HADRIAN'S HUGE CENTER FOR THE ARTS
UNEARTHED IN THE HEART OF ROME
ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed a 900-seat performance arts and entertainment center built by Emperor Hadrian under what is now one of Rome's busiest traffic intersections.
What has emerged from the rubble indicates that this was the Ancient Roman equivalent of Broadway or Covent Garden ... the venue where Hadrian (with Antinous at his side) arrived with a fanfare and strode past the glitterati on the opening night of new stage productions, concerts and poetry readings.
The dig site, which our own Flamen Antonyus Subia inspected only weeks ago, is being hailed as the most important Roman discovery in 80 years.
Built by Hadrian in the year 123 AD, the center for the performing arts offered three massive halls where Roman nobles flocked to hear poetry, speeches and philosophy tracts while reclining on terraced marble seating.
The terracing and the huge brick walls of the complex, as well as stretches of the elegant grey-and-yellow marble flooring are now visible at bottom of a 5.5 metre (18 foot) hole in Piazza Venezia, where police officers wearing white gloves direct chaotic traffic like orchestra conductors and where Mussolini harangued thousands of followers from his balcony.
"Hadrian's auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s," said Rossella Rea, the archaeologist running the dig.
The excavations, which are now due to open to the public, are next to a taxi stand and squeezed between a baroque church and the Vittoriano, an imposing monument to Italy's defunct monarchy, which is nicknamed the "The Typewriter" by locals (see photo).
The complex was only unearthed thanks to excavations to build a new subway rail line which will cross the heart of Rome.
"We don't have funds for these kind of digs so this has come to light thanks to the new line," said Rea.
The site sheds new light on Hadrian's love of poetry – he wrote his own verse in Latin and Greek – and his taste for bold architecture – an 11-metre-high (36 foot) arched ceiling once towered over the poets in the central hall.
Today the performing space is riddled with pits dug for fires, revealing how after three centuries of celebrating the arts, the halls fell into disrepair with the collapse of the Roman empire and were used for smelting ingots.
At the center of the main hall, like a prop from a disaster movie, is a massive, nine-by-five-meter chunk of the monumental roof which came crashing down during an earthquake in 848 after standing for seven centuries.
Following the quake, the halls were gradually covered over until a hospital built on top in the 16th Century dug down for cellar space.
"We found pots lobbed down a well after the patients using them died," said Rea. "We could date them because the designs on the glaze were the same we see on implements in Caravaggio paintings."