Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Update on the New Vatican Necropolis

On Thursday, October 12, as part of celebrations marking the fifth centenary of the Vatican Museums, the new section of the Roman necropolis on the Via Triumphalis will be opened. The sector came to light in 2003 during building work on a parking lot within Vatican City.

Excavation work in this area was undertaken by archaeologists from the Vatican Museums who uncovered a cemetery, part of the same complex that was discovered between 1959 and 1960. The two areas constitute part of a large burial ground along the old Via Triumphalis which led from Rome to Veio (Isola Farnese) over Monte Mario. Thanks to this latest discovery it is now possible to visit two of the most complete and well-documented necropolises of imperial Rome: the one on the old Via Cornelia (which can be visited in the excavations under St. Peter's Basilica) and this one on the Via Triumphalis.

Archaeologists have found around 40 small and medium-sized mausolea, and more than 200 individual graves on various levels, many with inscriptions. Most of the tombs - which date from the end of the first century BC to the beginning of the fourth century AD - are well preserved, and some have decorations, frescoes and mosaic floors.

Funerary altars, urns, and sarcophagi with figures in bas-relief have also been brought to light. Of particular interest is the sarcophagus of a young 'equites' (knight), Publius Caesilius Victorinus (270-290 AD), which shows a figure in prayer next to a tree and with a bird above. Some of the tomb inscriptions specify the profession and/or the place of origin of the occupants, while some of the altars have holes to hold flower garlands.

The archeological site may be visited on Fridays and Saturdays in groups of no more than 25 persons. Reservation is obligatory and may be done by sending a fax to Vatican Museums - Office for Special Visits (no. 0669881573) or by writing to visitespeciali.musei@scv.va.

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