Photo in the News: Grotto of Rome's Founders Revealed

Lupercale ceiling picture
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November 20, 2007—Colorful mosaics spiral across the vaulted ceiling of a grotto that was unveiled today as the likely place where ancient Romans believed that a she-wolf suckled their city's legendary founders.

In January archaeologists announced that the sacred cave, known as the Lupercale, had been found during excavations of Emperor Augustus' palace on the Palatine, a 230-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) hill in the center of Rome.

According to Roman myth, a female wolf nursed the abandoned twins Romulus and Remus in the Lupercale. The grown brothers are said to have founded the Eternal City at the site on April 21, 753 B.C.

Since the grotto's discovery, experts have been examining it with remote sensing devices, because they fear that a full dig might cause the already fragile cave to collapse, the Associated Press reported. So far the team estimates that the domed sanctuary is 26 feet (8 meters) high with a 24-foot (7-meter) diameter.

At a news conference today the team released images of the grotto—including the undated photo above—taken with a probe. The images show the cave's richly detailed mosaics made of marble and seashells.

The center of the ceiling features a depiction of a white eagle, the symbol of the Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus. The first-century-B.C. emperor is thought to have restored the sacred site in a bid to improve his power by linking himself with Rome's mystical founders.

"The Lupercale must have had an important role in Augustus' policies," Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the site, told the AP. "He saw himself as a new Romulus."

Archaeologists also announced that teams would soon start to search for the grotto's original entrance, believed to be at the bottom of the Palatine, in the hopes of safely accessing the cave.

—Victoria Jaggard

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