BENE VAGIENNA, archaeological site and museum

Augusta Bagiennorum

The archaeological site of Augusta Bagiennorum is located in the hamlet of Roncaglia in Benevagienna. The town was founded at the end of the 1st century B.C. in an area of strategic importance for the control of the communication routes that connected the Po Valley to the Alpine passes and Liguria. The name of this town can be traced back to the actions undertaken by Emperor Augustus, as part of his political programme to reorganise Piedmont. The area was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century by Giuseppe Assandria and Giovanni Vacchetta, who rented these fields from some farmers and conducted several excavation campaigns. In more recent times, investigations by the Superintendency have allowed us to learn more about the history of this settlement. The Roman town was trapezoidal in shape and surrounded by a moat and a wooden palisade on three sides, while on the fourth one it was protected by the Mondalavia stream. The settlement was divided into insulae (rectangular blocks) and was entered through two gates: the Decumana gate to the south-west and the Praetoria one to the north-east.

St Peter’s, the acqueduct and the Capitolium

The tour begins from the small country church of St Peter, which was built and decorated in the 15th century near the remains of the Roman aqueduct. The water system used to capture water from a spring at the foot of the hills and spread throughout the town in conduits that ran under the road surface; water distribution was carried out in pipes made of terracotta and lead. The dirt track that runs past the church and partly retraces the route of the decumanus maximus, leads to the forum, the very heart of the town. This area was divided into two parts by the decumanus: the buildings for civil use were to the south-east, while to the north-west there was the most important city temple, the Capitolium, which was located on a high podium. This temple was probably dedicated to the Capitoline triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) and was characterised by a pronaos in front of the cella, a flight of steps to enter the building and a portico on three sides. Although the exact structure of the building is not known, a partial reconstruction has recently been proposed taking into consideration the analogies with similar buildings in the Cisalpine Gaul. After a period of abandonment, this area was used as a burial site in the Middle Ages, as evidenced by the tombs around the building.

The Theatre

Already identified at the end of the 19th century, the theatre was eventually brought to light and heavily restored in the mid-20th century. Built on an artificial embankment, the theatre had a cavea with a diameter of 57 metres; it covered two tiers of terraces, which could hold about 3,000 spectators. The radial walls and the blind compartments can still be seen; they were filled with earth and they were designed to support the tiers of seats. The stage was 42 metres long and three doors opened onto the stage for the actors to enter the scene. Today the original lintels found during the 19th-century excavations are on display in the Sala Assandria of Archaeological Museum, while in the archaeological area we can see reconstructions from the 1970s.The scene was decorated with niches and statues in marble from Luni, some of them are also on display in the museum. Behind the theatre was a porticoed area that provided shelter for spectators in case of bad weather.

The temple and the forum

The forum was beyond the portico at the back of the theatre. In this area there was also another temple dedicated to a deity that has not been identified to date, but it might be Bacchus in view of his relationship with the theatre world. This building had a rectangular cella and a pronaos with four columns ending in elaborate Corinthian capitals. An early Christian basilica and then, in the Lombard era, a church with three naves were built on this structure between the 5th and 7th centuries AD. The structures of these buildings are still clearly identifiable. From this point, looking towards the hillock of the Capitolium, you will see the vast space of the forum in front of you, although today nothing remains of the large rectangular square - 36 x 115 metres. It was paved with cobblestones and surrounded by porticoes, shops and baths. In the centre there was the civil basilica: a multi-aisled building used for political, legal or administrative events and which, unfortunately, is no longer visible today.

The amphitheatre

Leaving the archaeological area and following the paved road towards Roncaglia, we reach the amphitheatre that stood outside the urban perimeter. Archaeological investigations in the early 2000s brought to light its western sector, while the arena and the eastern half are still to be investigated. This building was built on an artificial embankment too, it had an elliptical shape with diameters of 105 and 77 metres respectively. The masonry is still visible and show to the system of buttresses that supported the arched façade and to the avant-corps that gave access to the upper tiers of seats. It was probably built shortly after the foundation of the town and was used until the 3rd century AD. After its abandonment and partial collapse, the structure was still used for residential purposes in late antiquity.

The museum

To complete the visit of Augusta Bagiennorum, a stop at the Archaeological Museum, housed in the elegant Palazzo Lucerna di Rorà, in the centre of Benevagienna, is a must. Set up at the beginning of the 20th century by Assandria and Vacchetta, the museum houses archaeological finds from the excavations, as well as reconstructions, in-depth studies and multimedia equipment. The ground floor displays monumental architectural elements belonging to the main buildings, such as the theatre, the aqueduct, the temples; the last room is dedicated to construction techniques and shows the reconstruction of the floor of the calidarium, the heated room of the urban baths. The Assandria room on the first floor is of particular interest as it displays finds according to 19th-century exhibition criteria: a large wooden showcase in the centre of the room contains objects of common use such as oil lamps, mirrors and toys, funerary objects, fragments of materials for decoration; the frames of the theatre doors, friezes, bricks and numerous epigraphs of the town and the territory are displayed on the walls.


Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translation: Europa 92
Copywrite and research: Laura Marino


ATL del Cuneese


Damiano Beccaria, Luciano Oreglia