La Stanza Gialla

At the beginning of the 2nd century BC, the large plain at the foot of the Aventine hill had been designated for the construction of the city's river port. Along the left bank of the Tiber, in the area between Testaccio and via Marmorata, excavators unearthed a system of stone docks, furnished with stone mooring rings, ramps, and staircases, which permitted the loading and unloading of boats all year around according to the Tiber's fluctuating level. The construction of the the high walls, commenced in 1870 to containe the Tiber and prevent floods, destroyed every archaeological evidence: we are now left with the original writings and drawings of the excavators and a few contemporary photographs.

At the Emporium arrived primarily food, stored in amphoras, which was deposited in monumental storage facilities named horrea; very little of these buildings, located behind the harbor and owned by wealthy landowners, is still standing. Information on their appearance and the identity of their owners can be extrapolated from the surviving fragments of the Forma Urbis, a 3rd century AD marble plan of Rome, which represented the city's most conspicuous architectural features. Among those few horrea whose remains are still partly standing there is the Porticus Aemilia, a grandiose rectangular building divided in 50 naves, built at the end of the 2nd century BC and restored during the principate of Trajan (2nd century AD).

Along the river, downstream of the Sublician bridge, a row of barrel-vaulted rooms arranged on two levels are still visible: they functioned both as storage units and substructures for the docks above.

The wharfs must have extended upstream of the Sublician bridge and at the bottom of the Aventine, where archaeologists found similar features: stone docks, lion-headed stone mooring rings, and storage buildings. Similarly, the construction of the modern river embankments eventually obliterated the archaeological remains, of which only drawings and photographs now remain.

Pottery fragments are a window onto the economy of ancient horrea. Used as containers to transport olive oil to Rome, amphorae were generally discarded once they reached the Tiberine port. The gradual deposition of these containers in a confined dumping area nearby generated over centuries the hill of Monte Testaccio. Terracotta containers, whole or fragmentary, were also re-used as building material in walls and water channels of the nearby Emporium, as recent excavations have shown.

From the 5th century AD there was a reduction in commercial activity, manifested in the diminishing quantities of goods arriving in Rome. The horrea, having lost by then their function and most of their marble decorations, were turned into workshops for stonemasons (marmorari), who catered to the city's unexstinguishable need for building materials. The Tiber, on the other hand, maintanied its role of primary route between Rome and the Tirrenian sea, as attested by many historical documents.