Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Seven Hills of Rome

The Seven Hills of Rome: A Geological Tour of the Eternal City

Grant Heiken
Renato Funiciello
Donatella De Rita
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Seven Hills of Rome
    Book Description:

    From humble beginnings, Rome became perhaps the greatest intercontinental power in the world. Why did this historic city become so much more influential than its neighbor, nearby Latium, which was peopled by more or less the same stock? Over the years, historians, political analysts, and sociologists have discussed this question ad infinitum, without considering one underlying factor that led to the rise of Rome--the geology now hidden by the modern city.

    This book demonstrates the important link between the history of Rome and its geologic setting in a lively, fact-filled narrative sure to interest geology and history buffs and travelers alike. The authors point out that Rome possessed many geographic advantages over surrounding areas: proximity to a major river with access to the sea, plateaus for protection, nearby sources of building materials, and most significantly, clean drinking water from springs in the Apennines. Even the resiliency of Rome's architecture and the stability of life on its hills are underscored by the city's geologic framework.

    If carried along with a good city map, this book will expand the understanding of travelers who explore the eternal city's streets. Chapters are arranged geographically, based on each of the seven hills, the Tiber floodplain, ancient creeks that dissected the plateau, and ridges that rise above the right bank. As an added bonus, the last chapter consists of three field trips around the center of Rome, which can be enjoyed on foot or by using public transportation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4937-6
    Subjects: Geology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Walter Veltroni

    From its time as the historic center of the Roman world, Rome has been continuously a political, religious, and administrative capital. Geologic and terrain factors have assured its population growth and, above all, provided the conditions for survival of the most modern culture in the ancient world. From lessons of urban development and prosperity, the Roman people developed the capacity to recognize and to manage in a positive way the natural resources of the region. The volcanic terrain, the Tiber River and its complex watershed, the water resources of the central Apennines and surrounding countryside, and the abundant natural materials...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 A Tourist’s Introduction to the Geology of Rome
    (pp. 1-26)

    The monumental Trevi Fountain in central Rome symbolizes the relationship between the city and its geologic underpinnings. The stone from which sculptors created this work of art, the clean water from springs in the Apennines and volcanic fields near the city—transported by the famous Roman aqueducts—and the stones underfoot are all products of Rome’s geologic heritage.

    Construction of the fountain began in 1732, following a design by Nicola Salvi and using stone from the region. Travertine, a sedimentary spring deposit from quarries near Tivoli, and marble, a metamorphic rock from Carrara, in northern Italy, were used for the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Center of the Western World THE CAPITOLINE (CAMPIDOGLIO) HILL
    (pp. 27-36)

    The Capitoline Hill is one of the most-photographed hills in the world, although most camera-bearing tourists don’t realize the significance of this promontory behind the Roman Forum. Many of the large brown blocks of tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) used to construct the Forum were excavated from the flanks of this hill, but the summit itself was and remains one of importance. This small plateau (about 0.1 square kilometers or 24 acres) was the center of power and religion for what was Western civilization 2,000 years ago. Among the seven hills of Rome, the Capitoline is one of three nearest the...

    (pp. 37-50)

    The Palatine Hill is evident from all sides, its prominent, tablelike form covered with ruins and trees. One of Rome’s top attractions, the Palatine is believed to be the first of Rome’s seven hills to be inhabited—and perhaps the original nucleus from which the great city evolved. It was strategically located close to the Tiber, yet high enough for defense and a good breeze on hot summer days. To see the overall form of this small plateau, start at the northwest end of the Circus Maximus and walk southeast. This allows a view of the end of this rectangular...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Aventine (Aventino) Hill
    (pp. 51-58)

    The Aventine Hill is larger (0.4 square kilometers, or 96 acres) and somewhat more geologically complex than the Palatine. In a few respects, however, the Aventine mirrors the Palatine’s form and is separated from it only by the small valley that is the Circus Maximus. The southernmost of the seven hills and closest to the Tiber, in Roman times the Aventine was dissimilar to the Palatine in that it was a residential area for middle-class citizens. Today it is one of Rome’s most elegant neighborhoods.

    Like the Palatine Hill, the Aventine is easily recognizable as a plateau from all sides....

