Pyramid of Cestius Restored, More or Less

Back in 2011 we first heard of a Japanese businessman’s plans to fund the restoration of the Pyramid of Cestius. The work is apparently done (perhaps just the first phase? It does seem like more work is coming). An item from AFP via Channel News Asia:

A Japanese businessman whose donation helped restore an ancient Roman pyramid said it was a way of thanking Italy for his success, as he toured the monument with Italy’s culture minister on Tuesday.

Dressed in an impeccable white suit, the wavy-haired fashion importer Yuzo Yagi admired the work due to be completed within months thanks to his two-million euro (US$2.7 million) gift.

“It’s an act of gratitude. Our company has grown thanks to Italy,” he told AFP at a ceremony on the site — three years after the agreement with Rome authorities was signed.

Asked about the duration, he quipped: “When Italians give a time for finishing, it is never in time. But the first phase is being finished five months ahead of schedule.”

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said he hoped the project would encourage more private donations for restorations — especially from Italian businesses which can now get major tax breaks.

“This should serve as an example,” Franceschini said.

When Yagi was taken to the frescoed funeral chamber inside the pyramid that once housed the remains of the wealthy Roman it was built for, he appeared puzzled.

“Where is the treasure?” he asked restorers, who quickly explained that Roman tradition at the time shunned ostentatious displays of wealth but that a search was underway for a possible hidden second chamber.

“So there was no treasure in Roman pyramids!” he exclaimed.

Outside, he joked with workers cleaning up the pyramid’s Carrara marble blocks saying: “Is that really white?”

The 36-metre high pyramid was built in 18-12 BC for Gaius Cestius and stands at the centre of a busy road junction. It was built following Rome’s conquest of Egypt, which started off a trend for ancient Egyptian style.

“This is an amazing construction. It has really stood the test of time,” said Giuseppina Fazio, a senior restorer, pointing to some World War II bomb and bullet scars visible from scaffolding on the 2,000-year-old monument.

I’m curious whether there really is a search for a “hidden second chamber” …

Additional coverage:


Roman Necropolis Near Venice

I’ll keep my eye open for some more details on this one … from ANSA:

The largest, best-preserved ancient Roman funerary complex found in Italy since the 19th century has been discovered at an archeological dig 70 km northeast of Venice, researchers announced Friday.

An imposing monument from the third century AD was located outside the ancient walls of what was once the Roman colony of Iulia Concordia, now in the town of Concordia Sagittaria.

The site was likened to a “little, flood-plain Pompeii” in a guided tour at the restoration site in Gruaro, Veneto. Just as Pompeii was buried by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, a natural disaster wiped out and preserved sarcophagi in Iulia Concordia.

Floods swept detritus and sediment across the area in the fifth century AD, rendering the ancient structures inaccessible and invisible for 1500 years.

The complex includes a podium nearly two metres tall and six metres long with the remains of two elegant sarcophagi on top, two others nearby, and the base of a third.

The remains of a necropolis from the the late first century B.C. was also found.

The excavation is financed by the Region of Veneto with European Union funds under the direction of the Veneto Superintendency for Archeological Heritage.

via: ‘Little Pompeii’ found 70 km northeast of Venice

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Temple of Minerva beneath Milan Cathedral?

A brief item from ANSA:

The remains of a pagan temple believed to have been devoted to the goddess Minerva have been found under the Milan Cathedral.

The announcement was made Wednesday during the presentation of other archaeological finds, the remains of the ancient Mediolanum Forum discovered recently under the basement of the building housing the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Archaeological excavations to unearth the remains of the large city that, beginning in 292 A.D., was the capital of the Western Roman Empire for over a century continue despite funding difficulties. So far, part of the floor made out of what is known as ‘Verona stone’ has been found. The base of a section of an arcade can also be seen. The entire forum occupied an estimated surface area of 166 by 55 square meters. While waiting to be able to extend the excavations, the zone has been fitted with a special entrance on the side of the building, walkways, and illustrative signs to make visits by the public possible. The works were conducted with funding from the Cariplo foundation and the Lombardy regional government and are part of the project for a ‘Milan Archaeology’ route being readied for the 2015 Milano Expo, said regional culture councillor Cristina Cappellini.

