6th century BC house under Palazzo Canevari redraws the map of ancient Rome

On Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015 archaeologists found the complete remains of a 2,500 year-old residence under Palazzo Canevari (owned by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti), on the Quirinale Hill between Via Veneto and the Termini railway station. Romes’s subsoil again surprised the archaeologists, a discovery like this does not happen every day. The well-preserved rectangular house, probably divided into two rooms, had been built on a base of tuff blocks, with wooden walls (covered with clay plaster) and had a tiled roof.

The oldest house in Rome?

“The remains of this house from the beginning of the sixth century BC is an almost unparalleled example of ancient architecture in this city,” said Francesco Prosperetti, superintendent for Rome’s Archaeological Heritage. The fact that the dwelling is intact, with wooden beams and clay-covered walls and a roof, makes it an almost unparalleled example of ancient architecture in Rome.

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The importance of the discovery doesn’t stop there. It makes it also possible to backdate the urbanization of the area, indicating that in the years of King Servius Tullius, Rome was larger and far more urbanized than initially believed. The discovery basically redraws the map of Rome between the 6th and 5th century BC. It supports the notion that the Servian Wall (surrounding the ancient city) encompassed the area of the Quirinale and was already inhabited. It was not the only discovery here though.

The antiquities around and under Palazzo Canevari

Since 2003 the area around and under Palazzo Canevari has been subject of surveys to determine the presence of antiquities. In 2013 an extensive excavation brought to light an enormous temple dating back to the early 5th century BC. According to excavation chief Mirella Serlorenzi the area on the Quirinale Hill had long been considered a sacred area, with temples and a necropolis, however the new find shows that the Romans in the 6th century BC had built houses on the Quirinale Hill, and not only farther south, around the Roman Forum, as previously assumed. The house may have been custodian’s residence linked to the nearby temple that was discovered in 2013.

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Discoveries like this certainly do not happen every day

The question is now what the Roman authorities are going to do with this exceptional find. “A discovery like this certainly does not happen every day and it was destiny that surprised us,” said Francis Prosperetti, superintendent of the Colosseum, the Roman National Museum and the archaeological area of Rome. How to grant the public the opportunity to enjoy this incredible discovery too is a subject of debate, as its location is inside a private property.

“We are already evaluating project proposals for a museum display in the building,” said Prosperetti. It must be the right combination between the intended use of the building and the display of these excavations. Let’s just hope they keep out all the political and bureaucratic squabbles and open quickly so we all can see one of the oldest houses, if not the oldest house, in Rome.