Hidden slave tunnel found beneath Hadrian’s Villa


Share post:

Italian archaeologists have discovered a hidden tunnel beneath Hadrian’s Villa near Rome, part of a network of galleries and passageways that would have been used by slaves to discreetly service the sprawling imperial palace. 

Hidden slave tunnel found beneath Hadrian’s Villa
One of the ‘service’ tunnels beneath Hadrian’s Villa, built in the 2nd century as an imperial escape from Rome [Credit: Marco Placidi]

The newly-found tunnel was large enough to have taken carts and wagons, which would have ferried food, fire wood and other goods from one part of the sprawling palace to another.

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. 

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.

Hidden slave tunnel found beneath Hadrian’s Villa
Statues along a pool at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli [Credit: Getty Images]

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

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

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 towards 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”.

Hidden slave tunnel found beneath Hadrian’s Villa
The first tunnels to be discovered at the start of this century are marked in blue and travel from the Piazza to the Grand Trapeze. The second, red tunnels travel away from the Grand Trapeze. The green roads travel underground from the entrance hall to the piazza. The yellow line is the newly-discovered tunnel that is 2.4-metres wide and dubbed The Great Underground Road [Credit: Marco Placidi]

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.

Author: Nick Squires | Source: The Telegraph [August 20, 2013]



Related articles

Two historic shipwrecks found in central Stockholm

Another two shipwrecks dating back to at least the 1600s have been found in central Stockholm. Divers looking for...

MSU plans gazetteer of Harappan sites

An illustrated gazetteer of all Harappan and Chalcolithic sites of Gujarat will be published by MS University's (MSU)...

Theatre reliefs found in ancient Stratonikeia

Excavations at the ancient city of Stratonikeia in the Aegean province of Mugla’s Yatagan district have uncovered 15...

Dino-killing asteroid’s impact on bird evolution

Human activities could change the pace of evolution, similar to what occurred 66 million years ago when a...

Huge dinosaur cache uncovered in Lleida

A cheese-shop owner and his son have turned unlikely paleontologists after stumbling across a major cache of hadrosaurid...

Ancient city of Ephesus meets sea again

The ancient Greek city of Ephesus, one of the premier tourist sites in Turkey readies to have a...

Detecting biomarkers on faraway planets

On Earth, life leaves tell-tale signals in the atmosphere. Photosynthesis is ultimately responsible for the high oxygen levels...

Climate change disrupts songbird’s timing without impacting population size (yet)

Songbird populations can handle far more disrupting climate change than expected. Density-dependent processes are buying them time for...