Rome (Day Three)

This is a long post – get a cup of tea (just like I did before writing it).

When I told Dad we were headed to Rome, he immediately said that we should make time to visit Ostia Antica. I looked it up, and it seemed interesting, but I was worried because it’s outside of Rome and would essentially require an entire day. We put it on our list of possibilities (depending on how days One and Two went), and decided to wait and see. After the debacle of my visit to the Vatican, Yen announced that Day Three would definitely have to be Ostia Antica.

This post – and even these wonderful photos – won’t fully convey what it’s like to be there. This was definitely the highlight our entire trip to Italy for me. It’s one of the most incredible places I’ve seen, and I would put it on a list of places you must visit in your life, along with Machu Picchu. It’s really that incredible. What makes it so impressive is the scale, the quality, the setting, but also the fact that you get to crawl all through it and discover it. Yes, you can stay on the main road, as most of the retired Americans around us did. You’ll still have a wonderful visit. But what makes it truly special is when you leave the road, map in hand, and begin to follow your whim. You’ll find yourself in tiny rooms where people once slept. You’ll discover hidden mosaics lining not just floors, but walls and ceilings. You’ll see where an ancient Roman pottied. And if you’re like Yen, you’ll even crawl down into storage spaces underground.

And one more note: see how I’ve taken off the coat? Mid-60s and sunny for this whole visit. Later you’ll see Yen was running around in just a t-shirt (well, and with pants).

You’ll enter Ostia Antica through the necropolis. If you read Day Two, you know the purpose of this space, so I won’t belabor. What you’re looking at here is a sarcophagus. The move from interring the dead to cremating happened at some point during Ostia Antica’s history. And of course when Christianity spread, back everyone went to burial.

I think what surprised me the most about finally seeing the Forum and other ruins is the enormous use of bricks by the Romans. It’s a silly realization, maybe. But I think of their structures almost as monoliths, and to see that they were actually carefully put together with a brick skeleton surprised me. I’m clearly no historian.

Ostia was the first “bit” of the Roman empire. As Rome grew stronger, the politicians wisely realized that it would remain vulnerable as long as the mouth of the Tiber was uncontrolled (by them). So off they went to little Ostia and conquered it. This was 160BC, I do believe. Eventually the silt of the delta moved the mouth of the Tiber away – which you can see today if you look at any map. Another outpost was built and Ostia lost its claim to fame. This eventually brought on a recession, and ultimately the town was abandoned and covered in the same silt that started its downfall. Excavation began under Pius XII (who really seemed to grasp the importance of preserving ancient sites – he was the one who sent archaeologists under the Vatican to find Peter and in doing so, preserved the necropolis), and today seems to largely have stopped. You’ll come across mosaics like the one pictured below that are just out in the open (note the pine cones). In later photos, you may notice a few red metal roofs. We quickly realized that this meant something really good was being protected and beelined toward them. But other than this, upkeep of Ostia Antica today seems to be limited to people mowing the grass. It lends to the overall feeling that you’ve discovered something yourself and now get to explore it alone.

Yen is infinitely amused by my interest in lizards and other slimy things. Not all of us grew up in an area with house lizards, mister!

I swear that Yen fears nothing. We came across a tiny door in the floor of a wide lawn. He didn’t even hesitate before heading down inside. I stayed up above, and it’s only now that I’m seeing what I missed. He said it had corridors that went off on either side, presumably under the entire city.

This is an amphitheater. There was a group of priests wandering around, and they put on a little performance to test the acoustics.

See? As I mentioned before, Yen is running around in a t-shirt. The weather was that beautiful.

This section was for all of the different guilds. Each would have had their own stall, and you’d come do your shopping by visiting each one in turn.

Lots of templates all over the place. I guess that’s the result of having so many gods, eh? I remember learning once in Latin class that there was a god of the manure pile.

I loved seeing little details like the drains in the streets.

