Rome's Secret Gems Revealed

Rome just celebrated its 2,761st birthday and keeps on spilling out its ancient clues and secrets. The city was founded near the Palatine Hill by twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who, according to legend, were nurtured by a wolf in its den.

The Lupercale, as is it is known, came to be a place of pagan worship for the earliest Romans. Last year an Italian archaeologist claimed that he had discovered a den, 50 feet under the Palatine. Still unexcavated, a camera was dropped down through a hole to reveal the domed chamber decorated with shells and mosaics.

Experts have disputed the claim, but all agree that archaeological treasures are always unearthed and ancient secrets revealed anytime anyone digs below Rome's surface.

The ancient artifacts often leave the experts guessing as to their purpose and origin. Historians must piece together the puzzle of these long-hidden historical finds.

Trudge through the woods on the Janiculum Hill overlooking modern Rome, and you will see the little-known Syriaic Sanctuary. It is believed to have been a place of dark worship of the demon goddess Furrina. This site -- discovered 100 years ago --- contained skulls without teeth or lower jaws.

Look Out Below

Behind the humble gate of a garage and past a small metal door just off Via Salaria is a subterranean monument covered with frescoes and mosaics known as the Livenza Hypgeum. The scenes depicted here have been a mystery to scholars -- one theory is that it was a place of worship for the Baptai -- those immersed in water. The cult was known for its debauchery and orgies.

Ancient pagan temples of worship known as mithraeums, where the followers of Mithras gathered, can be found unexpectedly deep down under Rome's well-trafficked streets.

Pass through a modern government building near the famous Bocca della Verita tourist site and find a hidden entrance to a mithraeum under the Circus Maximus, ancient Rome's largest stadium, where chariot races took place.

The most famous mithraeum is deep in the lowest chamber of the church of St. Clemente. You can still glimpse the sacrificial altars and painted symbols of two millenniums ago. The religion, which competed for influence with Christianity in the first three centuries, became fashionable to the elite of ancient Rome for a while.

Some of Rome's underground secrets have nothing to do with the occult or ancient religions, but have remained hidden for centuries.

Not far from Rome's famous Campo dei Fiori Market is an underground pool that was once the tomb of a trusted lieutenant of Caesar. It was flooded when the Tiber River was diverted and is now covered by the huge Renaissance Palazzo Cancelleria. It can be visited only with permission from the Vatican, which owns the building.

The 8,000-year-old Obelisk of Psammethicus II still stands in front of the Italian parliament building, its ancient significance all but forgotten by the hundreds who pass it each day. The 60-foot spire was once a sundial built in the center of a huge piazza laid out in such a way that the shadows cast were prophetic to the emperor and his rule.

The only remains of the square's ancient function are buried deep under the parliament building. It is reached from a small courtyard by means of a ladder, where you can descend 25 feet underground to see a small piece of the original marble structure.

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