See biographies by E. M. King (1965), T. C. Day (1969), and J. Roche (1971).
Palestrina (ancient Praeneste) is an ancient city and comune (municipality) with a population of about 18,000, in Lazio, c. 35 km east of Rome. It is connected to latter by the Via Prenestina. Palestrina is sited on a spur of the Monti Prenestini, a range in the Apennines.
It is the namesake of composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
Praenestine graves from about 240 BC onwards have been found: they are surmounted by the characteristic pine-apple of local stone, containing stone coffins with rich bronze, ivory and gold ornaments beside the skeleton. From these come the famous bronze boxes (cistae) and hand mirrors with inscriptions partly in Etruscan. Also famous is the bronze Ficoroni casket (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome), engraved with pictures of the arrival of the Argonauts in Bithynia and the victory of Pollux over Amycus, found in 1738. An example of archaic Latin is the inscription on the Cista Ficoroni: "Novios Plautios Romai med fecid / Dindia Macolnia fileai dedit" ("Novios Plautios made me in Rome, Dindia Macolnia gave me to her daughter"). The caskets are unique in Italy, but a large number of mirrors of precisely similar style have been discovered in Etruria. Hence, although it would be reasonable to conjecture that objects with Etruscan characteristics came from Etruria, the evidence points decisively to an Etruscan factory in or near Praeneste itself. Other imported objects in the burials show that Praeneste traded not only with Etruria but also with the Greek east.
The origin of Praeneste was attributed by the ancients to Ulysses, or to other fabulous characters variously called Caeculus, Telegonus, Praenestus or Erulus. the name derives probably from the word Praenesteus, referring to its overlooking location.
Praeneste was probably under the hegemony of Alba Longa while that city was the head of the Latin League. It withdrew from the league in 499 BC, according to Livy (its earlest historical mention), and formed an alliance with Rome. After Rome was weakened by the Gauls of Brennus (390 BC), Praeneste switched allegiances and fought against Rome in the long struggles that culminated in the Latin War. From 373 to 370, it was in continual war against Rome or her allies, and was defeated by Cincinnatus.
Eventually in 354 and in 338 the Romans were victorious and Praeneste was punished by the loss of portions of its territory, becoming a city allied to Rome. As such, it furnished contingents to the Roman army, and Roman exiles were permitted to live at Praeneste, which grew prosperous. The roses of Praeneste were a byword for profusion and beauty. Præneste was situated on the Via Labicana.
Its citizens were offered Roman citizenship in 90 BC in the Social War, when concessions had to be made by Rome to cement necessary alliances. In Sulla's second civil war, Gaius Marius the Younger was blockaded in the town by the forces of Sulla (82 BC). When the city was captured, Marius slew himself, the male inhabitants were massacred in cold blood, and a military colony was settled on part of its territory. From an inscription it appears that Sulla delegated the foundation of the new colony to Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus, who was consul in 73 BC. Within a decade the lands of the colonia had been assembled by a few large landowners.
It was probably after the disaster of 82 BC that the city was removed from the hillside to the lower ground at the Madonna dell Aquila, and that the sanctuary and temple of Fortune was enlarged so as to include much of the space occupied by the ancient city.
Under the Empire the cool breezes of Praeneste made it a favorite summer resort of wealthy Romans, whose villas studded the neighborhood, though they ridiculed the language and the rough manners of the native inhabitants. The poet Horace ranked "cool Praeneste" with Tibur and Baiae as favored resorts. The emperor Augustus stayed in Praeneste, and Tiberius recovered there from a dangerous illness and made it a municipium. The ruins of the villa associated with Hadrian stand in the plain near the church of S. Maria della Villa, about three-quarters of a mile from the town. At the site was discovered the Braschi Antinous, now in the Vatican Museums. Marcus Aurelius, Pliny the Younger and Symmachus also had villas there. Inscriptions show that the inhabitants of Praeneste were fond of gladiatorial shows.
