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Luni: new details from the discovery of the temple in the Porta Marina district

The discovery emerged from the last archaeological excavation campaign carried out by the University of Pisa in 2019

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The last archaeological excavation campaign carried out by the University of Pisa in Luni in 2019 brought to light a temple dating back to the second half of the 1st century AD in the Porta Marina district. The building overlooks the Cardo Maximus, the town’s principal north-south road, and rises from what was originally thought to be ‘simply’ a domus.

“The private space occupied by the domus, therefore, became a sacred area for the inhabitants of the district and probably also for those who worked in the nearby port, from which the building must have been visible,” explains associate professor Simonetta Menchelli from the University of Pisa, who coordinates the excavations. 


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The high platform on which the temple was built has disappeared completely, but taking into consideration the foundations of the service quarters below the cella and the pronaos, archaeologists were able to reconstruct the plan of the building with a single quadrangular cella. This appears to be similar to those of other temples of that period in Luni, for example the Temple of Diana or in Ostia.

“During the next campaign in 2020, the aim will be to bring to light the remains of the stairway leading to the temple, which could be reached from the Cardo Maximus,” continues Simonetta Menchelli.

But these are not the only developments which have emerged from the excavations carried out by the University of Pisa in the area of Luni near the port, where, over the last few years, archaeologists have identified two domus from the 2nd century BC which underwent numerous reconstructions, renovations and changes of use over the centuries.

In the southern domus, the excavations have uncovered part of a peristyle paved with a cement marble composite, which must have had a fountain nearby and/or vaults decorated with shells, which can be deduced by the large number of bivalve mollusks found embedded in the mortar.  

“These were commonly used to embellish houses with natural elements linked to an aquatic environment, but they also had a symbolic function, as shells were considered to be symbols of prosperity and fertility,” says Simonetta Menchelli.

As far as the second more northerly domus is concerned, the building housed a system used for washing skins and cloth and here, at the end of the 6th century AD, a house was built where two rooms were excavated, one with a fireplace in the middle, and an external courtyard. The area was therefore occupied until the end of the 7th and beginning of the 8th century AD and its inhabitants must have been wealthy as can be seen from the amphorae discovered there containing foodstuffs which came from all over the Mediterranean (Campania, Tunisia/Algeria, Greece, Turkey and the Syria-Palestine area).

The University of Pisa’s archaeological excavation campaigns in Luni have been carried out under concession granted by the Soprintendenza Archeologica Liguria in synergy with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Luni and the Comune di Luni. Students from the University of Pisa, the Istituto Parentucelli Arzelà in Sarzana and the Liceo Costa in La Spezia are participating in the campaign, coordinated on site by Paolo Sangriso, with  Alberto CafaroStefano GenovesiRocco MarcheschiSilvia Marini, and the collaboration of  Domingo Belcari.

Professor Stephen Carmody (Troy University, Alabama, USA) is also participating on site, with the classification of the paleobotanical material which he recovered through the flotation of the archaeological layers. This study will provide significant data about the natural environment in Luni and the related anthropic interaction.

Associate professor Adriano Ribolini (DST, UniPi) is carrying out the Ground Penetrating Radar investigation aimed at identifying the buildings buried in the southern sector of the town in order to delineate the plan and direct future excavations, while Vincenzo Palleschi (CNR, Pisa) is dealing with the 3D modelling of the structures and Younes Naime (DCFS, UniPi) with the study of the archaeozoological finds.

The results of the archaeological campaign were presented during the Open Day last October attended by more than 350 visitors.


Fig. 1. The excavation site viewed from the east.
Fig. 2. A few of the mollusks embedded in the masonry   
Fig. 3. A close-up of the temple remains viewed from the south
Fig. 4. The Open Day in Luni (12 October 2019)

  • 29 November 2019

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