The Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis reopens to the public next year, following excavation works that have lasted two years and which have made it possible to unite the two sectors of the burial ground, previously separated. The necropolis, which extends from the north-easterly part of the Vatican hill, covers an area of 1,000 square metres (0.25 acres) containing tombs, mosaics, mouldings and frescoes, which date from the first century before Christ to the fourth century of our era.
The extension of the areas of the necropolis that may be visited by the public is the result of excavation works carried out by the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities of the Vatican Museums, generously funded by the Canada Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts, an international community of benefactors which has for three decades “adopted” and given economic support to projects for the conservation, restoration and appreciation of the treasures of the Vatican Museums.
During the works, the central area of the Necropolis was investigated and an ancient path excavated, uniting the two previously divided sectors, and bringing to light a zone intended for cremations (ustrino), which is rarely conserved in a complex of this type. It is characterised by two superimposed layers of baked clay and earth deposits, with fragments of charcoal and burnt pine cones, used to light the pyre. The grave goods accompanying the deceased are conserved in two recently installed display cabinets, while a third illustrates the most recent excavations, using a stratographic archaeological method, showing a synthetic panorama of the sections excavations carried out since 1956, the year in which the necropolis was discovered.
The tombs belong mostly to freemen or common people, such as Alcimus, slave of Nero and scene painter for the theatre of Pompey, or Tiberius Claudius Optatus, an imperial bookkeeper. The necropolis, as explained by Giandomenico Spinola, director of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities of the Vatican Museums, was “multi-ethnic”, in that people of Asiatic and Palestinian origin were also buried there, as is revealed by the inscriptions on the tombstones.
Thanks to the new display itinerary, including walkways and a multimedia installation, visitors accompanied by a guide may admire small mausoleums, sarcophagi, statues and bas-reliefs. The director of the Vatican Museums, Professor Antonio Paolucci, explained that “The aim is to create an excavation laboratory, open to the public. A place where people are able to view the area and the works while they are being carried out”.