food / travel

Rome Wants To Pump New Life Into A Gladiator's Tomb And Ancient Villa

The statue of Augustus found in Livia's Villa, showing tourists the way
The statue of Augustus found in Livia's Villa, showing tourists the way
Flavia Amabile

ROME - Springtime at her villa must have been something beautiful indeed. Livia was the wife of the emperor Octavian, also known as Caesar Augustus, and her villa was surrounded by a breathtaking landscape that was unparalleled anywhere in the surrounding areas of Rome: hills, fields, and the Tiber river flowing by.

Built along the via expand=1] Flaminia, one of the most important arteries running between the imperial capital and the northern regions, the villa was a rather closely situated retreat for Livia to escape the bustle of Rome -- and occasionally for Augustus to also find some peace from the hectic life of emperor-ing.

With next year marking 2,000 years since the death of Augustus, plans are being pushed forward to reconstruct the Villa of Livia. “This project was, before anything, a dream -- we archeologists are dreamers,” said Marina Piranomonte, a supervising archeologist, who has spearheaded the initiative to rebuild the villa on the outskirts of modern-day Rome.

The project to bring the ancient villa back to life is part of a sputtering effort to turn the via Flaminia into a top new destination for tourists coming to Rome. Already, another of the ancient roads leading out of the city, Via Appia Antica (the Appian way), has become a major attraction after restoration work, thanks to the catacombs, the church of Domine Quo Vadis, and the circus of Maxentius.

But the road is still long to also put via Flaminia on visitors' itineraries.

In 2008 the discovery of the Tomb of the Gladiator was discovered here -- the mausoleum of Marco Nonio Macrino, who is most likely the person to have inspired Ridley Scott’s famous 2000 film Gladiator.

Gathering dust

Even though this made headlines all over the world, drawing attention to the possibility of an archeological park to showcase the tomb, the site remains untouched, just covered by a sheet. One million euros were spent unearthing and restoring this precious tomb that was buried seven meters below, but it needs another three million euros to build a museum that can accomodate visitors.

“We’re working out how to raise the funds. We’re open to all possibilities,” says Daniela Rossi, in charge of the site.

Further along the via Flaminia, hidden underneath a maze of flyovers and landfills, is a bridge -- the same one used by Augustus when he went to visit Livia, as well as by the troops of the Emperor Maxentius in the battle of Ponte Milvio against Constantine.

After the waste was cleaned up in 2005, the Italian road-cleaning company ANAS promised to create an archeological park. But they were just more words that were never followed through on.

Onwards, and on the opposite side of the river, you can’t miss the huge tufa mounds that once held up a large mausoleum where the Romans buried their dead. The homeless had been using it as a shelter, but two years ago it was cleaned up at a price of 300,000 euros. Today, the area appears beautiful on the outside, but in the grottoes, down in the lowest part, the homeless people have returned.

“I’m optimistic,” says Rossi. “For me, via Flaminia is an occasion that we must capitalize on. And we will, thanks to the help of the private sector. We can do it, the park project is not dead.”

Like a board game in which you always risk returning back to square one, hopefully via Flaminia will not just another road of missed opportunities.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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