Thursday, August 22, 2013


EXPERTS have known for decades that a labyrinth of tunnels allowed servants to scurry from one end of Hadrian's Villa to the other without disturbing the Emperor and his guests.

But now Italian archaeologists have stumbled upon a veritable underground "expressway" ... a tunnel wide enough to have taken horse-drawn carts and wagons, which would have ferried food, fire wood and other goods from one part of the sprawling palace to another.

The newly-discovered underground passageway has been dubbed by archaeologists the Great Underground Expressway — in Italian the "Strada Carrabile."

It was discovered after archaeologists working at the site stumbled upon a small hole in the ground, hidden by bushes and brambles, which led to the main gallery.

Around 10ft wide, it runs in a north-easterly direction and then switches to the south.

"All the majesty of the villa is reflected underground," Vittoria Fresi, the archaeologist leading the research project, told Il Messagero newspaper. "The underground network helps us to understand the structures that are above ground."

In contrast to the palace, which fell into disrepair after the fall of the Roman Empire and was plundered for its stone, the underground network remains "almost intact."

 The villa, at Tivoli, about 20 miles east of Rome, was built by Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD and was the largest ever constructed in the Roman period. It covered around 250 acres and consisted of more than 30 major buildings.

Although known as a villa, it was in fact a vast country estate which consisted of palaces, libraries, heated baths, theatres, courtyards and landscaped gardens.

There were outdoor ornamental pools adorned with green marble crocodiles, as well as a perfectly round, artificial island in the middle of a pond which is believed to have been the Emperor's private retreat within the compound.

Beneath the complex were more than two miles of tunnels which would have enabled slaves to move from the basement of one building to another without being seen by the emperor, his family and imperial dignitaries.

Many of the tunnels have been known about for decades but this one is far larger than the rest.

The tunnel has been explored by a society of amateur archaeologists with caving and abseiling skills, as well as by wire-controlled robots equipped with cameras.

Much of it is blocked by debris that has accumulated over the centuries.

Heritage officials are hoping to organise the first public tours of the tunnels in the autumn.

"After a lot of work, we are preparing to open several areas to guided visits," said Benedetta Adembri, the director of Hadrian's Villa.

Hadrian, who built the eponymous defensive wall in northern England, was a keen amateur architect who incorporated into the design of his villa architectural styles that he had seen during his travels in Egypt and Greece.

He started building the palace shortly after he became emperor in 117AD and continued adding to it until his death in 138AD.

It included dining halls, fountains, and quarters for courtiers, slaves and the Praetorian Guard.

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