Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ostia rocks

I don't even know how to describe my day in Ostia Antica.

Ostia is gorgeous, sprawling, only partially labeled, relatively empty of tourists, lonely, intriguing, and fun. It's the ancient Roman port city, a bustling urban center during the empire that was abondoned when the Tiber changed course and made Ostia no longer useful as a port. The city was buried under centuries of mud, and mostly excavated in the twentieth century. The site is overwhelming - I definitely gave up on trying to walk into every building. But I took over a hundred pictures, so if you want to see more than the ten below, definitely ask me. And if you're an architecture person, you should come to Rome.

I got rather a slow start to the day, as I've been doing lately because I want to enjoy my vacation rather than rushing everywhere. I had to take three Metro trains: first from my stop on the red line near San Pietro to the insanity that is Termini, then from Termini to the Piramide stop, and then on the local train that stops at Ostia Antica on the way to the beach. When we got off the train at Ostia, I could tell that no one knew exactly where the park was, and we were all trying to follow each other - nobody wanted to be first. Too bad that some of us spoke German, and some French, and some English. No one really talked to anyone else, so it was funny. But we all found the park eventually.

I was immediately overwhelmed. There are the main paths that allow you to travel through the site quickly, but open doorways and side paths beckon, and soon you find yourself ducking in and out of ancient rooms, often now open to the sky.

I snapped this picture toward the beginning of the park, in the ancient necropolis:

The arched niches would once have held cinerary remains.

And here's one for Janet Sheridan:

If you liked the brickwork at the Castel Sant'Angelo, what do you think of this? Ostia is just a paradise for looking at ancient masonry, in all sorts of forms.

After all the reading I've done about ancient Roman bars, restaurants, and brothels, I really enjoyed this view of a thermopolium, or restaurant:

The two marble structures in the middle ground would have been sites for the preparation and display of food, and the fresco above them shows some of the shop's wares. While I was taking these photos, there were a few little French girls pretending to use the over to make "le pain", and they were adorable. They were very sorry to leave, and it definitely made me think about how much fun the Beetham kids would have had playing make-believe in these ruins, many years ago.

Here I am on top of one of the buildings, and the view behind me gives some idea of the scope of the place:

And that's only one small part of the park! It goes on and on and on, to the point that there's no one point in the park from which you can see everything. I definitely got more and more exhausted as the afternoon went on.

And here's the central courtyard of a group of shops that would have housed a community of merchants on their now-gone second stories:

The arched niche in the pillar to the right would most likely have been a shrine for the Lares, the household gods who would have protected these merchants. Shrines like these held small sculptures and offerings to these very important gods.

I'm skipping about 30 pictures here, just to show you some of the highlights. Ostia Antica is really a photographer's paradise, because there are so many lovely juxtapositions of ruined architectural elements alongside sky, trees, or other features.

Anyway, here is an awesome portico mimicking the Doric order, usually rendered in marble, but here in brick:

Have I talked enough about the awesomeness of the masonry in Ostia?

And here's the entrance to the House of the Yellow Walls, sadly locked so that I couldn't enjoy its gorgeous frescoes inside:

Does that sign on the upper right mean "Patrolled by Pirates"? There were windows in the wall alongside the House of the Yellow Walls, and I tried to peer in to get a look, but the sills were so high that it was only a passing glance, and then I nearly killed myself falling into a hole. You've gotta be careful in these archaeological sites.

I don't really know the significance of this tomb, but I thought the marble looked gorgeous against the sky and clouds:

And here are the remains of a bakery, with the large stone cylinders which were once used as mills to grind the grain:

Finally, here's a detail of the Theater of Agrippa:

This was the only detail I was able to take without any modern wiring or other contraptions; the theater is now used for occasional performances, and tonight they were setting up for The Barber of Seville. I bet it would be fun to attend a performance there, but I'm not sure I could afford it.

A funny thing happened on my trip home: two street musicians got on the subway with a guitar and a violin, and in rapid succession they played a medley that included Sinatra's "My Way", the song from A Night at the Opera that the Italian peasants sing while Harpo gets his food in steerage, the Habanera from Carmen ("I lost my shirt"), the Brindisi from La Traviata, and "Time to Say Goodbye." I'm surprised they didn't manage to throw in "Nessun Dorma" or "O Sole Mio". I was impressed, though, so I gave them some money. Lately, I've been giving spare change to street musicians a lot, because I love them.

That's about it for today; all I can think is that if Ostia is this awesome, are Pompeii and Herculaneum going to be even better? If so, I can't wait!


  1. What fun it is to read your blog every day. I can't wait to see all your pictures.

  2. WOW!! the place is looking quite interesting . I never heard about this place. After seeing your pictures, I can't stop myself from going there. Will surely make some plan . Cheers!
    map of ireland towns