Topographical Reconstruction of Ancient Palermo: A Note on its Buildings for Public Spectacles and their Relation with the Roman-Period Civic Planning

Paolo Storchi


Topographical studies in the last decades have greatly improved our knowledge of Roman Panormus (modern day Palermo) but many aspects of its urban planning still remain obscure. It is very hard work to clearly understand a city that has been continuously inhabited from at least the Iron Age to the present. This long standing existence implies countless transformations of its urban aspect. In particular the Arab domination, in the Middle Ages, erased even the memory of the ancient place names, so the toponomastic source that is often a fundamental tool for the ancient topographer is almost useless. Using the typical sources of ancient topography and landscape archaeology and its multidisciplinary approach can be exceedingly useful in understanding the ancient aspect of a living city. We found an important lack of information about ancient Palermo: the location of buildings designed for public spectacles. The epigraphic sources prove that in Palermo there was a theatre and an amphitheatre; from a Late-Antique source we can assume that there was also a circus. This paper’s aim is to suggest concrete hypotheses to identify the locations of all three of these buildings, discuss their position and their relation to the civic plan of Panormus. These results are important in understanding this city in a more complete way but also for the protection of its archaeological heritage: these three areas lie outside the ancient walls of Palermo and have hitherto been considered “low-risk areas” for archaeology. manifestations


Ancient topography, Roman urbanism, Amphitheatre, Aerial photography, Ancient Sicily

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Copyright (c) 2016 Paolo Storchi

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LAC 2014 proceedings - ISBN 978-90-825296-0-9 - is an open access initiative supported by the University Library, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.