The Thyssen begins its journey to Ancient Rome

The path will be suspended above the site of the Roman villa.
The path will be suspended above the site of the Roman villa. / INFOGRAPHICS: RAFAEL POZO GARCÍA
  • A new project will finally allow people to discover the first-century villa found below the Malaga gallery

  • The architect's designs include plans for ceiling mirrors which will allow visitors to see the entire site below the museum

During the construction of the art gallery, Roman ruins were discovered below the ground where the Carmen Thyssen Museum now lies.

It was a whole archaeological site, whose origins date from the first century up to the fifth, that could not be used or exhibited because of the groundwater table and the constant damp, especially when it rains, in this underground area.

Now, architect Rafael Pozo García-Baquero has come up with a solution to this water-logging problem, and the site can finally be put on display.

The basement entrance will be completely watertight thanks to the same type of door that is used in submarines.

This architectural project, which has been approved by the town planning department at the city hall, will see that the basement of the Carmen Thyssen Museum is converted into much more than a regular exhibition.

The 618-square-metre basement will be accessed through a series of paths which will be constructed to hang above the site and lighting will help visitors discover this unique Roman room while they walk around it.

“It's more than just a house. I prefer to compare these remains with a farm from the Roman Era, because in this one space there is a production unit, and there is a smarter area where the shopkeeper would have lived, plus an area for making salted and preserved fish and even a shop where they can be sold,” explains Rafael Pozo, the architect and person in charge of this architectural project.

Above the ground, the architect has designed a hanging path which will be suspended 80 centimetres above the archaeological remains.

The route will mostly follow the original patio paths of the Roman building.

The tour

From the entrance, the tour will first go to the oldest salt fish preparing basins, where the visibility from the path is limited. However, the polished stainless steel roof will act as a mirror and will allow visitors to see the entire area.

Following that, the tour will begin to go around the patio where the columns and paving stones will be lit.

The path will lead to a point where people can see the main piece of this site, the 'Ninfeo de los Peces', an enormous platter from the end of the first century, in use until the middle of the fifth, decorated with the oldest paintings in Malaga and showing colourful fish on a black background.

“It's any art gallery's dream: finding an archaeological site which has amazing ruins and conserved paintings,” says Pozo.

Next, the tour goes to the kitchen and to a wide platform where archaeological pieces found during the construction work will be displayed. In addition, from this point, visitors will get a view of the whole site and they will observe the fifth-century basins.

The final path leads from here to the end of the tour, where there is a Byzantine cemetery and mosaics.

The architect Rafael Pozo stresses how determined the planning department and the Carmen Thyssen Museum were to find a solution to the problems caused by the water and to make this area accessible to visitors of the gallery.

A series of wells has been put in order to drain the basement when it becomes flooded during periods of heavy rain.

This means that the basement does not remain flooded for months like it does now, although during points in the season the space will not be accessible to visitors until the wells are drained.

Archaeologists recommend that the humidity level is kept at 100%, mainly to preserve the Ninfeo de los Peces.

This is why the architect has chosen for the railings to be glass, to promote visibility, while the paths themselves will be concrete, to prevent the floor from being slippery and dangerous to visitors.

“Everything has been done so that the focus is the site,” explains Pozo, adding that the walls around the basement will be covered with white wooden slats like in the gallery above, so as to keep an architectural continuity in the building.

The work will cost 420,000 euros and will take eight months to complete.

According to the town councillor, Paco Pomares, the plans from the museum are already in the contracting department at the town hall so the planning permission will come through soon.