Italian police have discovered an illegal garbage dump hidden in the remains of Rome’s ancient catacomb network. Authorities sealed off the area and are now investigating possible environmental pollution from the underground lake of acrid oil.
The ancient Romans started using underground caverns and tunnels to inter their dead since the second century BC. Lately, their descendants have restarted using this space for a much less noble task: as a trash dump.
The site lies on the Appian Way, a beautifully preserved example of the way the Romans laid stones over beds of gravel to built their roads. Over the years the catacombs have been filled with trash and food waste, forming a puddle of acrid oil, Italian media reported. Officials confirmed that police officers seized the area on Monday, until the level of oil infiltration in the soil can be determined.
Italy is home to some of Europe’s largest landfill sites and has been fined millions of euros by the European court of justice for failing to clean up its illegal dumping grounds.
The waste management business has also provided fertile ground for organized crime in the country’s poorer south, most notoriously in the “Land of Fires” north of Naples, where large amounts of trash has been dumped and burned, poisoning the environment, The Guardian reports.