Rome Archaeologists have unveiled an underground grotto believed to have been revered by ancient Romans as the place where a wolf nursed the city's legendary founder Romulus and his twin brother, Remus.
Decorated with seashells and colored marble, the vaulted sanctuary is buried 52 feet inside the Palatine hill, the palatial center of power in imperial Rome, the archaeologists said at a news conference.
In the past two years, experts have been probing the space with endoscopes and laser scanners, fearing that the fragile grotto, already partially caved-in, would not survive a full-scale dig, said Giorgio Croci, an engineer who worked on the site.
The archaeologists are convinced that they have found the place of worship where Romans believed a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the god of war Mars who were abandoned in a basket and left adrift on the Tiber.
Thanks to the wolf, a symbol of Rome to this day, the twins survived, and Romulus founded the city, becoming its first king after killing Remus in a power struggle.
Ancient texts say the grotto known as the "Lupercale"- from "lupa," Latin for she-wolf - was near the palace of Augustus, Rome's first emperor, who was said to have restored it.
The sanctuary's vault lies just below the ruins of a palace built by Augustus.
Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza University and an expert on the Palatine, said the grotto is almost certainly the "Lupercale."
"The chances that it's not are minimal," said Carandini, who did not take part in the dig. "It's one of the greatest discoveries ever made."
Most of the sanctuary is filled with earth, but laser scans allowed experts to estimate that the circular structure has a height of 26 feet and a diameter of 24 feet, Croci said.