London, September 17 : Scientists have unearthed the hidden ruins of an ancient lagoon town in Rome that was the ancestor of the city of Venice, and have revealed that Venice was built by refugees from Roman cities, who were driven out of their homes from barbarians.
Venice was a powerful maritime power during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It seemed, however, an unlikely spot to choose for a leading world power, stretching across 118 small islands in the marshy saltwater Venetian lagoon.
Historians agree that the explanation is that Venice was founded on the islands by refugees from Roman cities such as Ravenna, Padua and Aquileia as they fled from invasions, first by Attila the Hun in the 5th century and then, a century later, by the Lombards, as the final remnants of the Roman Empire crumbled.
According to a report in the Times, Paolo Mozzi, a researcher at the University of Padua geography department, said that high-definition satellite photographs had revealed the ruins of an extensive town much closer to present day Venice at Altino - known in Roman times as Altinum - a little more than seven miles north of the city, close to Marco Polo airport.
"The hypothesis is that as Altinum also succumbed to the Barbarian invasions, the inhabitants fled farther down to the lagoon to build Venice on the islands, using some of the stones from their city," he said.
The newly identified ruins include streets, palaces, temples, squares and theatres, as well as a large amphitheatre and canals, showing that Altinum was a wealthy and thriving city.
By the 10th century, however, it had been abandoned.
"The city in which Venice had its origins finally has a face," said the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Mozzi said that Altinum probably had about 20,000 inhabitants.
A plan to excavate the ruins is being drawn up at the universities of Padua and Venice, in collaboration with the Veneto region superintendent of archaeology.