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Tiber Floodplain, Commerce, and Tragedy
    (pp. 59-84)

    Without an excellent map and a good sense of direction, you can become thoroughly disoriented as you explore the area of Rome that is on the Tiber’s floodplain. One solution is to stay on the busy streets that follow the riverbank (the Lungotevere, “along the Tiber”). The scenery is superb, and you can spend days studying the bridges, but you must eventually enter the districts, such as Trastevere or the Campo de’ Fiori, that sprang up along the margins of one of the world’s best-known rivers. In search of famous sites in this area, nearly every visitor to the Eternal...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Tiber’s Tributaries in Rome CLOGGED WITH HUMANKIND’S DEBRIS
    (pp. 85-109)

    The major streets Via del Tritone, Via Barberini, Via Vittorio Veneto, Via Cavour, Via di San Gregorio, Via delle Terme Caracalla, and Via Labicana all rise into the seven hills of Rome along now-buried tributaries of the Tiber River. One of the tributaries, the Aquae Sallustianae, which was fed by the Sallustiane springs, flowed between the Pincian and Quirinal hills (a small drainage now followed by the Vie del Tritone, Barberini, and Vittorio Veneto) and into a swampy area used for grazing goats (called, not surprisingly, the “GoatMarsh”). Between the Viminal and the Esquiline hills was another stream whose waters...

    (pp. 110-122)

    Rising above the Trastevere and Prati neighborhoods, the Janiculum Hill, Vatican Hill, and Monte Mario are sometimes referred to as the “balcony of Rome.” At the crest of the Janiculum Hill is the Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi, where a monument honors the father of modern Italy; this is arguably the very best viewpoint from which to contemplate Rome (other than from the window of an airplane, of course). Standing here, you can test yourself by identifying Rome’s historic bluffs. It’s easiest to see the geologic structure and the urban landscape on a clear day in the early morning or late afternoon....

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Celian (Celio) Hill
    (pp. 123-152)

    Although it is obviously a prominent plateau and important in Roman history, the Celian Hill is off the typical tourist’s beaten track. Located across the Via Celio Vibenna from the Colosseum, it provides a pleasant escape from the chaos that swirls around that great arena. The northern edge of the hill retains remnants of the Temple of Claudius and the Churches of San Gregorio Magno and Santi Giovanni e Paolo, as well as several very pleasant parks. Take one of Rome’s colorful trams that follow the line from the Porta Maggiore to Piazzale Ostiense, and then rattle up and across...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Largest of the Seven Hills THE ESQUILINE (ESQUILINO)
    (pp. 153-161)

    With an area of nearly 70 acres, the Esquiline Hill is the largest of the seven hills and has been prime real estate throughout history. You see the edge of this flat-topped hill as a steep slope that rises above the Colosseum and continues to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

    The Esquiline Hill was the site of Maecenas’s gardens, laid out early during the reign of Augustus by Gaius Maecenas, an Etruscan nobleman who left the property to Augustus in 8 B.C. It is said that Nero observed the great fire of A.D. 64 from a tower in the...

    (pp. 162-173)

    It is sometimes difficult today to visualize each of the seven hills of Rome, and if you become confused, you aren’t alone. In fact, the confusion goes back several millennia: from the 1st century B.C. to the 1st century A.D., the number of “hills” identified in historic documents vacillated between six and eight.

    You may remember that earlier we described the flat-topped summits of the Quirinal and Viminal hills as the surfaces of pyroclastic flow deposits (tuffs) from the Alban Hills volcanoes. At the base of the hills, the tuffs of the tableland overlie deposits of sands and gravels left...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Field Trips in and Around Rome
    (pp. 174-228)

    Geologists love to lead field trips for other geologists. It is a great way to expand your knowledge of the field and to make new acquaintances. In most cases, the trips follow a printed guide that allows others to take the same tour at any time. These guides are valuable in that geologists rarely finish a trip on time; vigorous debate at each stop usually extends the trip until the last daylight has faded away. We have prepared three field trips for the reader. The first trip is entirely on foot. The second and third trips require some public transport...

  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 229-230)
  17. Further Reading
    (pp. 231-236)
  18. Index
    (pp. 237-248)