The Times of Israel reports that the conservation of the ancient Roman-era Jewish catacombs at the the Villa Torlonia has been completed — but wonders when the site will be opened to visitors.
An article in TOI by Rossella Tercatin quotes archaeologist and Antiques Authority representative Daniela Rossi as saying:
The site is completely excavated. We are now planning an additional project in order to consolidate, restore and revamp it, so that it can be open to the public. The funds have already been allocated, it is just a matter of going through the bureaucratic process, although I cannot, unfortunately, make an estimation on how long it will take.
In its budget for 2017, the Italian Culture Ministry allocated nearly €1.5 million toward conservation and restoration of the Villa Torlornia catacombs, which date from the 2nd to the 5th centuries CE.
“We are speaking of a monument of the highest historic and cultural relevance that bears witness to when, already in ancient Rome, a large Jewish community lived in the city,” then-Culture Minister Dario Francescini was quoted as saying. “Because of this the Ministry decided to support the restoration of the complex, which is in need of significant conservation interventions.”
The catacombs, which lie under villa Torlonia on Rome’s via Nomentana, were discovered by chance in 1918 and occupy some 12,000 square meters. They include 3828 burial niches. The walls and ceiling are decorated with paintings of menorahs and other Jewish symbols as we as animals and geometric and floral motifs.
Tercatin’s TOI article describes the steps taken to restore the catacombs, at the same time respecting Halachic regulations. Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni worked with Israeli conservator Amir Genach, and his company, Genach Amir Ancient Conservation Society and Mosaic Works Ltd,
Back in October 2018, the International Catacomb Society noted that a session of the Jerusalem conference “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region,” included lectures on recent work in Villa Torlonia catacombs and a tour of a photography exhibit of the site after excavation and conservation work beginning in 2016:
The task of reburying the ancient bones or moving them, when necessary, to new locations has been carried out by volunteers with the Israel-based rescue and recovery organization ZAKA at the behest of the Italian rabbinate, which considers halakhic treatment of the bones a priority in any study the site. In the course of the burial and rebuilding operations, new artifacts and structural details have emerged, including clearer views of the scratched and painted inscriptions and other markings on tombs, all in course of study and publication.
The Villa Torlonia complex is one of five Jewish catacombs complexes in Rome — most of which are closed to the public.