There are many fascinating places to see in Rome, including the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Colosseum. All are great examples of classical Roman architecture and have a rich history. However, there are two places in the big city that make up the heart of Rome, even if they are not actual buildings: the Tiber River and Palatine Hill. These two natural places were important in the development of Rome and are a vital part of Roman history and legends.
The Tiber River
Though the Tiber River is not the longest river in Italy, it could be the most famous, since the city of Rome was founded on its banks. The Tiber flows from the Apennine Mountains through Rome and into the Tyrrhenian Sea—part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy. Before the days of early Rome, the river was known as Albula, which means "white" in Latin. This name came from the milky white color of the water in the river.
Legend says that the river was renamed Tiber in honor of King Tiberinus Silvius, an early king who drowned trying to cross it. As the legend continues, his descendants were abandoned on the flooding river as babies and then, many years later, founded Rome. According to the legend, the descendants, Romulus and Remus, were saved by a she-wolf, which is a female wolf. While the Tiber River plays an important role in the story of the founding of ancient Rome, it has always been a real resource to Roman citizens.
Although the Tiber River is shallow and treacherous in places, it is easy to navigate up from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Located about 10 miles from the coast, Rome was protected from invasion while still allowing for a healthy trade business. Upstream navigation on the river made trade flourish. Though the Tiber was important for commerce, the water was not clean enough to drink. The Romans built enormous aqueducts to move water from springs in the surrounding hills to the city.
The river’s undrinkable water led the Romans to develop a sewer system. They created an underground system of pipes and tunnels to drain the marshes and empty waste and debris into the river. Because of a strong sea current close to shore, the fast waters of the Tiber carried waste far away from the city quickly. Named the Cloaca Maxima, this system was one of the world’s first sewers. The sewers also show that Roman civilization was advanced enough to solve a problem that often brought disease to other cities. Visitors to Rome today can see this ancient system still in use.
Another important natural feature of Rome is Palatine Hill. The most famous of Rome’s seven hills, Palatine Hill is one of the oldest parts of the city. As the center hill in the city, it rises over 250 feet above the Tiber River. The hill has three summits, called Germalus, Velia, and Palatium. The southern summit of Palatium is the highest, giving the hill its name. Archaeologists have traced prehistoric sites on the hill to 1000 BCE, nearly 300 years before Rome was founded. This matches the legend of the city’s origins.
According to legend, Palatine Hill is the site of the cave of the she-wolf who saved Romulus and Remus after they were abandoned as babies in the Tiber River. After discovering the twins at the foot of Palatine Hill, the wolf brought them to her cave, known as the Lupercal, to nurse them. They remained there until a shepherd found the two boys. Years later, Romulus chose the Lupercal as the site on which to build Rome. The legend has been popular since the time of the Republic, and many emperors built their palaces on the Palatine Hill.
Palatine Hill was important in ancient Rome for many reasons. The hill’s palaces were the center of Imperial Rome and therefore created the city’s aristocratic center. Emperor Augustus said that he was born on the hill, and so he built a great palace there. The hill’s beautiful views quickly made them a prime place for the powerful and wealthy to establish their homes. In addition to housing a cultural center, the hills also provided easy defense from invasion. Since the hill was at the center of seven other hills, it was very difficult for other countries to invade. Due to its height, the land on Palatine Hill had good air quality and was immune from flooding from the Tiber River. In addition, several natural routes around Palatine Hill later became major roads to other parts of Italy.
Today there are still ruins on the hill that provide clues to its importance in ancient Rome. The ruins of Augustus’s palace are prominent. The Tiber River and Palatine Hill were important in shaping Roman history. Many of the aspects of Roman culture that we study today were centered around the Tiber River and Palatine Hill.
After reading the passage, answer the following questions: (2 points each)
1. Which of the following is a drawback of the Tiber River for the city of Rome?
A. It has a fast current.
B. It is not drinkable.
C. It is not usable for trade purposes.
D. It does not connect to other sea ports.
2. Why was Palatine Hill important in ancient Rome?
A. It was where many invading armies were able to enter the city.
B. It was home to the lower classes of people.
C. It was protected from flooding from the Tiber River.
D. It was valuable farm land.
3. In what way were the Tiber River and Palatine Hill significant in the life of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome?
A. The river was the source of their wealth and enabled them to live on Palatine Hill.
B. They were abandoned on the Tiber and were found at the base of Palatine Hill.
C. They used the Tiber River to transport troops to conquer rebels on Palatine Hill.
D. They used the river to irrigate crops on Palatine Hill.
Short Answer: (8 points)
4. Throughout time, humans have interacted with their environment by depending on it, adapting to it, or changing it. Explain how the early Romans depended on, adapted to, or changed the Tiber River and Palatine Hill. Use details from the passage in your answer.