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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 09:59 GMT
Vatican car park angers archaeologists
The car park Authorities are rushing to complete construction in time

By Rome correspondent David Willey

A row has broken out between archaeologists and the Italian government over the construction of a new underground car park near the Vatican.

The car park is being built to accommodate thousands of vehicles carrying pilgrims and tourists who will visit the Vatican during the millennium Christmas.

Archaeologists believe ancient Roman buildings have been destroyed by bulldozers at the site, which is thought to have been the scene where early Christian martyrs were executed by Roman Emperor Nero.

Builders are constructing a multi-tier garage under the Janiculum, a hilly plot partially on city land and partially on Vatican land.

In August, work stopped for more than a month when laborers dug up a frescoed chamber of a villa believed to date back to the 1st century on the city-owned side.

When work resumed, a second, frescoed room was found.


Now the mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli, is exerting pressure on the authorities to finish work quickly in time for the opening of the holy year on Christmas Eve.

The dispute over whether the remains of Agrippina's palace, as it is called, should be destroyed in the interests of 21st century traffic control has aroused strong passions.

Environmental groups have called a public protest meeting below the access ramp on Thursday to try to persuade the Italian government to intervene.

They called on opponents of the car park to bring pick axes with them.

St Peter's Square St Peter's Square where pilgrims will gather
The controversial car park is being paid for partly by the European Community, partly by the Italian government, and partly by the Vatican.

A policy decision on whether to continue the work is due to be taken by the Italian cabinet on Friday.

Meanwhile police have announced the seizure of a large quantity of archaeological remains, including pieces of marble columns and fragments of fresco paintings believed to have come from the car park excavations in a builders rubbish dump on the city outskirts.

The Vatican has denied that any archaeological remains have been secretly removed from the car park site.

Mayor Rutelli said he had not seen the fragments but underlined that in Rome, relics are found anywhere you dig.

Mr Rutelli, an enthusiastic overseer of the city's Holy Year renovations, earlier dismissed archaeological finds at the garage site as "less than what the average Roman would find in his basement".

For centuries, holy year pilgrims have arrived to pray at the Vatican on foot.

Many critics are asking why ancient Roman remains should be destroyed to accommodate tourist buses in the year 2000.

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See also:
01 Oct 99 |  Europe
Pope blesses restored St Peter's
27 Feb 99 |  Sci/Tech
Vatican turns high-tech for 2000
25 Dec 98 |  Europe
Pope looks forward to 2000

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