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Origins and Roman Brescia

Brescia Capitolium

Brixia, Roman Outpost

Brescia owes its name to the hilly ground on which it is built; Brixia  comes from   "brg, brig, brik" a Celtic or Ligurian word (or maybe even older), meaning high places. The first settlement goes back to the late Bronze Age (1200 B.C.) and was situated on Cidneo Hill, named after the famous Cidneo, king of the Ligurians, who fortified it. Later it became important as the capital of the Cenomanian Gauls  but its history as a properly organised town began with the Roman occupation and continued during its alliance with Rome: in 89 B.C. Brixia obtained  ' Latin rights ' and in 49 B.C. full Roman citizenship; but it was only in 27 B.C. that the peaceful Romanisation of the town was completed, when Octavian raised it to the rank of 'Colonia Civica Augusta'.,

During these years the village became a city; not only agriculture and trade flourished but also marble quarrying and mining for iron ore, besides various crafts,including metal work. Another reason for Brixia's growing importance was her position between  the Senatorial provinces ( this side of the Alps ) and  the Imperial provinces (transalpine). The city plan was that of the castrum ( Roman military camp): the rectilinear roads were laid out within a rectangle approximately 800x840 metres and intersected at rightangles to form  insulae (blocks); the  decumanus maximus (the main road from east to west)  was the stretch of the Emilia Gallica Way contained inside the city boundaries; this road linked Milan to Verona and corresponded to the present-day Via Musei, while the cardus ( from north to south) corresponded to the present-day Via Agostino Gallo. Within the three kilometres of city wall citizens could come and go and enter the Forum ( the main square), which, when Vespasian was emperor in the second half of the first century A.D., became still more impressive with the addition of the new temple, the Capitolium, the basilica, (a public building used for the administration of justice) and the theatre. Public baths were built to the south west and supplied with water brought from Lumezzane by a 25 km. aqueduct.

Brixia's  social and economic importance in imperial times ( it had about 6,000 inhabitants) is shown by the fine remains of Roman domus ( aristocratic homes) overlooking the main street (the decumanus) which were found in the cloister and courtyard of Santa Giulia, under the church of San Salvatore, in the kitchen garden of Santa Giulia and in the area of the Istituto Artigianelli.

After being one of the main Cisalpine centres for several centuries, Brixia began to decline in importance towards the end of the III century A.D., overshadowed, even though at first its economy was not affected, by the growing  power of Mediolanum, which under Diocletian had become one of the capitals of the Western Roman Empire.

The late ancient period (IV - V century AD) saw the extension of the city walls towards west (beyond the area where Piazza della Vittoria and Piazza della Loggia now stand) and the building of the first churches, after the practice of Christianity was legalised in 313 AD. The two cathedrals of Santa Maria Maggiore and San Pietro de Dom ( where the Old and New Cathedrals stand today) and the Baptistry (no longer in existence) marked an important urban area further to the west than the temple area of the Romans.

In the V and VI centuries the architectural and urban structure began to decay; and after the barbarian invasions, ruins, kitchen gardens and hovels obliterated the dignity of the Roman edifices.