Amateur cavers map network of passages built by Roman emperor at Tivoli to keep slaves, oxen and victuals below stairs
One of the ‘service’ tunnels beneath Hadrian’s Villa, built in the 2nd century as an imperial escape from Rome. Photograph: Marco Placidi
– Hadrian’s villa tunnels explored as cavers drop down into hidden city (Guardian Aug 20, 2013):
Amateur cavers have mapped a vast network of tunnels underneath Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome, leading archaeologists to radically revise their views of one of ancient Rome’s most imposing imperial retreats.
Lowering themselves through light shafts found in fields around the 120-hectare (296-acre) site, local speleologists have charted more than a mile of road tunnels – passages where, in the second century, oxen pulled carts loaded with luxury foods for banquets and thousands of slaves scurried from palace to palace, well out of sight of the emperor.
“These tunnels lead us to understand that Hadrian’s Villa was organised less like a villa and more like a city,” said Benedetta Adembri, the director of the site, who is planning, in the autumn, to open stretches of the tunnels to the public for the first time.
Never an emperor to do things by half – his idea of homeland security was to build a wall across the top of England – Hadrian built his country hideaway near modern-day Tivoli to escape the noise and crowds of Rome, but managed to take half the city with him.
Archaeologists have identified 30 buildings, including palaces, thermal baths, a theatre and libraries, as well as gardens and dozens of fountains.
“We think the villa covered up to 250 hectares but we still don’t know the limits,” said Abembri.