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The BBC's correspondent David Willey reports:
"Environmentalists say the Vatican has not respected the law"
 real 28k

Friday, 3 December, 1999, 19:19 GMT
Temporary reprieve for Roman ruins
police officials inspecting fragments Fragments of statues were found on a dump

The Italian government has put off a decision to allow the completion of a controversial new underground car park near the Vatican.

"God's garage", as the Italian press has dubbed the building, is intended to accommodate thousands of vehicles carrying pilgrims and tourists who will visit the Vatican during the millennium Christmas.

A row broke out with archaeologists when ancient ruins were discovered on the building site dating back to the reign of the Roman Emperors Caligula and Nero, and believed to be the scene where early Christian martyrs were executed.

St Peter's Square St Peter's Square where pilgrims will gather
The Mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli, has been pushing for the access ramp to the carpark to be completed in time for the opening of the Vatican's Jubilee Year, only three weeks away.

But the government announced on Friday it would delay its decision, pending new investigations.

Italy's leading environmental agency Italia Nostra has described the move as "a victory for culture and common sense."

Burial site

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

It is believed to be the traditional burial site of early Christian martyrs, including Saint Peter himself.

In August, work stopped for more than a month when labourers 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.

Protests

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.


It's a major scandal for religious people
Carlo Ripa di Meana
Carlo Ripa di Meana, a former Italian environment minister, has protested vehemently about the car park, which also includes a commercial zone.

"It's shameful, it's a major scandal for religious people, for Catholics and we denounce it together with the incredible state and town officials' silence so far" he said.

The controversial car park is being financed by the European Community, the Italian government, and the Vatican.

Fragments dumped

Earlier this week police seized 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.

Italian law states that all building work must stop when ancient walls are found.

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See also:
02 Dec 99 |  Europe
Vatican car park angers archaeologists
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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