Augustan Stables to be Reburied?

From the Telegraph … skipping a bit:

Now, to mark the two millennia since his death in 14AD, a successful exhibition has been staged in Rome and Paris, while on Rome’s Palatine Hill newly restored rooms at Augustus’ house and elaborate frescoes in a dining area will go on display for the first time.

But at a large excavated site off Via Giulia, in the heart of the city, workers will start covering the remains of Augustus’s marbled stables with waterproof cloths, ready for reburial, left for future generations to rediscover.

Described as “extremely important” by Rome’s archaeological authority when they were first found in 2009 by a firm excavating to build an underground car park, the buildings gave a unique glimpse of how imperial stables were built, adding to shreds of information provided by digs at Roman military camps and mosaics found in North Africa.

Graffiti on the walls boasting of victories in races at the Circus Maximus provided a fascinating insight into the four racing teams that shared the stables and divided the fierce loyalties of Roman race fans.

In 2011, archaeologists celebrated when it was announced the stables would be preserved and open to visits, only for city officials to cancel the plans this year due to budget cuts.

Cataloguing discoveries before burying them is standard practice “when there are no funds to guarantee the work needed to safeguard the finds,” said Federica Galloni, a culture minister official.

Experts believe that once reburied, artefacts and remains do not risk erosion by the elements or the thefts they might endure if left exposed and unprotected, and can be re-excavated when funding permits.

The fate of the stables and Augustus’s mausoleum contrasts with other monuments in the city which have benefited from a new trend for restoration work paid for by Italian fashion companies. Shoe maker Tod’s is sponsoring a clean-up of the Colosseum while Fendi is funding repairs to the Trevi Fountain.

Officials have said the city of Rome did seek a sponsor to help restore Augustus’ mausoleum in time for the 2014 celebrations, but found no takers.

With just two million of a required four million euros available, work will now be finished in 2016.

Meanwhile, yards from the mausoleum, Augustus’s excavated and restored Ara Pacis – or “temple to peace” – is in much better shape and now hosting an exhibition devoted to the emperor. After it was discovered buried beneath a cinema in central Rome, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini decided in 1937 to excavate the temple at all costs in time to celebrate Augustus’ 2000th birthday.

Sparing no expense, experts dug down to retrieve the monument using innovative techniques to freeze the foundations beneath the cinema to ensure the modern building did not collapse.

History unearthed – and reburied

Reinterring ancient sites to protect them from the elements and thieves rather than leaving them exposed is becoming more frequent as funds for archaeology become a luxury in cash strapped economies like Italy and Greece.

An important thermal bath dating to the first century AD reign of the Roman emperor Titus, discovered close to the Colosseum in Rome in the 1990s, has been reburied until money is found for its preservation.

On the outskirts of Rome, experts are campaigning for cash to save from reinterring the stunning tomb of Marcus Nonius Macinus, the Roman general whose 2nd century AD campaigning helped inspire Russell Crowe’s Gladiator.

In Greece, an early Christian basilica, discovered in 2010 during the construction of an underground railway in Thessaloniki was reportedly reburied.

Not sure how I missed this discovery back in 2009. Back in 2008 we read of an impending restoration of the Circus (Circus to be Restored!), and shortly thereafter, about some entrepreneur’s plans to bring chariot racing back to the venue (Chariot Racing in Rome Redux), but then all we heard were tales of a beach soccer tournament therein (Beach Soccer in the Circus Maximus?).

The so-called ‘Gladiator Tomb’ has been its own saga … ecce:

… so apparently the campaign on that score is continuing. Hopefully publicity will bring a sponsor out of the woodwork …

 

Latest in the Riace Bronzes Saga

Okey dokey … this past week Gazzetta del Sud was telling us:

