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Corriere della Sera / Italian archaeologists bring to light Adulis, the "African Pompeii"

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Sunday, 25 February 2018


Italian archaeologists bring to light Adulis, the "African Pompeii"

We dig to find the ancient port of the kingdom of Axum, crucial junction on the Via degli Aromi. The director Serena Massa: "Amazing discoveries, and we are just at the beginning"

By Michele Farina   25 February 2018 (Updated 25 February 2018 | 10:11)

 Disappeared centuries ago, "for a gigantic flood perhaps accompanied by an earthquake". And now one treasure at a time, meter by meter, in the Eritrea desert a legendary pearl of the ancient world comes to light.

Preserved beauties

Adulis is the Greek name given to the port of the kingdom of Axum, a large Africa-Europe emporium on the shores of the Red Sea, a crucial point on the Via degli Aromi. "An extraordinary city of stone, in a part of the planet where it is rare to find" proudly tells Serena Massa, professor at the Catholic University of Milan and scientific director of the Italian-Eritrean mission that guides this rediscovery project. 

The excavation season (six kilometers from the sea) has just ended, due to the heat it will recover at the end of the year. It is time to study and enjoy the discoveries, take the carbon test on the skeletons found, taking into account that "we are only 1% of the work". Fango and limo have covered everything. This makes it difficult to progress but "it is also a fortune: the sudden end of Adulis, which has led historians to make the comparison with Pompeii, has preserved its beauties".

Connected world

Discovered so far the remains of three Christian churches of the fifth-sixth century AD: "It is amazing - comments Serena Massa - to find Byzantine churches beyond the borders of the Empire, so beautifully decorated. A sign of how connected the world was then ". 

The third basilica was found just this year. "We have no ruins in elevation - says Massa - And so we rely on old maps." And on the merchant's notebooks: the sixth-century monk-merchant Cosma Indicopleuste describes Adulis, "where you could find rhino horns and elephant tusks, cinnamon, spices and turtle carapaces that ended up adorning the houses of the Roman aristocrats." Today, next to the cornfields where Eritrean farmers practice subsistence farming, ancient marbles emerge from the land that came from Byzantium, "some marked with the same signature that is found in the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople", decorations «of the finest culture Byzantine 6th century "made to arrive for the" cosmopolitan structure "that then prospered in the city.

The team

From those stones, in Africa, emerges the idea of ​​a North-South world "that had much closer relations than we could imagine," says director Massa. On the field, with 5 liters of drinking water per day made to arrive from afar, a dozen Italian archaeologists and architects (the adventure also collaborates with our foreign ministry): the restorers of the Polytechnic of Milan, the Oriental experts of Naples and the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology next to colleagues and students of the museums of Asmara and Massaua, "without which the project would not go ahead". With them are exchanged (two-week shifts) 40 workers "supplied" by the government, boys and veterans of the war of independence. Next year, it is hoped that Asmara will give the go-ahead to use an excavator, to speed up operations. There is a buried city to bring to the surface. 

"Tourists are already starting to arrive," says Dr. Massa. On the one hand the tourists, on the other the migrants. Who knows what would write on the notebook the monk-merchant Cosma, arrived today on the Eritrean border. From which they come like arrows on the run, not cinnamon and turtles.

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