Outside the major urban centres, on the road that connected the two ancient towns of Fulfinum and Curicum, a villa rustica was built in early antiquity. In its vicinity, in the period of late antiquity (5th-6th century), a sacral complex was constructed, today known as the Cickini site.
It is a single-nave church with a transept lying in a southeast-northwest direction. At its rear there is a semi-circular apse with a seven-sided outer mantle and a bench for priests set into the inner wall. Next to the church there are auxiliary rooms and a baptistery. The chancel was separated from the nave by a richly decorated altar rail. East of the church there is a larger residential complex with storage rooms, a cistern, kitchen, dining room and the remains of a staircase leading to the first floor.
At the beginning of the 7th century, the complex was destroyed by fire, but the church continued to be used for some time on a reduced scale in such a way that the arms of the transept were closed. The complex was probably abandoned in the late 8th century.
Piscina stone basin, 5th/6th century, Cickini Archaeological Collection
The baptistery is located in front of the church to which it is attached. Since the terrain in front of the church slopes down sharply, the baptistery is on a much lower level and can be reached by two flights of steps. A plastered floor has been preserved in the baptistery, and at its centre is a baptismal font dating back to the 6th century. The font is of an irregular polygonal shape with five semi-circular niches, two metres in diameter and about 70 cm high. The interior is completely covered with hydraulic lime plaster. Direct analogies to this type of baptismal font are not found yet. In order to enter it for full immersion baptism, there were wooden steps on the northwest side, where the wall of the baptistery is thinner. Since the complex is located outside the urban centres, it certainly played an important role in the Christianisation of the rural population of this area.
In addition to this masonry font, a piscina basin was also discovered at the site, which was probably used for the baptism of children. On the upper edge of the piscina there are four protrusions, three with engraved symbols, one of which is a cross, and one with a hollow space for ointments.
Altar rail pluteus, 5th/6th century, Cickini Archaeological Collection
The most significant movable finds from this complex are the remains of the altar rail that separated the chancel from the nave. These are the remains of capitals, semi-capitals, pilasters and plutei (relief stone slabs) which decorated the interior of the church with their relief scenes. These fragments were not found in their original position because the rail was removed when the church was being rebuilt and reduced in size. They are mostly broken, and, given the different thickness of the slabs, we can conclude that the church furniture changed over time due to damage or due to a change in the liturgy.
The best preserved pluteus is the one with a shallow relief of a circle with a Maltese cross inside, which has another smaller circle at its centre and resembles a wheel. To the right of the circle is a peacock that is wholly preserved. On the other side, only the remains of the legs of another peacock have been preserved, a peacock which was certainly depicted in a different position. The very motif of birds in early Christianity is taken from antiquity art and symbolises the human soul. In Christianity, the peacock represents immortality due to the popular belief that peacock meat does not rot. In the upper right-hand corner of the pluteus is the depiction of a Latin cross. The edges of the pluteus are gradually profiled. On the lower and right-hand sides, the pluteus was narrowed and was fixed into a floor beam and a pilaster with a groove, as found at the site.
Plate, African sigillata, 5th/6th century, Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral Rijeka
In the residential part of the complex, a space for food preparation – a kitchen – was explored in 2017 and 2018. The remains of a stove or fireplace were found in one of the side rooms. It is an irregular circular structure, made of closely packed irregular stone. Around the layer of stones is a layer of plaster 30 cm wide. During the research, a large number of animal bones and shells were recorded here, the largest amount of which were oysters and purple dye murex snails (Bolinus brandaris). It is possible that the snails were used primarily to obtain purple dye, for which this species is known, and only secondarily as food. An analysis of the movable material and a coal sample from the hearth date this room to a period from the mid-5th to mid-6th century. This is the room where the highest concentration of late antiquity ceramic material was found, including an entire oil lamp.
Cistern, 5th/6th century, illustrative example
On the site, three water cisterns necessary for the sacral building and for the life of people in the complex were discovered. Two smaller ones are located next to the church building and were built as auxiliary rooms. One of them was added to the baptistery and was used to store the water needed for baptismal rites.
The third and largest cistern is located within the residential part of the complex, opposite the kitchen area. It is larger in size, and its walls are lined with reddish hydraulic plaster. The walls of the cistern are reinforced with extensions, and on the western side of the west wall there are three buttresses that helped carry the vault structure, which has unfortunately not been preserved. The cistern was fully preserved in 2020, and the plastered floor was covered with gravel.
Ara, 1st century, Cickini Archaeological Collection
In addition to the findings from late antiquity, numerous spolia were found inside the complex –parts of an older building, in this case the villa rustica, which were used as construction material for a new building. These are fragments of tegula with seals, a fragment of a marble sarcophagus, fragments of stone urns, and, most significantly, fragments of the altar – ara. This stone monument was found built into a wall in the hallway area in front of the kitchen entrance.
Almost completely preserved, it is rectangular in shape and of rather small dimensions (43 x 22 cm). On its front there is an inscribed dedication: Q(intvs) FONTEIV(s) MAXIMVS DIANAE V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito).
From the inscription we read that it was erected by Quintus Fonteius Maximus in honour of Diana, the goddess of hunting, wild animals and forests, who was often worshiped in rural areas. When Roman gods ceased to be worshiped and people converted to Christianity, the altar was discarded and used as building material for the construction of this residential complex.