One of Italy’s best-loved cultural icons, a pair of ancient Greek statues called the Riace Bronzes, is back home in a Calabrian museum after four years lying on their backs in the seat of the regional government. “We are keeping a promise to give all the citizens of the world back one of its greatest treasures,” said Culture Minister Massimo Bray. He said the statues would be back on display in two weeks and that, given their “delicate” condition, the government would probably not try to have them moved to Milan in 2015 for the Expo world’s fair in the northern Italian city that year. Bray vowed to give the Bronzes “all the loving attention they need” to restore them to their full glory after the toll of undignified neglect in a store-room of the government offices in Reggio Calabria, on the other side of the southern Italian city. “Thanks to Bray, the bronzes will soon be back gloriously on display,” said Calabria Archaeological Superintendent Simonetta Bonomi. She hailed the news that the public can start flocking back to admire two of the most stunning works ever recovered from the cultural hotbed created by the ancient Greek civilisation in southern Italy called Magna Graecia (Greater Greece). A bigger, renovated showcase for the glorious warrior figures in Reggio Calabria’s Museum of Magna Graecia is expected to be unveiled early next year. Calabria’s culture chief, Mario Caligiuri, said the opening of the revamped site “could represent our Expo,” referring to the world’s fair in Milan which is expected to give the Italian business capital a significant economic and cultural boost. The statues were moved from the museum at the end of 2009 because the cultural institute badly needed restoration. But the work at the museum became a victim of budget cuts and red tape, leaving the statues out in the cold and spurring a national and international outcry. Leading Italian arts figures got a petition together and United Nations cultural organisation UNESCO branded the affair “a disgrace” in July. This prompted a renewed pledge from local officials this summer. “The situation is finally unblocked and will be remedied” said the managing director of Calabria’s department of cultural heritage, Francesco Prosperetti. “The Region of Calabria has given its fundamental contribution of five million euros, which will be used for building museum displays and completing installation work in the building, which should once more host the Riace Bronzes,” Prosperetti said. “If, as we hope, there aren’t snags or legal hold-ups… inauguration and opening to the public is conceivable…in the first months of next year”, Prosperetti said. Politicians had pressed Bray, since his appointment in April, to take fast action to protect the historically significant and priceless statues. He responded by saying moves would be hastened to get them back in their rightful place “by the first quarter of 2014″. On Friday he said “it turned out that this forecast was actually pessimistic and I am proud to say that these two old friends of ours are now back where they belong even sooner than we hoped”. Calabria takes the Bronzes so seriously that it has repeatedly refused permission for copies of the statues to be made and rejected pleas for Italian promotional events worldwide and for the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. In a citywide vote in 2003, the people of Reggio Calabria came out overwhelmingly against the “cloning” of the statues, which have been the Calabrian capital’s biggest tourist draw since they were discovered. The bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holiday-maker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy’s most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years. Their’ trip across town to the council site was supposed to be a brief one. When they left the archaeological museum on December 22, 2009, superintendent Bonomi said it was “just for a six-month restoration”. The move was the first time in 28 years that the priceless 2,500-year-old bronzes had left the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria. The only previous occasion they were let out was in 1981, for a triumphant round-Italy tour, which sold out venues in Rome, Florence and Milan The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life. The ‘older’ man, known as Riace B, wears a helmet, while the ‘younger’ Riace A has nothing covering his rippling hair. Both are naked. Although the statues are cast in bronze, they feature silver lashes and teeth, copper red lips and nipples, and eyes made of ivory, limestone and a glass and amber paste. Italy has the world’s biggest trove of archeological treasures but the Riace Bronzes attracted particular attention. This was partly due to their exceptionally realistic rendering and partly to the general rarity of ancient bronze statues, which tended to be melted down and recycled. Stefano Mariottini, the scuba diver who first spotted one of the statues some 300 meters off the coast and eight metres underwater, said the bronze was so realistic that he initially thought he’d found the remains of a corpse. A million people came to see them at various venues around Italy in 1981 and the pair were featured on a commemorative postage stamp that year. The statues pulled in an average 130,000 visitors a year during their time at the Reggio Calabria museum.

Please forgive my skepto-cynicism on this one, but we’ve been hearing about the impending ‘reappearance’ of this pair for years. You can catch up on the saga from our post from this past July: The Riace Bronzes Saga Continues … I’m also curious whether this work done a couple of years ago will be put into effect: Protecting the Riace Bronzes from Earthquakes

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On the Possible Origins of Rome’s “Architectural Hubris” at Gabii

Excerpt from an item in the New York Times:

[…] Any definitive insight into the formative stages of Roman architectural hubris lies irretrievable beneath layers of the city’s repeated renovations through the time of caesars, popes and the Renaissance. The most imposing ruin of the early Roman imperial period is the Colosseum, erected in the first century A.D.

Now, at excavations 11 miles east of Rome’s city center, archaeologists think they are catching a glimpse of Roman tastes in monumental architecture much earlier than previously thought, about 300 years before the Colosseum. They have uncovered ruins of a vast complex of stone walls and terraces connected by a grand stairway and surrounded by many rooms, a showcase of wealth and power spread over an area more than half the size of a football field. They say this was most likely the remains of a public building in the heyday of the city-state Gabii, or possibly an exceptionally lavish private residence.

The discovery was made last summer by a team of archaeologists and students led by Nicola Terrenato, a professor of classical studies at the University of Michigan and a native of Rome. At the end of this summer’s dig season, Dr. Terrenato said last week in a telephone interview from Rome, about two-thirds of the complex had been exposed and studied to “tell us more about how the Romans were building at that formative stage” — between 350 B.C. and 250 B.C.

