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The geology of Rome has a very important role in Rome’s history, development and preservation. It is essential to understand the make up of the city, its tuffs and water supplies and the effect it had on Roman urban development.  

Tuffs are locally present due to their formation from volcanic pyroclastic flows 600,000-300,000 years ago from the Monti Sabatini volcanic fields and from Castelli Romani, approximately 30 km from Rome.  

Romans first locally quarried these tuffs which constitute the famous seven hills

As Roman power extended they sought out better tuff qualities. Famously, they exploited the “grotta oscura” tuff after they destroyed Veii, the southernmost Etruscan city, in 396 BC. 

In the second century BC, Rome began using travertine, a hard white limestone from the quarries of Tibur (modern Tivoli).  The transport was very cost effective, as they loaded the material onto boats in the local river Anio, which was a tributary of the Tiber River.

Marble came still later, by conquest of Greek territory and their famous quarries.  The first marble temple dates to the middle of the second century BC. Julius Caesar opened up the Carrara marble quarries in Tuscany, and the true flood of colored marbles came under Augustus through the second century AD. 



The Seven Hills of Rome: A Geological Tour of the Eternal City, Heiken, Funicello, de Rita (Princeton, 2005).

Where did the Romans find their building materials?

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Cite this page as: Darius Arya, The American Institute for Roman Culture, “Geology of Ancient RomeAncient Rome Live. Last modified 11/16/2019.


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