Tevere River

The Tevere River (formerly called first Albula, then Thybris and finally Tiberis ) is the main river of central and peninsular Italy; with 405 km of course it is the third longest Italian river (after the Po and the Adige).

Second only to the Po by size of the catchment area (17 375 km²), with 240 m³ / s of average annual flow at the mouth is also the third national waterway (after the Po and the Ticino) by transport volume. It is also the 1st Apennine river in terms of length and range.

Legends and uses of the Tevere River 

The Tevere, since its birth, has been the soul of Rome, and the fact that the city owes its very existence to it is already described by the first scene of the foundation legend, with Romulus and Remus in the basket which, stranded under the ficus ruminalis, they suck the sugary flow of the fruits waiting for a real feed.

Tevere RiverAll the pre-Roman settlements whose convergence gave rise to historical Rome “saw” the Tevere , but from above and not closely (think of Antemnae, for example), for obvious reasons of defense and because the Tevere has always been a river subject to sudden floods.
The point at which the alluvial plain was most certainly foreshorting was the Tevere Island, next to which (in that area which would later become the Roman Forum starting from a more modest Boro Forum) the point of exchange between the Etruscan populations that dominated the right bank (later called Ripa Veientana) and the villages of the Latium vetus on the left bank (the Ripa Greca).

The island was, moreover, the point from where ancient ships, of low draft, could climb directly from the sea.

Downstream of the island was built (in wood, and remained so for several centuries) the first bridge in Rome, the Sublicio Bridge.

For the archaic populations they were so important, this bridge and its maintenance, which in relation to them was born the most ancient and powerful Roman priesthood: the Pontifex.

The river itself was considered a deity, personified in the Pater Tiberinus: its annual feast (the Tiberinalia) was celebrated on December 8, the anniversary of the foundation of the temple of the god on the Tevere Island and was a purification and propitiatory rite.

According to Virgil, during the war between the Trojans and the Italics, Aeneas beheaded the young enemy Tarquito and then rolled his head and bust into the mouth of the Tevere .

Ports and transport on the Tevere river

By progressing the burying of the river, the ships could no longer arrive as in the classical era until the emporium (under the current district of Testaccio), but goods and passengers continued to reach Rome by river, with the method of hauling, that is on barges or barges that were towed from the shore: the driving force to go up the Tevere, which during the lean periods offered no more than two and a half meters of draft, was generally constituted by oxen but also, if necessary, by men.

The system was still in use in the mid-nineteenth century, when the oxen were replaced by steam tugs, which dragged three or four barges, as was the case on the Seine until not many years ago.

The port of the Emporium had already been abandoned in medieval times, and the new docking station consolidated on the right bank (which was called “Ripa Romea”: it was actually much more convenient for the pilgrims to land on the shore where the Vatican was located).

This landing was called, by definition, Ripa.

Modifying the route of the walls to Porta Portese, the port was rebuilt in 1642 a little further upstream, inside the town walls, at the San Michele hospice, and became the port of Ripa Grande, dedicated to goods and men arriving from Ostia.

On the left bank, above Castel Sant’Angelo, the port of Ripetta was built in 1704, dedicated above all to traffic with the Umbrian hinterland.

It was here that the historic hydrometer of the Tevere was installed, installed in 1821, and whose hydrometric zero was the seventh step of the stairway of the port itself.

Further downstream on the right bank, just below Porta Santo Spirito there was another port.

It was called “port of travertines” because it had been used for the marbles destined to the construction of the basilica of San Pietro.

It was then rebuilt at the beginning of the nineteenth century (1827) by Leo XII, as a port of service of the Leonine city and was named after him.

On that occasion the port was also equipped with a fountain that used the lancisiana water conduit which had been reactivated under Pius VII; the mask that adorned it is that which today enriches the fountain outside the garden of the Oranges.

A century later, the construction of the embankments and the abandonment of the river transport completely obliterated it.

The trace remains in the double staircase that descends to the quay from Piazza della Rovere, and in the plaque in memory of the works, which has been preserved.

On the Tevere sailed boats of all kinds (even sailing: to descend the river from Orte it took three days).

In addition to the barges towed by tugboats, to the small boats of the fishermen, there were also small boats to transfer people from one shore to another: it should not be forgotten that until the fall of the Papal State the city bridges on the Tevere were only four: bridge Mollo, the bridge of Castello, Ponte Sisto and the two bridges across the Tiberina island, Cestio bridge and the bridge of the Four Chiefs.

The river port of the Tevere (1967)

By river, circumnavigating Italy from Lake Maggiore to Ticino, to the Po, to the Adriatic and finally climbing the Tevere to the foot of the basilica with a four-year journey, the 150 monolithic marble columns arrived from the quarries of Baveno and Montorfano white of the new portico of the basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura.

The last major transport by river, on a specially built concrete barge, was that carried out in 1929, of the marble coming from the Apuan Alps and destined for the obelisk of the Foro Italico, up to where they went back, precisely, by river.

Rowing on the Tevere 

The development of road and rail transport, the construction over time of 23 dams along the entire basin and the progressive burying of the lower course of the river have completely canceled this use (which lasted until the mid-nineteenth century), and now the river navigation is limited to sports (rowing) and tourist purposes, with boats that from the end of the nineties cover sections of the Roman river course.
Due to the thresholds built at the height of the Tevere Island to regulate and harmonize the flow of the river, navigation on the river is divided into two sections, one towards the mountain, from the island to the Risorgimento bridge, the other towards the sea, from Marconi bridge in Ancient Ostia.

It should be kept in mind, when reflecting on the use of the Tevere , that currently there are 36 public subjects entitled to intervene on the Tevere : the number makes it clear, alone, the difficulties that each new use or intervention project presents.


Currently the Tevere in the city of Rome is partially navigable by small boats, canoes and boats, in some sections starting from the modulation dam of Castel Romano in the north to the mouth in Ostia to the south, due to the presence of some rapids (eg . near the Tiber Island) and the slums.

On the Tevere is located one of the headquarters of the famous Circolo Canottieri Aniene.

Every year, for about 40 years now, the International Descent of the Tevere has traveled the river by canoe from Città di Castello to Rome.

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