History Stories

It’s hard to build any new subway lines without running into Rome’s ancient history.

The city of Rome is over 2,700 years old. Dig into the ground and you’ll eventually bump into what the old residents left behind.

Over the past decade, the construction and extension of Rome’s third subway line—Line C—has unearthed a treasure trove of artifacts. In December 2017, The New York Times reported that archaeologists had found petrified peach pits and images of an extinct elephant species at the site where the new San Giovanni station will open next year.

Some of the archaeological discoveries will go on display at the San Giovanni station. But there are a lot of other discoveries that have already gone into museums or storage. Here’s a look at some of the amazing things that Rome’s subway construction has unearthed.

1. Medieval kitchens with pots and pans

A view of the excavation site in the future Roman metro station. (Credit: Eric Vandeville /Sipa USA/AP Photo)

A view of the excavation site in the future Roman metro station. (Credit: Eric Vandeville /Sipa USA/AP Photo)

When Italian dictator Benito Mussolini started work on Rome’s first subway in 1937 (which didn’t open till 1955), he wasn’t very concerned about preserving artifacts. Consequently, workers ended up destroying a lot of historic objects that they encountered.

Today, the story is different. Between the beginning of Line C’s construction in 2007 and its opening in 2014, archaeologists have painstakingly recorded and preserved historical artifacts. In 2008, they publicly announced their discovery of imperial medieval homes.

These homes had kitchens that still contained pieces of pots and pans. In particular, researchers were excited to find a ninth-century kitchen with three sauce-heating pots. Before then, only two such pots had been found in Italy.

2. A copper factory

Archaeologists working in an archaeological dig in Rome's central Piazza Venezia Square in 2007, in preparation for a new subway line, where a sixth-century copper factory have been found. (Credit: Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo)

Archaeologists working in an archaeological dig in Rome’s central Piazza Venezia Square in 2007, in preparation for a new subway line, where a sixth-century copper factory have been found. (Credit: Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo)

In addition to the kitchens, researchers announced in 2008 that they had found a sixth-century copper factory during Line C’s construction.

Like the kitchens, the factory still had its own tools—specifically, ovens that were used to melt copper alloy. In the Roman Empire, copper was an important component of coins, architecture, and Rome’s famously extensive plumbing system.

Around the same time that researchers discovered the factory and kitchens, they found parts of the ancient road of Via Flaminia. More morbidly, they also found the remains of two children. Several years later, more bodies came up.

3. An ancient military barracks…with 13 adult skeletons

Archaeologists found a collective grave, where they have so far discovered 13 adult skeletons along with a bronze coin and a bronze bracelet. Officials hope to incorporate the discovery into the new metro station, which is scheduled to open in 2020. (Credit: Eric Vandeville/Sipa USA/AP Photo)

Archaeologists found a collective grave, where they have so far discovered 13 adult skeletons along with a bronze coin and a bronze bracelet. Officials hope to incorporate the discovery into the new metro station, which is scheduled to open in 2020. (Credit: Eric Vandeville/Sipa USA/AP Photo)

During work to extend subway Line C in 2016, archaeologists announced another big discovery: the 2,000-years-old military barracks of Emperor Hadrian’s army.

Hadrian was one of Rome’s so-called “Five Good Emperors” who expanded the empire in the first and second centuries. His arm barracks had 39 mosaic- and fresco-lined rooms for sleeping and weapon storage. It also had a mass grave containing 13 adult skeletons, who may have been fallen soldiers in Hadrian’s army.

Because the barracks is too huge to completely remove, designers hope to incorporate it into a forthcoming archeological subway station at Amba Aradam.

4. A dog that burned to death in a “Pompeii-like scene”

An 1,800-year-old skeleton of a dog, which apparently perished in a blaze in Rome. Archaeologists think the dog was trapped in a blaze that largely consumed a 3rd-century building that was unearthed while digging for Rome's new subway, and have dubbed it a “Pompeii-like scene” in Rome. (Credit: Italian Culture Ministry Via AP Photo)

An 1,800-year-old skeleton of a dog, which apparently perished in a blaze in Rome. Archaeologists think the dog was trapped in a blaze that largely consumed a 3rd-century building that was unearthed while digging for Rome’s new subway, and have dubbed it a “Pompeii-like scene” in Rome. (Credit: Italian Culture Ministry Via AP Photo)

Yet more extension work on Line C led to the discovery of a “Pompeii-like scene,” as the Culture Ministry put it. Just as a volcanic eruption had preserved people’s remains in ashes at Pompeii, archaeologists say these new subway-line artifacts were uniquely preserved because they’d been hardened by a fire.

The recent excavation found a 3rd century house that had burned down, as well as the skeleton of a dog that appeared to have died in the same fire. Researchers also found fragments of frescoed walls, mosaic floor tiles, and tables.

Speaking to The Guardian, the head of Rome’s archaeological ruins and excavations, Francesco Prosperetti, reflected on this significant discovery: “The fire that stopped life in this environment allows us to image life in a precise moment.”

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