ROME – Conservation work on Rome's Palatine Hill has yielded a bounty of new discoveries, including an underground grotto possibly revered as the place where a wolf nursed the city's legendary founders, archaeologists said Tuesday.
Archaeologists discussing plans at an international congress to save crumbling monuments on the Palatine shared results of studies on luxurious imperial residences, which are threatened by collapse and poor maintenance that have forced most of the area to remain closed to the public.
While funds are still scarce, authorities plan to reopen some key areas of the honeycombed hill to tourists by the end of the year, including frescoed halls in the palaces of the emperor Augustus and of his wife Livia.
The palaces, which have been closed for decades, will partially reopen to guided tours while restoration continues through 2008, officials said.
It was during the restoration of the palace of Rome's first emperor that workers encountered what could be a long-lost place of worship, believed by ancient Romans to be the grotto where a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the abandoned twin sons of the god of war Mars.
Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the Palatine and the nearby Roman Forum, said that while taking core samples from the hill, workers encountered a cavity at a depth of 16 meters (52 feet).
Experts used a probe to peer into the hole and found a vaulted space decorated with frescoes, niches and seashells.
It is too early to say for sure whether the "lupercale" — from "lupa," Latin for wolf — has been found, but Roman texts say that it was close to Augustus' palace and that the emperor had restored it, Iacopi said.
"It was a very important symbolic place and we believe that it was well preserved," said Giovanna Tedone, an architect leading the work at the palace. She said the archaeologists are now looking for the grotto's entrance.
Other finds to have emerged recently from the Palatine's largely unexplored palaces and temples include an ancient Roman sewer, insignia believed to have belonged to the emperor Maxentius, terra-cotta statues and the alabaster body of a tiger striped with gray marble.