The Italian Almanac

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ancient ship in Pisa

Italian News - April 26

A spectacular series of ancient ships unearthed near Pisa and the city's vanished past as a thriving port are the subject of a new exhibition in Rome. Pisa, Un Viaggio nel Mare dell'Antichita (Pisa, A Journey Into The Sea Of Antiquity) features the reconstruction of two ancient ships and numerous finds testifying to Pisa's long maritime history and its links with the Mediterranean over 2,000 year.

The exhibit was inspired by the unexpected discovery of Pisa's ancient harbor in 1998, when workmen uncovered the remains of an ancient boat while digging the foundations of a new State Railways building. Since then, an astonishing 20 ships have been unearthed in the area, as well as a host of other items, including navigational instruments, human and animal bones, ropes, incense burners, oil lamps, and writing implements. The exhibition features a selection of these finds, as well as reconstruction of two of the boats, displayed in the order in which they were uncovered.

Although the cache of boats dates back to between 200BC and 500AD, archaeologists have also found an Etruscan-built stone pier and wooden breakwater from the 5th century BC. Other remains suggest the port may even have been operational as much as 300 years earlier. From this, experts have deduced that the Pisan port was operational for about twelve centuries, acting as a gateway for routes to Naples, southern Italy, Marseilles and Carthage. This was a particularly surprising discovery given that scholars were completely unaware of its existence before the ships were unearthed. The port is not in fact mentioned in any surviving documents.