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The Archaeological Sites for Metro C in the Central Area The First Phase Investigations for Stazione Venezia: Archaeological Discoveries and Prospects for Revaluation

As part of the First Phase investigations, preliminary to the final design of the T2 section, archaeological excavations were carried out in the Piazza Venezia area and in the adjacent Piazza della Madonna di Loreto, an area of great significance in the urban fabric of the ancient city and located between the monumental complex of the Foro di Traiano and the route of the Via Flaminia.

Piazza Venezia

Piazza Venezia

The excavations carried out in Piazza Venezia in 2006 have allowed us to explore the complex sequence of the phases of occupation of this central sector of the city, from the various recent urban transformations to as far back as the Roman era.  The ancient Via Flaminia, whose construction is traced back to 220 B.C during the Roman expansion towards Northern Italy, left the Servian walls on the northern slopes of the Campidoglio and continued north on what is now known as the Via del Corso.  When the Aurelian walls were being built Via Flaminia was renamed Via Lata, in the section from present day Piazza Venezia to Ponte Milvio.  Before works for Metro C started, only minor and sporadic excavations had taken place.  Near the central flower-bed of the Piazza, below the cellars of the Palazzo Paracciani-Nepoti which was demolished at the beginning of the last century, at a depth of about 7 metres from current street level, early Imperial era levels were reached, demonstrated by a commercial block and a housing building from the flavian period, modified and variously used over the centuries.

The excavations of Piazza Venezia were suspended at the late Republican levels due to technical and safety problems arising from the surfacing of groundwater levels.  As known, in the absence of the perimeter cement bulkheads and devices for the extraction of the water it is not possible to investigate too deeply until the anthropic stratigraphy is completed, which reaches a depth of more than 10 metres in the central areas of Rome.

The opinion of the MIBAC Scientific Technical Committee for Archaeological Heritage, decided on the 21st February 2008, dictated the guidelines for the continuation of the archaeological activities concurrently with the construction of the groundwork of the Line C:

given the inevitability of the interference of archaeological structures coinciding with the works of the containment of land in the presence of groundwater (indispensable work for the continuation of archaeological excavation at deep levels) and relocation or removals in the vertical connection areas of the station shafts, it is agreed to authorize the execution of all preliminary activities (such as the insertion of bulkheads or micropiles, the installation of anchors) essential for proceeding with the excavations; blocking the infiltration of water or sustaining the surrounding ground, or to ensure the safety of people or things.  It is understood that these operations will be preceded, where possible, by suitable coring or other types of investigations required by the current legislation in force on preventive archaeology.

The bulkheads cut into the archaeological stratigraphy but allow the safe and deep exploration of large portions of the subsoil otherwise unreachable, thus compensating for this small sacrifice with the completion of the surveys essential for the volume of the stations and other functional works of the subway.

The building of the Stazione Venezia can therefore allow the extensive exploration of even the most ancient levels which, from what we can understand from the coring, go down to about 17 metres in depth where the sterile levels of alluvial soil are reached.

The Auditoria and the buildings along the Via Flaminia in the ancient topographical context

The Auditoria and the buildings along the Via Flaminia in the ancient topographical context

In the nearby Piazza della Madonna di Loreto, investigated for the design of one of the descents for the Stazione Venezia, the discovery of exceptionally interesting evidence led to the need to progressively expand the excavation between 2006 and 2011, bringing to light a monumental building from the Hadrianic period, closely connected to the Foro di Traiano placed at the top of the northern end of the inspected site.  The considerable size, the richness of the marble decoration adorning the walls and the floors, along with the high level of construction technique, are elements that give the discovered building a decidedly public and monumental character.

The architectural structure consists of three large rectangular classrooms arranged in a radial pattern, two of which came to light with the excavations for the Metro C while the third was already known from the documentation of the excavations carried out during the building of the Palazzo delle Assicurazione Generale, at the beginning of the twentieth century.  The three classrooms are equipped with large facing steps, an element that indicates they were multi-purpose spaces used for meetings and according to the architectural layout also for cultural activities such as those which took place in an auditoria, where declamations and lessons of rhetoric were held at poetic contests.

The central auditorium hall

The central auditorium hall

Reconstructive axonometric cross-section of the phases of the Auditoria

Reconstructive axonometric cross-section of the phases of the Auditoria

These classrooms maintained their function until the second half of the fifth century when the Praefectus Urbi Fabius Felix Passifilus Paulinus placed two commemorative statues in the space in front of the building, as shown by the fortunate discovery of two bases inscribed in memory of the character, found in each of two of the classrooms.

Auditoria of Adriano. Reconstructive hypothesis of the central hall.

Auditoria of Adriano. Reconstructive hypothesis of the central hall.

La prima drastica trasformazione che investe gli auditoria si colloca cronologicamente tra la metà del VI e la fine del VII secolo d.C., periodo in cui all’interno delle due sale, ormai private dell’originario arredo marmoreo, si insedia un’estesa officina destinata alla fusione e lavorazione delle leghe di rame recuperate dagli edifici ormai in rovina.

The first drastic transformation that involves the auditoria happened between the middle of the sixth and the end of the seventh century, when the two rooms, now deprived of the original marble decoration, became used as an extensive workshop for the fusion and processing of copper alloys recovered from buildings by then in ruins.  The presence of a large metallurgical plant inside a public space of such importance, the extreme diversification of the production processes put in place and the time span of the atelier’s activity has allowed the suggestive hypothesis to come forward that it could have been a plant connected to a Byzantine mint responsible for the engraving of bronze coins, as established by the Imperatore Giustiniano who assigned to Rome the function of coining a bronze coin while to Ravenna a gold coin.

Metallurgical activities in Auditorium classrooms in the late ancient period.

Metallurgical activities in Auditorium classrooms in the late ancient period.

At the end of the seventh century the workshop was abandoned, and recovering anything that could be reused the partially buried building obliterated the ancient steps.  In the central hall there is a small vault.

In the mid ninth century, archaeological data recorded a traumatic event for the auditoria that led to the collapse of the upper part of the walls and the roofs.  The sudden collapse of the building is attributable with sufficient reliability to the disastrous earthquake of 847-848 which caused much damage to the by then unused and often abandoned ancient buildings which were used as stables instead.

The considerable accumulation of rubble and the burial of this classical era plant caused a significant increase in the floor area of the auditoria, which survived in the cellars of the sixteeth century Ospedale dei Fornari until it was destroyed during the urban demolitions during the construction of the Vittoriano monument.

The design of the Stazione Venezia will take into account the Superintendency’s revaluation of the auditoria by making the monumental complex of such importance accessible to the public and the metro users, continuing Metro C’s project of integrating the “archaeological” stations with the extraordinary monumental historical heritage of Rome.

Annagiulia Fabiani – Cooperativa Archeologia

Metro C S.c.p.A.’s member companies