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Roman Villa under Vatican Parking Lot Volume 53 Number 2, March/April 2000
by Roberto Bartoloni

[image] Elegant frescoes decorated a villa beneath the Vatican. (Courtesy Archaeological Superintendency of Rome) [LARGER IMAGE]

Construction of a tunnel leading to a huge parking garage beneath the Vatican has uncovered the walls and foundations of a mid-second-century A.D. villa decorated with frescoes depicting songbirds and floral patterns. The garage, with a capacity for 115 buses and 800 cars, is a $45-million project designed to accommodate increased traffic for Rome's jubilee celebrations this year. The three-quarter-mile-long tunnel will pass under the Janiculum Hill next to the Vatican.

Carla Socrate of the Ianus Archaeological Cooperative under the direction of Claudio Mocchegiani Carpano of the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome first noticed painted plaster fragments being churned up during drilling for the tunnel, and in October she came across an ancient sewage pipe. Tracing its course, Socrate discovered the villa's northern wall.

The frescoes recall decorative elements from Ostia, which provided a likely stylistic date for the site. Multicolored marble slabs were present in many of the rooms, as were some 30 architectural elements such as column capitals and bases that were found lined up in an orderly fashion and were possibly items in storage. Graffiti was also present on the walls, the most interesting being a Greek inscription reading "The city is beautiful, but the woman is ugly," a possible reference to a failed love affair. A special committee of the Italian Ministry of Culture has decided to move the walls of the villa so that work on the tunnel may continue. After construction is complete, archaeologists will return to investigate the site further. Meanwhile, Pope John Paul has blessed the garage, but made no mention of the frescoed villa.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America