My name is Ioana Iliesiu and I will present the exclusive original folios from the recents Carceri Excavations that have split the streets of Rome. During the past two summers I have been part of the team of archeologists to unearth Piranesi’s Carceri from their depth. The Carceri, a labyrinthine prison that worms its way underneath Rome, were thought, until recently, to have been, like most of Piranesi’s work, a paper project, a capriccio. But the recent discoveries have transformed the 16 plates from paper vedutte to real pockets of space that fill the gaps in Rome’s sections. They exist, in perfect darkness, in the voids between buried basilicas, entombed Mithraic temples and fossilised Roman villas, forming a labyrinthine underbelly, a subversive mirror image of the plan of the city above. I have brought with me several articles from the initial period of excavation, as well as several analytical X-rays of found artefacts and their detail sheets.
The discovery of the Carceri was made on the 12th of May 2012, when during construction works by Termini Station, a sinkhole was formed. During deep-depth drilling, a pocket of air was hit and a sinkhole formed, opening a wormhole from Termini’s parking lot to the hidden vaulted antechamber of the Carceri. A team of archeologists was called in, who discovered the now famous Carcer slate, a monumental slab (approximately 3.6m by 5m) with the inscription “Carceri Invenzione, G. Battista Piranesi, Architect Veneziano”. The inscription was the key to the discovery of the magnitude of the entire Carceri project.
Due to the chaotic master plan of the Carceri, whose spaces overlap, and expand without any apparent logic, the archeologists had to construct a map of the excavation points based on the clues that Piranesi leaves in the second state of the Carceri prints, which at this point were thought of as being a sort of cheat sheet to the discovery of the project. At that point, two versions of Piranesi’s Prints existed. The fist, sketchier version (1748) and the second, done 13 years later, at the same time as Piranesi was drawing his Campo Marzio project. While 14 originals from the first state are simply re-etched, two new plates are added. By analysing these plates, one can detect the limits of the carceri proper. If the Termini excavations reveal the antechamber, the excavations by the Mamertine prison reveal the entrance to the project. Plate II is radically different from the plates in State I – it cracks an opening in the infinitely expanding spaces but doesn’t open the carceri to a Rome of the 1700s, as one would expect, but to an imagined view of ancient Rome. Specialists are now beginning to think that this plate is the bridge to the Campo Marzio project, published at the same time. Why? It is this detail that is the clue – the Carceri begin at the edge of the Campo Marzio map. (I show the maps while talking about this)
The next spatial clue that archeologists worked with, is plate 4, which positions the next wormhole of the Carceri underneath St. Peter’s Square. The excavations in St. Peter’s square were widely portrayed in the media. Due to the nature of the site itself, the excavations, which took place over 3 and a half moths, were split into four phases of excavations.
By following an underground passage from the St. Peter’s excavation, two more important artefacts were unearthed – what was thought of as original Roman and Egyptian artefacts – part of an architrave and three fragments of an obelisk. These fake artefacts are placed in the project by Piranesi, who had a passion for excavating, documenting, collecting but also creating fake mutations artefacts and selling them as real.
The archaeological team was, by this point, uncertain about the nature of the project. Was Piranesi creating a project by excavating pockets of space buried deep underneath Rome and recontextualizing them, joining spaces them together, bridging in the gaps of disparate fossilised chambers and inhabiting them with mutant facsimiles? Was Piranesi, the Venetian architect, as he signs the Carceri, a master of the spatial collage, or was he constructing an underbelly master plan of a Rome he hated, design to look like a set, incorporating disparate architectural fragments, facsimiles and archeological paraphernalia, as he was doing when drawing the plan of Campo Marzio.
The last phase of the excavations took place at the Trinita Dei Monti site, indicated in a caption at the bottom of plate 5 – Piranesi’s studio on Strada Felice, near Trinita Dei Monti church. The house above the approximate location of the studio was sealed off and the media prepared for the monumental discoveries predicted by out team of archeologists. In the studio, we predicted we would discover the key to the Carceri – an elaborate bridging of found spaces or a stage set constructed from Piranes’s antiquity fakes. X-ray of the deep underground levels helped our team navigate through the layers of earth and pockets of space underneath the street level.
The chamber that we reached at 32.5 m underground revealed a small dark chamber, a fossil of a 1700s studio. Un the table, partially unfinished, was a print, which, with great care, I will reveal to you know. Please bare with me while I unseal the print.
This print, which we have now catalogued as the lost Carceri print, is plate 17, of the Third State. This print is a sort of Alice’s mirror which subverts the project. At its lowest level, it shows the studio, which morphs into a view of an underground Carceri. Through a gap in the floor, a via apia composed of facsimiles of ancient artefacts. The etching converges towards the top, where it passes a layer of underground pipes and modern foundations, and bursts, through a sinkhole, into the street above. This print both closes the loop, spatially returning the project to the sinkhole at Termini, where our journey began, but also shattering the reality of the excavation itself. It reverts a built and/or found project back to paper. The Venitian Architect who signs the slate becomes a fantasy of a disgruntled Venetian draftsman and the paraphernalia that Piranesi embeds in the project disperses. His fake archives, his lions, his tortures, his prisoners, his smoke and mirrors, are replaced by the paraphernalia of the excavation, transforming the reality of the x-ray and newsprint to fantasy, confusing the very image of the central figure, the Architect.
If all was a fake, who is the Architect of the project. Was it Piranesi who, in his Third state was designing a scenario of a future excavation of his built project, or was it I, inhabiting Piranesi’s project and adding new layer of fake paraphernalia, who becomes the architect?