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.

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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.

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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.

Source.

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Catacomb saints in all of their splendour

From DM:

A relic hunter dubbed ‘Indiana Bones’ has lifted the lid on a macabre collection of 400-year-old jewel-encrusted skeletons unearthed in churches across Europe.

Art historian Paul Koudounaris hunted down and photographed dozens of gruesome skeletons in some of the world’s most secretive religious establishments. Incredibly, some of the skeletons, said to be the remains of early Christian martyrs, were even found hidden away in lock-ups and containers. They are now the subject of a new book, which sheds light on the forgotten ornamented relics for the first time.

St Benedictus

Thousands of skeletons were dug up from Roman catacombs in the 16th century and installed in towns around Germany, Austria and Switzerland on the orders of the Vatican. They were sent to Catholic churches and religious houses to replace the relics destroyed in the wake of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Mistaken for the remains of early Christian martyrs, the morbid relics, known as the Catacomb Saints, became shrines reminding of the spiritual treasures of the afterlife. They were also symbols of the Catholic Church’s newly found strength in previously Protestant areas.

St Luciana

Each one was painstakingly decorated in thousands of pounds worth of gold, silver and gems by devoted followers before being displayed in church niches. Some took up to five years to decorate. They were renamed as saints, although none of them qualified for the title under the strict rules of the Catholic church which require saints to have been canonised. But by the 19th century they had become morbid reminders of an embarrassing past and many were stripped of their honours and discarded.

Mr Koudounaris’ new book, Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, is the first time the skeletons have appeared in print.

St Valerius

 ‘I was working on another book looking into charnel houses when I came across the existence of these skeletons. As I discovered more about them I had this feeling that it was my duty to tell their fascinating story. After they were found in the Roman catacombs the Vatican authorities would sign certificates identifying them as martyrs then they put the bones in boxes and sent them northwards. The skeletons would then be dressed and decorated in jewels, gold and silver, mostly by nuns. They had to be handled by those who had taken a sacred vow to the church – these were believed to be martyrs and they couldn’t have just anyone handling them. They were symbols of the faith triamphant and were made saints in the municipalities. One of the reasons they were so important was not for their spiritual merit, which was pretty dubious, but for their social importance. They were thought to be miraculous and really solidified people’s bond with a town. This reaffirmed the prestige of the town itself.’

He added: ‘It’s impossible to put a modern-day value on the skeletons.’

More images here.