European Times: Rome: Ancient wall blocks Vatican's Jubilee plans

WITH LESS than a month to go until the Pope knocks on a Holy Door in St Peter's that is opened only in Jubilee years, work on one of the Vatican's most ambitious projects of the new millennium is hanging in the balance.

Carved into the bowels of the Janiculum hill is a huge underground car park that is being built to ease the traffic congestion around St Peter's Square during an intense year of religious celebrations. But the ambitious pounds 28m project - financed jointly by the Vatican and the Italian government - is in jeopardy because of a wall. Not any old wall, but a massive brick structure, about 20 feet high and nearly as wide, that was, 1,800 years ago, part of the home, or Domus of awell-to- do family.

Descending what is to be the entry ramp to the new car park one comes face to face with it.

The scene is reminiscent of Federico Fellini's film Roma, when workers on ametro line stumble upon anancient villa, complete with mosaics and frescoes, only to see them disintegrate on contact with the air.

On the other side of the immense wall, to one side, are several rooms with terracotta floors and well-preserved frescoes. They appear to be the servants' quarters of a patrician family home. Their discovery in August brought work on the ramp to a sudden halt.

It was the start of a complex and at times paradoxical debate over Rome's past present and future, whose tones have grown fiercer as the deadline for the car park completion draws closer.

Archaeologists have dated the house to the second century AD; most of the frescoes have now been transferred to a museum, to prevent damage but environmental and heritage groups argue the the remains must be preserved and excavation continue to uncover the rest of the house. They have staged sit-ins, lobbied parliament and appealed to Unesco.

Rome's mayor Francesco Rutelli, a former leader of the Green party, finds himselfopposing his former allies, arguing that not completing the car park would cheat taxpayers and risk chaos during such a major event.

Up to 40 million people are expected in Rome next year as the Jubilee, which was first held in 1300, coincides with the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. As the extraordinary commissioner for the Jubilee Year, Mr Rutelli boasts that 90 per cent of Jubilee projects have been completed on time and within budget and doesn't want any last minute hitches to ruin that record.

After months of buckpassing, the problem has now landed in the lap ofItaly's Cabinet which is today due to decide whether work on the ramp can proceed, destroying the ancient wall, or whether it must remain intact, allowing further archaeological excavation.

The furore over the access ramp and the Domus has distracted attention from the car park itself, which is wholly on Vatican territory and close to completion.

Lorenzo Bianchi, a respected archaeologist, has accused the Holy See of silently destroying a series of galleries and caves without telling a soul. The Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls has said that "no archaeological remains have been found on Vatican soil".

Mr Bianchi and other academics maintain that among the tons of soil dug out to make space for the six storey parking building were the graves of early Christians martyred by Nero as scapegoats for the fire that destroyed Rome AD64.

If that were proved, the fuss over the Domus and its wall would pale into insignificance. That seems unlikely though, given that the earth removed to make way for the car park has long since been carted off and excavators and bulldozers have been in action, unchecked, for months.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star