The dark Roman quarry turned into an underground museum

May 27, 2022 344

When, in the 1920s, farmers on the Via Appia Antica in Rome in search of a space for garden produce opened the doors of that sort of bunker they found, by lamplight, wheelbarrows, pickaxes, work benches, sacks of bricks and a cool, humid temperature. Those constant 17 degrees that guaranteed the optimal environment in summer and winter for growing mushrooms, Champignons and Pleus to be precise.

And so it was that until the 1980s, that Roman quarry (from imperial times to the end of the empire) of pozzolana for concrete, which had provided the bricks for Renaissance palaces and until 1920 for the houses of the Esquiline umbertino and post-unification, became a mushroom farm. Then oblivion, vandals, and darkness again.

Until those 35 kilometers of tunnels (five kilometers in length and one kilometer in width), still etched with the picks of the workers, saw the light again (out of metaphor). After two years, including permissions, cleaning, securing, connections to water and power, slowdowns due to Covid and set-up, the Sotterranei di Roma association, which manages it, has rekindled the quarry in the Appia Antica Park and on Saturday it will officially become a museum, the Underground Museum in the Appia Antica Roman Quarry.

The museum in the quarry, which aims to "represent how the Romans used the underground over time," is not exactly a museum as we are used to seeing them. First of all, it is underground, then it can be visited by bicycle.

Among the tunnels of the quarry, among working objects of all kinds, perhaps the one that deserves highlighting is the dolabra, a two-pronged tool that was used as an excavation tool. "The whole quarry was made with the dolabra." Not just reenactment. A bit of the whole quarry is a path of discovery of what can happen underground. There are even rocks that collapsed in the 2016 Amatrice earthquake.

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