The marginalized shops of Terracina

Terracina is famous for the sanctuary of Iuppiter Anxur on the hill above the city and, to a lesser extent, for the remarkably well-preserved pavement of its forum, which still is the actual pavement of the city’s Piazza del Duomo, including a stretch of the Via Appia. We also know the theatre, the city’s two major temples, and an arch. What came as a surprise when I visited the place in 2014 was that they also had excavated a small fraction of the local road network – namely the road that ran behind the Capitolium parallel to the Via Appia. It was an irregularly shaped road, unfit for wheeled traffic as it narrows towards the north, and it has only been excavated for a length of 25 meters, but it sheds interesting light on the urban landscape of Roman Terracina.

Terracina, shops
The road behind the temple. Left the temple, to the right the two shops.

First of all, the irregular shape suggests that it antedates the Capitolium and that there used to be a normal road before the temple was constructed. This development, in which the monumentalization of the urban core creates urbanistic problems at the back would be a nice parallel for the development of the forum at Pompeii, where the district east of the forum is cut off from the main square as monumentalization progresses. Here, it has been suggested that the street belonged to the Volscan city and that it got marginalized when the Romans built the forum and the capitolium in the mid first century BC.

Secondly, as is clearly visible, the excavators also found two shops on the opposite side of the street. It is unclear to what kind of building they belonged: we have only one corner of it, but the building cannot have continued much further underneath the modern city because the theater is just a few meters to the southeast: it is unlikely that it was a big, Pompeian-style urban mansion. Significantly, however the façade of the two shops consisted of blocks of tufa, placed directly upon each other without mortar. This suggests a republican date, and quite possibly, a date before the construction of the temple. If true, these shops faced a dramatic change of fate – just like some of the shops east of the forum at Pompeii: constructed in an attractive location in the centre of the town, they suddenly found themselves invisible, in a virtual dead-end road, away from passers-by that spontaneously could walk in to do business. This will have affected the way these tabernae were used and the types of businesses for which they were attractive. Maybe, they ended up as workshops, where craftsmen made goods that subsequently were sold elsewhere.

An interesting indication for the changed fate of this tiny road is the brick wall directly to the northwest of the two shops: this was the outer wall of a different building, and one that must be dated – to judge from the building materials – in the imperial period. Again, we do not know the nature of the building, but it is relevant that the wall is almost entirely closed: there only is what seems to be a back door, and there are no tabernae at all. This made complete sense: after the construction of the Capitolium, the location had completely lost its commercial value.