An ambitious programme of archaeological excavations is laying bare large new areas of ancient Rome and forcing archaeologists and historians to rethink many long-established and generally accepted theories about the imperial capital.
Excavations in the Forum of Nerva, between 1995 and 1997, and now in the Fora of Trajan, Caesar and Vespasian, directed by Eugenio La Rocca of Pisa University, are yielding a wealth of new information. "This is the greatest programme of excavations since the 1930s and conceived with a very different philosophy," said Professor La Rocca.
"In the 1930s the idea was to go straight to the traces of ancient Rome and wipe out
everything more recent. Today we are trying to conserve what we find from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance so as to build up chronological layers of knowledge about the city's evolution."
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, professor of classics at Reading
University and director of the British School in Rome, said: "These are very important digs, resulting in a radical reassessment of many existing hypotheses. It is, perhaps, still too early to know what the final weight of the new discoveries will be. But what is particularly interesting is that they allow us to relate antiquity to medieval and Renaissance civilisations."
Current knowledge of the ancient Roman layout stems mainly from excavations during the Napoleonic era, and another period of excavations between 1924 and 1932. Mussolini wanted a wide, spectacular avenue for military parades, which Rome, with its medieval street-plan, lacked. To achieve this, vast areas of medieval buildings north-west of the Coliseum were obliterated.
Much of medieval Rome was lost for ever, but to the joy of archaeologists entire sections of the centre of ancient Rome were exposed for the first time. Now, four acres of the gardens flanking Mussolini's avenue are being excavated to reveal still more of the ancient capital and of subsequent periods.