Archaeology in Rome through the photographs of Rodolfo Lanciani
As an archeologist and topographer of Rome, Lanciani lived at a very propitious time for he witnessed first-hand many of the archeological excavations taking place in the city during the so called ‘construction fever’ period between 1870 and the end of the century. During these crucial decades the city was completely transformed by the construction of entirely new neighborhoods. As Rome had just become the capital of a unified Italy, there was a pressing need to build institutional buildings as well as residential quarters for the burgeoning bureaucracy. The areas designated for this expansion were all within the circuit of the ancient Aurelian Wall, therefore occupying districts that were also inhabited during antiquity. In particular, the zones in the eastern part of the city (Pincio, Quirinale, Viminale, and Esquilino) were greatly affected by new construction and, not surprisingly, many new archeological discoveries came to light as a byproduct. As secretary of the Archaeological Commission, Lanciani was able to see and document these excavations as they were taking place. These photographs, for the most part taken by Lanciani himself, depict some very interesting discoveries made in various parts of the city: Termini, Esquilino, Ponte Elio, San Giovanni in Laterano, Porta Capena and Porta Maggiore. Perhaps the most interesting photograph is the one portraying the so called 'Boxer' at the moment of its discovery on the Quirinale. It's worth citing the words that Lanciani used to describe that discovery.
"… about a month later, a second bronze statue was dug up, under the same circumstances as related above. The discovery took place between the second and third foundation walls, at a depth of eighteen feet below the level of the platform. Being notified at once, we assembled this time on the spot and were present when only the head of the figure appeared above the ground, and consequently we could follow and study the minutest details of the discovery... The most important piece of evidence collected in witnessing and following the removal of the earth in which the masterpiece lay buried is that the statue had not been thrown in there, or buried in haste, but had been concealed and treated with the utmost care. The figure, being in a sitting posture, had been placed on a stone capital of the Doric order, as upon a stool; and the trench, which had been opened through the lower foundations of the temple of the Sun, to conceal the statue, had been filled up with sifted earth, in order to save the surface of the bronze from any possible injury. I have witnessed, in my long career in the active field of archaeology, many discoveries; I have experienced surprise after surprise: I have sometimes and most unexpectedly met with real masterpieces; but I have never felt such an extraordinary impression as the one created by the sight of this magnificent specimen of a semi - barbaric athlete, coming slowly out of the ground, as if awakening from a long repose after his gallant fights."
(R. Lanciani, Ancient Rome in Light of Recent Discoveries, 1888, p. 305–306)
Colombari near Porta Maggiore
Esquilino, Laterano and other locations
Text by Giovanni Svevo