Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Feb. 2004

he Port of Roman Naples

The palimpsest nature of urban Naples has been made even more evident by the recent discovery (January 2004) of the ancient port of Roman Naples. They have always known it was down there somewhere. It was just about where reconstructions of the city as it was during the first century a.d. had presumed it to be, right beneath what is now Piazza Municipio (photo), adjacent to the Angevin Fortress, the Maschio Angioino, 100 yards or so in from the modern coastline and way down beneath the man-made landfill and rubble of 2000 years of history and the natural accumulation of 2000 years of mudslides and other geology.

Construction for the Piazza Municipio station of the new underground train line had already unearthed more recent items, bits of structures that were plowed under in the 1890s to rebuild the square; then they found the old (meaning 400 years) outer walls of the nearby fortress. Now, beneath all that, archaeologists have brought to light a 30–foot Roman vessel and abundant pottery, sure signs that this was the Roman port. The expectation had been that they would find something sooner or later as the subway builders continued to dig and move east along the line of the old Roman (and Greek) wall. The next station down the line at Piazza Nicola Amore, still under construction, has now yielded the remains of an impressive imperial villa, the site of the Roman Isolympic Games.

Obviously, there is much left to be uncovered. This leaves archaeologists ecstatic; people who have to get to and from work, however, have mixed feelings. They are already impatient with subway construction that is months, even years, behind schedule. Workers doing the actual building of the new train line are also uncertain about this turn of events; whenever history and the needs of the modern city come into conflict, as they do quite often in Naples, those who dig and build generally have to stand aside and lean on the their shovels until the archaeologists get finished mumbling and cataloging. In the case of a 30-foot wooden boat that has to be delicately excavated, at least some workers may be sent home —laid off— for a while.

[Also see The Ancient Port of Neapolis]  

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