Dr. Terrenato noted that the findings appeared to contradict the image of early Roman culture, perpetuated by notables like Cato the Elder and Cicero, “as being very modest and inconspicuous.” It was said that this did not change until soldiers returned from the conquest of Greece in the second century B.C., their heads having been turned by Greek refinements and luxuries.

“Now we see the Romans were already thinking big,” he said.

The Gabii dig site is a gift to archaeologists. Not only was the city close to Rome, with many ties, but most of its ruins were buried and never built over after the city’s decline in the second and third centuries A.D. The building complex is on undeveloped land in modern-day Lazio.

At the time, Rome had surpassed Gabii in size, but some historians think the neighboring city could have exerted an influence on the Romans. Previous excavations by the Michigan group, beginning in 2007, had uncovered a significant part of the city, including private houses, wealthy burials, city walls and a temple. Of possibly more importance, Dr. Terrenato suggested, the recent research shows that people were practicing some degree of urban planning at Gabii.

Scholars of ancient history and other archaeologists were either unfamiliar with the Gabii findings or cautious in their comments. Richard J. A. Talbert, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and scholar of ancient geography in the Mediterranean world, visited the Gabii excavations last year. Dr. Talbert noted that in later Roman tradition, Gabii was seen as “a source of ideas and culture.” But he added, “We really don’t have enough evidence yet to say how influential Gabii was on Rome in these early periods.”

Christopher Ratté, the director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at Michigan, said the excavation was part of a concentrated examination of the social environment in central Italy before the rise of Rome as a world power. “It has been quite a surprise,” he said, “to find that it was still possible to break new ground like this in a region that has been so well researched.”

The Gabii Project, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and in collaboration with the Italian Archaeological Service, had explored and mapped the more than 170 acres of the ancient city, which was built on the slopes of an extinct volcano where the crater had become a lake. Then the archaeologists encountered the elaborate building complex. Dr. Terrenato said he was immediately struck by the size of the stone blocks in the retaining wall on the slope inside the complex. Each one weighed thousands of pounds.

“This was like Lego construction,” he said. “They were stacked one on top of each other without any glue binding them together. This is the only technique they had access to, and it must have been the desire for this kind of grand construction that drove them to the invention of mortar about 125 years later.”

The researchers also admired some of the architectural details: rows of stone pillars, courtyards and terraces covered in mosaic tiles in geometric patterns, a 21-step staircase cut into bedrock. They said this showed that the people were beginning to experiment with modifying their natural environments — cutting back the natural slope and creating a retaining wall.

“All this only whetted our appetites,” Dr. Terrenato said as he looked ahead to next summer’s continued excavations and a hoped-for extension of the project beyond 2014.

The The Gabii Project does have a website with some interesting stuff to augment this report (see esp. Fieldwork at Gabii: 2007-present). There’s far more to be found, though, at the Lapis Gabinus dig blog, which is possibly the best dig blog I’ve come across … weekly updates (the current season just ended) and plenty of photos. Definitely worth spending some time at …

Also worth a look is UMichigan’s press release which spawned the NYT piece:

Hadrian’s Tunnels at Tivoli

This item from the Guardian is genuinely interesting … here’s the first bit:

Amateur cavers have mapped a vast network of tunnels underneath Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome, leading archaeologists to radically revise their views of one of ancient Rome’s most imposing imperial retreats.

Lowering themselves through light shafts found in fields around the 120-hectare (296-acre) site, local speleologists have charted more than a mile of road tunnels – passages where, in the second century, oxen pulled carts loaded with luxury foods for banquets and thousands of slaves scurried from palace to palace, well out of sight of the emperor.

“These tunnels lead us to understand that Hadrian’s Villa was organised less like a villa and more like a city,” said Benedetta Adembri, the director of the site, who is planning, in the autumn, to open stretches of the tunnels to the public for the first time.

Never an emperor to do things by half – his idea of homeland security was to build a wall across the top of England – Hadrian built his country hideaway near modern-day Tivoli to escape the noise and crowds of Rome, but managed to take half the city with him.

Archaeologists have identified 30 buildings, including palaces, thermal baths, a theatre and libraries, as well as gardens and dozens of fountains.

“We think the villa covered up to 250 hectares but we still don’t know the limits,” said Abembri.

Abandoned after the fall of the Roman empire, the villa was taken apart piece by piece over the centuries, with one local cardinal stripping off marble to build his own villa nearby in the 16th century, leaving weed infested ruins.

