The Testaccio district of Rome is named after Monte Testaccio, an artificial hill near the old Ripa Grande river port. This hill was formed between 140 B.C. and 250 A.D. from fragments of broken pottery, hailing from the millions of amphorae that were utilized in order to transport the goods that were unloaded in the river port along the Tiber.
Monte Testaccio Rome
Address: Via Zabaglia, 24 – Rome. Telephone: +39 060608. Entrance fee: 4 Euro. Guided tours are organized by so-called “cultural associations”, which pay separately. Reservation required.
History and Description
Monte Testaccio was formed gradually between 150 BC and 250 AD. At that time, goods arriving at the port of Ostia were brought via the Tiber to the Ripa Grande port. Many of these goods (especially olive oil) were transported in amphorae. Since the urns in which olive oil was transported could only be used once, the supply of broken pottery never finished. Throwing the shards into a pile created an ever-higher mound. The circumference of this nearly 50-meter-high hill is about one kilometer.
The Latin word for potsherds is testae. It is from this that the hill, and later the district, derives its name.
Thanks to Monte Testaccio, scholars have learned a lot about Roman eating habits and about the trade relations of the time.
Most of the amphorae arrived from what is now Andalusia and from North Africa. Some have trademarks on the handles, while others have handwritten tituli picti. These are notes on the origin and nature of the goods. They also often indicate where and when they were inspected.
Many of the amphorae contain not only information about their locations of origin (mainly Baetica – present day Andalusia – and Bizacena – north Africa), but also brush-written details about the shipments, including the dates, the contents and the controls performed during transportation.
From the information, it has been possible to deduce that at that time about 6 million kilos of olive oil were imported per year.
Monte Testaccio is also known as Monte dei Cocci.
Fun and games and food and drink
Under pope Alexander IV the Monte Testaccio became the background for carnival celebrations. These were often rather cruel. In one game pigs and wild boar were thrown down the hill and whoever managed to pierce them with a lance got to keep them. The first time this happened was in 1256 and the last time was around 1470, when pope Paul II abolished the custom.
In the 17th century two gentlemen called Pietro Ottini and Domenico Coppitelli bought the area adjacent to the hill. They dug several caves into the hillside and started turning them into osterie.
Later big banquets called Ottobrate were held in the area.