The Tiber River: Flumen Tiberis
Remember: the Tiber River saved Romulus and Remus, the litigious founders of a small goat herding community called Rome. And they relied on the River for water and defense. As Rome grew, the River ensured commercial growth as raw materials and goods were imported from further and further abroad. The River was present in Rome’s inhabitants daily life for hundreds of years—even after the decline of the Roman Empire, it was resource for the shrinking and economically depressed town.
Rome’s connection with the Tiber was lost in the modern era. The Muraglioni, the tall stone embankments that flank it, are to blame. They were built in the late 1800 / early 1900s to prevent flooding. It seemed like a good idea at the time: Italy had just been united and Rome, the new country’s capital, risked flooding. The embankments stopped that, but at the cost of amputating the city from its former life support system.
We’ll go back in time, long before the embankments were built, to rediscover the Tiber’s various roles. We’ll talk about ancient engineering and two two-thousand year-old bridges on Tiber Island (one of which is on the left). From the Island, we can glimpse the Cloaca Maxima–the “main drain” of the ancient Roman sewer that ran under a large portion of the city. Strolling through scenic Trastevere, we’ll discuss place names and roads, like Vicolo della Renella and Via Arenula. (Both Renella and Arenula come from the Latin arena, which meant “sand” and referred to the sandy beaches where locals went to bathe or wash clothes.) We’ll cross Ponte Sisto, Pope Sixtus’ Bridge (seen on the left, as well), once we’ve discussed the bustling ancient harbor that hugged the banks of the Tiber long before the bridge was built at the end of the 1400s. Continuing upstream, we’ll meander along the quiet Via Giulia, which was the “in” place to live in the 1500s. (In fact, the artist Raphael owned property there, rubbing elbows with the most chic aristocratic families of his time…) We’ll examine a curious flood marker from the Middle Ages and then cross Ponte Sant’Angelo — the bridge that Hadrian ordered built in 130 A.D. to connect his Mausoleum with the central Rome.
Energetic visitors will continue with Castel Sant’Angelo. The Angel Castle, completed as one sees it today in the 1500s, is built on top of the Emperor Hadrian’s massive Mausoleum. The history and symbolism of the Mausoleum is fascinating, while the artwork in the Castle is top-notch. The view from the upper deck almost rival those of Saint Peter’s Dome!
Entrance fees: there are none, with the exception of Castel Sant’Angelo if visitors would like to add it to the itinerary.
Note: Bring a camera! Trastevere and Via Giulia are photogenic!