Archaeologists on Wednesday unveiled the remains of an ancient auditorium where scholars, politicians and poets held debates and lectures, a site discovered during excavations of a bustling downtown piazza in preparation for a new subway line.
The partially dug complex, dating back to the 2nd century A.D., is believed to have been funded by Emperor Hadrian as a school to promote liberal arts and culture.
Known as the “Athenaeum” and named after the city of Athens, which was considered the center of culture at the time, the auditorium could accommodate up to 200 people, experts said.
“Hadrian, who was a cultured emperor, wanted to re-establish the tradition of public recitation, conferences and poetry contests, as it used to happen in classic Greece,” Roberto Egidi, an archaeologist overseeing the digs, said during a tour.
Egidi said the identification of the auditorium as Hadrian’s is “a likely hypothesis” due to the building’s specific structure, as well as references in ancient texts. The digs have turned up two terraced staircases used for seating, a corridor and marbled floors, Egidi said.