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Rome Metro workers discover ancient aqueduct


A 2,300-year-old aqueduct uncovered by workers on Rome's new Metro line has been hailed as "a sensational discovery of enormous importance" by the city's Superintendency for Archaeology.

Rome Metro workers discover ancient aqueduct
The aqueduct dates from the 3rd century BC and is the oldest in Rome
[Credit: Archaeological Superintendency Rome]
The find was made in the heart of the city, in Piazza Celimontana, during construction work for line C of Rome’s metro, right in front of the Celio military hospital. Here – almost 20 metres deep, where it is normally impossible to dig and study in safety – there lies what archaeologists have called “a sensational discovery of enormous importance, because it is almost certainly the most ancient Roman aqueduct, dating from the third century before Christ”.

Stratigraphy of the city revealed

The discovery was announced on Monday, 3 April, but occurred in late 2016, confirmed Simona Morretta, the heritage department’s head archaeologist for the Celio area: “The ruins emerged during work on a ventilation shaft about 32 metres wide and involving an area of about 800 square metres for line C of the metro, which started over two years ago”.

Details of the discovery, that we are reporting here for the first time, will be presented on Wednesday, 5 April at a conference at Rome’s Sapienza university. Morretta and Paola Palazzo, who directed the excavation with the “Archeologia” cooperative, will illustrate to the academic community their report, entitled “a stretch of a Republican aqueduct discovered during excavation work for line C of the Metro in Piazza Celimonana”.

“It is only thanks to the concrete bulkheads built for work on the metro,” explained Morretta, “that we could get down to that level, studying for the first time the entire stratigraphy of Rome – starting from the existing houses and descending to an Iron Age tomb with grave goods, including two bowls, from the late 10th-early 9th century BC”.

Rome Metro workers discover ancient aqueduct
The section unearthed of the 2,300-year-old construction is 32 metres long. An Iron Age tomb 
with grave goods also found [Credit: Archaeological Superintendency Rome]
At a depth of 18 metres

The tomb, found at a depth of 18 metres below the current ground level, is the first find of its kind in the Celio district, “but Rome, as we know, has always been built on itself, layer upon layer, often using former constructions as foundations”.

The discovery also includes a 3,000-year-old tomb, then, but of much greater interest is the aqueduct: “There emerged at a depth of 17.40 metres a stretch of aqueduct as long as the entire diameter of the ventilation shaft – 32 metres – and about two metres high, built in blocks of grey ‘cappellaccio’ tuff. It surely continues, both east and west, beyond the bulkheads.”

A ten-metre section of aqueduct has now been dismantled block by block, catalogued, and “piled up” back on the surface. There are plans to to reassemble it where the public can see it: “It was not possible to visit it 20 metres below ground, so we hope to rebuild it elsewhere in the future. It must be said, however, that such discoveries are only possible thanks to the work being done for the metro; excavations do not usually go so deep, and on this occasion were only possible because of the bulkheads. It was an extraordinary opportunity for us archaeologists”.

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An impressive work

The Aqueduct is a serial structure, but is still able to provide a great deal of precise, and new information. “We still do not know how the aqueduct developed, i.e. where it started and ended. The authority to turn to in this case, as always, is Frontinus, author of a famous treatise on Rome’s aqueducts, written in 102 AD. Frontinus describes them all, and also tells us that some aqueducts passed through the Celio district. However, nothing had ever been found. In addition, on the basis of the dating of the material found, our aqueduct must have been built shortly before the middle of the 3rd century, in the mid-Republican Age, i.e. about 2,300 years ago."

"The question is: which aqueduct does the find belong to? We do not know yet. The Anio Vetus – whose name came from the Anio valley, the source of its waters – dates back to 272 BC. The period matches, yet even though this coincidence would seem to suggest a link, Frontinus says the Anio Vetus did not pass through Celio. It is thus more likely to be part of the Aqua Appia, the first aqueduct built in Rome. We must assume that a public work of this impressive size would have taken decades to build, so the dating could in fact coincide. We also know that the Aqua Appia was extremely deep, as is the section unearthed”.

Later used as a sewer

Moreover, the work was found completely buried. “It is precisely the intact layers of earth,” concluded Morretta, “that allowed us to establish when it ceased to be used, namely in the early Imperial Age. Subsequently, in late antiquity, the aqueduct was used as a sewer. Another curiosity is that the layers of earth revealed large amounts of leftovers from meals, which were an exceptional mine of information for our archaeozoologist. I have just received their report, which was extremely interesting. And now we know exactly what was eaten by Roman aristocrats living in the large villas in the area. All sorts of things were found in the sewers: remains of pets, parts of wild boars, plenty of rare birds, and exotic foods. There were not only the remains of hens, cocks and capons, but also of swans and pheasants, as well as huge seawater fish such as grouper”.

Author: Edoardo Sassi, transl. Simon Tanner | Source: Corriere Della Sera [April 05, 2017]
TANN

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