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Palestrina is located on the slopes of Mount Ginestro, the last spur of the Prenestini Mountains; from its location at high altitude it was possible to control the natural roadways at the bottom of the valley, the Labicana and the Latina. In addition, the saddle between the Albani and Lepini Hills, to the West, permitted a direct connection with Anzio. The control of these many roadways and the relative commerce was at the base of the wealth and the importance of Praeneste right from the VIIth century B.C. (witness to this are the rich oriental-style artefacts found in its necropolis, now preserved in the Villa Giulia museum in Rome: the Bernardini and Barberini tombs, etc.).
So, Palestrina – perhaps since the VIIth century B.C. – occupied the slopes of Mount Ginestro, the highest point of which, today Castel San Pietro, constituted the acropolis. It was surrounded by a single ring of walls dating back to VIIth- VIth century, a number of stretches of which can be seen from the road which climbs up to Castel San Pietro. The Southern side, at the end of the IInd century B. C., was substituted by a wall in tufa stone which, together with another, ran along the length of a road, some stretches of which can still be seen. This course is followed by today’s via degli Arcioni road which owes its name to the eleven vaulted structures which, on the eastern part of the road, formed a closure to the road above. This was the southern boundary of the oldest part of the town; part of the flatlying land at the front was already occupied during the course of the IInd century B.C.; this was the location of the “new” town of Sillani settlers, following the Civil War which led, in the year 82 B.C. to the massacre on the part of the Sillani of the most important Prenestina families who had been guilty of having supported the forces of Mario.
The undisciplined urbanisation of the modern town, as well as having caused grave losses, has severely jeopardised the interpretation of the lower town: the Forum has been identified to be have been in the area of the Santa Maria dell'Aquila church, while, in piazza Ungheria, there are the remains of constructions which can be dated back to the IV-IIIth century B.C., with later reconstruction work dating from the end of the II century B.C.; helping with the dating are inscriptions and material recovered from the Sanctuary of Hercules, as at extra-urban Tivoli and linked to the commercial dealings. The town's extremely rich Necropolis is to be found in the Colombella area, the extreme southern boundary of which contains the remains of one of Hadrian's Imperial Villas.
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