The archaeological site of Forum Traiani at Fordongianus is situated on the border of the river Tirso. Here a warm water source springs from the volcanic rock and this has been used by the romans to build their baths. Originally the name of the town was Acquae Hypsitanae until under emperor Trajan it was promoted to Forum. The town became an important military center in the late-roman and byzantine period to keep control of inland Sardinia. Just outside Fordongianus as it came to be called in modern times, lies the site of the church of one of the early christian martyrs San Lussorio.
Forum Traiani is one of the better preserved roman sites in Sardinia. The name of the current town, Fordongianus, derives from the former latin name that reminds of the status of forum the town obtained under the Severian emperors. That the baths (Thermae) themselves have been preserved relatively well is due to the fact that they were built near the banks of the river Tirso, while the town itself lies on a higher trachitic rockplateau out of reach of the waters of the river. It can also be ascribed to the fact that Forum Traiani played an important strategic role in the control over the Sardinian inlands during the roman empire and it was the site where one of the first christian martyrs was buried in the church of Saint Luxurius, making it the centre of christian religion for a long time during the middle ages.
The site of Forum Traiani
The site is maintained by a cooperation (cooperativa Forum Traiani) and at the entrance there is a space where you can park the car. The Thermae lie on the southern banks of the river Tirso, only a few metres away. At one time the Thermae were protected by a wall to fend off the high waters in the wet seasons. Nowadays the water is regulated by the large dam that was built to create the artificial lake Lago Omodeo. The structures of the Thermae consist of two separate bath houses: the Thermae no. I and the Thermae no. II. Just behind the Thermae there is an open space, the Forum, with structures along the sides that probably were meant for the market place or as subsidiaries of the Thermae themselves (Hospitium). On the southside of the forum arises the trachitic rockplateau containing in this part a system of cisterns and canals for the waterreservoirs of the Thermae. On top of the plateau you will find immediately the first houses of the modern urban centre of Fordongianus.
The Thermae no. I
The main visible part of the Thermae no. I is the arched passage or corridor. It is built in trachitic stones (the rock of vulcanic origin) and in front of it lies the natatio, once completely covered by the arches. The natatio is a rectangular pool with steps placed all around it that give easy access to the water or that could be used to sit down. The water in the pool was a mixture of warm and cold water, both from natural sources. The warm water of vulcanic origin has a temperature of 54 degrees Celsius and gushes out of the ground just nearby where it finds it's way to the Tirso. The water was considered therapeutical in ancient times and still serves modern Thermal baths. Near the riverside a basin is filled with the natural warm water which you can feel and you can smell the slight fosforic scent.
Restorations of later times of the natatio are visible in the reuse of stones with latin inscriptions, that were used to repair the border of the pool. The water is reversed in the pool using a perforated stone sculpted in the form of a pantherhead. It was still in place in the nineties of the previous century at our first visit, but in 2007 it was removed and cleaned. The steps of the pool in that point have been covered by centuries of incrustations.
The Thermae no. II
Right behind the Thermae I the second bathing house was built in the fourth century AD. For the Thermae II the romans used the techniques of opus caementicium and opus vittatum mixtum, and not the ready at hand trachitic stones. The warm water was obtained by heating it in the calidarii. Archeologists have identified the various rooms as; Calidarium, Tepidarium and Frigidarium and suppose the guests followed a fixed sequence when visiting the baths. Of the original walls and pavements (mosaic) there is not much left but some of the baths are fairly well visible. There is still one tub in the Calidarium and there are two tubs in the Frigidarium; built in the apsis of the building with a round form and a rectangular one placed against the trachitic walls of the Thermae I.
The forum itself is still paved with the original slabs. One of the cloaca, part of the system that provided the baths with water, runs right accross the open space. On the eastern side of the forum several rooms have been uncovered and in one of them the orginal wall paintings are in part intact; floral motives and a horsefigure. It is being protected by a small rooftop against the weather (sun and rain). On the southside you can still see the lower part of a broad staircase that once would have led to a temple or perhaps to the town itself. It is not possible to excavate further south because of the modern houses on the edge of the plateau.
In the trachitic rock a cistern and underground canals have been found that were part of a water provisioning system for the baths. The romans enhanced this system using brick walls facing the forum, possibly creating also a fountain.
Finally on the east side of the Thermae there is a circular building which had been named Nymphaeum by one of the first archeologists who led the excavations at Fordongianus. Since then colleague's have been referring to this building as the Nymphaeum of Taramelli. What the exact function would have been is not clear, but the name was inspired by the connection that was made in Aquae Hypsitanae and Forum Traiani between Aesculapius, god of healing, and the Nymphae (Nymphs). This connection recurs in a memorial inscription of the Cohors VII Lusitanorum (Portuguese) and other inscriptions that were found in the archeological site. In a way the water sanctuaries have always been identified in the nuragic culture to a female god and also the churches that were built by the christians near these sanctuaries were dedicated to female saints. That this is not the case with Forum Traiani where a male god was the most important divinity is because of the healing powers attributed to the warm water source. There have been found so far no traces of earlier sanctuaries from neolithic or nuragic times here as these have been erased by punic and roman building activities.
Under the houses of Fordongianus there have been found more remains of Roman times and not far from the Thermae the foundations of an amphitheatre have been identified. Some parts of the town have the original roman townplan, while the bridge over the Tirso was part of the roman roads that crossed Forum Traiani from south to north and east to west.
In the town of Fordongianus itself there are also non-roman sites like the casa Aragonese, a sixteenth century house kept in it's original state, and just outside the urban centre the church of Saint Luxurius (San Lussorio), that was built over a hypogeum.
Address: località Terme, Fordongianus
tel: +39 (0)783 605172/60123
Opening times: 9:30-13:00 and 15:00-17:00
Prices: Euro 4,00 ; Euro 3,00 groups of more than 20; Euro 2,00 reduced; tickets in combination with the Casa Aragonese
The information has been updated for 2019 but prices and opening hours may vary.