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Sections of Roman villa and looted sandstone sarcophagus unearthed in Cologne


During a renovation of district heating pipes, gas pipes and water pipes in Vogelsanger Stra├če in the Ehrenfeld district, the remains of a magnificently furnished suburban villa of Roman Cologne came to light. As is the daily business of urban archaeology in a large city, it is the small sections that are often of great significance. 


Sections of Roman villa and looted sandstone sarcophagus unearthed in Cologne
The remains of Roman villa on Vogelsanger Strasse
[Credit: City of Cologne]

Vogelsanger Strae was not an ancient street, and today, at the level of Mechternstra├če, it crosses a villa in the outskirts of the Roman settlement. The villa was furnished with mosaic floors, wall paintings and ceiling paintings. The wall and ceiling paintings are unique for the Roman provinces along the Rhine and Danube. Molluscs, snail shells and shells, were pressed into the still moist painted plaster. Such decorations are known, for example, from the famous excavation sites at Vesuvius, Herculaneum and Pompeii.




The villa has been known since the first excavations around the church of St. Mechtern in 1934. Even then, the finds, especially marble incrustations, were described as "very valuable". Finally, further excavations revealed the structure to be a so-called portico villa with corner parapets. Following an impressive extension in the middle of the 2nd century, the main building acquired a facade of more than 50 metres in length, making it one of the largest villa complexes in the Rhineland.


Sections of Roman villa and looted sandstone sarcophagus unearthed in Cologne
Fragments of painted walls [Credit: City of Cologne]

The new features to the north-east of the former excavations may have belonged to a bath house that was originally located outside the main building. Excavation is in progress.




In the run-up to a school extension of the Kaiserin Augusta Gymnasium in the southern old town of Cologne, the looted sandstone sarcophagus of a Germanic man of the early 4th century has been recovered during pre-construction excavations. The bones of the deceased inside had been scattered haphazardly by the grave robbers during their search, but outside they overlooked an associated burial offering of high-quality finds. 


Sections of Roman villa and looted sandstone sarcophagus unearthed in Cologne
The sarcophagus apparently belonged to the military upper class
[Credit: City of Cologne]

Several plates and bowls made of glass and ceramics, as well as small white-toned jugs, were left for the deceased on his journey to the afterlife. On one plate there were bones and the remains of chicken as food for the journey. Two coins were used to pay for the passage across the river of the underworld. A remarkable item is an elaborately designed wooden box, from which several metal fittings have survived. The key was still broken off in the keyhole.


Sections of Roman villa and looted sandstone sarcophagus unearthed in Cologne
The valuable grave goods that were overlooked by grave robbers
[Credit: City of Cologne]

The deceased could be identified by a belt. He was a member of a military upper class with Germanic roots and had achieved wealth and prestige in Roman service. The grave goods indicate that the Germanic military families adopted Roman customs. He was buried outside the city wall on the edge of a now derelict area of the former southern suburb.  


Source: City of Cologne - Office for Press and Public Relations [trsl. TANN; April 09, 2021]



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