Monte Testaccio — Imperial Rome’s Broken Pottery Garbage Dump
Ok, you are not going to build a mountain out of one oily amphora. Thanks to an estimated 300,000 amphora imported yearly, it took Imperial Rome a little over two hundred years to create a noteworthy hill of a broken pottery in its backyard… (It’s the green pimple at the bottom of the recreation on the right.)
We could argue that Romans were master urban planner and created this garbage heap next to Rome’s riverside port / industrial zone. The Tiber River, the bustling harbor, and wall-to-wall warehouses are represented in the same recreation mentioned above. Amphora were unloaded daily by the thousands. They could contain liquids (such as olive oil, linseed oil, wine, and soy-sauce like garum), others contained peach preserves, dried beans, grain… As the oil-stained amphora collected, someone was in charge of removing them, breaking them into pieces, stacking them in an orderly fashion, and covering them with lime (to neutralize the stench). In places on Monte Testaccio (Broken Pottery Hill), it is easy to see how painstakingly the shards were laid.
It could also be argued that Imperial Romans were slightly out of their mind for parking their trash heap of oily amphora fragments in their backyard. By circa 250 A.D., the mountain may have been around 50 meters tall (i.e. 150 feet). (It is now about 36 meters tall — circa 108 feet, having been partially buried by the rising ground level and slowly leveled over the course of time.) 150 feet of broken pottery must have been an ugly blight on the city’s horizon! Or was it? As we stroll over and around the hill, we will discuss the garbage heap’s growth and history as well as Romans’ surprising attitude towards trash.
Visiting the site requires a special permission and a timed (private) entrance. Visits are limited to an hour. Besides a 4 euro / per person ticket, there is a one-time euro 35 reservation surcharge. For more information, please see “the costs” section of this webpage.
Monte Testaccio is in the heart of Testaccio and can be combined with different sites in the immediate vicinity, like the Mithraeum near the Circus Maximus (another special entrance area) or the Baths of Caracalla.