Il Giorno gives, inter alia, some background to the discovery:

[…] Il Foro di Milano rappresentava la piazza principale della civitas romana, dove si svolgevano le maggiori attivita’ civili e religiose. Sorge alle fondamenta della Pinacoteca milanese, nell’area urbana attualmente compresa tra piazza Pio XI, piazza San Sepolcro e via della Zecca, che ospitava la platea forensis, la sede dei principali edifici pubblici: la Curia (luogo di riunione del Senato locale), la Basilica (in cui era amministrata la giustizia), il Capitolium (il tempio dedicato alla “Triade Capitolina”: Giove, Giunone e Minerva), le tabernae (negozi, botteghe artigiane, luoghi di ristorazione).

La scoperta e’ stata del tutto casuale: i reperti sono venuti alla luce durante i lavori di restauro della Biblioteca Ambrosiana, tra il 1990 e il 1992, rivelando una piccola parte della piazza del Foro. Il nuovo allestimento e’ ora in grado di mostrare una parte della pavimentazione, costituita da lastre di pietra bianca, detta ‘di Verona’ usata a partire dal 1* secolo dopo Cristo. Inoltre, lungo un lato del lastricato si notano un piccolo canale dove scorrevano le acque piovane e i gradini che conducevano alle botteghe e alle osterie. Si vede inoltre la base di un tratto del porticato che lo delimitava sul lato occidentale e dietro al quale si trovavano le ‘tabernae’ (botteghe).[…]

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Roman Theatre from Interamna Lirenas

From a University of Cambridge press release:

The head of a lion and griffin, believed to be part of the decoration of the theatre, as well as stone blocks with steps carved into them, are helping to further revise historical understanding about the site of Interamna Lirenas, founded by the Romans in the late 4th century BCE.

The town, which disappeared following its abandonment around 500 CE, was last year mapped by geophysical analysis and imaging undertaken by a team of researchers led by Cambridge archaeologists Dr Alessandro Launaro and Professor Martin Millett.

The discovery of the theatre remains follows the first-ever test excavation of the site this summer and adds new weight to the team’s theories about Interamna Lirenas’ growth and importance.

Dr Launaro said: “The discovery of the theatre remains is an important breakthrough. It bears witness to the social and economic dynamism of the town in a period when modern scholarship has for long believed it to be stagnating and declining.”

“The dating of the first phase of the building to the second half of the first century BCE prompts a serious reconsideration of the urban development of Interamna Lirenas.”

The forgotten remains of the town, which lies 50 miles south of Rome in the Liri Valley, were revealed using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry – which measures changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by different features beneath the surface.

Work at the site began in 2010 but the latest finds add new depths of understanding to a settlement that was wrongly believed by earlier scholars to have been a sleepy backwater of the Roman Empire for much of the 800 years of its inhabitation from 312 BCE to 500 CE.

Dr Launaro added: “The town plan was virtually unknown until we began work here with colleagues from Italy and the UK. But the presence of the theatre from the first century BCE points towards a major overhaul of the town at that time and is evidence of a thriving community – challenging all previous preconceptions of the town as a dreary and somewhat neglected outpost of the empire.”

Today, the site appears as an uninterrupted series of ploughed farmer’s fields, devoid of any recognisable archaeological feature. Before disappearing beneath the earth, the site is thought to have been scavenged for building materials in the years following its abandonment.

The original geophysical work revealed the location of the town’s theatre, marketplace and other buildings spread across the entire settlement which spans some 25 hectares. Dr Launaro and Professor Millett’s research is part of a project that aims to understand more about what happened in towns established by the Romans in Italy following her conquest. The research is led by the pair in collaboration with the Italian State Archaeological Service (Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini), the Comune of Pignataro Interamna (Mayor Benedetto Evangelista), the British School at Rome and the Archaeological Prospection Services of Southampton University.

Dr Launaro said: “Interamna Lirenas is an enticing case study because, in spite of its size, it was not re-occupied at the end of the Roman period, meaning that it retained much of its original shape and features.”

Researchers knew a town existed on the site but did not excavate it in the past as it was thought that all such settlements followed the same template.

Following the discovery of the theatre, the Cambridge team carried out a test excavation of the building to gather information about the nature of the structures, their chronology and level of preservation.

