullio Cicero. Cicero definitely possessed a villa in the Formia area, however there is some controversy as to whether this particular villa actually belonged to him. This residence was constructed on three terraces, close to the seashore. It was adorned with aquatic gardens, a fountain, fishponds and it also had a small harbour. The remains of the villa are now privately owned, so unfortunately are rarely open to the public.

Mausoleum of Cicero

Six months after the murder of Caesar, Cicero dared to criticise his opponent, Mark Anthony, in a series of speeches known as the Philippics.  Mark Anthony took his revenge and ordered the assassination of Cicero. On the 7th December 43 BC Cicero was caught being carried on a litter leaving his Formia villa. He was planning to escape from his enemies by boarding a ship heading for Macedonia. He was murdered by some of Mark Anthony’s men, he was decapitated, his hands were severed and his tongue cut out. Cicero was aged 64 years.

A mausoleum can be seen situated just outside Formia (in the direction of Rome) to one side of Via Appia.  Some say this is Cicero’s tomb, however this is not known for sure. In fact his severed head and hands were put on public display in the Roman Forum in Rome and he was buried in the city. The tomb is a cylindrical concrete structure stands 24 metres high on a base of large limestone blocks. Inside there are two chambers.  The monument is rarely found to be open, but it can be visited by appointment. To organise a visit contact the Archaeological Museum in Formia.

Mausoleum of Cicero in Formia Italy
Mausoleum of Cicero in Formia Italy
Carole Raddato   CC BY-SA 3.0

Nearby on a hill in the Acervara district are the remains of another tomb, that of Cicero’s daughter, Tulliola.  She died in childbirth at a young age.

The Remigio Fountain

Also along the Appian Way is the Remigio Fountain which dates from the Roman Imperial period. It consists of a wall of limestone blocks which had a large water cistern behind it.  Water flowed from two spouts which were decorated with masks depicting the sun and the moon. Only one can still be seen today. There was also a water trough for thirsty horses and animals travelling through along the Via Appia.  Here sections of the original roman road can be seen paved in basalt.

The Muro di Nerva

The Muro di Nerva  are the remains of a mighty sea wall, in opus incertum, of the Roman Republican era. There are also sections of an ancient cyclopean wall dating from the 5th century BC. These walls formed  part of the sea defences of the harbour and port. Nearby, in an area known as the Grotto di Sant’Erasmo, warehouses with barrel vaults were also constructed along the sea front.

Caposele Harbour

At Caposele there are the remains of a small roman port with more warehouses built alongside.

Roman Warehouse At The Harbour of Caposele Formia Italy
Roman bricks and blocks at the Harbour of Caposele Formia Italy

The Roman Theatre in Castellone

In Via del Teatro in Castellone there are the remains of a Roman theatre that have been turned into small apartments.

Roman Theatre in Castellone Formia Italy
Roman Theatre in Castellone Formia Italy
Roman Brick Work in Castellone District of Formia Italy

The Criptoportici and Roman Villa

Under Piazza della Vittoria there are the remains of a villa and some underground buildings or warehouses known as criptoportici, which date from the 1st century BC. Nearby there were pools which were once used as fish hatcheries. These can be seen at low tide.  Sadly, under many of the modern day buildings of  Formia lies much of the ancient Roman town Formaie.  In the main street of Via Vitruvio, close to Piazza Mattej stood a basilica and an Augustan forum.

The Water Cistern or Cisterone of Formia

A large Roman water cistern, or Cisternone dating from the 1st century BC, was unearthed during public road works in 1930.  It is said to be one of the largest ever discovered. It has undergone restoration and it is now possible to visit this monumental construction which is located in the Castellone district of Formia. It has mighty raised vaults and impressive strong walls. The cistern was fed by local fresh water springs and the water supply was distributed to public and private buildings throughout the town. It is a wonderful testament to the skill of Roman hydraulic engineering.

Roman Water Cistern in Formia Italy
© Patrick Abbott
Roman Water Cistern in Formia Italy
© Patrick Abbott
Roman Water Cistern in Formia Italy
© Patrick Abbott

Among other Roman remains to be found in the Formia include ruins located in Via Mamurra close to the district of  Castellone. There are also the remains of a temple dedicated to Janus (50 BC), the theatre of Trajan, an amphitheatre close to the railway station (1st century AD), an aqueduct (1st / 2nd century AD).  There are two funeral monuments which can be found in the districts of Remigio and San Pietro. Further along the coast at Giànola there is another small port and a grand residence owned by Lucius Mamurra (50 BC) located near to Scauri.

Roman Aqueduct in Formia Italy
Roman Building in Via Mamurra in Formia Italy
Roman Archway in Via Mamurra in Formia Italy

A  Note  of  Thanks

My sincere thanks to all the people who have kindly given me permission to use their photos on this Formia website. Thank you to Antonio Casti, Maurizio Aprea, Domenico Feola, Patrick Abbott, Patrizia Esposito, Pirovagando …… accordingly the photos have been accredited to the photographer / owner.  Thank you also to the photographers who have shared their photos via a Creative Commons License. Please note that images marked with * are in the public domain 

All other photos I have taken myself and belong to me © Louise Shapcott. I ask you kindly, please do not copy or re-use any of the photos without requesting permission.

Website © Louise Shapcott 2017 – 2018 All Rights Reserved

Last Updated January 2018