in order to visualize the amount of water that historically inundated the city of rome, here is an image from the crypta balbi museum showing the campus martius before human settlement, in the area of what is now central rome… clearly a flood plain.  (i had to take the picture from behind glass, which is why it looks odd, and why you can see me in the reflection)

this is a map showing the natural topography of the region

this is the same topography map showing 1) the flood levels at 10 meters above sea level, 2) flood levels 15 meters above sea level, and 3) flood levels 20 meters above sea level.

1)2)3)

as the water levels of the tiber rose all of the low lying areas in the image of the campus martius would be underwater.

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below are paintings by ettore roesler franz, an italian painter who lived and worked in rome (1845 – 1907). these are from a series called “vanished rome”, and they depict scenes from the tiber river before the modern embankment construction began in 1876.

1/2.  sette bagni was historically a farming area northeast of rome along the tiber, and while it is now mostly urbanized it still represents a less urban landscape than rome.

3/4.  both the porto di ripetta and the porto ripa grande were harbours built along the tiber in rome in the 18th century.  here commodities from sabina and umbria to the north of rome were unloaded. both harbours have since been destroyed and evidence of their significance is scare.

5.  this painting of ponte sisto shows early embankment construction to the left of the river, and a naturalized edge on the right. you can see in the background that the buildings were very close to the edge of the tiber, and while the river appears low and calm, the inclusion of the early embankment signifies that flooding was always an issue is rome.

tiber at sette bagni, st. peter's basilica in the background

tevere at sette bagni II

porto di ripetta on the tiber in rome

porto ripa grande on the tiber in rome

ponte sisto on the tiber in rome

the tiber is the third-longest river in italy at 406 km (252 miles) after the po and the adige. the tiber flows through rome in its course from mount fumaiolo to the tyrrhenian sea. the tiber’s drainage basin is estimated at 17,375 square kilometres (6,845 square miles). the eastern (left) banks of the tiber is where the city of rome is said to have started.

historically, the tiber has always been an important passage to, and through, rome. in ancient times it was a natural defense boundary between the etruscans, who settled on the right bank of the tiber, and the ancient romans, who settled on the left bank, across tiber island.  the tiber was also a crucial transportation route through the tiber valley.

the tiber has a long history of seasonal flooding.  the first recorded flood in rome dates from 414 bc (livy) and it is likely that there were floods before this.

these images show the modern tiber river.  the embankment walls that line both sides of the river were constructed between 1876 – 1910.  they were built after the flood of 1870 destroyed many areas of rome, which had just become the new capital of italy.  the embankment walls are known as the muraglioni and the associated boulevards that line both sides of the river as the lungotevere. you can also see the walkways that line the bottom of the embankment walls on both sides of the river – these do not have an official name but are known as the tiber river-walkways.