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AUR’s Roman origins?

A great hole has suddenly opened up in AUR’s library garden. A geo-radar survey by our adjunct professor, Dr. Matteo Barone, shows it’s not a sink-hole, but part of a large hollowed area below the modern terrace. Am I surprised? Not one bit, especially when late Republica/early Imperial amphorae sherds are hauled out by the Barnebites’ gardener.

My best guess is that the hole is part of a crypto-porticus below a Roman terrace re-used in modern times – in the early 20th century – when the modern villa that is now the Barnebite monastery – our campus – was created.

A Roman hole...

What does this mean? Almost certainly close to the top of the Gianiculum slope (known in Roman times as Trans Tiberium), looking out across the ancient city, stood a villa – a grand Roman town-house. It would have been terraced into the upper slope in an overt attempt to blend in yet command the contours of the hill. This after all was one of the plum locations in the Roman world – matching the villas surrounding the Bay of Naples.

Across the top of the hill, through the grounds of the American Academy of Rome runs a Roman aqueduct that, refurbished, fed the Renaissance Fontanone. Then, of course, there were the Aurelian walls, which in the mid Empire ran down across the slope from Porta San Pacrazio a little to the north of AUR’s library. So, if a villa did exist on this slope with its commanding panorama, its heady location was rudely comromised once the great defenses were constructed in the 270s.

AUR's Robert Evans Library fenced off!!

What lucky senator or general lived here, I wonder, marveling at the eternal city below? Not that much has changed, of course.

That said, the face of the Barnebites’ gardener was a picture as he plucked out an amphora rim……

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