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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Administrator

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has a track record...

Recruitment Genius: Solar Field Sales Executive

£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: IT Help Desk Support

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Help Desk Support individ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable