At the beginning of the 2nd century BC, the construction of some imposing public buildings, whose names were related to those of important patrician families such as the gens Aemilia, was undertaken in order to set up a new harbour and a commercial area in the plain of Testaccio. In 193 BC the aediles curules Marco Emilio Lepido and Lucio Emilio Paolo started to build a new port (Emporium) and a building behind it, the Porticus Aemilia, used for goods storage. Its construction was finished in 174 BC by the censors Quinto Fulvio Flacco and Aulo Postumio Albino. The structure measured 487 x 60 metres and was located between via Franklin, via Marmorata, via Branca, and via Vespucci. The space was divided into 50 aisles, each one 8.30 metres wide, covered by barrel vaults, and sloping towards the Tiber. The floor was of beaten earth and the walls were made of tufa opus incertum, probably dating back to the 174 BC building works. This is one of the earliest record of this construction technique.

Restoration works in opus mixtum with bricks and tufa blockswere realized from the half of the 1st century AD, in particular during the Trajan’s period, probably in order to make the large aisles more functional by dividing them into smaller spaces.According to a recent hypothesis, the building might correspond to the ancient docks along the river Tiber (navalia).This hypothesis, yet to be verified, is based on epigraphic elements and greek-hellenistic comparisons.
Along the centuries, the monumental remains of the Porticus Aemilia have characterized the landscape of the plain at the foot of the Aventine hill, together with Monte Testaccio and the Aurelian  walls, and a significant portion of them is still recognizable along via Florio, via Branca, via Rubattino, and via Vespucci.


(A. Contino)