And this was a fishmonger’s shop! You can imagine it, right? He would fillet the fish for you right on the table there.

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

These two affectionate kids are Psyche and Cupid.

An unusual floor – this one is inlaid marble instead of mosaic. I would really like to get into mosaics now. I think it’s an art that needs to come back.

Kate for scale!

Nice boot, eh?

So, you just carry on, wandering around and seeing what you see. I’m not even sure how large the entire place is. One thing I did begin to wish along about here, is that there was a modern facility near by. A facility.

Now we’re in a big apartment complex, basically. It was multistoried and had a lot of decorations inside – I suppose no different than hanging photos on our walls today.

Had to take Yen in this one because down in the bottom right-hand corner, that red thing is a lobster. He would definitely hang this in his kitchen.

And then we came to what must have been an area for athletics or training. The floor was covered in guys like this.

WHAT IS MERRY DOING IN ITALY?!

This is a well. Don’t worry: I didn’t fall in.

The strange shadows in this shot are me covering the doorway as best I can so there will be sufficient contrast in the shot. I am the best model and the best photographer’s assistant.

Ah, having a little break. You definitely get the feeling when you get out toward the edge of town that many tourists don’t get this far. It becomes so peaceful. Although at one point that peace was broken by an American family debating whether the site contains any ghosts.

Now I’m standing in the forum. The whole complex was huge.

A drain.

Once again, Yen went underground. I stood outside hoping he’d come back one day.

And then was very surprised to see this.

Thanks to Rick Steves, we knew that our visit needed to include a scavenger hunt. We spent the better part of an hour hunting for the latrines. Turns out there are several latrines scattered around, but this was the largest we found.

It’s an ingenious construction, really. Water would have been rushing under you to carry away all the… stuff. I am rather freaked out by the communal nature of it all, though.

You have no idea how much I wished for these to be in working order. I really really needed to go.

And now the sun was getting low and the air was turning cooler. We began to head back.

This is the gate that divides the city from the necropolis. The inscription originally would have announced that the people and the Senate of Ostia built this place. The Romans were big on such announcements, which I suppose we’re grateful for today. Look back on the Pantheon in an earlier post to see another example. “Hey! Marcus Agrippa built this while he was consul for the third time!”

Ah, so remember how I talked about little sconces for the urns? Now you can really see them.

This was on the side of a modern trash can. Love it!

There is potable water everywhere in Rome. It runs out of contraptions that look like this. If you want to fill a bottle, you’re all set up. If you want to drink, you just press your finger over the bottom (as I’m demonstrating), and the water will shoot out of a hole in the top of the spout to make a drinking fountain. It’s very good water.That seems unbelievably civilized to me.

Come ON. We’ll miss our train!

Thinking about the trip we took back to Rome reminds me something I perhaps haven’t mentioned: how nice all of the Italians were to us. On the train, a sweet older man gave me his seat so I would have a nicer view. And later he gave me some Tic Tacs (which in hindsight may have been for himself…). Later that night another man helped us sort out the transportation system when we needed to switch from a tram to a bus. We heard and read a lot of warnings before we left that waiters would be rude. But again, they were all unbelievably sweet to us. I guess you get what you give.

Anyway, this is the Pyramid of Cestius. Today it’s just outside a subway stop.

And quickly, the Colosseum at night.

We splurged for a very nice dinner the last night. This was the only time our waiter didn’t speak perfect English, and I baffled the poor woman by ordering wine for myself instead of letting Yen do it – it all made her think Yen wasn’t eating. But we sorted it out and had a lovely meal. A young Polish couple at the table next to us got engaged, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman so delighted in my life. She was so happy that she didn’t realize her skirt had made its way all the way up around her hip. I had quite a shot with my dinner.

Here’s the head waiter making our dessert of profiteroles. He poured hot chocolate sauce over them, added cherries, and is not tossing on powdered cocoa.

Yum!

These are all the kind notes past customers have left.

Just one more brief day, and then we have to return to normalcy.