KORVA COLEMAN, HOST:
All roads may lead to Rome. But once you get there, have fun taking the subway. The sprawling metropolis is expanding its beleaguered mass transit system, but workers keep running into ancient ruins. As Christopher Livesay found out, what's been a nightmare for city planners has become a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for archaeologists.
(SOUNDBITE OF BULLDOZER ROLLING)
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: On the surface, the Amba Aradam metro stop is just a construction site. But listen to what bulldozer operator Gilberto Pagani has been finding in the dirt.
GILBERTO PAGANI: (Through interpreter) I found some gold rings. I found glasswork laminated in gold depicting a roman god, some amphorae.
LIVESAY: See; Pagani's no ordinary builder. He's a certified archaeological construction worker trained to build in cities like Rome with thousands of years of civilization buried beneath the surface. It's a daunting challenge for urban developers. But for Simona Morretta, the state archaeologist in charge of the site, it's the opportunity of a lifetime.
SIMONA MORRETTA: (Through interpreter) I think it's the luckiest thing that's ever happened to me, professionally speaking, because you never get the chance in a regular excavation to dig so deep. That's how we found archaeological complexes as important as this one.
LIVESAY: At roughly 40 feet below the surface, her team has stumbled upon a dwelling that once belonged to the commander of an adjacent military barracks. It dates back to the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D.
MORRETTA: (Through interpreter) It's a proper house with a central courtyard. The other exciting discovery is that so much of the decoration was found intact - so ornamental mosaics, floors made with marble slab in various colors and painted frescoes.
(SOUNDBITE OF BRUSHES SWEEPING)
LIVESAY: Two archaeologists dust the mosaic flooring with tiny precision brushes. Compare that to the hulking industrial machinery parked just a few feet away. Construction workers routinely have to shut it down when a discovery is made. Add that to the countless other delays over the past two decades. The new route underway, the C line, was supposed to be ready in time for the Catholic Church's year of Jubilee. That was back in the year 2000. But you can't blame it all on the ancients. There are ongoing investigations into waste and runaway spending by modern contractors and governments.
UNIDENTIFIED TRAIN CONDUCTOR: (Over loudspeaker, speaking Italian).
LIVESAY: But this is a day for celebration as the city inaugurates its newest subway stop.
UNIDENTIFIED TRAIN CONDUCTOR: (Over loudspeaker) Next stop - San Giovanni. Doors will open on the left side.
LIVESAY: The San Giovanni station is an important one. Up until now, the C line wasn't even connected to the city's two other subway lines. Now it is, and it's fully automated, too - no conductors.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN WHEELS)
LIVESAY: As it whooshes into the station, commuter Luigi Bonatesta jumps on board.
He says the wait has been frustrating, to say the least.
LUIGI BONATESTA: Because no one declare why the open day will delay - delayed time, so no one declare what happened.
LIVESAY: One reason was a surprise addition. Inside this station, the walls are lined with artifacts discovered during the subway's construction - stone bathtubs, marble busts and even ancient peach pits from a Roman fruit vendor - all visible for the 1 euro 50 cost of a metro ticket. The next stop on the line - the military barracks, where archaeologists are still digging. Simona Morretta says commuters there are in for an even bigger treat.
MORRETTA: (Through interpreter) All that we found here - the mosaics, everything - will be taken down, put inside special containers, then reassembled inside the metro stop.
LIVESAY: So the metro station is going to be like a little museum.
MORRETTA: Yes. (Speaking Italian).
LIVESAY: "That's the idea," she says. But there are still years of excavating ahead. For a city that wasn't built in a day, its subway system certainly wasn't, either. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Livesay in Rome.