Ever since I learnt about the Romans at school I’ve fancied visiting their home city. With so many incredible monuments to see, I never thought that the first thing I visited would be a pile of broken pottery. Admittedly, Monte Testaccio is about as big as piles of broken pottery come – it’s the height of 23 Kylie Minogues standing on top of each other and has been sitting on the edge of Ancient Rome for nearly 2000 years.
I definitely didn’t think I’d be standing on top of it in the boiling hot sun dressed as Neil Oliver. He’s the long haired Scottish historian and TV presenter who fronted ‘Coast’ and a few other shows I was trying to watch clips of on our dodgy hotel wifi last night. In the end Iain (who was also playing Neil Oliver) and I settled on generic Scottish accents and flicking our hair repeatedly saying “I’m Neil Oliver”. Not expecting a call from ‘Dead Ringers’ any time soon.
The pottery mountain just looks like a scrub covered hill to anyone passing in the streets below, but if you kick lightly at the surface shards of amphora are uncovered, and the archaeologists working on top have dug a shaft which you can look down into and see that the entire thing is literally just one massive pile of smashed up jugs. They’re not actually Roman – they once contained olive oil and were imported by ship from Spain. Once emptied it was cheaper to just throw them away.
I was quite relieved to get my synthetic wig off and have a delicious lunch in a nearby trattoria, after which we were back in our cars (capably driven by Marco and Marco, two of the best drivers I’ve ever had to pleasure of riding with, calmly negotiating the confusing streets with ease). We were dropped off outside ‘The Hospital of the Dolls’, which is a very small shop where a craftsman called Federico fixes broken porcelain dolls. It has the most terrifying window display I’ve ever seen, with uncollected broken dolls piled up like some sort of playtime plague pit. We smashed up a doll outside, then got him to fix it for us while we stood around in operating gowns pretending we were in ‘Casualty’. His elderly mother sat in the corner the whole time smiling away, so at least she thinks the sketch is going to be funny, even if she can’t speak English.