Cultural Postcards + [Southern Europe]

Italy: Ben-Hur villa at risk of demolition in Rome
The remains of an ancient Roman villa linked to one of the principal characters in the legend of Ben-Hur could be obliterated by a modern housing development.

Ben-Hur villa at risk of demolition in Rome
The remains of the villa are along the Appian Way, the old Roman road 
leading out of the capital [Credit: Telegraph]

The first century BC villa, on the outskirts of Rome, is believed to have been owned by Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, a Roman general who features as the nemesis of Ben-Hur in the original book, written by an American author in 1880, and the subsequent Hollywood blockbuster starring Charlton Heston.

While Ben-Hur was a fictional character dreamt up by author Lew Wallace, Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus was a real-life figure in antiquity.

He played a leading role at the battle of Actium, fighting for Octavian against Mark Antony. He was also a patron of the arts and counted among his circle Ovid, Horace and Cicero.

There are plans to build 10 apartment buildings on the remains of his villa, located in the Ciampino area, close to one of Rome's two international airports.

The local council says the site is of no longer great archaeological significance, after seven statues were unearthed and retrieved from the villa two years ago.

The statues are believed to have adorned an elaborately-decorated, 60ft-long outdoor swimming pool built by Messalla and were described as a spectacular find by archaeologists.

The villa site is now of "modest archaeological worth", the council has said. "The only things of great importance were the statues."

Archaeologists are fighting to prevent the development plan, along with a local residents' group called Ciampino Bene Comune.

"The entire area should be declared a no-build zone," said Alessandro Betori, a cultural heritage official for the region of Lazio, which encompasses Rome.

In the 1959 MGM film, Judah Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince and merchant from Jerusalem who is wrongly consigned to the slave galleries, while Messalla, his former childhood friend, is a tribune and commander of a Roman garrison.

It is Messalla who races against Ben-Hur, played by Charlton Heston, in a spectacular chariot contest. The race, one of the most lavish set-piece events to be made by Hollywood at the time, is won by Ben-Hur, while Massalla is fatally injured after falling from his chariot and crushed by horses' hooves.

Author: Nick Squires | Source: The Telegraph [October 30, 2014]