The Laurentine Shore Project
Submitting InstitutionRoyal Holloway, University of London
Unit of AssessmentClassics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
History and Archaeology: Archaeology
Summary of the impact
This research project, in collaboration with the Italian State
Superintendency of Antiquities for Rome and the General Secretariat of the
Presidency of the Italian Republic, is operating to preserve the
archaeological remains of the Laurentine Shore, near Rome, a unique
cultural resource hitherto largely unknown and in the process of
destruction by natural and human agencies. The project is providing the
tools for the immediate protection and future management, within their
natural forest environment, of numerous archaeological sites of
exceptional historic interest, for the education of the visiting public.
Key contextual information: The Laurentine Shore, extending
between Ostia and Ardea, developed under the emperors into a `maritime
facade' for the city of Rome to rival that of Alexandria in Egypt. It
centred on a large imperial sea-front villa, Laurentum, legendary
point of arrival of the Trojan hero Aeneas in Latium, as celebrated in
Virgil's epic poem the Aeneid. Laurentum had its own harbour and a
direct road to Rome and was backed by an eponymous imperial estate, and by
a veteran colony, both administered from an imperial village (Vicus
Augustanus). The villas of other members of the imperial family and
inner imperial circle clustered to either side, including that of Pliny
the Younger, whose letter describing his Laurentinum has
influenced architectural imaginations since the 16th century.
Research and impact area: 8.5 kilometres of the ancient shoreline,
including standing remains of the imperial villa, the Vicus Augustanus
and probably also the villa of Pliny, run through the seaward reaches of
the presidential estate of Castelporziano, the modern incarnation of the
ancient imperial estate. Major excavations at the imperial villa in
1774-1801 and at the Vicus in 1874-1913 were never published and
although left open became increasingly invisible after the 1950s, when
local pastoralism stopped and the natural forest invaded, assisted by new
plantations. Access has never been easy (previous owners were the
monarchy, and a series of autocratic barons) and archaeology never a
priority; the estate was a hunting preserve which has since become a
nature preserve. In 1983 Claridge, then Assistant Director of the British
School at Rome, was instrumental in bringing about contact between the
local archaeological authority and the estate management, which led to the
institution by the local authority of a programme of survey and
conservation, and she has remained the principal investigator ever since,
first at Oxford University, School of Archaeology (1994-9), and now at
Royal Holloway (from 2000).
At Royal Holloway, the primary research has been able to expand beyond an
initial close focus on the vicus to address the wider
a. (2002- 5) New survey in collaboration with Dr Jari Pakkanen,
lecturer at Royal Holloway and students of the Classics department mapped
and analysed four adjacent sites to the west of the Vicus, experimenting
with different techniques for accurate topographical survey under the
forest conditions, notably a 3D digital terrain model (DEM)
b. (2006-10) An AHRC Major Research Grant obtained by Claridge and
Prof Helen Rendell (Loughborough University), building on an earlier
collaboration (when Rendell was at Sussex university), funded the
extension of the DEM and geophysical surveys integrated with
geomorphological and palaeo-environmental studies. Researchers who joined
Royal Holloway staff for this phase, funded by the grant, were Dr Peter
Rose (2006-9) and Dr James Andrews (2009-10).
c. (2013-on-going) jointly funded by Royal Holloway Centre for
Archaeo-Architectural Reconstructions and the Castelporziano estate, is
extending the DEM, geophysical survey, in tandem with a LIDAR survey (paid
for by the Italian Ministry of the Environment) of the forest, to create a
practical planning resource.
Key results in 2008-2013 were: a precise chronology for and
understanding of the evolution of the coastline before, during and after
the Roman period; definition of relationships between the ancient natural
and built environment at the Vicus, the villa to the west and two
fish-farms; an efficient methodology for geophysical survey on sand; the
demonstration to all parties concerned that the subsoil archaeology is far
more extensive and at greater risk than had hitherto been perceived.
