Roman Imperial Ramp opens to public for first time

A vast underground passageway that allowed Rome’s emperors to pass unseen from their hilltop palaces to the Forum was opened to the public for the first time on Wednesday, 21st October 2015.


The 2,000-year-old “imperial ramp” descended from the top of the Palatine Hill, where successive emperors built lavish palaces, down to the temples, market places and courts of the Forum in the valley below, from where the Roman Empire was governed.

Lit by flickering torches and protected by imperial guards, the high-ceiling passageway was so vast that emperors could have comfortably passed through it on horseback.

Originally more than 300 yards long, it consisted of seven zigzag ramps, four of which remain today.

The rest are believed to have been destroyed in an earthquake in the ninth century AD.

The covered walkway, which is enclosed and would have been invisible to the soldiers, slaves and plebeians going about their business in the Forum, was first discovered in 1900.

The tunnel was partially excavated but then was then abandoned for another century, until archaeologists embarked on a major restoration project a few years ago.palatine-ramp-2_3478001b

It has now been completed, and tourists will be able to tread in the footsteps of the emperors from today.

“For centuries, this was the entrance to the imperial palaces on top of the Palatine Hill,” said Francesco Prosperetti, the cultural heritage official in charge of the project.

“When it was discovered, this was a little-known corner of the Forum.”

Once tourists climb to its highest point, emerging from the arched passageway into the daylight, they have a panoramic view of the ruined temples, marble columns and ancient streets of the Roman Forum.

The entrance to the imperial ramp was a huge gateway which has been reconstructed using pieces of the original marble architrave.

The gate led to a reception hall which was converted into a church in the Middle Ages.

The walls are still decorated with frescoes of “the 40 martyrs”, Roman soldiers from the XII Legion who converted to Christianity and were then made to stand in a lake, naked, on a bitterly cold night, until they froze to death.


Halfway up the steep passageway archaeologists found the remains of a latrine, built from stone and marble, which would have been used by imperial guards.

“The ceilings are eleven metres (36ft) high, so it really is a big structure,” said Patrizia Fortini, an archaeologist.

“We don’t know whether carts would have travelled up and down it with supplies, but certainly horses would have been able to.”

Rooms that lead off the ramp – possibly used by detachments of guards – have been converted into a mini-museum of Roman artefacts found close to the passageway.

They include an exquisite statue of Hercules, his shoulders wrapped in the pelt of a lion, and a marble statue of a child sacrificing a rooster, which was found close to a nearby sacred spring.

The Palatine, a craggy hill that overlooks central Rome, was first settled 800 years before Christ.palatine-ramp-view_3478000b

Successive emperors built huge palaces on top of it until the entire area became one interconnected imperial complex.

The covered ramp was commissioned by the Emperor Domitian in the late first century AD at the height of his reign.

He constructed a vast new palace on the Palatine, which is the origin of the words “palazzo” and “palace”.

The sumptuousness of the complex did the emperor little good in the end – he became paranoid and reclusive and was assassinated by courtiers inside the palace in AD 96, at the age of 44.



Pompeii: A symbol of Italy’s sloppiness

From Telegraph:

For visitors to Pompeii, they are a guaranteed crowd pleaser: erotic frescoes, including one of Priapus, the god of fertility, adorning the walls of a 2,000 year old Roman villa.

Or rather they were until two years ago, when the House of the Vettii closed for a restoration project which was supposed to last a year but which still grinds on, the villa encased in scaffolding and a sign outside offering no indication of when it might reopen.


Priapus with Caduceus


Pompeii may be the best preserved Roman city in the world, thanks to the volcanic ash from nearby Mt Vesuvius which smothered it after a catastrophic eruption in AD79, but critics say years of neglect and indifference have turned it into an international embarrassment and an emblem of the dysfunction which plagues so much of Italian public life.

Exquisite frescoes are scarred with modern graffiti, weeds are growing out of painted walls and there is a dearth of interpretive signs.

Many of the most famous villas in the city are padlocked behind signs reading “Lavori in corso” – Work in Progress – while the city’s most gruesome but irresistible attractions, the plaster casts of ancient Romans who perished in the searing hot ash and pumice emitted by Vesuvius, are displayed in dusty glass cabinets standing on rusted metal legs.

The sense of crisis came to a head last week when the respected broadsheet, Corriere della Sera, ran a front-page editorial under the headline “The humiliation of Pompeii”.


From Casa del Centenario


“The fact is that this archeological area, which is unique in the world, is unfortunately the symbol of all the sloppiness and inefficiencies of a country that has lost its good sense and has not managed to recover it,” the editorial said.

The editorial sparked a political row, with the Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi and the opposition blaming each other for Pompeii’s shambolic state.

Nicola Cosentino, a close ally of Mr Berlusconi and a regional coordinator for the governing party, said Pompeii was “like a souk” when the government came into power two years ago.

But Luisa Bossa, an MP with the opposition Democratic Party, said thousands of tourists witnessed the “decay and abandonment” of Pompeii every day. “The site is on its last legs. It is a symbol of the fact that this government cares nothing for Italy’s heritage.”

Around two million visitors a year pay 11 euros each to visit the site, generating annual revenue of around 20 million euros, but archaeologists say it is not sufficient to fund the unending task of restoring and maintaining the site.


Tile Mosaic, Satyr & Nymph, House of the Faun


The Berlusconi government has also made deep cuts to arts and heritage funding – the amount of money allotted to the maintenance of ancient sites has dropped from 30 million euros in 2007 to just under 19 million this year.

But Salvatore Settis, a former president of the government’s heritage committee, said blame could not be assigned only to the current government. “Parties on both sides have completely marginalised culture and heritage,” he said.

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, a British professor of archaeology who has worked at Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum for more than 20 years, said it was overly simplistic to pin the blame on Italian inefficiency and in-fighting.

“The fundamental reason why there are such enormous problems is the scale and complexity of the site,” said Prof Wallace-Hadrill, now the master of Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge University.

The Italian government is believed to be working on the establishment of a foundation which would invite private donors to give money to help preserve Pompeii, possibly in return for advertising opportunities – just as a similar scheme was launched this summer to save the crumbling Colosseum in Rome.

From Telegraph.