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Construction on Rome’s Newest Subway Line Is Revealing a Trove of Ancient Treasures

Archaeologists have unearthed 2,000-year-old barracks, a military commander’s home and thousands of artifacts

Archaeologists unearthed a 14-room home, likely used by a commander of Emperor Hadrian's Praetorian Guard, back in March (Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism)
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Construction on Rome’s newest metro route, the C line, chugs away. Today, 22 stations are open, a relief for both the overcrowded city’s residents and tourists, who can now ride the train from the city’s center to neighborhoods east of Rome. The work isn’t just a boon to travelers—it’s also an archaeologist’s dream, unearthing historical breadcrumbs from petrified peach pits to mosaics and amphora pottery, as well as structures including a 3rd-century building razed by fire, 2,000-year-old barracks used by Emperor Hadrian’s army and a military commander’s private home.

San Giovanni is the latest addition to the line, and the New York Times’ Elisabetta Povoledo reports that the stop, which opened on May 12 in the Appio Latino neighborhood, offers passengers not only transportation, but a singular journey through the region’s past.

According to the Telegraph’s Nick Squires, San Giovanni's display cases feature a selection of the more than 40,000 artifacts unearthed during construction, tracing the neighborhood’s history from the Pleistocene Age to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 C.E.

“It’s a sort of time machine–the further down you go in the station, the further you reach back into the history of Rome,” Francesco Prosperetti, superintendent of the city’s archaeological department, tells Squires.

During the height of the Roman Empire, the station housed a rich agricultural zone that produced fruit, vegetables and flowers for the city’s prominent inhabitants. This luxurious past is evident in the underground “museum-station,” which features 2,000-year-old peach stones, remnants of a 1st century B.C.E. woven basket and a perfume bottle crafted out of turquoise glass.

The next station scheduled to open is Amba Aradam, a site near the Colosseum that has yielded significant archaeological discoveries. In 2016, researchers digging at roughly 30 feet below street level discovered a 39-room complex covering more than 9,700 square feet. According to the Independent’s Harry Cockburn, the space likely served as military barracks for Emperor Hadrian’s Praetorian Guard and revealed artifacts ranging from human bones to mosaic floors and bronze coins.

City leaders pledged to preserve the barracks, proposing the creation of Rome’s first “archaeological station” and altering blueprints to integrate the ruins into the modern-day station. Then, in March of this year, archaeologists made another landmark find: the domus, or house, of the barracks’ military commander.

Simona Morretta, the state archaeologist overseeing excavations at Amba Aradam, tells the New York Times’ Povoledo that the home includes 14 separate rooms, a central courtyard and a fountain. The German wire DPA further reports that the roughly 3,200-square-foot home features a bathhouse with underground heating.

The Amba Aradam finds promise to set the stage for what city archaeological head Prosperetti predicts “will surely become the most beautiful metro station in the world." Morretta reiterated Prosperetti’s proclamation, telling NPR’s Christopher Livesay that everything found at the site will be put on display, turning the stop into “a little museum, with all the barracks in the exact same position."

Currently, the Amba Aradam station is set to open in 2021, but with excavations still underway, there’s always the possibility of chancing upon another ancient structure. For now, visitors to Rome will have to keep themselves occupied with San Giovanni's array of ancient artifacts, on view indefinitely for the meager price of a metro ticket.

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