How did ancient Rome come to be buried over 30 feet under modern Rome?
I was watching Cities of the Underground on history channel this weekend, and they kept reiterating that ancient Rome is buried 30 feet under modern Rome. (For example, Circus Maximus is buried under 30 feet of dirt and all you can see is a grassy field.)They stated that only 10% of ancient Rome had been excavated in 200 years of excavations.
How did so much of the ancient city come to be buried under the modern one? I understand the concept, but how could the Roman people not realize what is under their city?
- Anonymous1 decade agoFavorite Answer
This happened all over in ancient times. Look at the country of Turkey,especially Istanbul and you will see a very similar event happened there. I believe that most of the city of Rome burned to the ground and what was left after the devistation was just filled and build on top of. It was easier to do that then move existing structures. There is a scottish captial of edinburgh has been built on top of many times. Check it out it's pretty cool. Other reasons why cities ended up getting barried was because they needed more space to live so instead of going out they went up. As the cities got taller the lower levels became more like slums and eventually no one wanted to live there. Also when the plague came through a lot the lower level slums would have been bricked up and sealed, sometimes with infected people still a live in there.
- Anonymous4 years ago
Any city that has been around for centuries will be built upon many times. As each layer of new buildings are added the older ones disappear beneath the newer levels. Archaeologists have found cities with layers and layers of older cities. Some that they didn't even know existed. A good example of this is the city of "Troy." A multitude of cities were discovered when they began to excavate to determine if the city of Troy really existed. There are areas and tunnels under NYCs subway that people have forgotten about. A lot of these so called lost areas in NYC are often used by the homeless. In fact, they are almost cities unto themselves. The History Channel has been running a series of shows concerning this very subject. You might want to take a look. Quite interesting and amazing.,
- Erik Van ThienenLv 71 decade ago
They did realize it, but almost nobody was interested, apart from digging out stones and marble to build or repair existing buildings. Until the Renaissance and its renewed interest in Roman Art came along.
- VladoLv 41 decade ago
it was destroyed and cover with dust and other debries.
So, they had to dig to take all that over.
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- 4 years ago
I wondered this myself. And in the case of Ancient Rome, from my research, I've deduced several reasons for this phenomenon, and different reasons apply to different areas of the city and to different structures and buildings.
The original, ancient City of Rome, had, famously, seven hills within the first wall to encircle the entire city, called the Servian Wall, built in the early 4thC BC.
The three hills closest to the river, which are, from South to North, the Aventine Hill, the Palatine Hill, (which is the most centrally located of the famous Seven), and finally, the Capitoline Hill. Between the Aventine and Palatine Hills there is a huge, long, low-lying valley, which originally was very swampy and had a stream running through it. Later, it became the site of the 150,000-seat Circus Maximus.
Next imagine the Palatine Hill, which is trapezoidal in shape, like a square with a top line shorter than its bottom line, and sloping sides. The Palatine's shorter "top" side forms the Southwestern boundary of the Forum Romanum, which was created in yet another low-lying, marshy valley with a stream running through it. The other, "sloping" side of the Palatine's trapezoid faced the Capitoline Hill, and between them was yet another large, long, low-lying valley, called the Velabrum, which extended Northeastward directly from the Tiber to the Northwestern end of the Forum. At its beginning point at the Tiber, it also meets the huge valley of the Circus Maximus. They form a right angle, with the Circus Maximus valley extending to the Southeast as the valley of the Velabrum extends Northeast between the Capitoline Hill on the left, and the Palatine Hill on the right. Opposite the Palatine hill, across and beyond the Forum are the ends of three long hills, the Quirinal, The Viminal, And the Esquiline. Between each of these hills were- you guessed it- long, low-lying, swampy valleys with streams running through them. Finally, North of the Capitoline hill and surrounded on three sides by a large bend in the Tiber is a large, flat plain called the Campus Martius (Field of Mars) which was technically outside the City walls, and was therefore used for the training of Legionary recruits, which is how it got its name- (it being illegal to enter the City “under arms”), but which nevertheless gradually became developed, beginning in the last century of the Roman Republic (131-31 BC), when a number of beautiful temples to ‘foreign’ gods (also not permitted within the bounds of the City), such as Apollo- which eventually ceased to be considered foreign- and even Isis, as well as the HUGE Theater of Pompey, the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44BC, and the first Pantheon, built by Marcus Agrippa. From the time of Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, it was incorporated into the city and divided into several administrative regions. I mention the Campus Martius in such detail because, following the truly cataclysmic century which contained the “Fall” of Rome, this Northern area became the main center of the city’s remaining population, as the above-mentioned areas to its South became more or less abandoned.
