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Monday, 16 April, 2001, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
Ancient Roman wall collapses
The collapsed Aurelian Wall
The wall's collapse is under investigation
A section of a third century wall originally built to protect ancient Rome from attack has collapsed after a heavy rain storm on Easter Sunday.

A six-metre high section of the Aurelian Wall between the two ancient gates of Porta Latina and Porta St Sebasstiano was reduced to a pile of rubble on Sunday evening.

The rain probably had something to do with it but it cannot have been the only reason for the collapse

Eugenio La Rocca
No-one was injured but thousands of tourists had earlier visited the site on the southern outskirts of the city.

An emergency session of Rome city council said the wall would be reconstructed but ruled the area would remain closed to the public until a detailed technical investigation had been carried out.

The last restoration of the section of the wall which collapsed took place 400 years ago.

Eugenio La Rocca, archaeological expert for Rome city council, said the collapse could have been caused by a variety of factors: "The rain probably had something to do with it but it cannot have been the only reason for the collapse. We'll need some time to find out the real causes."

Barbarian invasions

The Aurelian Wall dates back to the end of the third century, when Rome was threatened with invasion by barbarians from northern Italy.

The Emperor Aurelius ordered the wall to be built around a much larger area of the city than the previous walls of Rome.

Large sections of the wall, which surrounded the city are still in existence.

Six metres high and three and a half metres thick, it originally had guard towers every 30m or so.

Archaeologists who examined the damaged part of the wall said the workmanship was not perfect. It lacked mortar, proof that it was erected hastily to fend off an imminent attack.

The imposing walls of Rome had too many gaps to be effective, even in ancient times.

The city was sacked on several occasions by armies, which either broke through its many gates, or bribed their way in.

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