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ARCHAEOLOGY

Augustus’s rooms open for first time in Rome

Lavishly frescoed rooms in the houses of the Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia are opening for the first time to the public Thursday, after years of painstaking restoration.

Augustus's rooms open for first time in Rome
Visitors stand outside the House of Augustus on the Palatine hill in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The houses on Rome's Palatine hill where the emperor lived with his family are re-opening after a 2.5 million euro ($3.22 million) restoration to mark the 2,000 anniversary of Augustus's death — with previously off-limit chambers on show for the first time.

From garlands of flowers on Pompeian red backgrounds to majestic temples and scenes of rural bliss, the rooms are adorned with vividly coloured frescoes, many in an exceptional condition.

Restorers said their task had been a complex one, with bad weather during excavation threatening the prized relics of a golden era in the Eternal City.

SEE ALSO: Ten fascinating facts about Augustus

"We had to tackle a host of problems which were all connected, from underground grottos to sewers — and I'm talking about a sewer system stretching over 35 hectares (86 acres)," Mariarosaria Barbera, Rome's archaeological superintendent, told AFP.

To protect the site, tourists will have to book to join one of three daily groups of up to 20 people who will be taken around by a guide for a 15-minute visit.

Cinzia Conti, head restorer, said the plan was to allow people to enjoy "a more intimate, more attentive exploration of Augustus's spaces."

It will also mean "we restorers can keep an eye on and evaluate the consequences of the public walking through, for example the dust on their shoes and especially their breath," she said.

Augustus's decision to build his "domus" near a grotto where Romans worshipped Romulus — one of the twins who legend has it founded Rome — was no coincidence.

'A man of power'

The complex was intended to symbolise not only his power but that of his wife and advisor Livia, who is said to have wielded great influence over him and went on to play an important role in Roman politics after his death.

"Looking at the houses, the buildings he had built, we understand he was a man of power, of great strength, who knew what went into making a political man at the head of such a big empire," Conti said.

The frescoes in Livia's house in particular are one of the most important examples of the period's style, according to Barbera.

The founder of the Roman Empire was born Caius Octavius in 63 BC on the Palatine hill. The great-nephew of Julius Caesar, he was adopted as his son shortly before the latter was assassinated.

Caius Octavius went on to rule over Rome for 40 years, during which the Republic experienced an era of great wealth and relative peace.

Livia, the love of his life, was his third wife, whom he married when she was pregnant with her first husband's child. He adopted the baby, Tiberius, who would succeed him after his death.

Augustus died aged 75, after which the Senate raised him to the status of a god and appointed Livia his chief priestess.

As part of the 2,000 year celebrations, the Palatine Museum has dedicated a room to Augustus with objects connected to his life on show.

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ARCHAEOLOGY

Remains of nine Neanderthals found in Italian cave

The fossil remains of nine Neanderthal men have been found in a cave in Italy, the culture ministry announced Saturday, a major discovery in the study of our ancient cousins.

Neanderthal fossils discovered in Italy
Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

All the individuals found in the Guattari Cave in San Felice Circeo, located on the coast between Rome and Naples, are believed to be adults, although one might have been a youth.

Eight of them date to between 50,000 and 68,000 years ago, while the oldest could be 90,000 or 100,000 years old, the ministry said in a statement.

“Together with two others found in the past on the site, they bring the total number of individuals present in the Guattari Cave to 11, confirming it as one of the most significant sites in the world for the history of Neanderthal man,” the ministry said.

READ ALSO: Ancient Roman home and mosaics unearthed during Italian apartment renovation

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini hailed the find as “an extraordinary discovery which the whole world will be talking about”.

Francesco Di Mario, who led the excavation project, said it represented a Neanderthal population that would have been quite large in the area.

Local director of anthropology Mario Rubini said the discovery will shed “important light on the history of the peopling of Italy”.

“Neanderthal man is a fundamental stage in human evolution, representing the apex of a species and the first human society we can talk about,” he said.

The findings follow new research begun in October 2019 into the Guattari
Cave, which was found by accident by a group of workers in February 1939.

On visiting the site shortly afterwards, paleontologist Albert Carlo Blanc made a stunning find – a well-preserved skull of a Neanderthal man.

The cave had been closed off by an ancient landslide, preserving everything inside as a snapshot in time that is slowly offering up its secrets.

Recent excavations have also found thousands of animal bones, notably those
of hyenas and the prey they are believed to have brought back to the cave to eat or store as food.

There are remains of large mammals including elephant, rhinoceros, giant deer, cave bear, wild horses and aurochs – extinct bovines.

“Many of the bones found show clear signs of gnawing,” the ministry statement said.

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