Lake Iseo has revealed little yet very significant evidence of the Roman times. Such proof suggests that the lake area was visited mostly for residential purposes due to the characteristics of the landscape and the milder climate which made it an ideal choice for pleasure villas.
The position, between Bergamo, Brescia, the hills of Franciacorta and the Valle Camonica (Camonica valley), encouraged a lively cultural and commercial environment, especially on the Bergamo side of the lake, as proven by the rich grave goods that were found in the necropolis in Lovere, including sets of silver and refined decorative objects. Arranged in funerary enclosures along the road connecting the lake and the Valle Camonica, the necropolis was in use from the end of the Iron Age and for the whole of the Roman Times.
The importance of the area is confirmed by the villa in Predore, the significant remains of which are today preserved in an archaeological area. Around the beginning of the 2nd Century A.D., the villa most probably belonged to the gens Nonia, one of the most powerful and richest families of Brescia related to the gens Arria, who, amongst other things, owned the villa in Toscolano Maderno.
Located further away from the lake, along the road connecting the Valle Cavallina (Cavallina valley) to the Valle Camonica via Lovere, in the present-day location of Casazza, was a widespread and strategically positioned village at the bottom of the valley which was inhabited between the 1st and the 4th Centuries A.D. and probably played an important role in the cultural and commercial exchanges in the territory. This has been confirmed by the grave goods found not far away in Mologno which, amongst other findings, included two amber rings that were probably made in Aquileia.
Towards the north, after Costa Volpino where graves and epigraphs were uncovered between the 19th and 20th Centuries in the districts on the hillsides, the northern part of the lake enabled easy access to the Valle Camonica and Cividate Camuno. The ancient Civitas Camunnorum is a true Roman town in the Alpine area, the political and administrative centre of a vast territory which by the end of the 1st Century A.D. had been organised into a res publica with its own legal and administrative autonomy which was separate from that of Brixia. It was founded in 16 B.C., at the end of the Augustan campaigns to conquer the region of the Alps. The town boasted buildings and monumental public spaces: over the years the spas have been unearthed, as well as significant remains of the forum, private domus, the necropolises and the district with the buildings for entertainment including a theatre and amphitheatre. The extraordinary findings are displayed on an itinerary that leads from the National Archaeology Museum and the Archaeological Parks of the theatre and the amphitheatre to the Shrine of Minerva located in Spinera di Breno.
Following the course of the river Oglio and travelling from Valle Camonica towards Brescia, we reach Pisogne. In the baptismal church of Santa Maria (St. Mary) in silvis the central block of a funerary monument is preserved and has been re-used as a baptismal font. The altar, which dates to the mid 1st Century A.D., suggests the existence of a villa in the vicinity which was most likely in use up until the 5th – 6th Century A.D. when, as in other locations, on the initiative of the bishop and with the owners’ collaboration, a baptismal church was erected for the Christianisation of the territory.
The sides of the funerary monument are decorated with two bas-reliefs depicting Erotes holding lighted torches, following a pattern typical of funerary representations. In the centre, there is an inscription to the priest of the God Augustus Tiberius Claudius Numa and to a woman called Claudia Seconda.
The fact that the priest belonged to the Quirina tribe indicates the link with the Valle Camonica and the gravitation of the territory towards the Civitas Camunnorum.
The existence of residential villas on the lake is proven by the remains uncovered at Marone, in the district of Co’ de Hela, and partly on display in situ.
In Sale Marasino near the railway on the shores of the lake, walls have been found as well as the remains of mosaics and materials originating from a spacious Roman villa. A votive inscription (now in Brescia) was found in the church of San Zenone (St. Zenone), dedicated to Cautopates from the duumvir Gaius Munatius Tiro, highlighting the spread of oriental cults in the area.
Again from Sale Marasino, a funerary inscription in Latin, closed by three signs of the Camunian alphabet, bears witness to the persistence of the indigenous writing system even during the height of the imperial age. The inscription dates back to the 2nd Century A.D.
A fragment of an inscription and Roman tombs have also been discovered on Monte Isola.
Iseo must have been the main centre of the area during the Roman Times. Close to the Shrine of the Madonna della Neve (Madonna of the Snows), the remains of a Roman building have been found over various periods, consisting of several rooms on different levels arranged on terraces sloping towards the lake. The discovery of the remains of a hypocaust heating system and adornments such as fragments of mosaics and plaster with coloured frescoes point to the high quality of the building. Most probably it was a pleasure villa, located in one of the most scenic spots of the area. The materials date the oldest parts of the building to the 1st Century A.D.
Various inscriptions have been found in the area of the baptismal church of Sant’Andrea (St. Andrew) in the north of the village, where traces of flooring have also been uncovered with a heating system that dates the building to the Roman Times.
The residential area probably spread over the higher territory and reached down towards the current day Piazza Garibaldi/Rosa (Garibaldi/Rosa square), where the port was situated on the lake. Furthermore, the remains of a late Roman aqueduct that ran along the present day Via Roma (Roma street) have been uncovered including the pebble and mortar parapets and internal lining in lime mortar with crushed earthenware.
Finally, after Marone, the remains of the villa in Clusane are the best preserved in the area.
Via Martinoli Necropolis, Predore thermal baths, Casazza Cavellas village and the Tadini Gallery in Lovere are part of “Pad – Percorsi archeologici diffusi (widespread archeological itineraries)” network, born in 2013 on Superintendence and local administrations will to connect and enhance the assets of the region. In 2018 another archaeological site was added to the list: Orobi oppidum found in Parre, in Valseriana. On www.pad-bg.it you can find all the information to plan your visit.
For more information:
Archeologia urbana a Iseo, U.S.P.A.A.A. (a cura di), Rodengo Saiano 1993.
Carta Archeologica della Lombardia. II. La provincia di Bergamo, a cura di R. POGGIANI KELLER, Modena 1992.
MARIOTTI V., Il teatro e l’anfiteatro di Cividate Camuno. Scavo, restauro e allestimento di un parco archeologico, Firenze 2004.
Carta Archeologica della Lombardia. I. La provincia di Brescia, a cura di F. ROSSI, Modena 1991.
Il santuario di Minerva. Un luogo di culto a Breno tra protostoria ed età romana, a cura di F. ROSSI, Milano 2010.
FORTUNATI M., Archeologia del territorio in età romana, in Storia Economica e Sociale di Bergamo. I primi millennidalla Preistoria al Medioevo, a cura di FORTUNATI M. e POGGIANI KELLER R., vol. 2, Cenate Sotto (Bg) 2007, pp. 597-605.
FORTUNATI M., GHIROLDI A., L’impianto termale della villa romana di Predore, in Storia Economica e Sociale di Bergamo. I primi millenni dalla Preistoria al Medioevo a cura di FORTUNATI M. e POGGIANI KELLER R., vol. 2, Cenate Sotto (Bg) 2007.