Strange Places in Italy: Monte Testaccio, a Mountain of Broken Clay Pots in Rome
Between the 2nd century BC and the 3rd century AD, Testaccio was Rome’s river port. Supplies of wine, oil and grain were transported here by ships in huge terracotta amphorae, which, when emptied, were dumped in the river. But when the Tiber became almost unnavigable as a consequence, the pots were smashed and the pieces stacked methodically in a pile, which over time grew into a large hill – Monte Testaccio--about half a mile around and 120 feet tall.
Today, Monte Testaccio (literally in Latin, "Broken Pot Mountain") near Aventine Hill, is now in nightlife district of the city. When pondering the massiveness of the hill one can't resist thinking that it's the result of feeding, housing and lighting (olive oil was used in lamps) over a million people in Ancient Rome. The "mountain" is actually a vast rubbish heap of millions of broken storage jars and clay roof tiles. Any old terracotta went here, but most came from large 70 gallon amphorae used to transport olive oil. The shards weren't thrown, however... but stacked in an orderly structured manner, layer by layer. Excavations carried out in 1991 showed that the mound had been raised as a series of level terraces with retaining walls made of nearly intact amphorae filled with shards to anchor them in place.It is not often open to the public, but you can still exposed layer upon layer of pots at the back of the restaurants and bars around its base.
During the Middle Ages jousts and tournaments were held on top of the hill. In the 1800s festivals were held there and Garibaldi even used it for a base for guns to fend off the French. Because of all that terracotta, the interior of the hill is very cool causing some to excavate caves for the storage of wine. Popes would often lead a procession to the top of the hill on Good Friday to erect crosses to represent the crucifixion of Christ and two thieves. There is still a cross on top. Nowdays, Popes, jousts or festivals... just partying the night away...
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