Trento, in northern Italy, is best known as a Renaissance city. However, the area has been settled since ancient times, most notably by the Romans, who arrived in the 1st century BC. They founded a city which they named Tridentum and, if you look hard enough, you can still see plenty of evidence of the Romans in Trento.
The Roman City of Tridentum
There seems to be more than one explanation for the name Tridentum (or Tridentium). The Romans certainly associated the town with the god Neptune, who is always shown carrying a trident (look out for the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Duomo). One theory for this association is that, although it is a long way from the sea, Tridentum was abundant with water, with the river, the nearby lakes, and the water that was brought down from the hills. Alternatively, the name could derive from the three hills that surround the city (the three “teeth” of a trident).
However it got its name, Tridentum was an important settlement. The Romans chose it for its strategic location, guarding an important trade route between the Mediterranean and central Europe. They built a garrison on the site, and laid out the city in the regular Roman style, with houses, public buildings and a drainage system. Unusually, there were two walls around the city, built at different times.
The SAS Archaeological Space
Undoubtedly the best place to discover the Romans in Trento is at the SAS Archaeological Space (SASS). This is an extensive area of the ancient city that lies beneath the Piazza Cesare Battisti and the Teatro Sociale (like most of the Roman remains in Trento it is completely below the current ground level). The site was excavated during the reconstruction of the Teatro Sociale at the end of the 20th century.
As you walk around SASS you will see all the elements of a Roman town. There is a section of paved road and fragments of houses, including a domus (grand dwelling). Look out for mosaic flooring, drains and underfloor heating systems. There is also a glassworks, and a stretch of the inner city wall.
The Palazzo Lodron
The other important Roman site in Trento is beneath the Palazzo Lodron. Here you will see part of a road and a bit of the city walls. There are several private houses, and – surprisingly for the Roman era – one of the houses features a sit-down toilet. You can also see the remains of a wine shop.
The site is next to a bank on the Piazza Lodron. Entrance is free, but note that it is privately owned and may not always be open at the advertised times.
Minor Roman Sites in Trento
There are several other minor sites in Trento. These have varying levels of access for visitors.
I have treated the Porta Veronensis as a minor site, because it is currently (June 2019) closed to visitors. Located below the ground floor of the Tridentine Diocesan Museum, it was one of the entrance gates to the city.
The Duomo (cathedral) was built over the 4th century Basilica of San Vigilio. Excavations in the crypt show the original church – much of it is post-Roman but fragments of the original structure remain.
Although I didn’t see it myself, there are apparently remains of a Roman villa in the Casa Romana at 5 Via Antonio Rosmini. According to the website the Casa Romana is “open for temporary art exhibitions”.
Castello del Buonconsiglio
The castle itself is medieval, but the museum section of the Castello del Buonconsiglio has an area devoted to Tridentum. This includes some altars, and other Roman artefacts.
Other Roman Remains in Trento
This is not an exhaustive list of Roman sites in Trento. As you walk around the historic centre look at the information boards outside the buildings – these indicate the architectural periods of each structure. A few show that there are Roman remains inside, and one or two of these have some limited public access.
And, of course, new sites are being found and excavated all the time…