WATER OF THE EUGANEAN HILLS

The Euganean spa area, nowadays divided in the two municipalities of Abano and Montegrotto Terme, was in antiquity a single territorial unit, known in ancient sources as Patavini Fontes, Fons Aponi, or Aquae Patavinae. It was originally attended by the local Patavine inhabitants since protohistoric times, as a community sanctuary organized around a thermal water lake, and later, in roman times, it was used extensively as a hydrothermal resort.

A real "water" town was gradually built under the administration of the nearby town of Patavium, and developed as an important religious, residential, and spa centre.

The sanctuary, with its characteristic oracle connotations detailed by Suetonius (Tib. XIV, 3) when writing of the oracle of Geryon, represented for a long time the area's main landmark. From the beginning, its core settlement grew rapidly, expanding around various bath complexes with pools and water ducts, with many residential structures built to welcome guests and visitors. A rich literary heritage, epigraphic sources, and significant archaeological remains, attest that the fundamental reason for its existence was precisely the presence of the thermal waters and their healing properties. This centre does not seem to have ever become a city proper, but rather a specialised spa and a religious sanctuary with widespread housing and private and imperial residences centred on the numerous springs. It became so important and well known as to be remembered by Martial (Epigrams, VI, 42) alongside the main spas of Etruria, Lazio and Campania.

Being continuously inhabited, the Euganean spa is a wonderful case for research studies, although the rapid urban development and redevelopment, caused consequent destruction and loss of knowledge of the more ancient settlements. Its original boundaries are still being researched and are not yet precisely defined. The first organized excavations, conducted between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, allowed Salvatore Mandruzzato to describe it graphically and in words in "The Baths of Abano", a work in three volumes containing a series of valuable and detailed tables, published in Padua between 1789 and 1804.

The structures still visible today, or seen and documented in the past, attest the fact that this was a complex spa which exploited the thermal waters with the use of pools, tanks, and pipelines that often connected both residential and public buildings.

The main archaeological area in Montegrotto, located between Viale della Stazione and Via Scavi,preserves, partly in view, three large pools, already documented by Mandruzzato, which were interconnected by a complex system of pipes and canals on many levels and by a system for lifting water by hydraulic wheel.

Around this area, were facilities for the reception and relaxation of visitors, including porticos and a series of buildings probably used as changing rooms, resting areas and nymphaeums, and a small, probably covered, theatre for shows and concerts.

Many elements indicate that the initial construction phase in the Augustan age consisted of a series of restructuring during the first and second centuries A.D. The discovery of some lead fistulae for carrying water, with a printed seal that mentions the name of Arria Fadilla, the mother of Antoninus Pius, is not only a valuable chronological indicator of the continuity of settlement in roman times, but suggests that the imperial house owned, at Fons Aponi as in other spas, economic interests and property.

Another complex, with monumental pools from the roman period, was discovered underneath a new wing of the Hotel Terme Neroniane during excavations conducted by the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Veneto.

Since 2001, on government land between the hotel and the railway line, the School of Specialization in Archaeology of the University of Padua, is bringing to light, through annual excavation campaigns, that see involved teams of students, teachers and experts, a large architectural and residential complex with an imposing villa. This still preserves many sections of marble and mosaic floors and gives evidence of continuous habitation through a series of transformations from the Augustan to the Middle Ages. The picture we have of this area is further enriched by the archaeological records of a rustic roman villa near the town of Turri, with a setting likely related to agricultural rather than spa activities.

The "Aquae Patavinae" Project, financed by Arcus, has enabled the working group from the University of Padua, in cooperation with the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Veneto and the Municipality of Montegrotto Terme, to have quite an extensive and considerable ambition. It is to expand the knowledge, the safeguard, and the utilization of the rich archaeological heritage of middle Veneto in order to optimize its visibility and increase cultural tourism in the area. This project aims to achieve the combined objectives of its three institutions, namely scientific research and training, the protection and enhancement of the area, and its cultural and touristic development, which in turn will bring more employment, and economic and social development.

The Project, implemented along a multidisciplinary strategic analysis, integrating data from archaeological, geomorphological, geophysical, and historical studies, proposes to reconstruct the ancient natural and anthropogenic features of the area. It will place it in the broader historical and environmental context of the thermal spa region, enhancing it through the creation of an archaeological unitary trail network, marked by signposts and a series of information panels.

The "Euganean Spa Archaeological Park" will be fully accessible by an integrated modern road and rail infrastructure and will centre on the four major archaeological sites.

The whole project will be topped up by the creation of an exhibition centre that will house and display a collection of artefacts found during excavations. It will present the story of Montegrotto and the thermal spa region through the centuries, highlighting continuities and transformational choices of the settlements and the economic significance of the urban centre. The "Museum of the Euganean Spas and Thermal Waters" will be characterized by a specific historical-diachronic theme and divided into several sections organized according to different historical ages, from ancient to modern and contemporary. It will explain the peculiar characteristics of the Euganean spas and their medical, religious and socio-economical features.

The local administration will house the museum in Villa Draghi, a most suitable mansion well known for the charm of its location. Just a stroll away, through the very beautiful natural environment of its large park surrounding the slopes of the hill where the villa is located, the visitor will have access to a panoramic terrace from where to admire and enjoy an overview of the district, its beauty, and features.

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