Monday, July 06, 2009

Where I went on my summer holiday

Ostia Antica.

Dominion Day was translated to the nearest weekend by LifeSite, and we all got Thurs and Friday off. And yes, I spent at least one of those days loafing around the flat watching Buffy and watering the garden. But on Sat, a friend from Ontario was visiting and we went to see the ancient port of Rome, Ostia (now surnamed "antica"). Where it was also FREAKING HOT, but fun and interesting nonetheless.

Sitting on the mouth of the Tiber, Ostia was one of the busiest ports of the ancient world and at the height of its importance, was home to 150,000 people.

From Catholic Encyclopedia:
Near Rome, central Italy. Ostia, now a small borough, was the ancient port of Rome, the first Roman colony founded by Ancus Marcius, chiefly to exploit the salt deposits. Prior to Imperial times, it had no harbour, the mouth of the Tiber affording the only shelter for shipping; the Emperor Claudius, therefore, built an artificial harbour at Ostia, and Trajan afterwards built a basin there, and enlarged the canal by which the harbour communicated with the Tiber. Here a new city sprang up, called Portus Romanus, which was embellished by Marcus Aurelius and other emperors, and connected with Rome by a new way, the Via Portuensis, along the right bank of the Tiber. With the decay of the Empire, Ostia and Portus decayed, and in the tenth century the basin of Portus had become a marsh. Between 827 and 844 Gregory IV restored the city, fortified it against the Saracens, and gave it the name of Gregoriopolis.

Silting of the river over the centuries has put it about 3 miles from the sea and it was more or less abandoned by the time the barbarians came around looking for stuff to loot, so much of it is still there. Most of the ruins date from the Republican and Imperial times, but the city was still inhabited up to the 5th century.

You can walk down Roman streets and go inside Roman apartment buildings and sit in the amphitheater. There's loads of mosaics and some frescoes and a whole shop, complete with roof and front counter, looking almost exactly like a modern Roman bar (cafe).

It was cool. (Apart from being HOT, of course.)

The road leading up to the entrance to the site gives no hint that there is a major ancient city just a few yards away.

Mmmmmm shade! Chris and Andrew.

In the background, you can see a glimpse of the castle, built in 1483 by Giuliano della Rovere, who later became Pope Julius II. Julius used the ancient city as a quarry and a great place to pilfer bricks.

The first place you see when you go in, is the city's necropolis. These little niches are for the urns, since the Romans typically cremated their dead.

It's going in the back end, really, and it is quite a hike to the more populated areas of the city. The first insulae you see would probably have been in the low rent neighbourhood.

Some of the posher grave sites have some very fancy brick work.

and some of the

memorial statues have been found and re-erected.

Lots of mosaic floors around too. This was in the Piazza of Victories and was the only one we saw that people were allowed to walk on.

Statue in the Piazza of Victories.

The really fancy floors were mostly in the termi.

It was neat to stand in ancient Roman buildings.

The remains of the Christian church of St. Cyriacus, a martyr of Ostia. Ancient Ostia is a pretty important Christian site. It is the place where St. Monica died and she was buried in the church of St. Aurea, though her body was later transferred to Rome. St. Augustine said that the bishop of Ostia sometimes consecrated the pope. There is the remains of a large Christian basilica, but we didn't get that far.

Andrew in the theatre, which as you can see, is still in use for concerts and whatnot. We were sitting right at the top in the cheap seats and could hear him speaking, even in a low voice, quite clearly. Amazing.

"People's Front of Judea?".

Having a rest in the shade. I mentioned it was hot, didn't I?

The temple of Ceres, in the centre of the financial district, a reminder that the Romans had no problem with melding their religion into every aspect of their lives.

Along three sides of a large square, the Piazza Corporali, behind the theatre, in the centre of which is the temple above, there is a

row of mosaics that acted as signage for the corporate offices of the shipping companies that ran out of Ostia's port. You can see the remains of the brick columns that would probably have held up a portico that shaded the offices and the people doing business. Shade-creation is a big deal in Roman architecture, and everything that could be covered was covered. When you're there in July, you quickly figure out why.

Ivory merchants' sign.

A depiction of a corn (wheat) mill, showing it is the corn brokerage.

Most of the signs were for shipping companies.

Anyone know if these jars have a particular purpose, or are they just multipurpose storage jars? We guessed olive oil or grain perhaps. We also wondered if they would have been half buried like this at the time, or is this the result of the area being underground for so long. The scale is hard to get in this picture, but the jars are big enough to hold a few bodies.

Lots and lots of funerary statues and sarcophagi.

This was certainly the coolest bit.

These are the intact insulae just north of the forum. A lot of it had been reconstructed, with perhaps more enthusiasm than accuracy, by Musso. But I think a lot of this part was found


They call Ostia Antica the other Pompeii. But it was preserved, not by volcanic ash, but by economic history (well, with the help of a lot of silt from the Tiber). It was, by the time of its final decline, simply not interesting enough to sack. There wasn't anything there to steal so the barbarians gave it a pass and moved on to Rome. The other advantage of visiting Ostia over visiting Pompeii is that it is a 20 minute train ride from Rome Centro, instead of having to go all the way to Naples. Not too crowded either.

"Due cappucino e due cornetti ciocolatta, per favore". A partially rebuilt shop, the "Thermopolium" in the Ostian borgo looking for all the world like a modern Roman bar.

The racks next to the counter for little stuff like candies, gum, long distance phone cards, etc.

From behind the counter looking out onto the street.

The back patio behind the shop, where the table surcharge for your cappucino and cornetti is going to double the price.

"Dove il bagno?" Pretty much the same quality of loo as one finds in most Roman bars.

The temple of Juno and Jupiter, the principal gods of Rome, and the main temple at the head of the Ostian Forum.

The temple of the goddess Roma.


Maggie said...

That is *WAY* cool! I love your photos---keep 'em coming!

John said...

And very elegant you look with the brolly.

Very memsahib.

Except it's Italy.



Fr. T. said...

Way too cool. But I want to see this basilica. Please.