Edit Blog Post
Published: March 4th 2018
A long day! This was our special day designed not by the Rick Steves
tour company but by our guide Cecilia, based on her favourite opportunities.
As promised earlier was a trip outside Rome to Ostia Antica
. On one-hour drive (half through dense Roman traffic, half on a highway), Cecilia explained that The “population” of Rome doubles during the work day by 4 million people! Traffic is impossible unless you are a Roman driver. Many people who work in the city live in towns an hour or less from Rome by train.
Ostia Antica is the excellently preserved and now partially restored ruins of a city founded in 620 BC. Essentially it was Rome’s first colony, built to guard the mouth of the Tiber River. As soon as we got off the bus, rain began falling, and then it poured! We continued on. My rain guard system of wearing my back pack on my front under my coat kept both me and my cameras dry. Whipping them out for occasional photos didn’t seem to bother them. I didn’t bring my umbrella because of weight, but my wide brimmed cap worked well. Unfortunately I lost it somewhere about lunch time – I think
I put it on the ground to dry out in the welcome sunshine. (Fortunately I brought two hats because they are easily lost during travel.)
Entering Ostia Antica is done through the necropolis
, because in all Roman settlements burying and cremation were done outside the city walls. These crypts were brick, arched and quite large. The city gate was still standing, but not the city walls. Just inside what would have been the walls, we passed a lot of ancient warehouses, rather like modern times. The bricks were a mixture of red, yellow and grey with an overall impression of red. The remaining walls in the city were about waist high. There were no roofs, except where illustrative reconstruction has been done.
The theatre is spectacular; the stage columns are still in place, as are the tiers for seating. Easy to imagine attending a play. Behind the stage area is a large market place in a U shape. Mosaic symbols on the floor designate various purposes of stalls, such as fish, ships, an elephant, etc. As we walked along, the rain let up and the sun came out, creating a beautiful glitter across the mosaics. The weather improved
What's for dinner?
Take-out only in Ostia Antica
the rest of the day to warm sun.
We saw a rich family’s house and the remains of an apartment building. Across from the apartment building was a very well preserved food bar, including the marble bar itself, just like a food kiosk in the malls. No one was allowed to have a kitchen for fear of fire, so people bought cooked food from the kiosk. The common stone flour mills were so well preserved you could imagine them still working. (Donkeys walked to turn the stones.)
Lunch was at the site’s modern cafeteria. I had two fat, short sausages with lots of cooked spinach, accompanied by a roll. The sausages were coarse and very salty, which was ok with the spinach which had been stirred with garlic and olive oil. I also had a lovely bottled juice made from blood oranges, lemon and carrots.
In the afternoon we had several treats. First a short drive to the modern Ostia beach, where Romans go for day trips to enjoy the Mediterranean. The beach was black sand, and in season there would be huge numbers of people. This day the several hundred, if not thousands of beach umbrellas
Walls of Rome
Still there, after so much strife
were furled; they are managed by commercial interests. The low rise apartments on the beach front road are apparently very, very expensive. We paddled our feet in the sea (cold!) and took pictures.
Then we drove back to the ancient walls of Rome, which are relatively intact, standing tall and massive. Our destination was the Catacomb of St. Sebastian
. On our tour, we learned that catacomb derives from “cata” (near) and “comb” short for Combus Valley. They were not at all secret, having been the legally designated place for Christian burials. Originally, the catacombs were used for the funerary urns from Roman cremations, and these are still there in the underground crypts. Each crypt is wonderfully preserved, including original molded ceilings (just like the Victorian plastered ceilings that led to molded tin ceilings) and coloured floor files (beige and white) in a geometric pattern. When the families converted to Christianity, they started burying their dead in the catacombs. According to our guide, when space in the family crypt was used up, they began to tunnel outwards. When Sebastian was buried here after his martyrdom, others wanted to be buried here too. Eventually the tunnels extended to seven miles, and 100,000
Glorified in his afterlife on earth
bodies were buried, mainly on small shallow shelves, sealed with marble, with scripted stones, some of which are still there. (All bones now have been removed to a private area.) Then in the first century, Emperor Constantine
dug up St. Sebastian, built a beautiful basilica on top of the catacombs, and installed him there in glory. Part of the foundation has been excavated to show how he created firm ground to enable building over the tunnels. The basilica has a light decor, with a magnificent chapel featuring a statue of Constantine, whom I am beginning to recognize.
Finally at the end of our trip, Cecilia bought us sweet, cream-filled cannelloni. What a lovely, redundant treat - we are going out for a reportedly very large dinner tonight.
Sure enough, in the early evening, we walked a few blocks to our restaurant, where we wiled away the evening with a beautiful dinner accompanied at intervals by a funny Italian singer and guitarist who had us singing Cantare and O Solo Mio. The menu was rotini with a red primavera sauce, Roman saltimbocca (veal with prosciutto in cheese and olive oil sauce) and a cream pudding with currant sauce, all accompanied
San Sebastiano fuori le mura, 1610
Churches outside the walls are so named.
by dry red or white wine.
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