References to the research
2. Bicket A., Rendell H.M., Claridge A, Rose P., Andrews J., Brown F.S.J.
(2009) `A multiscale geoarchaeological approach from the Laurentine Shore
(Castelporziano, Lazio, Italy) Géomorphologie: relief, processus,
environnment 2009, no.4, 257-70
3. Amanda Claridge and Helen Rendell, Evolution of Rome's maritime
facade: archaeology and geomorphology at Castelporziano. Sponsor:
AHRC RG 18211 Dates July 2005-February 2010, £385,873.00 (+4%)
4. Amanda Claridge (2010) `Life and Luxury on the Laurentine Shore' Current
World Archaeology 42 (August/September) 24-7
: Project website
Details of the impact
The research undertaken by the Royal Holloway teams at Castelporziano in
2008-13 has revealed — in the form of 3D visualisations readily
comprehensible to a non-specialist audience — substantial tracts of a rich
and varied archaeological landscape, which lies invisible under dense
vegetation, complementing and contextualising the more visible remains. A
key contribution has come from the Loughborough team, in proving that the
modern vegetation is of quite recent formation, and very different from
that which characterised the ancient landscape. These discoveries have
already had some positive impact on local attitudes to heritage
management, and are set to continue to have further beneficial effects as
the models become more complete and detailed, leading to new methods of
conserving and presenting the cultural heritage of the Laurentine Shore.
- The Soprintendenza Speciale per i beni archeologici di Roma is now
more fully and much better informed than ever before of the actual
nature and extent of the archaeological resources in this part of the
Tenuta di Castelporziano, which it is their responsibility to protect
and for which the project was originally set up.
- The Commissione forestale of the Tenuta di Castelporziano is also now
more fully aware of the nature of the subsoil in this part of the estate
and of the damage new plantings have done and can do in the future. It
has been the practice in the past to renew fallen trees and plant extra
trees in the area in order to protect the forest further inland, knowing
they grow faster and higher when rooted in Roman remains. New pine
forests were implanted on the imperial villa in the mid 2000s. The
impact of this research has been to change the forestry plan so that
more historically appropriate and archaeology-friendly forms of tree
cover can be used.
- The Tenuta di Castelporziano is open annually to a wide visiting
public of schoolchildren (primary as well as secondary) and members of
adult amateur societies, totalling c. 12 000 a year, who are admitted in
groups, accompanied by the Forest Guard who act as guides. The tours
used to focus only on the natural environment and wild-life and are
still primarily organised with those interests in view, but the local
archaeological museum (opened in 2006) and some of the more visible and
accessible archaeological ruins are now often included.
The Royal Holloway team has been responsible for maintaining the
necessary diplomatic relations with the President's office and the local
archaeological superintendency to obtain permissions and security
clearance to enter the estate.
Progress of the research was communicated orally and reported in writing
at regular intervals to the relevant partners: the Soprintendenza
archeologica di Ostia (recently defunct, replaced by the Soprintendenza
Speciale per i beni archeologici di Roma ), the Director of the
Castelporziano estate, the office of the President's adviser on Cultural
patrimony and his representative. Liaison has also been with the Forest
Guard and members of the forestry commission.
The entire site archive (from 1984-2010) was digitised as part of the
AHRC funded phase of research and has been available online since July
2010 (see section 3.1).
On April 23, 2009 a day conference was held in the local museum at
Castelporziano by the Royal Holloway research team, which communicated the
results of the environmental and topographical surveys and current
historical research to a wider local audience. On June 10, 2011 the
President's Office itself organised a public conference in Rome,
celebrating 25 years of archaeological research at Castelporziano, which
show-cased the work of the British teams in particular and attracted a
large general audience as well as members of the higher echelons of the
presidential administration. The proceedings are to be published (2014).
The event on June 10, 2011 marked a quantum shift in attitude on the part
of the estate management towards the archaeology and archaeological
research, from polite tolerance to a willingness to engage positively.
There is now a shared understanding that, at least in the seaward reaches
of the estate where the archaeological remains are so substantial and of
such historical importance, both the natural and the cultural landscape
have equal rights to study, protection and (eventually) presentation.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Public dissemination of any information regarding the Castelporziano
estate by researchers permitted to work there is generally prohibited for
reasons of security. Thus, the relevant page on the Quirinale palace
corroborates the activity, but little more.
For corroboration of the impact of the recent and current research
programme, letters can be supplied from the following officials:
- Vice Segretario generale amministrativo, (for the archaeological
management of the estate).
- Il direttore, Tenuta Presidenziale di Castelporziano, (for influence
on estate policy).
- Il vicario, settore Parchi e Giardini, (for influence on the
management of the forest).
- Funzionario responsabile Municipio XIII, (for the management of
archaeological resources and museums)