“Rome is like Kuwait,” says archaeologist Marco Mancini. “In Kuwait, no matter where you dig, you hit oil. In Rome, you hit historical treasure. It is not a city - it is a museum.”
We are at the famous Trevi Fountain, although there are none of the crowds you usually associate with this most famous of Rome’s landmarks. That is because we are deep underneath, admiring the remains of a massive water tank built by the Ancient Romans at the end of the aqueducts that supplied water to their city. The same water from the hills 100km away continues to feed the Trevi Fountain above us – although the water in here now hums through stainless steel pipes rather than the concrete ones of Roman times.
“We still live in a Roman world,” says Marco. “They invented concrete, and they perfected the arch – the basis of modern bridges and buildings.” It was such innovation that allowed the construction of the seven aqueducts that fed into this cool underground chamber, where an ancient flushing toilet is only one of the surprising sights.
The water may now have disappeared into modern pipework but Marco is in his element. A face darkened by the many months of the year he spends on digs in the Middle East and Asia – he keeps breaking off conversations to answers phone calls in Arabic or arrange flights to Georgia – becomes passionate when he runs a hand over ancient marble.
“Rome is the world’s most important archaeological site because history here has never stopped,” he says. “It was the capital of the monarchy, the Republic, the Roman Empire, then the Catholic Church and now of Italy. In Athens, history stopped from Roman times until the 19th century; you find the Roman level at six meters. In Rome it is at 18 meters. On top of history, there is always a new work in progress.”
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