Great Infrastructure and Archaeology: Italy Looking to the Future Also Rediscovers Its Past

From North to South, excavations for railways, roads, and subways allow for the recovery of extraordinary artifacts and the opening of real museums.

The excavation works for the construction of the high-speed railway between Naples and Bari continue, and the ground yields extraordinary discoveries, as has happened in Avellino, where important archaeological evidence has been unearthed. The exceptional find occurred during the construction of the technical areas serving the excavation front of the Grottaminarda Tunnel, in the homonymous municipality, a crucial construction site of the new railway line, in the Apice-Irpinia section.

The Webuild Group, engaged in the construction of this section, in coordination with RFI (Italian Rail Network) and under the scientific direction of the state authority for Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape for the provinces of Salerno and Avellino, is bringing to light archaeological evidence of great value. These findings are attributable to a burial area which, from the available data, has been in use since at least the 4th century BC. It is characterized by the presence of so-called “cappuccina” tombs, with double-sloped tile coverings, and simple earth pits, with the buried individuals accompanied by finely crafted ceramic and metal objects.

The site is also yielding important traces of prehistoric and protohistoric occupation, evidenced by tumuli, ditches, and flint material, likely indicating a settlement located on a terrace of the Ufita River.

Throughout the country, from North to South, Webuild is involved in 10 infrastructure projects that are affected by archaeological discoveries, including the Line C of the Rome Metro, which is certainly the most striking, with the creation of museum stations at San Giovanni (already open) and at the three stations currently under construction (Porta Metronia, Colosseo-Fori Imperiali, Venezia).

Ancient Roman walls placed in Milan’s Metro 4 stations

In case of archaeological findings, their management and enhancement are always overseen by Webuild in collaboration with the local cultura heritage authority. During the construction works of the M4 metro line, unexpected discoveries were made in the heart of Milan. Monumental testimonies of the city’s defensive system, built from the 12th-13th century onwards after the city’s destruction by Frederick I, appeared, sometimes unexpectedly. The site archaeologists, under the direction of the heritage authority, unearthed five structures between via De Amicis and piazza Resistenza Partigiana, also made with numerous stone blocks recovered from Roman buildings, including the Milan amphitheater, demolished from the late ancient period onwards.

The discovery was followed by a project – shared and authorized by the Superintendence of Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape for the metropolitan city of Milan – for the recovery and enhancement of the monumental structures: some will be relocated in the park near the amphitheater, while a stretch of the Naviglio embankment will find a place in a space dedicated to the atrium level of De Amicis Station on Line 4 of the metro.

Also unexpected was the discovery made in largo Augusto: during the dismantling operations of the Verziere column, surmounted by the statue of Christ the Redeemer – temporarily moved for the execution of the works – an older column was revealed inside it, perhaps the ‘rough column’ mentioned by historians and perhaps the one to which the Milanese, at the time of the plague recounted by Manzoni, addressed their prayers.

In Milan, as elsewhere in Italy and according to current regulations, archaeological investigation activities are directed by the competent heritage authority, in order to protect and enhance the immense cultural heritage preserved underground.

The archaeological sites from Piedmont to Sicily, a history of discoveries and findings

Moving to the Lower Piedmont, where Webuild is constructing the Third Giovi Pass for high-speed rail between Genoa and Milan, traces of settlement, settlements, and infrastructure (road layouts and aqueduct sections) and burials have been found from protohistory to modern times. In the Cascina Romanellotta quarry, in the municipality of Pozzolo Formigaro (province of Alessandria), a Roman villa was discovered, covering an area of 1,500 square meters. Near the municipality of Arquata Scrivia, still in Alessandria, sections of roads dating from the Middle Ages to the modern age were found, along with contexts indicating occupation of the area in pre-Roman times.

In particular, structures identifiable as huts and probable metalworking furnaces dating from the Copper Age were found; among the findings are also numerous movable artifacts (especially ceramic fragments and a Neolithic stone bracelet fragment).

In Veneto, during the construction of the Verona-Padua high-speed rail line, among other things, bronze coins were found – including an as struck by the Rome mint under Emperor Hadrian -, two cinerary urns, 18 burials from the 3rd century AD, two incineration necropolises, one dating between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD and one ascribable to the early imperial era, an inhumation necropolis from the 3rd – 4th centuries AD, and a building from the 2nd – 3rd centuries AD and a residential complex pertaining to the phases of the territory’s Romanization. Furthermore, in the municipality of Verona, a paved road was identified.

Descending to the Marche region, in the Quadrilatero Marche – Umbria construction sites, between Fabriano and Muccia, numerous discoveries were made (in 22 different construction areas) indicating human presence since the Upper Paleolithic. Still from the prehistoric era, significant findings include structures of a Neolithic settlement, while regarding the Iron Age, several settlements and necropolises were brought to light. Spread throughout the extent of the construction site are also Roman-era findings, including 6 roads, 2 aqueducts, 3 rural villas with production facilities, and 4 necropolis areas.

In the province of Naples (in the municipality of Pozzuoli), however, in the area concerning the works between the two Pozzuoli and Cicerone tunnels of the Cumana Railway, both archaeological surveys and conservative consolidation works of the emerged artifacts are currently being carried out, dating back to the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 1st century BC.

Further south, in the construction sites of the State Road 106 Jonica, preventive archaeological investigations have yielded several findings related to settlement phases dating mostly from the Protohistoric era to the Hellenistic-Roman period. On these areas, the archaeological superintendent has prescribed further investigation, partly completed to date and partly ongoing. Among the various findings, a stretch of a Roman canal and a circular-shaped post-medieval furnace and other structures from the same chronological horizon, such as a water mill, are noteworthy.

And finally, Sicily, where within the works of the Catania-Palermo High Capacity Railway line, an ancient road layout was found under the current SS192. Along the edge of the roadway towards Catania, at a depth of about 120 centimeters, a segment of an ancient road layout about 10 meters long and 4.4 meters wide emerged, made with local irregular stones and rocks, sealed by a sedimentary layer mixed with ceramic and metallic fragments (from the 8th/9th century AD to the 18th century AD).