Feeding the Empire: The History of the River Port of Rome
In addition to the three ports located along the coast (Ostia, Portus and Pozzuoli) Rome also had a river mooring. This port was used to accommodate small ships that went up the Tiber, loaded with goods and people. The great ships that sailed on the open sea and came to Rome from all over the empire were not suitable for sailing up the Tiber, because they were too large and cumbersome; their cargoes were therefore unloaded into smaller boats heading towards Rome.
The great river port of the Capital was located at a strategic point, at the foot of the Aventine hill, and was built to allow the continuous unloading and loading of materials and people from ships.
Today in the same area is one of the most intriguing spots in the city: the Testaccio district.
Here you can still see some of the structures that made up the complex system of warehouses, roads, quays and landings along the river. Some ruins are still visible from the road, others are located below the current road level and others are embedded in the walls and modern structures.
Over all these structures looms the famous “mountain of potsherds”—a towering hill more than 35 meters high, formed exclusively by fragments of ceramic transport containers (amphorae) that were unloaded and disposed of for other uses. This tour will take you on a journey in search of the traces left by history and spared by modern urbanization, in an area now home to the largest market in the city.
- The Testaccio district takes its name from the word testae, which in Latin means “earthenware”, due to the presence of an enormous landfill of amphora fragments that make up the large hill at the center of the district.
- Beneath the hustle and bustle of the modern neighborhood market lie the excavated remains of ancient Roman warehouses, whose walls are made of whole amphorae stacked on top of each other.
- Many of the features of the port are known today because they were outlined on an ancient map (the Forma Urbis Romae) of which some marble fragments survive today.
Questions we will answer
- How can you recognize the content of the different cargo arriving by sea in ships?
- Who was in charge of unloading and loading the goods?
- Why were some terracotta containers immediately broken when their transport function was over?
Duration: 3 hours
Pick up: Your preference
Departure time: Flexible
When: Daily (Monday to Sunday); Year round
Means of transport: Car with private driver
Languages: English, French, Italian
Suitable for children? Yes
Suitable for people with mobility issues? Yes
Walking distance: 1.5 km