Roman Necropolis

Eternal City Indeed

One of the most fascinating and exciting things about Rome is that no matter where you look or dig, you are bound to discover something astounding. In 2005 archaeologists unearthed the ancient Roman brickworks which was responsible for producing the bricks that were used in the Colosseum and the Pantheon . Two years earlier another great discovery was unearthed in Vatican City but was kept relatively quiet. One of the world's best preserved ancient cemeteries (necropolis) was accidently discovered when workers began clearing an area for a new Vatican car park. The cemetery was discovered on the ancient street, Via Triumphalis (Triumphal Way) which was once used by Roman soldiers returning from conquests and includes 40 mausoleums and over 200 single tombs. The necropolis dates from between 1st century BC and the 4th century AD and contains the tombs of both the rich and middle class Romans, something which is extremely rare.

Discovered in the necropolis were decorative mosaics and sculpted sarcophagi. One of the most interesting is the sarcophagi depicting a person in prayer. It has lead some to speculate that the tomb may have belonged to a wealthy Roman who had converted to Christianity prior to Emperor Constantine making the religion legal. Another interesting discovery was the remains of an infant with a hen's egg lying beside the body (presumably left by the family) . The egg, which had been shattered into pieces, was painstakingly reconstructed by the archaeologists.Many of the tombs were found to have displayed, simple funerary altars with terracotta urns still holding the ashes. Some of the more interesting graves include a set designer for Pompey's Theater, a letter carrier (tabellarius), a circus horse trainer (hortator), and several artisans with symbols of their trade marked on their tombs.One archaeologist was quoted as saying it was like a "little Pompeii of cemeteries".It was a landslide in the 2nd century which is believed to be responsible for the preservation of the cemetery.The necropolis is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. Visitors will have to make reservations to tour the site. Specially constructed walkways provide great vantage points for visitors to look down on the grave sites.