That Rome is full of secrets and hidden gems, it’s hardly an unknown fact. But discovering such a fascinating underground world right next to popular places like the Trevi Fountain inevitably gives you a great sense of satisfaction. I had read about the opening of Vicus Caprarius quite a few times, but I probably didn’t understand it was so close to the famous Baroque fountain, one of the most beautiful fountains in Rome.
Visiting Vicus Caprarius archaeological site is a fantastic experience to add to your Rome trip. Since it’s a small site and doesn’t take long, you can even add it to your sightseeing list last minute whether you are in Rome for a week or for only a few days.
Whether you are a history buff, want to learn about the Roman ancient civilization, urban planning, and architecture, or are after fascinating hidden gems, this landmark near the Trevi Fountain won’t disappoint you.
We visited Vicus Caprarius almost by chance, stumbling onto this important ancient site while wandering around the Trevi neighborhood, and were absolutely enchanted. I wrote this guide to Vicus Caprarius in Rome so that you don’t miss it and to help you make the most out of your tour. Find here the most important historical facts around the findings, the area it was located, ancient Roman urban planning, and how it served as a supply tank for the Aqua Virgo aqueduct.
Make sure you don’t miss our article on the best archaeological sites in Rome.
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Why visit Vicus Caprarius in Rome
If you are still wondering whether you should visit Vicus Caprarius in Rome or not, I would like to give you a couple of reasons why definitely should. This is a fantastic addition to your Rome bucket list for anyone interested in history, culture, or even only sightseeing. Here are a few reasons that will lure you into this small yet precious ancient site in central Rome.
- It’s easy to reach. Whether it’s your first trip to Rome or not, you are likely to get past the Trevi area. So, voluntarily or not, big chances are that you will find yourself at the entrance of Vicus Caprarius. It’s not a huge place and the tour doesn’t take long, so totally worth visiting it.
- It’s a hidden gem. It’s one of those Rome secrets that are not even hard to find so why not capitalize on it and discover an important side of Roman history and culture?
- You’ll learn a lot. It’s a small place but so revealing of Roman ancient history and aqueduct system that a tour of Vicus Caprarius will add great value to your trip.
- It’s not expensive. Only a few euros for a fantastic ancient site.
History of Vicus Caprarius
The complex was in the Regio VII, the administrative area that bordered the Aurelian walls, Via Salaria Vetus – Pinciana road and its extension known as Vicus Caprarius, and Via Lata, today’s Via del Corso, one of the most famous streets of Rome. Regio VII was part of the urban planning started by Agrippa, son-in-law of emperor Augustus.
Today the route of the Salaria Vetus (the old Salaria) between the Aurelian Walls and the Trevi Fountain corresponds to Via di Porta Pinciana, Via Francesco Crispi, Via del Tritone, and Via della Stamperia. The segment of the road that currently corresponds to Via di San Vincenzo and Via dei Lucchesi was called Vicus Caprarius.
In 19 BC, Agrippa (the same that built the Pantheon as a celebration of the power of Augustus’ family) inaugurated the Aqua Virgo aqueduct that he commissioned to supply water to his thermal baths behind the Pantheon.
Named probably after the purity of its water, Aqua Virgo has been the only one among Rome’s 11 main ancient aqueducts to actively serve the city up until our days without interruption. Supplying water to many fountains and notable residences, Aqua Virgo ends its route in the majestic exhibit of the Trevi Fountain.
We can find traces and ruins of this ancient water pipeline in many places, and the archaeological site of Vicus Caprarius, known as “Città dell’Acqua” (the city of water), is one of them.
Rome’s oldest insula
The complex is divided into northern and southern buildings, each of them showing changes and developments that happened throughout the centuries. The finding of a brick stamp led historians to date the origins of the northern building under Nero, making this insula (the buildings destined for extensive residential use) one of the most ancient in Rome.
