What doesn’t immediately catch the visitor’s eye is the amazing city one level below the streets of the city. The historic center of Alba is bounded by the irregular polygon that was once the Roman wall that defended the city. Within that boundary, a floor level below today’s streets, is the Roman city upon which Alba was built. Alba Pompeia, birthplace of Emperor Publius Helvius Pertinax, was a remote Roman outpost but not lacking in the amenities typical to Roman cities. It had its temple, forum, theater and many commercial and residential buildings. The streets were in a relatively uniform grid pattern, much different than the chaotic pattern of the streets we walk today. The “modern” streets align with the original Roman sewer lines.
Thanks to the way Alba was built on top of the Roman city rather than in it its place, much of the Roman city exists today several meters below the buildings and public spaces currently inhabited. While most of the ancient city lies inaccessible beneath more modern structures, parts of the original city have been unearthed and preserved in the course of construction projects. Today it is possible to visit parts of Alba Pompeia thanks to some very thoughtful restorations and well designed interpretive facilities open to the public. Below the nave of the Church of San Giuseppe there are the remains of the Roman theater and a very informative interpretive diorama explaining the Roman theater and how it was constructed.
In Piazza Elvio Pertinace, named for Emperor Pertinax, there is both an open excavation and a unique glass floor in the plaza that looks down into a part of the old Roman city. It is the site of one of the most relevant and best conserved Roman temples in northern Italy. Link to Panoramic Photo
When the Pio Cesare winery expanded their unique downtown winery, they had to cut through the original Roman wall many meters below what is now the main level of the city. In the cellars several levels below the street level courtyard, visitors can walk through the massive Roman wall and see how it was constructed
The next time you are in Alba, plan on paying a visit to Medford’s Roman sister city, Alba Sottoterrenea. It’s just downstairs.
Roman sewer and mosaic uncovered during remodel of Palazzo Govone