Cave May Hold Secrets to Legend of Ancient Rome
Corrado Giambalvo/Associated Press
At Rome’s Capitoline Museums, a statue depicts a wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the city’s legendary founders.
By PETER KIEFER
Published: November 21, 2007
Nov. 20 — Italian archaeologists have inched closer to unearthing the
secrets behind one of Western civilization’s most enduring
Italian Culture Ministry, via European Pressphoto Agency
A photo taken by a camera probe of mosaics in a Roman cavern.
Italian government on Tuesday released the first images of a deep
cavern where some archaeologists believe that ancient Romans honored
Romulus and Remus — the legendary founders of Rome.
The cavern, now
buried 50 feet under the ruins of the palace of Emperor Augustus on the
Palatine Hill, is about 23 feet high and 21 feet in diameter.
Photographs taken by a camera probe show a domed cavern decorated with
extremely well-preserved colored mosaics and seashells. At its center
is a painted white eagle, a symbol of the Roman empire.
reasonably be the place bearing witness to the myth of Rome,” Francesco
Rutelli, Italy’s culture minister, said Tuesday at a news conference in
Rome at which a half dozen photographs were displayed.
concerns Lupercal, the mythical cave where Romulus and Remus — the sons
of the god Mars who were abandoned by the banks of the Tiber — were
discovered by a female wolf who suckled them until they were found and
reared by a shepherd named Faustulus. The brothers are said to have
founded Rome in 753 B.C. The legend culminates in fratricide, when
Romulus kills his twin in a power struggle.
The cave later became
a sacred location where the priests of Lupercus, a pastoral god,
celebrated ceremonies until A.D. 494, when Pope Gelasius I ended the
The cave was discovered in January by Irene Iacopi, the
archaeologist in charge of Palatine Hill, which abuts the Roman Forum
and the Coliseum. It was found during restoration work on the palace of
Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, after workers took core samples that
alerted them to the presence of a cave.
“This is one of the most
important discoveries of all time,” said Andrea Carandini, a prominent
Italian archaeologist. He has long held that the myths of ancient Rome
could be true. He said he derived added satisfaction from the cave’s
“The fact that this sanctuary is under the lower part of
the house of Augustus is significant because Augustus was a kind of
Romulus himself who refounded Rome — and he did it in the place where
Romulus had been,” he said.
Experts said the positioning of the
cave, at the base of a hill between the Temple of Apollo and the Church
of St. Anastasia, could prove problematic for excavation because of the
risk of further collapse.
“We will continue the work with very much caution,” Ms. Iacopi said.