Sunday, October 5, 2008

Roman cellars in Lisbon architectural mystery

Nobody knows what the galleries beneath Lisbon’s Baixa were used forTHEY OPEN but once a year and the queues to see them are so long they stretch the entire length of two blocks. They are Lisbon’s ancient Roman Cellars

Only rediscovered during the rebuilding of Lisbon in 1771 after the Great Lisbon Earthquake, nobody knows for sure what this system of Roman arched underground tunnels beneath the city’s Baixa was used for.

There are several theories. One is that they were used as storage cellars beneath the smart Roman shops that once lined Lisbon’s Roman Forum when it was the busy port of Olisypio.

Alternatively, they formed part of a Roman foundation system used to level undulating ground so that buildings above would be on a flat, if artificial, surface made from an early form of concrete.

They could, too, have been Roman thermal springs used to supply a series of wells for the Roman populace.

Whether they were the smart underground shopping galleries beneath the Roman Forum, similar to the ones one finds in Naples, or simply foundations supporting buildings up above, used as cellars for shops, town villas and public buildings, today the visible part consists of a network of perpendicular galleries, all of different heights, leading into small compartments or cells which could very well have been storage areas.

The pillow stone arches, which withstood the earthquake, date from the early part of Imperial Rome, between the Emperors Julius Cesar and Claudius.

It was only in 1859, when Lisbon’s first sewage system was being installed, that archaeologists were able to really study the Roman ruins extensively for the first time, while the first journalists allowed down to photograph and see them at first hand was only in 1909.
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