ROME—Eighteen feet below one of Rome’s most-trafficked junctions is a 900-seat arts center dating back to the second-century reign of Emperor Hadrian, Italian archaeologists have announced.
The discovery, widely seen as the most important in Rome in 80 years, came as a result of digging for the city’s third subway line. Archeologists spent the last five years excavating two halls of the structure under the Piazza Venezia, which is believed to be an arts center, or auditorium, built by Hadrian. Beginning in 123 A.D., it is believed, Roman noblemen gathered under the auditorium’s 13-meter-high arched ceiling to hear rhetoricians, lawyers and writers recite their works. Archaeologists have also identified a third, previously known hall — located under a 20th-century building opposite the terrace where Mussolini addressed his followers — as part of the complex.
According to the archeologists running the excavation, Hadrian’s auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s. In Byzantine times, Hadrian’s auditorium was most likely used as a mint to smelt ingots and mint coins, they said, as evidenced by the the presence of fire pits. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, one of the halls served as the cellar of a hospital.
The excavation also found evidence of the fragility of Rome’s cultural heritage. An earthquake shook the city in the ninth century, leading a large part of the structure’s monumental roof to collapse onto the floors of one of the halls, where it remains today.
The discovery has forced city authorities to rework their plans for one of the Piazza Venezia subway exits. The site itself is expected to be opened to the public in three years.