Friday, December 14, 2012



VIEWERS in Britain are being treated to amazing images of the port which served the city of Rome during the Hadrian Era thanks to the BBC documentary special ROME'S LOST EMPIRE.

And the BBC documentary producers were able to show such amazing images thanks to computer imaging by British archaeologists which is revealing the long lost secrets of the lost port city of Portus.

In the 2nd Century AD, during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, Portus was a gateway to the Mediterranean. Hadrian and his massive entourage of sea-going vessels passed through Portus on his many trips to far-flung corners of his empire.

But today, due to silting, the sprawling site now lies two miles inland, close to the runway at Fiumicino airport. It sits incongruously next to the airport runway and the team digs to the sound of jet engines on land owned by Duke Sforza Cesarini - from one of Italy's oldest noble families - and the Italian government.

Everyone has heard of Ostia, the ancient port of Rome for centuries. But the Empire outgrew Ostia and so Trajan ordered the enlargement of nearby Portus at the mouth of the Tiber which became the major shipbuilding and cargo port during the Imperial era.

Portus, which simply means "port" or "harbor," was built two miles north of Ostia, with the Romans using concrete that could set under water.

But because of the airport and urban sprawl, archaeologists have had little to work with. That is all changing now, thanks to sophisticated computer imaging technology.

In recent years computers have revealed a major shipyard larger than a football field and also an astounding amphitheater as large as the Pantheon, according to Professor Simon Keay, Portus Project Director and leading expert in Roman Archaeology at the University of Southampton.

In the BBC documentary, the TV producers boldly said the shipyard was where Roman warships were built. But the archaeologists caution that there is no evidence to indicate just what sort of vessels were built there.

The five-story-tall structure, built out of brick-faced concrete, is thought to be from about 117 AD, in the reign of Trajan. It was used to either build or service ships that travelled across the empire nearly 2,000 years ago to keep Rome supplied with food and goods.

The largest find of its kind in Italy or the Mediterranean, it was found close to a distinctive existing hexagonal basin or "harbor" at the center of the huge ancient port complex, which covers two square miles.

Teams of oxen would probably have been used to drag ships in and out of the dry dock.

The massive building is also close to an imperial palace, leading archaeologists to think that it may have been a base for galleys that transported emperors to the farthest-flung parts of the Roman world. The palace possibly served as a kind of "VIP lounge" for dignitaries and their huge retinues arriving or awaiting departure.

The University of Southampton's PORTUS PROJECT WEBSITE has been updated for the BBC TV special and offers incredible 3-D computer renderings of the latest discoveries.

"It's amazing, a fantastic find," says Professor Keay, the director of the project. "We knew there was a lot ship building and repairing going on in the port but until now we didn't know where it was.

"It was a monumental arcade opening onto two harbor basins. Our excavations show that it was divided into very long bays, about 12 meters wide, and they were separated from one another by massive concrete piers. We're finding tacks which were used to attach lead to the underside of ships."

Portus was constructed when the earlier harbor, Ostia, proved to be too small to handle the vast amounts of goods needed by the imperial capital.

Research has been underway at Portus for several years and Professor Keay hopes to continue working there. "This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world," he says.

"Certainly it should be rated alongside such wonders as Stonehenge and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. So much of this Imperial port has been preserved and there is much more to learn about its role in supplying Rome and in the broader economic development of the Roman Mediterranean," he says.

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