The oldest portion of the primitive sanctuary was situated on the terrace just above the lowest one, in a grotto in the natural rock where there was a spring that developed into a well. As the archaic shrine was elaborated from the 2nd century BC, it was given a colored mosaic pavement representing a seascape: a temple of Poseidon on the shore, with fish of all kinds swimming in the sea. To the east of this grotto is a large space, now open, but once very possibly roofed, and forming a two-story basilica built against the rock on the north side, and there decorated with pilasters. To the east is an apsidal hall, often identified with the temple itself, in which was found the famous mosaic with scenes from the Nile, relaid in the Palazzo Barberini-Colonna in Palestrina (not that in Rome!) on the uppermost terrace (now a National Museum). Under this hall is a chamber, which an inscription on its walls identified as a treasury in the 2nd century BC. In front of this temple an obelisk was erected in the reign of Claudius, fragments of which still exist.
As extended under Sulla, the sanctuary of Fortune came to occupy a series of five vast terraces, which, resting on gigantic masonry substructure and connected with each other by grand staircases, rose one above the other on the hill in the form of the side of a pyramid, crowned on the highest terrace by the round temple of Fortune. This immense edifice, probably by far the largest sanctuary in Italy, must have presented a most imposing aspect, visible as it was from a great part of Latium, from Rome, and even from the sea. The ground at the foot of the lowest terrace is 1476 feet (450 m) above sea-level; here is a cistern, divided into ten large chambers, in brick-faced concrete.
The goddess Fortuna here went by the name of Primigenia ("First Bearer"), she was represented suckling two babes, as in the Christian representation of Charity, said to be Jupiter and Juno, and she was especially worshipped by matrons. The oracle continued to be consulted down to Christian times, until Constantine the Great, and again later Theodosius I, forbade the practice and closed the temple.
Features of the temple influenced Roman garden design on steeply sloped sites through Antiquity and once again in Italian villa gardens from the 15th century. The monument to Vittorio Emmanuel II in Rome owes a lot to the Praeneste sanctuary complex.
In 1297 the Colonna family, who then owned Praeneste (by then called Palestrina) from the eleventh century as a fief, revolted from the pope. In the following year the town was taken by Papal forces and razed to the ground by order of Pope Boniface VIII. In 1437 the rebuilt city was captured by the Papal general Giovanni Vitelleschi and once more utterly destroyed at the command of Pope Eugenius IV.
It was rebuilt once more and fortified by Stefano Colonna in 1448. It was again sacked in 1527, and occupied by the Duke of Alba, in 1556. In 1630 it passed by purchase into the Barberini family. Praeneste was the native town of the 3rd century Roman writer Aelian, and of the great 16th century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Thomas Mann spent some time there in 1895 and, two years later, during the long harsh summer of 1897, he stayed over again, with his brother Heinrich Mann, in a sojourn which
The town contains remnants of cyclopean walls and of the aforesaid great temple of Fortune.
On the summit of the hill (753 m), nearly a mile from the town, stood the ancient citadel, the site of which is now occupied by a few poor houses (Castel San Pietro) and a ruined medieval castle of the Colonna family. The magnificent view embraces the Monte Soratte, Rome, the Alban Hills and the Pontinian Plain as far as the sea. Considerable portions of the southern wall of the ancient citadel, built in very massive Cyclopean masonry of blocks of limestone, are still to be seen; and the two walls, also polygonal, which formerly united the citadel with the town, can still be traced.
The calendar, which, as Suetonius tells, was set up by the grammarian, Marcus Verrius Flaccus in the forum of Praeneste (the reference being to the forum of the imperial period, at the Madonna dell'Aquila), was discovered in the ruins of the church of Saint Agapitus in 1771, where it had been used as building material.
The cathedral, just below the level of the temple, occupies the former civil basilica of the town, upon the facade of which was a sundial described by Varro, traces of which may still be seen. In the modern piazza the steps leading up to this latter basilica and the base of a large monument were found in 1907; so that only a part of the piazza represents the ancient forum. The cathedral has fine paintings and frescoes. In the Church of Santa Rosalia (1677) there is a noteworthy Pietà, carved in the solid rock.
The National Archeological Museum
The National Archeological Museum of Palestrina is housed inside the Renaissance Barberini Palace, ex baronal palace, builded above the big Temple dedicated to the Ancient Fortune. In exhibits the most important works from the ancient town of Praeneste. The famous sculpture of the Capitoline Triad is exhibited on the first floor. The second floor is dedicated to the necropoli and sanctuaries while the third floor contains the large polychrome mosaic depicting the flooding of the Nile (Nile mosaic of Palestrina).
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text:Data from ISTAT