Cinzia Dal Maso Center for Public Archaeology Studies ‘Archeostorie’,
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A crowd of Romans celebrated the opening of the San Giovanni station of the city’s Metro Line C. An ‘archaeological’ station showcasing the results of the excavations, layer after layer, as we descend deeper and deeper underground and go back in time. When archaeology reaches out to the people, it is, indeed, public archaeology.

Dal Maso, C. 2018. San Giovanni Metro C Station in Rome: an archaeological feast for everyone. Archeostorie. Journal of Public Archaeology. 2: pp. 153-154.

CC BY 4.0 © The author(s). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

On the opening day, April 2, 2017, the long line at the entrance of the new Metro Line C station revealed that something important was going on down there. Archaeology was on display: actually, it was public archaeology, the one that truly knows how to leave its usual sites and meet people on their daily commute. The San Giovanni station is a veritable exhibition space – a display of both itself and of the items found during construction. An amazing experience, a real ‘journey through history’ and deep down the Roman underground, as stated in large letters at the turnstiles. Are you ready? Let’s go down.

Descending the station’s stairways is a journey in space and time: the deeper we get, the further back in history we go. In almost 30 meters of stratigraphy we can trace the entire history of the area back to the prehistoric swamps. It is a truly new and unique experience, which makes this Rome station different from any other metro in the world, be it Paris or Athens, Naples or Berlin. A team of architects from La Sapienza University, directed by Andrea Grimaldi and Filippo Lambertucci, has covered all the station walls with glass panels unravelling the story of the place. Different colours are used for the different stages of the journey through time and space, and the history of the site is constantly compared with the larger history of Rome. Too much information, perhaps, but San Giovanni is a popular and busy station, and it may well happen that, by glancing at its captions every day, regular passers-by will eventually remember at least the major historical milestones.

The artifacts are both displayed in cases and reproduced on the panels in larger-than-life images. The ground (‘atrium’) floor showcases modern pottery items from the 16th century onwards; they belonged to the Hospital of San Giovanni and were thrown there in a dump. There are also fragments of ancient marbles reused in modern buildings. “But what about security?” “How long will the glass cases last?” Questions like these are repeatedly asked, and architect Grimaldi seraphically answers: “Beauty educates people.” The admiration for beauty, and the resulting knowledge, are the best antidote against vandalism. And, at any rate, the area is entirely video-surveilled.

At the lower ‘corrispondenza’ floor, traces of a farm from the 1st century AD have been discovered, such as a large pool for the collection and redistribution of water with a huge amount of amphorae and pipes. The position of the pool, now obviously destroyed, is clearly marked on the floor, and the artifacts found there are all displayed in the cases. There are many bricks engraved with the inscription ‘TL’, proving that the structure must have been a single agricultural estate. In front of that case, a lady elaborately explains the function and use of the brick stamps in ancient Rome to the friend who is with her. How wonderful! Other people are attracted by the vases used for plant cuttings, or by the ancient pitchforks, or by the architectural decorations in terracotta. And then everyone, without exceptions, admires rings, coins, a gem, bone and orichalcum objects, and all those organic finds that the marshland has preserved: baskets, a leather sole, an arrowhead still tied to its wooden rod. And then lots of seeds, including peach pits, a plant that arrived in Rome from the East just in the 1st century BC. “Peaches are here” are the words that stand out on a wall; “Let’s hope trains are here soon, too!” comments a man.

Yes, because the Metro Line C trains will reach the San Giovanni station only in fall 2018. They will run 30 meters underground in tunnels at the deepest level, along platforms whose walls are covered by the typical vegetation of the Pleistocene marshes. The purpose of the special opening of April 2017 was that of showing that, after ten years of works and six of delays, the station is there – and it is awesome. The people who attended the inauguration were interested not only in archaeology, but in the station itself. Archeology was the main reason of attraction, though, because the underground of Rome cradles wonderful artifacts even in an area where urban planning was, apparently, poor, and because the evidence of ancient daily life makes us feel close to those long gone. Most importantly, in the San Giovanni station everyone has access to archaeology, even people who are not there to ride the train and so do not go through the turnstiles: there the past fully becomes present daily life, stratigraphy becomes a physical experience more than a cognitive one, and we feel entirely part of the layers of history. Just as we, here at Archeostorie, like it. Long life, therefore, to the San Giovanni station! We look forward to many other metro stations like this one.

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Andriani, C. 2017. Stazione San Giovanni della Metro C a Roma. L’industria delle costruzioni. 455: pp. 62-71.