That is where an Italian association of archaeo-speleologists, equipped with ropes, and remote-controlled camera mounted vehicles, has entered the fray, exploring the pristine tunnels under the site, as well as the nine miles of sewers and water pipes hooked up to the local aqueducts.

“What we are exploring is, to a certain extent, the real villa, because the tunnels will show us where the confines of the property really are,” said Marco Placidi, an amateur caver, who has led the search.

Although experts have long known that tunnels snaked under the property, Placidi’s team was the first to drop through light shafts to wander through them. They have mapped a main tunnel, 2.40 metres (7ft) wide, which runs more than half a mile to a circular spur, about 700 metres long which could been used to turn one-way carts.

A sea shell from the Red Sea, possibly used as decoration in the villa, is among the discoveries form the site.

Most importantly, the cavers stumbled upon the entrance to an uncharted tunnel, double the width, at five metres, that could accommodate two-way traffic. It is presently packed with soil almost to the roof.

“We have tried to squeeze in on our stomachs but we still don’t know where it goes and it could lead to buildings we know nothing about,” said Vittoria Fresi, an archaeologist who has worked with Placidi. […]

The Telegraph coverage adds an interesting detail:

The newly-discovered underground passageway has been dubbed by archaeologists the Great Underground Road — in Italian the Strada Carrabile.

… and here’s the Il Messaggero coverage in case you want to read more from archaeologists:

This past November we heard about a Mithraeum among the tunnels beneath the baths of Caracalla (Mithraeum Reopening to the Public)

Commodus’ Mini-Colosseum at Genzano

Interesting discovery getting some coverage in the English press but the fullest is from Il Messaggero:

Che l’imperatore Commodo, il controverso figlio di Marco Aurelio, avesse una passione per i giochi gladiatori e i combattimenti contro le bestie, era noto. Non a caso le fonti storiche raccontavano che l’erede dell’imperatore filosofo avesse un anfiteatro privato nella sua natia Lanuvio dove amava sfidare il destino, scendendo nell’arena e uccidendo vestito da gladiatore le belve feroci. Ma quello che finora sembrava solo un retroscena riportato dalla biografia della «Historia Augusta», ha ora le sue prove archeologiche. La conferma che Commodo avesse davvero il suo personale tempio dei ludi gladiatori, ribattezzato già dagli studiosi «il piccolo Colosseo».

L’ARENA
L’arena di oltre 35 metri per 24, una struttura esterna di oltre 50 metri per 40, una superficie della cavea di oltre 9mila metri quadrati, e una capienza di oltre 1300 posti, senza contare l’intero palco imperiale. Un monumento databile alla metà del II secolo d.C. Ma a colpire la suggestione sono i marmi decorativi provenienti da tutto il Mediterraneo. L’eccezionale scoperta è avvenuta a Genzano nel complesso archeologico della cosiddetta Villa degli Antonini, l’originaria residenza imperiale che si estendeva in età romana nell’«Ager Lanuvinus», l’antica Lanuvio, luogo di nascita di Marco Aurelio e, appunto, di Commodo.

I MARMI
È qui che dal 2010 l’équipe del Center for Heritage and Archaeological Studies della Montclair State University sta portando avanti il progetto di scavo didattico sulla Villa degli Antonini sotto la direzione scientifica di Deborah Chatr Aryamontri e Timothy Renner, grazie ad una convenzione rilasciata dal Ministero per i beni culturali in accordo con la Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici del Lazio, e in collaborazione col Comune di Genzano. Le campagne di scavo estive avevano finora indagato le strutture del vasto impianto termale degli Antonini, ma soprattutto avevano individuato una piccola porzione di strutture murarie curvilinee: «Ci sembrarono subito anomale perché apparivano disposte secondo una planimetria ellittica – racconta la Chatr Aryamontri – e oggi siamo ad una svolta. Le indagini col georadar hanno verificato l’intera disposizione planimetrica delle mura di fondazioni e gli scavi hanno riportato alla luce una nuova porzione di strutture curvilinee speculari».

Blocchi di roccia vulcanica alternati a laterizio, rivestiti di marmi pregiati. «Il repertorio dei marmi è eccezionale, il giallo antico, il pavonazzetto, il greco scritto, il granito rosa e il serpentino – avverte la Aryamontri – Pregevoli anche i rivestimenti pavimentali tra tessere di mosaico bianco-nero, pasta vitrea, incluso tessere di vetro trasparente ricoperte con foglia d’oro. Una produzione di qualità rivolta ad una committenza ricca». Tutto intorno all’arena corre un canale sotterraneo, largo oltre 50 centimetri: «L’ipotesi è che servisse anche per gli spettacoli di battaglie navali», azzarda la studiosa. Sempre sotto l’arena, spicca una scala elicoidale che scende per quasi tre metri. Forse anche il «piccolo Colosseo» di Commodo aveva i suoi ipogei per le macchine sceniche funzionali allo spettacolo. Privato, ma grandioso.

