Italy is teeming with world history, with much of it located underground, just waiting to be discovered. Luciano Faggiano learned this firsthand when he was digging a trench for a new toilet. His incredible find led to an excavation that revealed a world that went back to before the time of Jesus.
15. A Trattoria
Luciano Faggiano had a simple dream. He wanted to open a trattoria at 56 Via Ascanio Grandi in the town of Lecce. Located in the bootheel of Italy, Lecce had been an attractive spot for invaders for many thousands of years. That history was behind the city now; at least that’s what Faggiano thought.
14. Toilet Clog
Faggiano’s plans hit a snag when the toilet for the trattoria continually backed up. He enlisted his sons to dig a trench under the building to find the problem. One son was at University, while the other two were teenagers. It will only take a week, Luciano told his sons.
13. Hidden Passageways
However, digging the trench unearthed ancient discoveries that led to years of excavation. “We found underground corridors and other rooms, so we kept digging,” said Faggiano. The quest started in 2000 and led to a world that started before the birth of Christ.
12. Ancient Messapian Artifacts
The family discovered ancient pottery created by the Messapian people, who lived in the heel of Italy around 1000 BC. Their pottery has intricate geometric patterns. That wasn’t the end of the discoveries. In the other rooms, Faggiano found a Roman granary and a Franciscan chapel and etchings.
11. Knights Templar
The family also found another compelling example of ancient artwork: drawings on the wall made by the Knights Templar. The Faggianos never thought they would find so many things, but as one archeologist told the New York Times, “Whenever you dig a hole [in Italy], centuries of history come out.”
10. A Family Affair
The building itself was modern, with white walls and heating and plumbing. That’s how Faggiano lured his two older sons’ home. His third son was 12 at the time, and Faggiano tied a rope around his chest and lowered him into the openings.
9. Not Telling
At first, Faggiano did not tell his wife about the dangerous dig. “I made sure to tell him not to tell his mama,” Faggiano said. Wife Anna Maria Sanò knew something was up because “We had all these dirty clothes, every day,” she said. “I didn’t understand what was going on.”
One of the discoveries was a basement of a Franciscan convent. There, nuns prepared the bodies of their dead. This is common in Italy, since the cities were built on layers upon layers of history. Lecce was a key crossing point for people traveling the Mediterranean. It sustained invasions by the world’s greatest empires: Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Norman, and Lombard.
Although a statue of Lecce’s patron saint, Orontius, was once stationed in the central plaza, it had to be removed after historians found a Roman Ampitheater below. The entire area had to be excavated, revealed incredible Roman relics.
6. Dating to the Time of Homer
Mario De Marco, a local historian, observed that “The very first layers of Lecce date to the time of Homer, or at least according to legend.” Invaders came to loot and set up outposts for their next conquest. They also left parts of their civilizations behind.
5. Keep on Digging
News about Faggiano’s dig soon spread and city authorities shut him down. He pleaded his case, stating the simple fact that he was only looking for a sewage pipe. Eventually, he was permitted to keep on looking as long as heritage officials were on hand to make sure nothing valuable was damaged.
4. Rings and Frescoes
As the years went by, Faggiano found a ring with Christian symbols, ancient vases, devotional bottles from the time of the Roman Empire, hidden frescoes, and many hundreds of artifacts. Now, his quest for a sewage pipe has turned into a special museum.
3. Museum Faggiano
Museum Faggiano is an incredible independent museum that allows visitors to actually descend down into the underground tunnels. Glass flooring puts the many layers of the site on display. The museum docent, Rosa Anna Romano, had her own experience with toilet archeology.
2. United by Sewage Systems
Romano’s husband was taking an outdoor bathroom break while exploring the site of a cave. He noticed holes in the ground which turned out to be an ancient grotto, Grotto of Cervi. “We were brought together by sewage systems,” Faggiano joked.
1. Sewage Pipe Found
Faggiano remained focused on finding the best route for the planned bathroom, ever mindful of his original idea of opening a trattoria. “I was still digging to find my pipe,” he said. Finally, one day, he found his sewage pipe. Although he loves the museum, he still plans for the trattoria – as long as it doesn’t need any digging.