Oldest Roman Temple Unearthed ... for 3 Days

Likely dedicated to goddess Fortuna

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 30, 2014 6:19 AM CST

(Newser) – Archaeologists digging in the heart of Rome unearthed what may be the oldest temple to be built in the Eternal City, but don't get your hopes up about visiting the ancient structure. Its foundation sits well below the water line and was only visible for three days. Archaeologists from the University of Michigan teamed up with local archaeology officials to excavate the site, near the Sant'Omobono church, which is close to where the Tiber River once created a natural harbor for merchant ships. The temple, likely dedicated to the goddess Fortuna and constructed sometime in or after the 7th century BC, would have acted as "a free trade zone and the goddess is supposed to guarantee the fairness of the trade," the co-director of the project told NPR.

It would have been one of the first things traders from Cyprus, Lebanon, and Egypt saw when they pulled into Rome's harbor, but getting to it in the present day wasn't so easy—in fact, it was "mission impossible," according to one archaeologist. The team had to drill a hole 15 feet deep and hold back the wet soil with sheets of metal. "You're in a very deep hole, and although you know in theory that the sheeting is going to hold everything up, there is a primal part of your brain that tells you to get out of there, if the walls come closing in there's not going to be any way out for you," the co-director said. Though the foundation-revealing hole had to be closed up for security reasons after 3 days, archaeologists say the find helps unwrap Rome's many layers of history.

The foundation of the temple of Fortuna, visible for only three days during excavations.   (Sant'Omobono Project)
Members of the excavation team in a 15-foot hole below the water line.   (Sant'Omobono Project)
The excavation site at Sant'Omobono in central Rome.   (Sant'Omobono Project)
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