European Times: Rome: Ancient wall blocks Vatican's Jubilee plans
Friday 26 November 1999
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.
- 1 Autism 'caused by genetics', study suggests
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Why you should never make assumptions about people with autism
- 4 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
Bali nine: Welcome to 'Execution Island' – the Indonesian holiday resort where foreigners are sent to die
How Homer Simpson discovered the Higgs boson over a decade before scientists
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Harrison Ford plane crash: Star Wars actor 'seriously injured' after light aircraft crash lands
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has a track record...
£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...
£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Help Desk Support individ...