This finding would include this specific building into a wider context not only anticipating the extensive urban development of the Via Lata but it might be a rare proof of what is known as “nova urbs”, the new city envisioned by Nero after the raging fire of 64 AD and until now known only thanks to written sources.
This insula featured an open-air central courtyard and a staircase that connected the ground floor to the first one. Later renovations added several features. The courtyard was covered with a first refurbishment probably dating back to the 2nd century, while under Marcus Aurelius a new staircase was added to connect the first and the second floors.
A revolutionary revamping was brought about in the 4th century when radical changes were made to the pavement and the whole building. The insula was in fact turned into a luxury single-family house (domus). This is when rich decorations were added to highlight the social status of the new owners, likely belonging to the Senate.
The old staircases were also revamped and covered with marble slabs and elements of a private bath were added.
Around the 5th century, a fire, likely related to the sack of Rome by the Vandals of Genserico in 455, caused heavy damage to the wealthy domus, especially its decorations, and the ground floor was abandoned. This was one of the many wealthy houses hit during the repeated sacks of Rome that took place around this period.
Castellum Aquae, Aqua Virgo supply tank
The origins southern complex have been also placed during Nero’s reign. Unlike the northern building, this was never a residential block but was designated for public use instead.
Today, we can see around 6 meters (20 feet) in height, but research shows that it comprised at least two levels, it could have reached some 11 meters (36 feet).
Just like its northern counterpart, this area underwent several renovations throughout the centuries identifiable thanks to brick stamps. Under the rule of emperor Hadrian, for example, important changes were made to the system of this large water tank. Two adjoining compartments were created and the tank’s walls were doubled to better counterbalance the water pressure and coated with waterproof hydraulic lime plaster (opus signinum).
In this area, you will be able to observe and picture a complex water pipeline system that has been identified almost certainly with a supply tank of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct. This has been possible thanks to several findings including the absence of calcareous sediment deposits consistent with the low calcium levels of the Aqua Virgo water and the large flow that could hardly have been directed towards private houses but mainly to public areas.
This water cistern was abandoned around the first half of the 6th century, likely due to the invasion of the Goths in 537 who severed the aqueducts to conquer Rome by thirst.
During the diggings on the southern block, archaeologists identified two buildings part of a medieval settlement used for residential purposes and built on the site of the imperial age compound probably between the 12th and the 13th centuries.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the area around the archaeological site of Vicus Caprarius fell into a state of neglect. This happened to many areas in Rome, causing a gradual decline in the city’s residential development. The intensive urban planning of ancient times, in the Middle Ages, was replaced by modest settlements built on the site of former existing buildings.
What you see in Vicus Caprarius near Fontana di Trevi
Located at about 9 meters (30 feet) under the ground and occupying a surface of some 350 sq mt (3770 sq ft), Vicus Caprarius is part of the ancient complex discovered during the renovation works of Cinema Trevi in the Rione Trevi. What we see when we enter the Vicus Caprarius archaeological site is an ancient neighborhood and buildings dating back to different eras. This is why the site is an important testament to the historical layering of the area and of the whole city.
Inside the ancient site of Vicus Caprarius, we can see several stamped bricks. The finding of these has been crucial in identifying the different buildings, phases and historical layers the neighborhood went through.
The inscriptions in these stamps reveal also the origins of the materials used and the existence of thriving construction industry in imperial Rome.
At the beginning of the imperial age, much of the mines, caves, and related furnaces were the property of high-rank citizens such as senators or land owners. Between the 1st and 2nd centuries, the construction industry started being put under the imperial treasury and the big public works became part of rulers’ policies. Following a gradual process, the full control of the state happened under the rule of Marcus Aurelius, when factories went under the full control of the emperor.
The archaeological site also includes a museum area. Here, visitors can see several objects and relics found in the ancient domus such as amphorae brought from Africa for transporting different types of goods, especially food.
For example, many of the containers were used to bring to Rome products such as wine, oil and foods made with fish such as the famous garum, a fish-based condiment Romans loved. It’s believed that oil and fish products were imported from the African continent while the wine from areas such as Cyprus, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Turkey.
As part of the exhibition, you will also see pieces of ceramics, likely belonging to the amphorae used to transport wine. Some of the containers, especially the flat ones, appear to originate from southern Italian regions such as Calabria and Sicily.
Along with the amphorae, the exhibition next to the water cistern displays also examples of oil lamps. One is believed to be African-style, while the hanging ones are probably from central Italy and date back between the 4th and 5th centuries.
Much of the exhibition on one end of the archaeological site involves the decorations of the domus from the imperial age. Some of the pieces include parts of the mosaic floor, a female statue, Corinthian-style capital, and the pluteus slab.
The female statue is a beautiful Greek marble sculpture covered with a cape. On its back, it’s possible to see parts of the figure’s long hair collected in a ponytail. The mosaic floor is located at the end of the exhibition and shows polychrome marbles, while on the right side are the capitals, a pillaret, and slabs with funerary inscriptions.
Due to the fire that hit the ancient domus, its underground floor was abandoned and sealed with a 4-meter-high pile of dirt. This is where most of the relics were found and they include the decorations, pieces in ceramics, and almost 900 bronze coins.
Even though the coins were so many, the value wasn’t much. The fact that this small treasure was found in a service area of the wealthy residence led historians to think that it belonged to a servant or an employee with limited resources.
Tips for visiting Vicus Caprarius
- Book ahead. Due to the recent high attendance and limited capacity of the city, it’s highly recommended to book ahead during the week and mandatory on weekends. You can do so over the phone or by WhatsApp.
- Wear comfortable shoes. The site is small but has stairs and is quite dark so I suggest wearing runners or flat shoes.
- Get your camera settings right. It’s underground so pretty dark. Even if there is artificial light, you really need to adjust your ISO and light settings to take clear pictures.
- Do your research. The site is small but extremely interesting and rich in information and findings. To make the most out of your visit and better understand what you are seeing, reading about the place ahead of your tour will add tremendous value to it.
- Address: Vicolo del Puttarello 25.
- How to reach: By Rome metro (Barberini stop, line A), by bus (52, 53, 62, 63, 71, 83, 85, 100, 117, 119, 160, 492).
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Monday closed.
- Entrance fee: €4.50 for adults, €2.50 for 18/25-year-old EU students, EU teachers, Roma Pass holders, €1 for 14/18-year-olds, free for under 14, archaeology university students from the EU, Rome City Pass holders. A guided tour costs 8€ and prior booking is mandatory.
- How to book: Over the phone or send a message through WhatsApp. The number is +393397786192.
What to see nearby
Being located near the Trevi Fountain in the city center makes Vicus Caprarius an easy addition to anyone’s bucket list. Apart from the majestic Fontana di Trevi, in this area, there are also other places where you can find traces of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct.
One is the site in Via del Nazareno that requires prior booking with the local municipality and the other consists of the fascinating ruins combined with multimedia installations in the undergrounds of La Rinascente department store in Via del Tritone.
Not far is also Piazza Barberini with the beautiful Triton fountain work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the great Palazzo Barberini Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica accessible from Via delle Quattro Fontane.
Where to eat nearby
There are many restaurants easy to reach with a short walk from Vicus Caprarius. If you are into gourmet pizza, I suggest booking your table at Piccolo Buco (Via del Lavatore 91), while if you prefer a quick, on-the-go street food meal, La Sandwicheria (Via del Nazareno 16) sells just-made sandwiches and ready salads.
To sit back and relax in a large environment, Baccano (Via delle Muratte 23) serves delicious traditional Roman meals with a modern twist. If gelato is your idea of dessert, you will be pleased with the artisan gelato of San Crispino (Via della Panetteria 42).
For more eating options, check out our guide to the best restaurants near the Trevi Fountain.