The History

Discover the origin of the ‘Aquae Patavinae’ and the history of the Euganean thermal area...


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Roman Age

The time of Romanization

Settling area and place of commercial and cultural exchange since far-off times, Romans paid a particular attention to Euganean territory since the 2nd century B.C., when the process known as “Romanization” started off. This process basically consists of the reception and transposition of Roman cultural cues by local populations, also by means of a progressive administrative reorganization of the territories under Roman control.

Data fondamentale per la storia dell’intero territorio veneto è la fondazione coloniale di Aquileia nel 181 a.C. (Livio, XL, 34)

An essential date for the history of Veneto is the foundation of Aquileia in 181 B.C. (Livius, XL, 34); romanization meant, for local people, a direct contact with Roman soldiers/settlers, and the legitimate inclusion of Venetian territories in the road network which connected Rome to the annexed areas. Probably following the route of old proto-historical trails, the main centres of the ancient ‘Veneti’ were linked to Rome, in particular Este and Padua, refounded at the end of the 1st century B.C. as a colonia (Ateste) and a municipium (Patavium). Roman presence led to a widespread occupation of Euganean region, both in the west side (gravitating towards Ateste) and in the east side (where Patavium, for its strategic position, was a point of primary importance in the road network of northeast Italy). The plain area around the high ground was intensely cultivated and populated by rural residential complexes, while the Hills represented a supplementary and diversified source of natural resources.

Late Republican Age (2nd – 1st century B.C.)

This exceptional wealth caused, in the year 141 B.C., the intervention of a Roman statesman, Lucius Caecilius Metellus Calvus, sent by the central power to solve a controversy between Atestini and Patavini about border questions. The proconsul set a boundary line that crossed lengthwise the territory of Euganean Hills, and which was marked through the positioning of inscribed cippi on the ground: the three cippi discovered in Teolo, on Monte Venda and in Galzignano locate a line that corresponds to the hill watershed creating a precise apportionment of land and resources – mainly stone and water – between the two centres. As a matter of fact, both sides of the Hills were rich in water springs, systematically employed for municipal waterworks (attested by significant remains of water catchment and conduction systems), as well as in trachyte quarries (attested by clear signs of exploitation), a precious material that Romans exported in the neighbouring regions. Other resources that enriched the territory were the wood that recovered the Hills, good source of timber, the intense cultivation of plain areas, and the sheep-breeding, activity that made use of the Euganean high ground as a key halt in the transhumance trail network connecting Prealps and Alps to the Adriatic coastline. The Paduan side of the Hills could boast another valuable resource, whose economic, healthy and healing potential mainly emerged in Campania in the 2nd century B.C.: thermal water.

Il Buso della Casara, i Colli Euganei: la copertura boschiva e la pastorizia

Early Imperial Age (end of the 1st century B.C. – 2nd century A.D.)

The settlement of the “Aquae Patavinae”, so called by Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus) for its being within the jurisdiction of Patavium, rapidly developed as a reputed “health and holiday resort”, keeping at the same time its religious tie with Aponus, the god once worshipped by the ancient ‘Veneti’. The landscape quickly changed: the numerous springs were systematically exploited with proper waterworks, which rose dispersedly, following a simple but practical pattern: each spring was directly connected to one or more pools by means of tunnels and pipes, while structures aimed at welcoming guests and free time rose all around. There were worship places as well, probably simple sacella built near the water springs: in these places, private rituality continued to follow local traditions. Montegrotto, particularly between the 1st and the 2nd century A.D., assumed an always more residential likeness: it was a sort of thermal suburb of “Patavium”, where in all probability even the imperial family held direct economic interests.

Reperti di epoca romana

Middle Imperial Age (3rd century A.D.) and Late Antiquity (4th – 6th century A.D.)

Plenty of ancient literary sources refer to landscape; the simple evocation of Martial’s (Marcus Valerius Martialis) “Euganeos lacus”, becomes the lively description of a territory abundant in vigorous waters, made in the 4th century A.D. by Claudian (Claudius Claudianus) – author of a short poem entirely dedicated to “Aponus”. Claudian’s words depict a multipurpose water, a good that is within everybody’s reach: “public respite from troubles, doctors’ shared aid, always present divinity, not purchasable health”.
In his description, the late ancient author clearly wanted to give the idea of an almost wild place, highlighted by the presence of steaming waters that bored meandering tunnels into the rock and then gathered in lake basins. It appeared therefore evident that the ancient “royal gifts”, reminiscences of an almost primeval landscape and sacredness, had to be preserved in a place of former sacred relevance, a place that, at Claudian’s time, had certainly lost its functional character, but not its visibility.