From ANSA:

Italian archaeologists are working hard to unearth more of the largest Roman city ever uncovered, a colony that served as a bulwark against barbarian invasions before being destroyed by Attila the Hun .

Aquileia in today's far north east, once the third-biggest city in Roman Italy, had been largely wiped off the map by foreign attacks and centuries of stone looting. But some of its ancient splendour remained in traces of its baths, temples, port, public buildings and private dwellings .

Specialists from the University of Udine have been bringing the city back to renewed life so as to make the place - one of Italy's World Heritage sites - more interesting for the visitor to look at .

"We're now focusing on uncovering the lay-out of the public baths, one of the largest and plushest of the fourth century AD, measuring more than two hectares," said lead archaeologist Marina Rubinich .

As a term of comparison, the largest baths in the famous buried city of Pompeii are about half the size. The Udine University lecturer also said her team was gathering together scattered pieces of the city to exhibit in a revamped museum on the site .

A set of precious mosaics that are now in a local museum will, by contrast, be reinstalled in their original location, she said .

"The aim is to make the city more understandable for the visitor," Rubinich said .

To help with this goal, university experts are making a 3-D computer reconstruction of the baths .

"We hope to have the first stage of the project completed by this time next year," she said .

Aquileia was founded as a frontier fortress in 180/181 BC, initially serving to ward off Gaullish invaders .

The outpost was soon linked to present-day Bologna and Genoa and began to thrive commercially after gold was discovered nearby in 130 BC .

It was the starting-point of several important roads leading to the north-eastern part of the empire including ones to Trieste and present-day Klagenfurt in Austria .

When Marcus Aurelius made it the main fortress of the empire against the barbarians of the North and East in 168 AD, it rose to the height of its greatness and soon had a population of 100,000. It later became a naval station and had its own mint, hundreds of whose coins have been found .

In the 4th century AD the local bishop obtained the rank of Patriarch and the first in a series of major religious congresses was held there. An imperial palace was constructed in which emperors after the time of Diocletian frequently stayed, and the city often played a part in major power struggles .

At the end of the century, a Roman historian ranked it ninth among the great cities of the world .

But it was so utterly destroyed by Attila's Huns in 452 that it became difficult to recognize the original site. The Roman inhabitants, together with those of smaller towns in the neighbourhood, fled to the lagoons, laying the foundations of Venice .