The archaeological investigations for building the C line of the subway (Metro C), carried out between 2007 and 2011 with the Direzione Scientifica della Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma (Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali), brought to light a large portion of an imposing public building, built during Hadrian’s reign (117-138 AD), used for cultural events, declamations, poetic contests and lessons of rhetoric.
It was a two storey building, divided from the Trajan Forum by a curving street. It stood out against the Flaminian Way, about two meters below – where today piazza Venezia is located. The ground floor, partially preserved, consisted of three large halls provided with stands which were placed on the sides of a central corridor and set radially along the curving street. The central corridor was reserved to the orator who addressed the public – made up of highly cultivated people – in order to present his work and eventually receive a feedback.
Two of the halls, enriched by floor and wall decorations in polychrome marbles, were brought to light during the recent excavations; part of the third hall was identified at the beginning of the 20th century when the building of Assicurazioni Generali was built.
The proposed identification with the Athenaeum of Hadrian is uncertain for chronological reasons.
The building bordered on a housing building from the 2nd century AD (insula) on the north side; on the west side it bordered on a commercial block along the Flaminian Way, which was also brought to light during the recent excavations for the Metro C in piazza Venezia.
In the 6th century AD a metallurgical workshop, used to work copper alloys, was created inside the building’s halls deprived of the marmoreal decorations. The workshop is a construction of ample proportions (the biggest known in Rome for this period), of which are preserved, besides the slag and the ingots, the holes housing small furnaces dug in the ground and along the stands. The workshop was destroyed between the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th century AD, and the central hall was used for burials.
The earthquake occurred in 847-848 AD made the upper storey and the vaults collapse: a significant portion of the vault can be seen on the floor of the north hall.
Between the 12th and the 13th century a facility for producing lime was established on top of the collapsed ruins of the central hall, maybe in connection with the construction of the nearby neighbourhoods which occupied the Trajan Forum and the adjoining commercial area along the Flaminian Way.
At the end of the 16th century the Ospedale dei Fornari, a hospital named after the homonymous confraternity, was built in this area. The same confraternity also built the nearby Church of Santa Maria in Loreto. The new building, standing on the remains of the ancient building from Hadrian’s reign, guaranteed its preservation up to nowadays. An extraordinary number of vases, mostly whole or to reassemble, used in the hospital, came to light during the excavation of a well found in the courtyard.