Monte Testaccio: Unveiling Rome’s Hidden ‘Hill of Pots’
If you are touring the area around the Pyramid of Cestius and want to discover a little-known story of the district, Monte Testaccio, known by all Romans as the ‘Hill of Pots,’ is the destination for you.
Located in the eponymous neighborhood, it rises in the area of traditional Roman trattorias, originally old warehouses, and a short walk from the former slaughterhouse.
The Remarkable Story Behind Monte Testaccio
Contrary to what one might think, the Hill is not a natural hill but something that has been forming year by year and is now about 35 meters high, covering an area of about 20,000 square meters. But how did it come into existence? The hill is nothing more than a heap of potsherds, fragments of amphorae used for transporting goods, which until the mid-3rd century AD were periodically unloaded and accumulated in this place after being emptied in the adjacent River Harbor.
The amphorae had stamps imprinted on the clay before firing, containing information about the factory that produced them.
But why were these amphorae reduced to fragments? Simply because olive oil amphorae were not reusable due to the rapid deterioration of the oil residues. What better solution, then, than to use this ‘open-air landfill,’ where the fragments were piled up and massed, also thanks to the use of lime that eliminated the inconveniences caused by the decomposition of the oil and, at the same time, provided excellent cohesion and stability for the hill over time.
Historical Significance: Monte Testaccio’s Role in Roman Trade
Access to the hill was through carts containing potsherds and amphorae via a ramp and two small roads, proceeding with the unloading and sedimentation of waste material. This artificial hill thus becomes one of the most reliable historical testimonies to document the economic development of the Roman Empire, trade relations between Rome and its provinces, as well as dietary habits in antiquity.
Monte Testaccio Today
Once its landfill function ended in the 3rd century AD, from the Middle Ages onwards, Monte Testaccio began to represent something different for the Roman people: it became a venue for events and gatherings, such as the famous Roman ‘Ottobrate’ in the 19th century.
So, if you are planning a walking tour of the area between Ostiense and Testaccio, don’t forget to explore this place so rich in history.