Garden From Emperor Caligula's Reign Unearthed Near the Vatican

Recent excavations near the Vatican revealed the remains of an ancient garden that was believed to have belonged to the Roman Emperor Caligula
Garden From Emperor Caligula's Reign Unearthed Near the Vatican
According to Italy's Ministry of Culture, this find occurred during construction work at Piazza PiaShutterstock

Archaeological excavations near the Vatican revealed the remains of an ancient garden that was believed to have belonged to the notorious Roman Emperor Caligula (reigned 37-41 AD), marking a significant discovery in Rome's historic landscape. According to Italy's Ministry of Culture, this find occurred during construction work at Piazza Pia, a key section between Vatican City and Castel Sant'Angelo, as announced in a news release on July 4.

The excavation site, now part of a project to create a pedestrian piazza linking Castel Sant'Angelo to St. Peter's Basilica and Via della Conciliazione boulevard, historically housed prestigious imperial residences overlooking the Tiber River. Buried beneath the modern surface, archaeologists unearthed remnants, including a travertine wall, the foundations of a collonaded portico, and traces of an expansive garden.

Initially discovered amidst remains of a 1,700-year-old laundry facility, the focal point of the excavation became clear as researchers exposed the remains of a vast garden on the Tiber's right bank. The garden featured a promenade flanked by columns and an open area likely used for cultivating plants, offering a glimpse into ancient Roman leisure and horticulture.

The construction project at Piazza Pia is part of preparations for the Vatican's 2025 Jubilee
The construction project at Piazza Pia is part of preparations for the Vatican's 2025 JubileeShutterstock

Key to identifying the garden's owner was a lead water pipe stamped with "C(ai) Csaris Aug(usti) Germanici," corresponding to Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the formal title of Emperor Caligula. This discovery was supported by ancient texts, notably from Philo of Alexandria, describing Caligula's meetings with delegations in a garden overlooking the Tiber, separated by a monumental portico—a detail consistent with the newly uncovered site.

Further excavation also uncovered terracotta figurines bearing mythological motifs, initially crafted for roof decoration but repurposed over time as covers for sewers, likely originating from structures within the garden.

The construction project at Piazza Pia is part of preparations for the Vatican's 2025 Jubilee, a significant religious event expected to attract millions of pilgrims to Rome. With an investment of €79.5 million, including a tunnel to redirect traffic underground, the piazza's completion by December is set to enhance accessibility and celebrate Rome's rich cultural and historical heritage.

This archaeological revelation enriches our understanding of ancient Rome and underscores the city's ongoing efforts to preserve and showcase its illustrious past amidst modern development. As excavations continue to unveil treasures buried beneath centuries of history, the significance of sites like Piazza Pia in shaping Rome's narrative remains profound and captivating.

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