Ancient Rome’s geography is less obvious to us nowadays due to the thousands of years of continuous building and urban transformation. This page gives a quick run-down of ancient Rome’s geography and the implications it had for the city’s development. Further information related to the geography of Rome is included in specific pages.
The hills of Rome were of great strategic importance because of their height and position. They have gradually been been cut away and built over although they are still evident to the expert
The marshy nature of ancient Rome’s geography is also not evident today except possibly to those who own the damp cellars.
The famous “Great Drain” – the Cloaca Maxima – and its wide-reaching network of drainage channels did much to relegate the rivers and streams underground. This however doesn’t mean that the city’s water courses were being disdained: Various sections of the Cloaca Maxima were (and are) wide enough to drive a horse and cart down it for inspection rounds. The drain itself still functions to this day.
Another important feature of Rome’s geography is the Tiber River which provided the city with a ready access to the sea and trading routes. The marsh shown in this map was later converted into a port and cattle market: the Forum Boarium. The river’s importance is such that it deserved its own personified self (see the statue with horn of plenty and an oar, protecting Romulus and Remus). As with every myth there is an element of truth: the Tiber river provided a hugely significant element in the city’s success in history…..
The location chosen for Rome was so ideal from a strategic point of view that it had much to do with the city’s future might. Not only could Ancient Roman ships navigate up the river to the port by the Tiber island, but they could do so under the protection of the surrounding hills.
Rome’s Geology and it’s impact on Construction
Roman knowledge of building materials is also thanks to their ready availability. Given that the area was once subject to volcanic activity there is a plentiful supply of a variety of rocks and stones such as the hard Basalt used for paving roads, the Travertine marble used to line the Colosseum and the Peperino, Tufa, clay and so on used in a great variety of building techniques.
A point worthy of note is that the famous “seven hills of Rome” have changed through the ages: the city actually coincides with several more than seven, and that’s before you count the other couple over the river: the Vaticanus and Gianniculum!
There are two major lakes to the north of Rome: these are of volcanic origin and in fact Lake Bolsena is among the largest volcanic lakes in the world (certainly in Europe!) This clearly had a huge impact not only on materials but also on agriculture and mining – hence the wealth of the Etruscans who preceded the Romans. Water from these lakes was brought into populated areas via aqueducts. For example Lake Bracciano’s water was channeled to Rome’s Trastevere area via Trajan’s aqueduct – the 10th of Rome.