Medieval Roman Colony Found in Nola: Hub of Arts & Crafts
An epic medieval archaeological site has emerged on Nola's outskirts! Italian heritage authorities have excitedly announced that a recently discovered center of craft production and trade might “rewrite” the city’s history.
Dating back to the eighth century BC, Nola was originally founded as a Roman colony in the Campania region of southern Italy. The site flourished as a center of regional trade and craft production between the 5th to 15th centuries and being associated with Saint Paulinus and Saint Felix, Nola has always been a popular destination for Christian pilgrims who make offerings at the Basilica di San Paolo and the Cathedral of Nola.
Now, in the Nola area on the outskirts of Naples, archaeologists have identified an entire medieval neighborhood, and burials dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries. According to a report on ILRoma, the Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the metropolitan area of Naples said the discovery might “rewrite the history of the early Middle Ages in Nola.”
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One of several 6 and 7th century graves found at the site. (Soprintendenza Napoli)
Rediscovering An Ancient Italian Craft Center
The traditional cobble stone roads of Nola serve as a platform for a range of spectacular architectural treasures dating back to the Roman period, including: a huge amphitheater and a theatre, palatial residences and elaborate family burial mausoleums. While the amphitheater represents the brutal nature of Roman culture, the theatre, in contrast, is emblematic of their deep love of arts and creative expression.
Mariano Nuzzo, superintendent of fine arts for the metropolitan area of Naples, told Napolitoday that together with Cuma and Capua, “Nola is of great interest in Campania.” Nuzzo added that since the 1800s archaeologists have discovered a lot of ceramic fragments dating from the 6th century up to the 12th-13th centuries, at which time a specialized craft quarter was created in Nola.
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The Lost Lime Artisans of Nola
The newly discovered craft production site was equipped with a limestone workshop. Evidence suggests medieval artisans took damaged Roman marble sculptures and resurrected them with lime. For example, Nuzzo explained that a headless Roman statue of a togato was repaired and reformed in a case of lime.
Two damaged statues, one repaired using lime, recently discovered in Nola. (Soprintendenza Napoli)
Medieval artisans valued lime-based materials for their compatibility with various stone and metal surfaces. Lime mortar allowed for both structural support and aesthetic restoration, making it a valuable tool for preserving and repairing older Roman sculptures and statues. The skills of the medieval lime artisans at Nola included the careful reparation of damaged statues and the mixing of different lime mortars, depending on the job in hand. To change its consistency, medieval craftspeople often added substances to lime, for example, pozzolana (a volcanic material) created a thick lime paste that was spread and molded onto damaged marble statues.
Seeding the Dutchy of Naples
The city of Nola experienced several invasions and sieges during the decline of the Western Roman Empire, therefore, the Greek and Roman pottery discovered at Nola is often found mixed with Germanic pottery dating to the Gothic War, that was fought between the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) and the Ostrogoths. The Goths, under their leader Totila, warred against the Roman forces, and their seizure of Nola in the year 543 AD represented a key moment in the conflict, that ultimately contributed to the eventual fall of the Western Roman Empire.
In the early medieval period, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, the southern Italian peninsula became a patchwork of different kingdoms and territories. The Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire emerged in the southern part of Italy, and the modern Duchy of Naples has historical ties to this empire.
Top image: Left, Lime-working pit. Right; Early Medieval grave at Nola. Source: Soprintendenza Napoli
By Ashley Cowie