Lost City of Altinum Found

Excerpts from a piece in the Times of London:

The bustling harbour of Altinum near Venice was one of the richest cities of the Roman empire. But terrified by the impending invasion of the fearsome Germanic Emperor Attila the Hun, its inhabitants cut their losses and fled in AD452, leaving behind a ghost town of theatres, temples and basilicas.

Altinum was never reoccupied and gradually sunk into the ground. The city lived on in Venetian folk tales and historical artefacts but its exact position, size and wealth gradually faded into obscurity.

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The team behind the study located the ancient city by studying hundreds of aerial photographs of the region, mostly taken by private companies for cartography purposes.

In July 2007, during a particularly dry summer, crops were suffering from drought and were highly sensitive to the subsurface presence of stones, bricks or compacted soil. On the image taken by the mapping company Telespazio, the lighter crops indicated stonework, while the darker patches revealed depressed features such as pits and canals.

The team, reconstructing the town using the aerial images and knowledge of Roman architecture, was able to identify temples, theatres, a basilica, the marketplace and city walls as well as hundreds of smaller structures. Also visible is a large canal, which would have been used for the transportation of oils, wines and foreign luxuries inland to the Roman capital of Milan and other powerful cities such as Verona.

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The team behind the study hopes to carry out carefully planned excavations in the future, but is first collecting more aerial images. It is taking pictures every ten days, as different conditions will show up different features more clearly. By the end of 2009 the experts aim to have compiled all the data and produced an even more detailed map of Altinum.

Some comments from team leader Paolo Mozzi (as told to ANSA):

”Until now we only knew that Altinum was there, we didn’t know what it was like … ‘In size it’s comparable to Pompeii, and Altinum is the only large Roman city in northern Italy and one of the few in Europe that wasn’t buried by modern and medieval cities that rose up later. That’s the reason we can see the Roman age structures of the city so well … These results show that the Romans successfully managed to exploit the watery environment many centuries before the city of Venice began to emerge on the archipelago in the middle of the lagoon … ‘We see a walled city, a theatre, an amphitheatre outside the walls, the basilica, the forum with its market, then a principle road connected to the Via Annia (the Roman road through northern Italy) … ‘You can also see a canal that divides the city in two and heads towards the lagoon. Considering the sea level in Roman times, that canal must have been connected to the lagoon as well as with nearby rivers”

The BBC coverage below includes an animated flyover (without sound) of the site; the Science magazine coverage has some more photos.

Additional coverage (later):