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An ancient imperial floor has been discovered in the latest Rome sinkhole, right in front of the Pantheon.        Source: Virginia Raggi

Rome Sinkhole Reveals Extraordinary Archaeological Find


Another Rome sinkhole has appeared, this time, in front of the Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda and in it, archaeologists have made the unexpected ‘rediscovery’ of an ancient imperial floor consisting of seven travertine slabs.

Built by Agrippa between 27 and 25 BC, the Piazza della Rotonda is a great square which opens out in front of the famous Pantheon, the temple dedicated to all the Roman gods, and this open social space was entirely transformed in the second century AD by the Emperor Hadrian, at which time the level of the piazza was raised and it was all repaved.

Archaeologists have reported finding ancient masonry about 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) beneath the existing level of the piazza, which was first uncovered during works in the 1990s, and after it had been documented by archaeologists at the time it was covered over. But now, more than two decades after its original discovery, the slabs of the ancient floor “emerge intact, protected by a layer of fine pozzolan,” said Daniela Porro, special superintendent of Rome in a Wanted In Rome article.

The ancient slabs/pavement unearthed by the Rome sinkhole in front of the Pantheon. (Virginia Raggi)

Hundreds of Gates to the Underworld Opened up in Rome

The fact that archaeologists in the 90s had excavated and covered up the ancient flooring, and that 20 years later it was rediscovered in almost the same preserved condition is what Daniela Porro described as “unequivocal proof of the importance of archaeological protection, particularly in a city such as Rome.” However, the appearance of another sink hole in the city is also further evidence of why ancient Romans became master hydrologists specializing in systems of channeling and holding water like tunnels, cisterns, spas, bath-houses, channels and aqueducts. 

Only in January this year, The Local reported that a Rome apartment building has been evacuated and that a street was closed after “a sinkhole opened up” near the Colosseum. Located on Rome's famous Via Marco Aurelio, near the ancient Roman gladiatorial landmark, an apartment building and two businesses were evacuated, and the street temporarily closed, as firefighters, police and housing authorities carried out emergency structural checks. And The Local reported in February 2018 that a massive ten meters (33 feet) deep sinkhole occurred in the Balduina district, a residential area northwest of Vatican City, into which seven parked cars fell, with 22 families being evacuated from the residential area.

Another angle of the floor unearthed by the Rome sinkhole in front of the Pantheon. (Virginia Raggi)

The Rome Sinkhole Curve is Not Flattening

Why on Earth, does this sinkhole phenomena occur so frequently in Rome, and not in say Naples or Milan? After the January 2020 sinkhole , the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, told TG24 News that technicians were at something of a loss trying to explain the geological causes of the incident, and she said sinkholes (known as  voragine) are a “major problem in central Rome.” Traditionally, on average every year 30 fresh sinkholes, subsidence and other collapses are recorded in Rome, but what is alarming, according to The Local, is that since 2008 the annual figure has “tripled.”

Searching for a cause, a 2018 Guardian article asked should we “blame the rain, the government or just geology,” not only for sinkholes but for increasing extreme weather events in Italy, in general? The article opens with reference to a shocking statistic published in Roma Republica, that in the first four months of 2018, Rome suffered an astonishing “44 sinkholes,” one every two or three days, with an average of “90 sinkholes a year in Rome since 2010.”

For Those Looking to Assign Blame: Point up!

Many blame the rain in Rome, because in 2018 it was the wettest six months in living memory, and this may have had catastrophic effects on Rome's geology, as the city is founded upon a floodplain, and most of it still rests on a sandy, soft soil. Water finds no resistance in penetrating this permeable substrate, especially now that its gravitational path of destruction is assisted with the cracks caused by the vibrations of thousands of cars, trucks and scooters buzzing over the aquaplane.

In an attempt to safeguard the city’s residents, or at least to appear to be doing something to support what is a catastrophically neglected city, in 2018, it was announced that a multi-million-euro plan would be launched to fix its streets, but what was reported as ‘slow progress’ has now ground to a halt as Italian emergency authorities are presently struggling to build scaffolding around the perimeters of a much more life threatening, medical sinkhole.

Top image: An ancient imperial floor has been discovered in the latest Rome sinkhole, right in front of the Pantheon.        Source: Virginia Raggi

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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