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Vatican will open historic, Pompeii-like necropolis to public

2014-02-01

Few people are aware that under the Vatican you can find the historic necropolis of Via Triumphalis. It's a Roman cemetery located near the Circus of Nero, where, according to tradition, St. Peter was martyred.

Starting this month of January, the necropolis will open to the public. It's so well preserved that experts often refer to it as a "Roman Pompeii.”

GIANDOMENICO SPINOLA
Archaeologist and excavation  director
"The importance lies in the fact that it is a necropolis sealed by landslides. So what we found is exactly how it was left 2000 years ago.”

It's described as a "living workshop.” So far, archeologist have uncovered nearly 700 human remains, either buried or cremated. But what's most striking is not how they were buried, but exactly who is buried there. 

GIANDOMENICO SPINOLA
Archaeologist and excavation  director
"It's a unique case, because there are poor graves, rich in materials. Plus, the chance to build these funeral rites, and the memory of the dead themselves, this well preserved, it's not common.”

One clear example is the "Tomb of Alcimus.” He was a set designer for Emperor Nero, which is why he's pictured with his tools: a compass, a square and a level. There are even the so-called "lucernae,” the slaves that accompany their masters at night, with a flashlight to avoid getting lost. And so, each of these tombs has a story to tell.

GIANDOMENICO SPINOLA
Archaeologist and excavation  director
"The dead speak to us through archeology, in examining their remains. The living, who arranged the memories for their dead, also speak to us. So it's not just an excavation in which we talk about the dead. It's an excavation where  the living talk about death.”

New technologies are also a part of the site. Large, interactive screens show how the necropolis looked about 1900 years ago, using 3D technology. Silence does not define the Necropolis of Via Triumphalis. Rather, the tombs, stucco and frescoes speak loudly to visitors about the lives of people back then: their choices, their traditions, and even their dreams.


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