Archaeological site of the church SS. Giovanni and Reparata, Lucca
Where history is preserved
The church of Saints Giovanni and Reparata, together with its baptistery annex, is situated in the south-eastern part of the town and it was built in the V century A.D. The complex was the first in the diocese to serve as the bishop’s residence until the neighbouring church of San Martino was named a cathedral at the beginning of the VIII century. There has been news of occasional archaeological findings, particularly around the baptistery, since the XVII century; the structure’s first deliberate excavation was carried out by Ridolfi in 1885. Systematic investigations of the ground underneath the church began at the end of the 1960s, after which, the current-day archaeological itinerary was instituted. Between 1976 and 1977, the area surrounding the baptistery was excavated, which allowed for its first proper archaeological investigation, carried out in the city centre thanks to modern stratigraphic methods. An excavation probe was carried out under the apse and northern transept of the church in 1990.
(Text by Susanna Bianchini)
Current state: The remains can be seen below the church, along a route traced for visitors. A large portion of Roman pavement, removed in the XIX century, is on display at the National Museum of Villa Guinigi in Lucca.
Beyond any shadow of a doubt, some of the pottery recovered during the baptistery excavation date back to before the foundation of Roman Lucca. Although they were found in later layers, these objects are the only ones discovered within the town (Via Squaglia) up until now. Thus, their presence is our only evidence that this area was actually frequented prior to the establishment of the colony founded in 180 B.C. The earliest preserved structures belong to the Roman town’s initial period, between the Late Republicana and the first Augustean Ages: they are the remains of pavement of a domus—a rich private house .
A small piece of ‘cocciopesto’ pavement, with a pattern of crosses made of black and white mosaic tesserae, can be seen in the western part of the baptistery, where it was discovered during excavations in the 70’s; it was probably part of the identical pavement, removed during 19th century operations and now on display at the National Museum of Villa Guinigi. Two other portions of ‘cocciopesto’ pavement are preserved in the northern transept: one is enriched by an emblem of polychromous stones and inserted into a background of mosaic tesserae (scutulatum), the other is light brown and without additional decoration.
During the Imperial Age, between the end of the I century and the beginning of the II century A.D., it is certain that the area was radically transformed; though inevitably difficult to interpret because of missing parts, the walls and pavements found, belong to a new building, this time probably not residential. In the church’s northern transept, we see remains of walls and the bases of two columns belonging to a room that had a colonnade around a basin; other walls in the area of the apse define a corridor and two other rooms, to the north of the colonnade. Thanks to a recent reconstruction, the room with columns can be seen as a large frigidarium, or room with a basin used for cold baths. This suggests that the remains might therefore be those of a thermal building. The structures found in the baptistery area are more difficult to interpret. Once again, some findings suggest the existence of baths. In addition, it has been suggested that a quadrangular room belonging to the previous Roman building, with the simple addition of four parametric apses, was used for the first baptistery.
Although these are simply conjectures, destined to remain such, the size and the complex articulation of the II century building, (which was probably public rather than private), can be clearly seen. In Late Antiquity, the palaeo-Christian basilica and the baptistery with its four apses were built upon well preserved Roman structures. Portions of the polychromous mosaic pavement which characterised the basilica still remain. Substantial changes, shown in the archaeological itinerary, were made during the course of the VIII, IX and X centuries, until the new Romanic church was finally constructed, in the second half of the XII century. The structure was built more than two metres above the older palaeo-Christian basilica.
Hours: From March to October, 10am - 6pm; in the winter, open Saturday, Sunday, during holidays and by reservation. For more information call: Lucca’s Cathedral Museum at: 0583 / 490530