Subway Dig Uncovers Hadrian’s Auditorium, Rome’s Biggest Archaeological Find in 80 Years

When tourists gripe about the sparing underground transportation system, tour guides explain that digging under Rome’s streets can be a risky affair. It’s hard to imagine carving out a tunnel or laying a few miles of track without brushing up against 14,000 years of rubble. Once the city takes the plunge however, they are bound to find something valuable. The Guardian reports that railway engineers looking to build a line that cuts through the heart of the city have unearthed an auditorium built by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Rossella Rea, who has been leading the dig, says the discovery is “the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s.”

Situated beneath the Piazza Venezia, near a baroque church and a monument to Italy’s former monarchy known vernacularly as “the Typewriter,” visitors can now see the place where poets, philosophers, and rhetoricians performed before Roman nobility across terraced marble seating in the 1st century CE. The structure was among emperor Hadrian’s most personally-inflected commissions, expressing his love for verse (he wrote his own poems in Latin and Greek), his admiration for Hellenic culture, and his personal magnanimity: an immense 11 meter (36 foot) arched ceiling once stood over the speakers reciting poetry in the central hall.

In its later years, the site of the auditorium has been used as a hospital, smeltery, and, now, an exit for the expanded metro line. A big part of Rea’s job since the discovery has been to placate anxieties that the new line’s most important station, in the very heart of Rome, couldn’t be built. “I believe we can run one of the exits from the station along the original corridor of the complex where Romans entered the halls,” she said, tipping her hat to the funding for the dig that came from the city’s transportation interests. “We don’t have funds for these kind of digs,” she said, “so this has come to light thanks to the new line.”

— Reid Singer