However, the team’s work is not just confined to the town itself, but also its hinterland. Here an intensive archaeological survey, carried out over the last three years, has recovered a varied archaeological evidence pertaining to settlement patterns (e.g. farms, villages, villas) over the period 350 BCE to 550 CE.

Remarkably, site numbers seem to peak precisely between 50 BCE to 250 CE, the outcome of a gradual growth which had originated with the foundation of Interamna Lirenas in the closing years of the fourth century BCE. More importantly, a preliminary comparison of the archaeological finds such as pottery recovered during the rural survey has shown a close overlap, suggesting a symbiotic exchange between town and hinterland as they grew together.

“The integrated approach is making it possible to fully appreciate the significance of transformations taking place within a Roman town by casting them against a wider horizon,” said Dr Launaro. “This and other issues will be explored by us in the coming years as we excavate new areas with geophysical prospection and archaeological surveys across the countryside.”

As mentioned above, they mapped the site a year ago: Mapping Interamna Lirenas

Intact (possibly Royal) Etruscan Tomb from Tarquinia

Extremely interesting item from Discovery News (and Rossella Lorenzi has provided better coverage than the Italian press!) … some excerpts:

The skeletonized body of an Etruscan prince, possibly a relative to Tarquinius Priscus, the legendary fifth king of Rome from 616 to 579 B.C., has been brought to light in an extraordinary finding that promises to reveal new insights on one of the ancient world’s most fascinating cultures.

Found in Tarquinia, a hill town about 50 miles northwest of Rome, famous for its Etruscan art treasures, the 2,600 year old intact burial site came complete with a full array of precious grave goods.

“It’s a unique discovery, as it is extremely rare to find an inviolate Etruscan tomb of an upper-class individual. It opens up huge study opportunities on the Etruscans,” Alessandro Mandolesi, of the University of Turin, told Discovery News. Mandolesi is leading the excavation in collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendency of Southern Etruria. […]

Blocked by a perfectly sealed stone slab, the rock-cut tomb in Tarquinia appeared promising even before opening it.

Indeed, several objects, including jars, vases and even a grater, were found in the soil in front of the stone door, indicating that a funeral rite of an important person took place there.

As the heavy stone slab was removed, Mandolesi and his team were left breathless. In the small vaulted chamber, the complete skeleton of an individual was resting on a stone bed on the left. A spear lay along the body, while fibulae, or brooches, on the chest indicated that the individual, a man, was probably once dressed with a mantle.

At his feet stood a large bronze basin and a dish with food remains, while the stone table on the right might have contained the incinerated remains of another individual.

Decorated with a red strip, the upper part of the wall featured, along with several nails, a small hanging vase, which might have contained some ointment. A number of grave goods, which included large Greek Corinthian vases and precious ornaments, lay on the floor. […]

Although intact, the tomb has suffered a small natural structural collapse, the effects of which are visible in some broken vases.

Mandolesi and his team believe the individual was a member of Tarquinia’s ruling family.

The underground chamber was found beside an imposing mound, the Queen Tomb, which is almost identical to an equally impressive mound, the King’s Tomb, 600 feet away.

About 130 feet in diameter, the Queen’s Tomb is the largest among the more than 6,000 rock cut tombs (200 of them are painted) that make up the necropolis in Tarquinia. Mandolesi has been excavating it and its surrounding area for the past six years.

Both mounds date to the 7th century B.C., the Orientalizing period, so called due to the influence on the Etruscans from the Eastern Mediterranean. […]

Indeed, the two imposing mounds would have certainly remarked the power of the princes of Tarquinia to anybody arriving from the sea.

According to Mandolesi, the fact that the newly discovered burial lies a few feet away from the Queen’s Tomb indicate that it belonged to one of the princes of Tarquinia, someone directly related to the owners of the Queen’s Tomb.

“The entire area would have been off limits to anybody but the royal family,” Mandolesi said.

“In the next days we are going to catalogue all the objects. Further scientific tests will tell us more about the individual and the tomb,” Mandolesi said.

Discovery News will follow the archaeologists live as they remove the goods from the burial chamber.

The original article includes some video coverage and several photos …

If you want some of the Italian press: