Aqua Traiana in Peril?

Back in January/February we featured a series of posts highlighting the discovery of the source of the Aqua Traiana:

… a spectacular find, of course,  and the last we had heard, the O’Neills were working to have the site preserved.  As such we were quite dismayed to have this Telegraph piece land in our mailbox this a.m.:

In January father and son team Edward and Michael O’Neill discovered the headwaters of the aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Trajan, hidden beneath a crumbling 13th century church north of Rome.

A sophisticated example of Roman hydraulic engineering, the aqueduct, known as the Aqua Traiana, was inaugurated in 109AD and carried fresh water 35 miles to the imperial capital.

But since the discovery was publicised, the archeologists claim that the farmer on whose land it stands has begun a crude excavation of the site in the hope of finding valuable Roman treasure.

They claim to have photographic evidence that the owner has burned vegetation around the entrance to the underground grotto, cut down mature fig trees which are holding the fragile structure together with their thick roots and started to dismantle sections of masonry.

“It’s a complete tragedy,” Edward O’Neill told the Daily Telegraph. “He’s doing some kind of treasure hunt.

“What is needed is an expert process by archeologists to preserve the site.” Repeated telephone calls to the landowner, Davide Piccioni, went unanswered yesterday.

In an attempt to stop the alleged damage to the site, the O’Neills and two American archeologists – Prof Katherine Rinne of Virginia University and Prof Rabun Taylor of the University of Texas at Austin – have sent a letter to Italian heritage authorities.
They have called for urgent intervention in order to prevent the landowner from further damaging the site, which they say has been “completely transformed” in the last six months.

They have also complained that the farmer has closed off access to the site since the grotto and spring were discovered five months ago.

The mayor of the local town, Lucia Dutto, said she too was concerned. “We have asked the superintendent of archaeology to carry out an immediate inspection of the site, so that further interference can be prevented. But until that happens, we can do nothing because it is private property.”

via: British archaeologists fight with Italian farmer to save ancient aqueduct | Telegraph

Ted O’Neill has also written directly to us, and sent along some photos which may be of interest. Here’s a photo of what the site looked like a while ago:

image via Ted O'Neill

Ted O’Neill writes, inter alia:

The very upsetting news for us, is that on the important Santa Fiora
site – the location of the Nymphaeum shrine at the head of Trajan’s
aqueduct, seriously damaging works are in progress that we are
currently powerless to stop.

We and the archaeologists have been locked out of the site
since the date of the Press Conference in January. In mid-March we were able to
come fairly close (within about 50 yards) of the nymphaeum-church and
we were shocked by what we saw.

The owner had destroyed vegetation above the roman and Christian
ruins, up to the level of some masonary structures which he was bent
on removing. We are convinced that the masonary belongs, if not to
the roman nymphaeum, then to the early-christian church structure
which was added to the front of the nympheum shortly after the decrees
of Emperor Teodosio in 391AD which forbade pagan worship.

The steps have been removed ...

More perilously, the destruction of fig-trees above the nyphaeum
itself is likely to have led to the collapse of roman hydraulic cement
attached to the walls of the roman spring chamber. Roman building
materials in this type of construction teach us a great deal about the
science of how Trajan’s great water-supply worked. The fig tree
roots were the only thing still holding the this once rock-hard
material to the walls when we last visited in 2009. The material is
now extremely crumbly because the fig trees have sucked out all the
calcium, so a particular professional preservation technique is
required to save it.

the fig stumps ...

Currently the local Council is powerless to act because they are
waiting for a “Vincolo” – like listing a listed building in the UK –
which would allow them to initiate a compulsory purchase, but the
owner is blocking this whole process by not allowing the Council or
Archaeologist Quilici to enter and make a detailed relief map.

In conclusion, these arbitrary interventions, carried out without the
slightest historical or archaeological understanding are undermining
the structural integrity of the Santa Maria della Fiora site. We
want to ensure that the monument is saved, but if the owner continues
digging about, there will be nothing left.

As mentioned above, the O’Neills have sent off a letter to the various Soprintendenzas … here’s some addresses (in Italian) if you’d like to add your voice:

1) La Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici per l’Etruria Meridionale ha responsibilita’
per tutta la roba antica e tutto che sia sotto il livello della terra.
Loro stanno a Villa Giulia, indietro di Villa Borghese a Rome.

L’indirizzo e’:
Soprintendente Dott.ssa Annamaria Moretti
Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici per l’Etruria meridionale
Piazzale di Villa Giulia, 9 – 00196 ROMA
tel.06/3226571 – fax 06/3202010

Chiamando 06.322.6571, potresti chiedere la inspettrice Dott.ssa Ludovica Lombardi
o la inspettrice Dott.ssa Ida Caruso. Siccome voi state al confine del Comune di
Bracciano e Comune di Manziana, queste due condividono la responsabilita.

Dott.ssa Lombardi e davvero una persona gentile e simpatica. Dott.ssa
Caruso e simpatica anche lei, e’ molto influente li a Villa Giulia, e una stretta amica
della Soprintentende, e tiene una interessa personale sull’acquedotto di Traiano.

Si puo scrivere per la cortese attenzione della Soprintendente Annamaria Moretti,
e mettere Lombardi e Caruso per conoscenza.

Chiamando 0669624202 potresti parlare con Arch. Anna De Luca oppore con
Arch. Sandro Mantovanni. De Luca e’ risponsabile per la zona di Bracciano e
Mantovanni per Manziana, credo, e entrambi sono tosti e appassionati per
il tuo acquedotto e il suo ristauro.

2) Sovrintendenza per I Beni Architettonici Ed Il Paesaggio e Per Il Patrimonio
– Provincia di Roma, Viterbo ecc. tengono responsabilita’ per tutto quello
sopra terra – i Monumenti – in questo caso, la chiesetta / ninfeo.
Loro stanno nel Ghetto, vicino il Portico d’Ottavia.

L’indirizzo e’:
Sovrintendente: Dott.ssa Federica Galloni
Sovrintendenza per I Beni Architettonici Ed Il Paesaggio e Per Il Patrimonio
via Cavalletti, 2, 00186 Roma
Tel. 06.696.24202 / 06.696.24203

One thought on “Aqua Traiana in Peril?

  1. How sad this is happening ! Does this ‘farmer’ have no sense of his own heritage besides what financial gain he can gleen from it ??

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