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All Luciano Faggiano wanted when he purchased the seemingly unremarkable building at 56 Via Ascanio Grandi, was to open a restaurant. The only problem was the toilet. Sewage kept backing up. So Mr. Faggiano enlisted his two older sons to help him dig a trench and investigate. He predicted the job would take about a week. “We found underground corridors and other rooms, so we kept digging,” said Mr. Faggiano, 60. His search for a sewage pipe, which began in 2000, became one family’s tale of discovery.
Lecce was once a critical crossroads in the Mediterranean. Severo Martini, a member of the City Council, said archaeological relics turn up on a regular basis — and can present a headache for urban planning. A project to build a shopping mall had to be redesigned after the discovery of an ancient Roman temple beneath the site of a planned parking lot.
One week quickly passed, as father and sons discovered a tomb of the Messapians, who lived in the region centuries before the birth of Jesus. Soon, the family discovered a chamber used to store grain by the ancient Romans.
If this history only later became clear, what was immediately obvious was that finding the pipe would be a much bigger project than Mr. Faggiano had anticipated. He did not initially tell his wife about the extent of the work. He tied a rope around the chest of his youngest son, Davide, then 12, and lowered him to dig in small, darkened openings. “I made sure to tell him not to tell his mama,” he said. His wife, Anna Maria Sanò, soon became suspicious. “We had all these dirty clothes, every day,” she said. “I didn’t understand what was going on.”
After watching the Faggiano men haul away debris in the back seat of the family car, neighbors also became suspicious and notified the authorities. Investigators arrived and shut down the excavations, warning Mr. Faggiano against operating an unapproved archaeological work site. Mr. Faggiano responded that he was just looking for a sewage pipe.
A year passed. Finally, Mr. Faggiano was allowed to resume his pursuit of the sewage pipe on condition that heritage officials observed the work. An underground treasure house emerged, as the family uncovered ancient vases, Roman devotional bottles, an ancient ring with Christian symbols, medieval artifacts, hidden frescoes and more. Today, the building is Museum Faggiano, an independent archaeological museum authorized by the Lecce government.
Mr. Faggiano is now satisfied with his museum, but he has not forgotten about the restaurant. A few years into his excavation, he finally found his sewage pipe. It was, indeed, broken. He has since bought another building and is again planning for a restaurant, assuming it does not need any renovations. “I still want it,” he said of the restaurant. “I’m very stubborn.”