The world beneath Rome’s cobblestones has a rhythm. Under a freshly raised canopy of steel beams nearly 30 feet below the hum of Vespas and buses, Rossella Rea, in a hard hat and neon-orange safety vest, watches as her team brushes dirt off a medieval sauce pot. A few feet away, crews in identical uniforms go to work in an area they’ve already cleared, erecting the walls of a new subway station. Rea deconstructs; they construct. It’s a tempo they’ve perfected over the past decade. ¶ In a city that’s been layering on top of itself for nearly 3,000 years, there’s enough to keep someone like Rea, 64, busy around the clock. She’s the archaeological superintendent of the Colosseum, where she oversees preservation and curates exhibits. And, as the scientific director of the Metro C project, an effort to extend Rome’s outdated subway, Rea safeguards treasures that might otherwise be lost. “Some moments are for digging, some are for building, some are for teamwork,” she says.
As excavators go, Rea’s more fascinated by the landscapes of cities than with single artifacts. Childhood visits to Pompeii sparked her passion for the past. Since beginning her career in 1979, she’s become a local authority on everything from gladiators to ancient public works, serving first as an archaeologist at the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and eventually rising to direct the Colosseum. When Metro C fi