Who would imagine that a sprawling fruit orchard once lay in the heart of old Rome? Archaeologists digging the new Metro C (subway) line have just made the surprising discovery of a huge reservoir that irrigated a farm and orchard near the present-day Basilica of St. John Lateran. Lest there be any doubt about the basin’s original purpose, the remains of a pitchfork and baskets confirm the structure’s agricultural function.
What were they growing? Probably greens, a staple of the Roman diet, but leave little trace in the archaeological record. In addition, the discovery of numerous peach pits would seem to indicate the presence of an orchard where this succulent fruit was cultivated. Once imported from Syria, it was clearly more commonplace on the Roman table by the first century CE, when the reservoir was built.
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