Monte Testaccio, the curious history of a Roman hill with a Spanish stamp
Did you know that there is a hill in Rome created mainly by amphorae of olive oil from Baetica (Spain)?
Stay and we'll tell you about it.
Monte Testaccio is an artificial hill located in Rome, Italy, near the Tiber River. It is believed to have been created in the 1st century BC from the remains of ceramic containers (known as amphorae) that were used to transport foodstuffs, especially oil, from the Roman provinces to the capital. It is estimated that 80% of the oil came from the province of Baetica (present-day Spain) and the remaining 20% from Tripolitania and Gaul.
The clay amphorae arrived at Ostia, the port of Rome, and were transported to the centre. Once the contents were poured into large pits, the amphorae were accumulated on an esplanade near the Tiber River, which formed an artificial hill 35 metres high. The location of this hill was ideal for distributing the oil, both to other municipalities (along the river or the Appian Way) and to the city centre.
During the time of Ancient Rome, olive oil was a highly valued product used in cooking, medicine and personal hygiene. Spain, in particular, became one of the main producers and exporters of olive oil to Rome. The presence of Spanish olive oil in ancient Rome is largely due to the expansion of the Roman Empire into the Iberian Peninsula in the 2nd century BC. At that time, the Romans discovered the great potential of the olive tree and began to promote its cultivation and production in the region.
Over time, Spanish olive oil became one of the main products exported to Rome and was highly valued for its high quality and flavour. It was used in the preparation of food and beverages, as well as in medicine and personal hygiene. In addition, Spanish olive oil was also used in the construction and maintenance of the city of Rome. It was used to waterproof roofs and walls, as well as to maintain the sewage and water supply systems.
In Imperial times, Monte Testaccio became an important centre for the storage and distribution of foodstuffs, and the remains of amphorae were piled up here for centuries. Over time, its surface became a place of residence for the city's workers and low-income inhabitants. During the Middle Ages, Monte Testaccio was abandoned and became a place used for illegal and marginalised activities. However, in the 19th century, the mount was rediscovered and restored as an important archaeological and cultural site. Today, Monte Testaccio is a popular tourist destination and a place of interest for those interested in the history and archaeology of Rome.
The clay of the amphorae is a relatively hard and resistant material, which allowed the hill to maintain its shape and structure for centuries, despite climatic adversities and natural erosions. In addition, the clay also compacted over time, which increased the density and stability of the hill.
The archaeological remains of clay have made it possible to determine the origin of the clay, the foodstuffs that were transported and even the type of olive oil that was consumed at the time. Valuable conclusions have been drawn about which period the most oil was consumed, depending on the customs of the population or the size of the population.
Extra virgin olive oil is a fundamental ingredient in Mediterranean gastronomy and its importance dates back to ancient times, even before the Roman Empire. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Phoenicians already cultivated and consumed olives and olive oil, considering it a sacred food of great nutritional and medicinal value. They also used it in religious ceremonies and as a symbol of prosperity and wealth. In Roman times, olive oil production and trade became an important economic activity, spreading throughout the Mediterranean basin. The Romans used advanced production and storage techniques and built infrastructures such as roads and ports to facilitate transport and trade.
In the Middle Ages, olive oil remained a staple food in the Mediterranean diet and its use extended to medicine, cosmetics and lighting. Today, extra virgin olive oil remains an essential ingredient in the gastronomy and culture of Mediterranean countries, as well as in the Mediterranean diet, recognised for its high nutritional value and health benefits. Moreover, olive oil is also an important export product for many Mediterranean countries, such as Spain (mainly), Italy, Greece and Tunisia, among others.
We hope you have been interested in this curious information about how extra virgin olive oil from Andalusia and Spain was already known and appreciated throughout the Roman Empire. Even before, but the great innovation of this historical period in infrastructures facilitated the transport of goods and the discovery of new ingredients thanks to the interconnection of the Roman provinces.
We leave you a very interesting video in case you want to delve deeper into the subject.
Tell us, have you ever been to Rome and have you ever been near Monte Testaccio knowing what it was all about? We hope you have been interested in this curious information about how extra virgin olive oil from Andalusia and Spain was already known and appreciated throughout the Roman Empire. Even before, but the great innovation of this historical period in infrastructures facilitated the transport of goods and the discovery of new ingredients thanks to the interconnection of the Roman provinces.
Tell us, have you ever been to Rome and have you ever been near Monte Testaccio knowing what it was all about? We look forward to your comments.