On the English side:

… the (much advertised) dig is being conducted at the Villa of the Antonines by the fine folks at Montclair State (who really should get a press release out there) … they have a page about the dig (aimed at prospective field schoolers), which notes that this amphitheatre was actually discovered last year: An Introduction to the “Villa of the Antonines” Archaeological Field Project in Italy.

Major Finds at Hadrian’s Villa

This is another one of those things that didn’t really hit the mainstream English press for some unknown reason. Here’s the coverage from Il Messaggero (from back in June!):

La «grande bellezza» di Adriano si nascondeva in un giardino segreto. L’area più panoramica e sconosciuta della sua villa a Tivoli, che si erge sulla cresta del banco tufaceo, alle spalle della famosa Piazza d’Oro.È qui che sono riemersi in sequenza strategica cinque edifici monumentali di rara raffinatezza architettonica, decorati con statue colossali, progettati da Adriano per offrire percorsi privilegiati, creando sfondi paesaggistici dal carattere idilliaco. Sono le memorie «inedite» di Adriano che riemergono ora da una porzione della sua villa del tutto dimenticata, considerata per secoli di scarso interesse, tanto da essere esclusa dal percorso di visita negli anni ’60 del secolo scorso per ospitare un campeggio. La scoperta, frutto della lunga e complessa campagna di scavi condotta dall’università La Sapienza con la responsabilità scientifica di Patrizio Pensabene in stretta collaborazione con la Soprintendenza ai beni archeologici del Lazio e la direttrice di Villa Adriana Benedetta Adembri, è stata presentata al convegno internazionale di antichità classica di Merida in Spagna, appena conclusosi. «Quello che è stato rinvenuto è solo la punta di un iceberg perché queste strutture non sono state mai documentate prima neanche dagli studiosi antichi come Piranesi», racconta il direttore dello scavo Adalberto Ottati ricercatore de La Sapienza e dell’Istituto catalano di archeologia classica. L’unico monumento visibile era il cosiddetto mausoleo di epoca repubblicana, un edificio circolare che è stato completamente reinterpretato, datandolo come gli altri all’età di Adriano (123 d.C. dai laterizi bollati). «È un unicum, non ha confronti con strutture conservate – dice Ottati – Sicuramente era un padiglione-museo, che sfoggiava i suoi fasti all’interno e non all’esterno. Nella ricca decorazione architettonica di cui abbiamo trovato frammenti monumentali, spicca un colonnato dorico, scelta stilistica non casuale, ma significativa nel suo riferimento alla Grecia delle origini. Inoltre – aggiunge Ottati – doveva conteneva anche statue e opere d’arte come una sorta di luogo di contemplazione del bello».
TEMPLI E COLOSSI
Dal padiglione di Adriano le indagini (condotte da Patrizio Fileri, Francesca Stazzi, Luigi Tortella, Elisa Iori, Elisa Mancini, Vito Mazzurca) hanno svelato una inusuale sequenza di edifici: un tempietto rettangolare, seguito da un secondo padiglione circolare abbinato ad un altro tempietto rettangolare. Questi ultimi, coronati da un grande edificio porticato. Un complesso scenografico di forte suggestione: «La disposizione degli edifici crea un gioco di sfondi e punti di vista tra natura e architettura che testimoniano di voler ricreare paesaggi che si ritrovano nelle pitture pompeiane – riflette Ottati – Un affascinante confronto è proprio nelle Pitture di II e III stile ed in particolar modo nelle vedute di paesaggio idilliaco-sacrale di tradizione tardo-ellenistica». Non è tutto. Nei pressi del secondo padiglione, sono stati rinvenuti centinaia di frammenti marmorei di una statua colossale che oggi, dopo un attento e certosino lavoro di ricomposizione, ha riconquistato una sua identità: «Sembra una Nemesi, e per il suo carattere colossale può essere anche una statua ritratto di un’imperatrice», riflette Ottati. Forse la stessa Vibia Sabina, moglie di Adriano. Ma le ipotesi rimangono ancora aperte. Lo scavo riprenderà a settembre.

The original page includes a mini slideshow of reconstructions of the finds …

If you’re not into working through the Italian, Wanted in Rome had a brief summary this past weekend: Major discovery at Hadrian’s Villa

Hopefully, when the digging resumes in September, the English media will be a bit more on the ball …