London - In Rome, you never know what you find underneath your home once you start digging. For Enrico Gasbarra, President of the Provincial Administration of Rome, his curiosity to find what Roman treasures might be hiding in underground spaces below his office headquarters, the Valentini Palace, has resulted in one of the most exciting finds of recent years in the ancient city.
Presenting the result of two years of excavations at the World Travel Market (WTM) fair in London Wednesday, Gasbarra described the discovery of a splendid and affluent Roman home (domus) directly underneath his offices as the "final jewel" in the array of historical treasures his administration has to offer.
More than 187 lorry loads of waste and rubble, including office debris and old photocopying machines, had to be removed from the "trash dump" in the courtyard of the Valentini Palace to reveal a new archaeological site consisting of splendid rooms, marbled baths and exquisite mosaics.
"Of course, in a city like Rome it is not unusual to make such discoveries, but this find is of extreme historical significance," Gasbarra said in London.
"It shows that, at the time of the Roman Republic, this area was the political centre, as it is today, where senators and judges lived who worked nearby," he added.
"It was a bit like the Washington of its day," Gasbarra said about the find, which is 300 metres away from the Roman Forum.
With the expert assistance of Piero Angela, Italy's foremost writer and commentator on archaeology, and the help of engineers, historians, archaeologists and computer experts, a museum space of 1,200 square metres has been created underground, linked by a pathway to the Roman Forum into which visitors will be discharged at the end of their tour.
"It is the magic of the cave, of darkness and light that makes this site a special experience," Angela said in London.
With the help of graphical reconstruction and advanced computer technology the visitor will be taken on a virtual reality tour, marvelling at the ancient finds below through a glass floor while reconstructions of the original rooms are being projected onto the walls of the museum.
Film projectors and cameras have been "hidden" throughout the structure to reflect images of what the villa would have looked like in Roman times.
"Visitors will walk over the recovered remains as the ancient domus comes back to life before their eyes," Angela said.
"You enter a virtual reality atmosphere where the smells and sounds of the time, and the virtual structures, will be recreated to give you an extremely exact idea of what it was like," he added.
Only small groups of visitors will be allowed into the museum at any given time after it opens on December 20.
For Gasbarra, the new finds and their reunification with the ancient urban spaces simply are a "new reason to visit Rome at Christmas."