Roman metro: the city’s quarry becomes a bicycle attraction


Guides have recently started taking small groups of visitors on bike tours of the Great Quarry of Rome, just outside the ancient city walls.

The 22 mile labyrinth is well suited for two-wheelers – the tunnels are lined with dirt which forms a relatively flat surface to negotiate on a bicycle.

Why we wrote this

Even the most popular tourist sites can still hold secrets. In the case of Rome, an underground bike tour offers a new perspective on the Eternal City and its history.

The origins of the quarry can be found in the Romans’ quest for a highly prized building material. The region is rich in pozzolana, a volcanic rock that the Romans pulverized and mixed with lime to create an ancient type of concrete. It was used in the construction of large buildings like the temple of the Pantheon.

The bicycle routes, which can include as many as 40 cyclists, pass through tunnels that are normally black. If a tour guide asks his group to turn off all bicycle lights and cell phones, it is total darkness; not a single shape or shadow can be distinguished.

“It’s a pretty unusual experience, even for Rome,” says Luigi Plos, a guide. “This is the only underground bike tour in Rome.”

Rome

In a country region outside the ancient walls of Rome, amid lush green fields and hedges reminiscent of JRR Tolkien’s The Shire, a hollow, mossy lane topped with alders leads to a metal gate.

Beyond is one of Rome’s greatest but least-known wonders: a labyrinth of tunnels carved into solid rock by the Romans 2,000 years ago. And this underground kingdom can now be explored by bicycle.

Guides have recently started taking small groups of visitors on bike tours of Rome’s Great Quarry, which is home to 22 miles of winding underground passages.

Why we wrote this

Even the most popular tourist sites can still hold secrets. In the case of Rome, an underground bike tour offers a new perspective on the Eternal City and its history.

The labyrinth is well suited to two-wheelers – the tunnels are lined with dirt which forms a relatively flat surface to be negotiated by bicycle. A mountain bike is ideal, but even a city bike will do.

“It’s a pretty unusual experience, even for Rome,” says Luigi Plos, guide with Sotterranei di Roma (Rome’s Underground Places), a group of speleologists and historians specializing in exploring the city’s underground places. “This is the only underground bike tour in Rome.”

Cycling in the dark

The Great Quarry of Rome, unknown to most Romans, is located under the Parco della Caffarella (Parc Caffarella), a large area of ​​countryside located a few kilometers from the Colosseum, near the ancient Roman road of the Appian Way.

The origins of the quarry can be found in the Romans’ quest for a highly prized building material. The region is rich in pozzolana, a volcanic rock that the Romans pulverized and mixed with lime to create an ancient type of concrete.

It was used in the construction of large edifices such as the Pantheon temple and several huge bath complexes, including the Caracalla thermal baths, located near the famous Circus Maximus chariot race track “Ben-Hur”.


Cyclists’ headlamps illuminate the tunnels that wind their way through an underground Roman quarry. Without artificial light, there would be total darkness.

“The reason the Romans dug this underground quarry so close to the city was that transportation was so expensive. Construction materials are heavy and if you want to bring them from afar, you have to pay the workers, you have to feed the beasts of burden, [and] there is the danger of brigands. It was much cheaper to dig here, near the city, ”says Alessandro Placidi, another guide from Sotterranei di Roma.

The bike tours, which can include as many as 40 cyclists, pass through tunnels used to grow mushrooms until the mid-1990s. Strands of electric light hang from the ceilings and sheets of translucent plastic are still attached to the walls. – the leaves allowed mushroom growers to create the ideal temperature and humidity for growing mushrooms.

Visitors walk past a room in which there is a long table and benches – it was the underground canteen of the mushroom growers. At one point, Mr. Placidi asks the tour group to turn off all lights on bikes and cell phones. Darkness is absolute – not a single shape or shadow can be seen.

Part of the quarry was buried under a large catacomb dug by the first Christians to bury their dead. Holes were drilled in the walls of the quarry in an attempt to access the catacombs.

“It was in the 1920s, and the mushroom growers who worked here had heard about the amazing discoveries made by archaeologists in ancient Egypt,” says Placidi, referring to the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. by Howard Carter. “They thought there might be similar treasures to be found in the catacombs. But they couldn’t find anything – just skeletons.

Mushroom cultivation was abandoned in the 1990s and the quarry was largely forgotten, until it opened to the public recently.

Under the temple of Claudius

Along with Sotterranei di Roma, the Roma Sotterranea (underground Rome) of the same name also tries to open Rome’s many intriguing underground spaces to exploration. The two maintain a friendly rivalry.

This summer, Roma Sotterranea began taking visitors to another underground quarry, this one carved into a hill a few minutes’ walk from the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

The quarry, which is accessed through a small gate, sits under the remains of a huge temple built in honor of Claudius, the emperor who invaded Britain in AD 43.

Stone mining began after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and continued for over 1000 years, until the 17th century. In places, workers have dug below the water table, and some chambers now contain clear pools of pure, crystal-clear water.

“Having underground ponds and quarries a few hundred meters from the Colosseum is an incredible thing,” says Marco Gradozzi, guide of Roma Sotterranea.

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