Monday, March 19, 2007

Villa discovered in district frequented by Marcus Aurelius

The discovery of sections a Roman villa at Castel di Guido on the Via Aurelia, roughly 10 km outside Rome’s ring road has now been officially confirmed. The villa, which dates back to the second or third century AD, is part of a district called Lorium (la Bottaccia on a modern map), historically known as the first stop on the consular Via Aurelia, and where emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) lived for a period.

So far, walls delimiting the thermal area of the villa have been uncovered, while the caldarium and fridigarium, the latter with an almost perfectly preserved and superbly decorated mosaic floor depicting Medusa heads at its four corners, a marble pool and nymphaeum, have been totally excavated.

Further excavations conducted by archaeologists from La Sapienza and Foggia universities who originally worked on the site, will begin again in July when it is hoped to discover the full extent and historical importance of the villa.

Hippodrome starting gate discovered at Colchester

THE final piece in the archaeological jigsaw that is Colchester's Roman Circus has been found by excavators, the EADT can reveal.

The location of the 12 gates that released the competitors into frenetic and often violent chariot races was discovered near the sergeants' mess building in the former Colchester Garrison at Abbey Field.

These would have operated in the same way as greyhound traps, unleashing the charioteers on to the quarter-mile long opening stretch of the track.

With four horses at the head of each chariot, on full races there would have been 48 steeds pounding around the circuit, which is the only one ever to be found in the UK.

Foundations of the circus were first located in late 2004 when archaeologists were conducting digs at Abbey Field, prior to the construction of new housing.

Masada fresco restoration project completed

"The frescoes on the Northern Massada Palace were discovered during extensive archaeological excavations headed by Prof. Ygael Yadin in the sixties. It was a very exciting find at the time, because these frescoes were cutting edge in Roman design, same as in Rome itself or in Pompeii."

Ze'ev Margalit, an architect for the Israel Nature and National Parks Protections Authority, observed, "For 40 years, the frescoes had been preserved through then-modern techniques, but they had deteriorated terribly over time to a point where they might have been utterly ruined."

Before the current project began, the paintings were removed from the walls, put on fiberglass slabs and returned after being sealed in glass to protect them.

"This preservation technique turned out to be disastrous. The damage sustained during the past 40 years has been greater than that of the previous two millennia. The frescoes were crumbling," Margalit recounts.

To save the frescoes of the Northern Palace, the INNPPA launched the restoration project three years ago with funding from the ministries of finance, environment, tourism, industry, trade and education. The Israeli UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) committee also participated in the project, along with the Dead Sea Water Authority. The Antiquities Authority then issued an international tender that resulted in Tagliapietra's involvement.

After much deliberation, the archaeologists decided not to return the ruined frescoes to the site after they had been restored. "This wasn't an easy decision," says Margalit. "In renovation projects we always prefer to keep the articles at the original site, but the damage was just too extensive."

The frescoes were put into a special renovation laboratory built at the bottom of the Massada complex. Most are to remain in the new museum built at the site, which will soon be opened to the public. However, some of the frescoes were returned to the palace's southern wall, which is less exposed to damaging sunlight.

"We decided to replace the frescoes removed from the palace with replicas in order to return the color into the palace," says Orit Borbnik, conservation manager at the INNPPA. "These are exact copies prepared with the same techniques that were used on the original pieces during the times of Herod the Great," she adds.

At the start of the renovation process, the wall was perfectly aligned and then coated with several layers of whitewash. Then, rough plaster was applied and completed with a final layer of fine plaster. The frescoes were then drawn on the finest layer while the plaster was still moist, so the color would be fixed into it.

"This is how the color survives for 2,000 years," explains Margalit. The patterns themselves were sketched out on the walls by Tagliapietra using pieces of string to outline the borders of the fresco.

The paint was prepared from the same products used for the original painting. Yellow, for example, came from semi-solidified egg yolk. Earth, milk, resin and other natural pigments were used to produce other colors.

Leeds building "Scent of Rome" garden

A CORNER of Ancient Rome is being lovingly recreated in Leeds as the centrepiece of a special garden. Expert stonemasons are busy chipping away at Leeds City Council's nurseries at Red Hall to lay the foundations for the city's Roman-themed entry to this year's Chelsea Flower Show.

The council's Scent of a Roman entry draws its inspiration from archaeological and historical evidence that Leeds was home to a Roman settlement.

Locally-sourced materials have been used to reconstruct Roman splendour in West Yorkshire.

The design relies on both the hard features and the plants to appear mature, with particular emphasis on the paths, columns. stonework, mosaic and altar.

One of the key features of the garden will be a stone grotto, which will draw the visitor towards a seeping, mossy wall. Within this will be a Yorkshire stone altar, used for worship and prayer.

The design includes plant species that were introduced to Britain by the Romans for their scent and for their uses in cooking and medicine. Other native Yorkshire species will be interspersed with the Roman plants.