So to keep a long story short (too late- I know), Rome began as several hills, between which were low-lying, swampy valleys. There was probably even an actual lake just about where the Colosseum is now. The early Romans had to do quite a bit of work to make these valleys more useful and less pestilential in the hot Italian summers. They drained swamps, culverted and canalized the streams beginning at about 600 B.C., finally putting the streams completely underground with the creation of one of the world's first sewer systems, the Cloaca Maxima (Great Sewer), and raised the level of the Forum and other valleys with earth and gravel.
Now, to finally answer your question:
First, and probably most important of all, until it was finally embanked in 1875, the Tiber was VERY prone to flooding, frequently inundating the low-lying areas of the City for days, especially the Velabrum, even after its ground level was further raised- after the Neronian Fire of 64 A.D. made this possible, by clearing the area of buildings. During the Empire, when Rome was home to 1.5 million people and a large Imperial infrastructure, the effects of these floods were cleaned up and repaired much as they would be now. When the city's population later shrank from 1.5 million to less than 50,000, mostly concentrated in the Campus Martius, across the Tiber from Old St. Peter's Basilica (begun approx 320 A.D. by Constantine I, the first Christian Emperor, who also moved the Capital of the Empire to Constantinople in this period, greatly diminishing the importance of the City; its decline in population can be dated from this time), which lay on the other side of the Tiber, and toward which the City eventually became oriented.
Now for Rome’s Century of Hell.
There were two bad floods between the years 398-411; in 410, the City was sacked and burned by the Ostrogoths; in 455 again by the Vandals; between the years of 408 and 508 there were THREE earthquakes, which all of Italy is prone to, and in between all this, in 476 the Western Empire collapsed completely. For the next thousand years Rome was less a thriving city in its own right than a pilgrimage destination (the Medieval form of tourism- well, that and Crusading), owing to St. Peter's Basilica, the Basilicas of St. Paul-Outside-The-Walls, Santa Maria Maggiore, St. John Lateran, and perhaps a few others. These, arguably, were the only reasons it continued as a city at all.
Now, back to the flooding- each time the low-lying areas were inundated with the river's water, a great deal of silt was left behind. The flooding also caused landslides- burying (and thus occasionally preserving) for one example, one of the first churches built in Rome, Santa Maria Antica, and as another example, the Temple of Vespasian, of which only three columns remained by the time of the landslide in question, and despite their great height, only the three capitals forming the corner of the Temple's portico and their entablature were visible above ground. Over the years also, natural processes of erosion also took their toll as silt from the hills naturally got washed down into the valleys with each rain.
On a great many Medieval and Renaissance buildings in low-lying parts of the city there can still be seen flood-markers, marble plaques on their facades, often quite high up, showing how high the water rose in the flood of such-and-such a year.
Apart from being buried, a great deal of Ancient Rome's Classical architectural heritage was, besides being damaged by earthquakes, methodically dismantled in order to re-use their dressed stone for building (look at the southern, much-less-often-photographed facade of the Colosseum for a particularly glaring example), and some buildings, such as the Theater of Marcellus and the Mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, (known today as the Castel Sant'Angelo), were converted into fortresses or fortified residences for the remaining prominent families in Rome, and usually these buildings were further added to, built on top of with the addition of upper stories, and subdivided into different dwellings.
MOST tragically of all, in my opinion, in large part, these beautiful buildings, with absolutely no regard for their incredible architectural and art-historical value, (this was, after all, in the midst of the so-called Dark Ages, where illiteracy was the norm and preservation- of “Pagan” knowledge, “Pagan” structures, except those fortunate few which were converted to Houses of Christian worship, such as the Pantheon and the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, in the Forum- pictured, to give an example of exactly how high the ground level of the Forum became by the later Medieval era, observable by the height of the church’s main entrance, which now stands in the middle of the facade, over 30 feet above the original and current ground level- and which became The Church of St Mary and the Martyrs and the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda, respectively) were simply dismantled; the gilded bronze capitals and bronze doors and roof-tiles of some of the most elaborate structures were taken and melted down solely for the value of their metal, as were Rome's many bronze statues. Marble buildings, temples with their sculptural pediment reliefs, and the HUGE number of large marble statues in Rome (it was once said that Rome had two populations of equal size- one human, and one marble) were simply broken up and burned in kilns, to make lime out of the marble, lime being a key ingredient in mortar. If Rome had NOT become buried as it did, on the other hand, we would probably not have the beautiful ancient marble sculptures that we do today- though great in number, they probably represent a fraction of what there once was.
Questioner: I hope I have answered your question to your satisfaction, and that you will forgive my digressions and loooong, parenthetical sentences. -M.P.H.