The remains of a triumphal arch built in honour of the Emperor Titus have been unearthed from underneath Rome‘s Circus Maximus chariot-racing arena.
The arch, which was built immediately after the emperor’s death in 81AD, would have formed a magnificent entrance to the Circus Maximus, where charioteers competed against each other in races that were depicted in the1959 Hollywood epic Ben Hur.
Authorities in Rome now hope to reconstruct the imposing, 17-metre-wide, 15-metre-long marble arch, in a project that would cost at least €1 million (£718,000).
They have already starting building a detailed digital image of what the monument probably looked like, based on their findings.
The remains of the arch were found at a depth of around 10ft below ground at the eastern end of the Circus Maximus, which is located between the Colosseum and the Tiber River.
Its existence had been known only from historical records from the medieval period – it is thought to have disappeared from sight 800 years ago, after its stone was pilfered for other buildings and its foundations sank beneath the ground.
Archaeologists found more than 300 marble fragments of the monument, some of them the size of a small car.
A CAD drawing of how the great Arch at Circo Massimo may have looked
They discovered the bases of the four giant columns that formed the front of the arch, as well as the plinths on which they rested and traces of the original travertine pavement.
Emperors and generals would have passed beneath the huge arch during triumphal processions to celebrate military victories against the enemies of the Roman Empire.
Until the money to reconstruct the arch can be raised, its foundations will be reburied in order to protect them from the elements – a common archaeological practice.
Excavating the remains of the arch was complicated because much of it lay below the water table and the site was prone to flooding, said Claudio Parisi Presicce, a cultural heritage official.
“When the four plinths emerged we realised that there was more down there so we expanded the dig,” he said.
If it is to be reconstructed, the first task will be to divert or block the water, the legacy of a system of channels and mills that were built in the area during the medieval period.
The arch is one of two that was built in honour of the emperor, whose full name was Titus Flavius Vespasianus.
The other arch, which is intact and in a state of excellent preservation, stands at the entrance to the Forum, the heart of the Roman Empire.
It commemorates Titus’s victory over the Jews of Judaea, who revolted against Roman rule in 66AD, precipitating a war that finally ended with the fall of Masada in 72AD.
A relief that decorates the arch depicts Roman soldiers marching with a great gold menorah, or candelabrum, part of the booty taken from Jerusalem.