More ruins… again!

May 18, 2016 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Lazio

Rome’s new subway line la Metro C (which is still under construction), has now officially become “The Most Expensive Subway in the World!” It has torn this mantle from none other than (any surprise?) Rome’s Metro B, which in its day usurped (you get one guess) Metro A‘s claim to fame as the true original “Most Expensive Subway in the World!”

Why so expensive? Well, you can’t plant a bush in Rome without digging up Ancient Roman bits… imagine trying to dig the tunnels and stations necessary for a subway line. Certainly the whole area within the Servian Walls (as well as most of the area within the much more encompassing, later Aurelian Walls), was completely built up already 2000 years ago. Just because the ruins have been covered up since then doesn’t mean they have gone away…

Which is something the Archaeological Superintendents assigned to the Metro C line construction have had confirmed… once again! In fact, this explains why Rome has only two subway lines (the above-mentioned Metro A and Metro B, which cross to form a rough X shape), while other cities have a spaghetti bowl of lines running all over the place.

Besides the expense, a subway line takes forever to build in Rome because every 300 feet you run into some Ancient Roman building… which means construction grinds to a halt, the Archaeological Superintendents swoop in, take their time to excavate and study the ruins, and then decide whether these can be bulldozed or whether the line has to be re-routed (which is more often the case). Digging resumes another 300 feet and… repeat.

Result n.1 being that riding a subway in Rome is a jiggly affair compared to the smooth, straight-running subways in other countries, since the carriages have to navigate the doglegs and sudden changes of directions created to preserve/avoid various ruins.

Result n.2 is that Rome is Archaeological Superintendent ground zero. Especially during subway construction season, there are swarms of them and I imagine you would be hard pressed to find one anywhere else on the planet.

So this time (meaning the most recent 300 foot section), the Metro C construction team has uncovered a large area within the walls near Porta Metronia (between Saint John Lateran and the Caracalla Baths). The Archaeological Superintendents have determined that these ruins were barracks for the Roman Legionnaires* built some time around 150 A.D. and must be saved.

What to do? Well, with great fanfare, the Archaeological Superintendents have decreed** that the planned Porta Metronia subway station will be “The Largest Archaeological Subway Station in the World!” (A cool idea no doubt, but what else are you going to do, right?) Small detail still to be determined however is where to put the all the banks of escalators given the lack of space for them now, no joke. Surely the Archaeological Superintendents will find a solution.

Until the next 300 feet.
* – And here I thought the Legions were not allowed within the walls, and Legionnaires could only enter disarmed and as civilians, Caesar crossing the Rubicon and all that, but what do I know. Maybe I have watched a few too many Hollywood movies. That’s probably why I am not a Archaeological Superintendent.

** – We are convinced of the existence of a less well known but equally binding apostille which extends “The Doctrine of Infallibility” to Archaeological Superintendents too.

(Images by Alessandro Serrano, many thanks!)




by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

17 Responses to “More ruins… again!”

  1. Tony Cogan

    They didn’t call it ‘The Eternal City’ for nothing. Just keeps delivering new reasons to return. Cant wait to see this latest discovery.

  2. Mary Cameron

    What a great read today, GB. Thank you. It is, indeed, incredible that there are ANY subways in Rome! I can’t imagine finding such treasures and then having to figure a way to work around or with them. Keep us posted on the next 300 feet!

  3. louise

    Monorail, anyone? But how sad to put a blight on the city, and then we’d miss all the 300 ft discoveries! Super Note.

  4. I can’t wait to show my great Guy around the Eternal City.

  5. Gianna

    My first trip to Rome was in 1975. We discovered a spot that was the start of a subway. They had even started work on the ticket office. Then they came upon some ruins so work was suspended. It’s been going on for a loooong time.

  6. Mary Lynne Simpson

    Got a chuckle from this post. I can’t even begin to imagine excavating underneath Rome! And chuckles aside, I wonder where these underground ruins that they navigate around will be 50-100 years from now after the trains rolling past them and causing vibrations no matter how smooth, silent, etc., they may be. I visited Rome in 1969 (!!!) and when I retired and decided it was time to see some more of the world, I wanted to go to Italy but decided I would not go to Rome again because it could never be as wonderful – truly mind-blowing – again. So, I’ve been to Italy 3 times now but will leave Rome as a cherished memory.

    • louise

      No, no. Go and make new memories. It is the eternal city, always something new, always magical.

  7. Wow…awesome article–with great pictures, no less! Most of us would have no idea about the impact a metro line would have in running into ancient ruins everywhere along the way.
    Thanks for sharing, Karen–Oakland, CA

  8. Kim Abelman

    Hilarious!!! Thank you, and so beautifully written. Good chuckle whilst learning all about this!

  9. Can’t wait for this to open some day. Barracks are a rare find in Rome, another piece of the puzzle comes to light

  10. Victoria De Maio

    When I was in Rome only a few years ago, they were coping with rerouting around the Forum, etc. Ah, the Romans are certainly having the last say about their city, aren’t they? Fascinating stuff…maybe a new type of walking/viewing the underground marvels “museum” should be considered?
    Love this post, GB – ancora, grazie!

  11. Mark Rigoglioso

    They should use ground penetrating radar over the whole route prior to any commitments to avoid delays and the expense. A better idea for Rome is to just use buses and leave the digging to archaeologists.


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