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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.


Terracina (Lat. Tarracina, Volsc. Anxur), a town and episcopal see of the province of Rome, Italy, 76 m. S. E. of Rome by rail (56 by the Via Appia), 40 ft. above sea-level. Pop. (1901) 7597 (town), 10,995 (commune).​a Its position, at the point where the Volscian Hills reach the coast, leaving no space for passage between them and the sea, commanding the Pomptine Marshes (urbs prona in paludes, as Livy calls it) and possessing a small harbour, was one of great strategic importance; and it thus appears very early in Roman history. It appears in 509 B.C. as under Roman supremacy, but is not included in the list of the Latin league of 499 B.C. In 406 it was stormed by the Romans, lost in 402, recovered in 400, unsuccessfully attacked by the Volscians in 397, and finally secured by the establishment of a colony of Roman citizens in 329 B.C. As such it frequently appears in history. The construction of the Via Appia in 312 B.C. added to its importance: the road at first crossed the hill at the back of the promontory by a steep ascent and descent. An attempt was made in 184 B.C. to get round it by an embankment thrown out into the sea: but it was probably not until early in the imperial period that a cutting in the rocks at the foot of the promontory (Pisco Montano) finally solved the problem. The depth of the cutting is indicated by marks on the vertical wall at intervals of 10 Roman ft. — figures enclosed in large swallow-tail tablets — the lowest mark, 3 or 4 ft. above the present road, is CXX. Not far off are mineral springs by the coast (Neptuniae aquae), known to the Romans and still in use — except one containing arsenic which was blocked up both by the ancients and again in 1839 as a precaution. The two roads met some few miles E. of Tarracina, and the Via Appia then traversed the pass of Lautulae, between the mountains and the Lake of Fondi, where the Samnites defeated the Romans with loss in 315 B.C. This pass, the frontier between the Papal States and the kingdom of Naples, was also fortified in modern days. It was probably in consequence of the cutting just mentioned that some of the more important buildings of the imperial period were erected in the low ground by the shore, and near the small harbour. The construction of the coast road, the Via Severiana, from Ostia to Tarracina, added to the importance of the place; and the beauty of the promontory with its luxuriant flora and attractive view had made it frequented by the Romans as early as 200 B.C. Galba and Domitian possessed country houses here. It appears in the history of the Gothic wars, and Theodoric is said to have had a palace here. It was sacked in 409 and 595. In 872 John VIII brought it under the domination of the Holy See.

The picturesque modern town occupies the site of the old; the present piazza is the ancient Forum, and its pavement of slabs of travertine with the inscription "A. Aemilius A. F.," in letters once filled in with bronze, is well preserved. It is supported by massive arched substructures, which extend under the surrounding houses. The cathedral of SS. Pietro e Cesareo, fronting upon it, is ensconced in a temple of Rome and Augustus, part of the side wall of which, with engaged columns, is still visible. The vestibule, in the Cosmatesque style, is supported by ten ancient columns resting upon recumbent lions, with a mosaic frieze upon them. The brick campanile has small columns with little pointed arches. The interior has a fine Cosmatesque pulpit supported by ancient columns resting on lions, a Paschal candlestick of 1245, and a good pavement of the same period with beasts and dragons. The sacristy contains a carved wooden nuptial chest of the 10th or 11th century. There are also remains of the town wall in the "polygonal" style, and above the town are several massive platforms for supporting buildings, in a more archaistic form of this style; these may well belong to the Roman period, and the latter even to the empire. The summit of the promontory (748 ft.) is reached by the old line of the Via Appia, which is flanked by tombs and by remains of an ancient defensive wall with circular towers (currently attributed to Theodoric, but probably a good deal earlier in date). The summit is occupied by a massive terrace, supported by arcades of fine opus incertum (traditionally, but wrongly, called the palace of Theodoric) on all sides except the E., and commanding a magnificent view seaward over the coast and over the Pomptine Marshes. On the terrace, as was ascertained in 1894, stood a Corinthian temple of the early imperial period, 110 by 65 ft.; the cella was decorated internally with engaged half-columns, and contained the pedestal for the statue of the deity, according to some authorities Venus, but more probably Jupiter Anxur worshipped as a child — a theory confirmed by the discovery of many curious leaden toys, like those made for dolls' houses at the present day, in the favissaeb on the E. of the temple. Of the lower town by the harbour, which had buildings of some importance of the imperial period (amphitheatre, baths, &c.), little is now visible, and its site is mainly occupied by a new quarter built by Pope Pius VI, who restored the Via Appia through the Pomptine Marshes. Close by it in the S. W. is a group of huts inhabited in winter by labourers from the Abruzzi, as is the case in many other parts of the Campagna. Of the ancient harbour constructed by Antoninus Pius (M.R. de la Blanchère in Mélanges de l'école française de Rome, I.322; 1881) insignificant remains exist, and it is largely silted up. Close to it is the small modern port. Near the amphitheatre was found in 1838 the famous statue of Sophocles now in the Lateran museum. The commune of Terracina includes a considerable extension of territory towards the N. W. with much undergrowth (macchia) valuable for charcoal burning, and a considerable extent of pasture and arable land. The ancient aqueduct, bringing water some 35 m. from the slopes of the Volscian Hills, has been repaired and is in use. Three miles to the N. W., at the foot of the Monte Leano, was the shrine of the nymph Feronia, where the canal following the Via Appia through the marshes ended. Along these 3 m. of the Via Appia are numerous ancient tombs, and the fertile valley to the N. E. was thickly populated in Roman days.

See M.R. de la Blanchère, Terracine (Paris, 1884).

[T. As.]

Thayer's Notes:

a The population of the comune in 2015 was 45,850. Terracina remains technically an episcopal see, but its last independent existence as such was in 1967, when the see was merged with that of the provincial capital Latina.

bfavissa is an under­ground chamber beneath a temple, in which old votive offerings were ritually stored. Good details and examples are given by Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, pp59‑64.

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Page updated: 26 Oct 18