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All roads lead to Venice

Researchers find traces of submerged Roman road at bottom of Venice Lagoon.

We always associate Venice with gondolas and canals, not necessarily with roads. The Romans thought otherwise, for much of what is now the Venice Lagoon was once accessible by land. Archaeologist Fantina Madricardo and colleagues have used sonar to search for ancient structures now underwater.

As published in Scientific Reports, they discovered 12 such structures aligned for 1,140m in a northwesterly direction in the Treporti Channel area of the Lagoon. Each was up to 2.7m tall and 52.7m long. Earlier surveys had uncovered stones that resembled those used by Roman road engineers, which hints that the features were aligned along a highway. Four additional structures in the Channel were as much as 4m tall and 134.8m long. Comparing them to other structures known from the area, the researchers believe that the largest building was associated with a harbour feature such as a dock. Geological and modelling data had previously shown that the road was built on a sandy ridge that was above sea level in Roman times, now submerged because of a gradual sea level rise since the Roman era.

Highways obviously go somewhere, which led the research team to believe that there was once a permanent Roman settlement where the Treporti Channel now flows. Accordingly, the road may have been linked to a wider network of Roman highways in the region. One such road might have served travellers going between the forerunner of the modern-day city of Chioggia and the Northern Venice Lagoon.

Top image: Aerial view of the Venice Lagoon by NASA.

Above: Computerised impression of the Roman road, which appears to have run along a sandy ridge between the northern and southern end of the lagoon. (Rendering by Antonio Calandriello and Giuseppe D’Acunto; Photo by Fantina Madricardo.)

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