Rome’s connection with the Tiber was severed 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. We’ll talk about ancient engineering and two two-thousand year-old bridges on Tiber Island (one of which is in the picture). From the Island, we can glimpse the Cloaca Maxima–the “main drain” or 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 means “sand” and referred to the sandy beaches where locals went to bathe or wash clothes.) We’ll cross Ponte Sisto, Pope Sixtus’s Bridge (seen in the photo), 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–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.