Challenging Testaccio Project

Urban Landscape History of a Roman Rione

In 2011, the KNIR and the SSBAR (Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma) launched a major project of research and valorisation on the Roman neighbourhood of Testaccio.

Modern Testaccio is an urban landscape in flux, which poses major challenges to its built heritage, especially when viewed in its broadest sense, including Classical monuments as well as industrial buildings and ‘palazzi’. How can the tensions between heritage management and urban renewal be resolved? Can history and heritage contribute to sustainable social and economic development? These and other questions are central to the Testaccio project.

The project brings together researchers from Italy, the Netherlands and other countries, working, amongst others, on the creation of a Spatial Data Infrastructure, archival research, archaeological excavations and urban design. The final aim is to investigate the urban landscape as a palimpsest of closely interwoven histories and to study how these can be integrated into the modern city.

An important element of the Testaccio project is the excavation of the ‘Porticus Aemilia’, which the KNIR has initiated in 2011 in close collaboration with the Archaeological Service of Rome (SSBAR). The so-called ‘Porticus Aemilia’ was one of the largest buildings (487 by 60 meters) of the Roman Empire. Some of its mural remains still reach up to 6 meters in height and are presently enclosed by modern apartment buildings. Notwithstanding the remarkable size and monumentality of the ancient building, not much is known about its function or its diachronic development. Furthermore, although it is generally assumed that the remains which are still standing can be identified as the famous Porticus Aemilia built in the early second century BC, this has never been confirmed archaeologically.

From a scientific perspective, the excavation aims at contextualising these monumental remains from the moment of construction until today. Although the (original) function and dating of this building have recently been subjects of some fierce discussions, not much data is available to substantiate different points of view. Therefore, the objective of these excavations is to provide archaeological data that can contribute to gaining some insight into the history of use of the ‘Porticus Aemilia’. Furthermore, the excavations are aimed at contributing actively to unlocking the archaeological heritage of the modern Testaccio district, both through educational programs and through the integration of this heritage in urban regeneration schemes.

Research team:
Gert-Jan Burgers, VU – Project director
Renato Sebastiani, SSBAR – Project director
Raphaëlle-Anne Kok-Merlino, KNIR – Field director Porticus Aemilia excavation
Matteo Merlino, KNIR – Field director Porticus Aemilia excavation
Corine Tetteroo, KNIR – Field assistant Porticus Aemilia excavation
Sara Della Ricca, SSBAR – Field director Porticus Aemilia excavation
Valerio De Leonardis, SSBAR – Field director Porticus Aemilia excavation
Franco Tella, SSBAR – Field director Porticus Aemilia excavation
Evelyne Bukowiecki, SSBAR – Structure specialist
Sarah Della Giustina, SSBAR – Graphics Porticus Aemilia excavation
Alessia Contino, SSBAR – Pottery analysis & laboratory Porticus Aemilia excavation
Lucilla D’Alessandro, SSBAR – Pottery analysis & laboratory Porticus Aemilia excavation
Maurice de Kleijn, SPINlab/VU – Spatial Data Infrastructure
Niels van Manen, SPINlab/VU – Spatial Data Infrastructure
Teresa Demauro, Bari University – Valorisation project Porticus Aemilia
Irma De Ceglis, Bari University – Valorisation project Porticus Aemilia
Boudewijn Kaiser – Valorization project Porticus Aemilia
Krien Clevis – Art photography project Porticus Aemilia

Funding and involved institutes:

VU University (Amsterdam): SPINlab, research institute CLUE

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Italy