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On October 30th, we had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Marco Bortoletto’s current archaeological dig at the Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta o del Gesuiti.

Church entrance

Church entrance

Chiesa dei Friari

Church view from the distance

The Baroque architecture was awe-inspiring, and can even be seen from the boats passing by the Fondamenta Nove stop. The original church in the 12th century belonged to the Crociferi order, and was bought in 1657 by the Jesuits. Between 1715 and 1730, they rebuilt the church with its Baroque accents and flowing figures, paid for by the Manin family. They also built a hospital and a convent along with the church, to create a large complex of buildings (Veneziasi.it).

Dr. Bortoletto informed us  that this space was also a medical teaching facility at some point, as they had discovered the skeletons of corpses used by medical students. The complexes are currently being renovated in hopes of transforming them into dormitories for future Venetian university students. We began our tour by entering into the first of numerous clusters, a square-shaped open area surrounded by many brick buildings. Immediately we encountered a hole in the ground with various layers exposed where archaeologists had been excavating.  Walking deeper into the church we came upon an area where an altar had been, only a circular remnant left as proof of its existence. Soon thereafter Dr. Bortoletto pointed out diagonal sections of bricks crossing and sometimes layering on top of each other. He explained that these were the foundations of the monk houses, not all from the same period. The differences in the brick walls and also in the dirt layers indicated that these buildings came from different time periods. The dating of an area and the objects found in it is made possible using this kind of relative-dating principle, which is applicable to all of archaeology.

Each excavation site was littered with white, numbered rectangular pieces of paper. Dr. Bortoletto explained that these numbers reference the Unita Stratigrafica (US) forms that must be filled out for each and every layer and object discovered. A sample of each numbered artifact is also collected in a plastic baggie, to be later sent to the Soprintendenza Archeologica del Veneto, the entity that oversees archaeological processes in Venice. An expert from the Soprintendenza will eventually assess this artifact and complete an official RA form. This form will be numbered according to the official system used by the entire country, to be stored among the thousands of others.
Our tour concluded with a look inside one of the church rooms. Its ceilings were adorned with beautiful paintings encircled by green vines and leaves, although for many of them, the central art piece had been painted over. Dr. Bortoletto informed us that these paintings depicted Fascist symbols. After the fall of Fascism, these designs were considered offensive, and so were erased. The paintings that remained displayed smaller symbols, and thus were allowed to persist. These symbols actually help the archaeologists to date the art, as they narrow down the time period in which they were created to the beginning of Fascism.  In a place as rich in history as Venice, every detail is worth studying. It is a city in which archaeology thrives, and a place in which past human tales remains to be discovered. Our visit was a window into the archaeological process of Venice, and will help us to create a system to effectively aid archaeologists.

 

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