Address: Via degli Stabilimenti, 5 - 00019 Tivoli (RM)
The sanctuary of Hercules Vincitore, together with those of Gabii and Palestrina, is part of the great sanctuaries with theatre-temples in Latium and was in fact a great extra-urban 'commercial centre': the markets and the underground street formed the structural basis of the ideological and religious significance of the sacred area above. Like all great ancient sanctuaries, Hercules' was a centre of accumulation of treasures and circulating money and was able to grant loans and earn interest.
Barely mentioned in classical sources, the sanctuary was long interpreted as 'Maecenas' Villa', until the historian and archaeologist Antonio Nibby referred to it as 'Temple of Hercules' in 1849. Then, from 1861, the architect Charles-Alphonse Thierry produced the first perspective illustrations of the preserved structures and tables suggesting a detailed reconstructive hypothesis of the monument.
The sanctuary stood on the southern slope of the Aniene gorge, in the section between the Tivoli waterfalls (upstream) and Acquoria (downstream). The site was a deliberate choice by the builders. The great structure was built outside the town of Tivoli in a strategic position astride the Via Tiburtina, the main link between Abruzzo and Lazio. The road, which was actually incorporated into the complex, crossed it in a monumental masonry tunnel (the so-called via tecta). Controlling the traffic between Rome and the Sannio region and offering a pleasant opportunity to stop at this point made the sanctuary a real generator of wealth: in fact, one could not avoid crossing it and this alone made it unique in the panorama of contemporary sanctuaries. The presence of an extra-urban sanctuary dedicated to Hercules is not accidental in this strategic point, given the economic role of ancient sanctuary structures. Moreover, the particular deity worshipped, known to be the protector of the transhumance routes and of shepherds, is in keeping with the type of commercial exchanges that must have taken place along the road, at one of its best controlled points.
Due to its imposing dimensions (141 x 188 m), the work lasted from the end of the 2nd century B.C. to the Augustan Age. The construction represents a masterpiece of Roman engineering, as it shows several innovative aspects. The simplicity of the plan of the sacred area, which was emphasised on three sides by two-storey porticoes and housed the temple in the centre, is contrasted by the original solutions adopted along the northern side of the sanctuary, where powerful substructures were built to fill the orographic difference in height towards the Aniene river. Another important element is the theatre, with a capacity of 3,600 spectators, which stands along the longitudinal axis of the temple.
The life of the sanctuary was long and prosperous and continued until the 4th century AD, although the structures show signs of decay even earlier, but the final abandonment can be placed in the first half of the 6th century, when, during the Greek-Gothic war, Tivoli was conquered by Totila, king of the Ostrogoths. The sanctuary, in a state of abandonment, gradually became a quarry for materials and was transformed into an agricultural landscape. From 978 the via tecta is recorded in the sources as 'Porta Oscura' and became the site of mills fed by the ancient diversionary channels of the Aniene.
In the 13th century, a new chapter in the history of the sanctuary opened, represented by a lively building fervour motivated by the construction of two monastic churches: S. Maria del Passo, belonging to the order of Friars Minor, set up inside the northern portico, and S. Giovanni in Votano, of the order of the Poor Clares, mentioned in the documentary sources. Evidence of the construction sites set up for the renovation and adaptation of some of the rooms in the sanctuary can be seen in the imposing limekiln with two mouths found during recent excavations, prepared for the production of the lime needed to build the structures.
The so-called industrialisation phase of the complex began in the 17th century, when the arms factory owned by the Apostolic Chamber was installed in 1614. This was followed by a wool manufacturing plant and, above all, the cannon foundry commissioned by Lucien Bonaparte in 1802. Between 1815 and 1884, several owners took turns, the last being the Società delle Forze Idrauliche. The last of these was the Società delle Forze Idrauliche, which carried out a major project, entrusted to engineer Raffaele Canevari, that envisaged the construction of a canal to collect the water from the ancient aqueducts and the waste water from the nearby Villa d'Este, in order to supply the Acquoria hydroelectric power station below. On 16 August 1886, thanks to the innovative technology used in the plant, Tivoli was the first Italian town to be illuminated by electricity, from which Rome also immediately benefited. The construction of the Canevari canal caused a break in the basic spatial unity that had been maintained until then, despite numerous intrusions and changes of ownership; In fact, the southern half of the complex was subjected to massive silting up and was used for agricultural purposes, while in the northern part the industrial factories continued with Giuseppe Segré's Mecenate Paper Mill, of which the concrete pavilions and canopies covering the porticoes of the sacred area still remain; production only ceased in the 1950s with the acquisition of the remains of the sanctuary by the State.
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