Domus of via Cavour

The so-called domus (house) of Via Cavour was brought to light by chance in 1940, during the construction of metro line B near the intersection with Via di Santa Maria Maggiore. Many aristocratic families built their luxurious homes on the terraced slopes of the Cispius, looking towards the Viminal hill, during the last years of the Republican period and throughout the empire. The structures discovered in the metro tunnel belonged to a rich domus probably built in the last decades of the Republican period. Between AD 120 and 130, in the middle Hadrianic period, it was completely renovated and perhaps divided into several smaller houses. The total size of this residential complex is unclear; unfortunately, only the rooms found inside the metro tunnel are known: three rooms arranged longitudinally on a NE-SW axis, like today’s Via Cavour, converging towards an open space, perhaps a garden, adorned with a large basin with marble decorations. On one side of this row of rooms were the remains of two large halls, heated thanks to the use of suspensurae, pillars that created a cavity beneath the floor, and pierced bricks on the walls: these systems made it possible to heat the rooms by passing hot air through them. They were used both in bath complexes and for the normal heating of domestic rooms, particularly in areas with a cold climate: in the case of this domus these were probably small private baths used by the inhabitants of the house, a luxury not uncommon among the aristocratic families of the time. However, the most exciting finds were the magnificent marble statues that decorated it, now in the Museo della Centrale Montemartini. The statues, in pairs, were positioned on either side of the doors of two contiguous rooms, as if to guide visitors towards the garden. The fame of the models chosen by the Roman artists, all fifth-century BC Greek sculptures, gives us an idea of ​​the extreme elegance and refinement of the owners of this house: in the figure of a satyr at rest we can clearly recognize an original by Praxiteles. The statue of a Roman general is based on a model by Polykleitos; barely covered by a cloak resting on his shoulder, his leather breastplate is propped negligently next to him and his hand, now lost, must have held a sword: whilst the equipment is evidently Roman, the perfect shapes of the sculpted body are inspired by Greek art; the head of the statue, now lost, was very probably a portrait of the owner of the house, who chose to celebrated himself in this way.

Finally, two statues represent one of the mythical sons of Venus, Pothos, the personification of regret, of the sense of nostalgia felt for a distant lover. Again, the original should be sought in a work by Skopas. The four sculptures date to the Hadrianic period, like the rest of the building; the obvious signs of ancient restoration work indicate that the owners of the house devoted special care to their upkeep. Specifically, the depression for a grapple visible on the neck of the general suggests a replacement of the portrait head, later lost: perhaps the succession of several generations of owners required a continuous update of the images.