As Rome digs its first new metro route in decades, an archaeologist safeguards the city’s buried treasures



The world underneath Rome’s cobblestones has a rhythm. Under a newly raised canopy of steel beams almost 30 feet listed below the hum of Vespas and buses, ­Rossella Rea, in a construction hat and neon-orange security vest, views as her group brushes dirt off a middle ages sauce pot. A couple of feet away, teams in similar uniforms go to work in an location they’ve currently cleared, setting up the walls of a new train station. Rea deconstructs; they build. It’s a pace they’ve improved over the previous years.

In a city that’s been layering on top of itself for almost 3,000 years, there’s enough to keep somebody like Rea, 64, hectic around the clock. She’s the ­historical superintendent of the Colosseum, where she manages conservation and curates exhibitions. And, as the clinical director of the Metro C task, an effort to extend Rome’s out-of-date train, Rea safeguards treasures that may otherwise be lost. “Some moments are for digging, some are for building, some are for teamwork,” she states.

As excavators go, Rea’s more interested by the landscapes of cities than with single artifacts. Youth check outs to Pompeii triggered her enthusiasm for the past. Because starting her profession in 1979, she’s ended up being a regional authority on whatever from gladiators to ancient public works, serving first as an archaeologist at the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and ultimately increasing to direct the Colosseum. When Metro C first consulted her almost 30 years earlier, Rea right away understood the stakes. “It’s vital to take the time to understand the way the city evolved,” she states, “but it’s also true that Rome needs this subway up and running.”

The City of 7 Hills is long past due for a below ground transformation. Up until just recently, there were just 2 paths, Metros A and B, forming a huge X. In the ’90s, authorities began preparing Metro C, which would converge the 2 lines and reach the eastern residential areas. Building started in 2007, and trains began operating on the first stretch in late 2014; the last couple of stops ought to open in 2022. Some critics blame the rate on Italy’s stringent preservation laws: When you dig, you discover crucial things, and after that your website ends up being Rea’s domain.

However she doesn’t mind teams going deep to set up stations, entryways, and ventilation shafts. In truth, she sees their efforts as “a great tool of knowledge.” Prior To the first bulldozer even appeared, she utilized a technology called electrical resistivity tomography to peer into the ground. Electrodes her group locations in boreholes along the proposed route step how quickly existing circulations through the strata. The information informs researchers where they can discover clay, stone, and tile. Utilizing this method and others, they’ve situated lots of websites, amongst them an Aeneolithic necropolis, an Imperial Age tank, and 2,000-year-old barracks.

They struck pay dirt in 2007, while surveying for the station at Piazza Venezia in the middle of the city. The group discovered Hadrian’s Athenaeum, a well-documented however formerly evasive arts school where poets, scholars, and political leaders debuted literature and discussed concerns. In historic significance, just the ­Online Forum is its equivalent. “We couldn’t possibly move it,” Rea states, “so instead we worked with Metro C to move the station down the street.”


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While much of her finds wind up in ­storage waiting for exhibit, some will stay in Metro C stations as practical museums. Totally automated trains will whiz past the base of the Aurelian city walls, as riders wait amongst 1,800-year-old mosaics. Rea hopes the stops will motivate other aging cities as they improve. “This methodology, of archaeologists and engineers working together for the public good, is proof,” she states: “What’s ancient and what’s modern can belong together.”

This short article was initially released in the Spring 2019 Transport concern of Popular Science.



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