Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ostia Antica

Yesterday we spent a very enjoyable (and hot) day exploring the ruins of Ostia Antica, about 10 minutes from our house, towards the beach. Ostia Antica refers to the ancient Roman town of Ostium which means "mouth" in Latin. (Today there is a town called Ostia which has nothing to do with Ostium/Ostia Antica, so to avoid confusion I will refer to the ancient city of Ostium as Ostium, known today as Ostia Antica, or "Old Ostia".) Ostium was situated at the mouth of the Tiber River, where it empties into the sea. It served as Rome's port city and first line of defense against invaders. Today however, the ruins of Ostium are 4 kilometers from the sea, due to the change in course of the Tiber River, and the accumulation of silt and debris which has grown and re-shaped the coastline. As the Roman Empire declined, so too did Ostium, sped along by pirate attacks and fires. Eventually it was abandoned as malaria ran rampant, and was buried under silt. Since then, archaeologists have uncovered the city, which is quite well preserved.

There is some speculation as to when Ostium was founded, but the earliest ruins have been dated back to the 4th century BC. It originated as nothing more than a military camp, but as Rome's trade grew with the outside world, so too did Ostium grow into a metropolis of massive proportions. To give you an idea of its size, it is 3 times the size of Pompeii, and requires several days to visit.

Here is what you see as you approach the town, the street of tombs, containing the niches where they would put their dead. In this picture you can see the most ancient style of wall building in Ostia, known as Opus Incertum. They would take blocks of tufa and set them in mortar at 45 degree angles for strength, so the weight of the wall was pushed to the extremeties. This particular wall dates from the 2nd century BC.

Here are the niches where they would put the ashes of their cremated dead.

Philomena sitting on top of an arch. Ostium is very user-friendly. They let you wander in and around the ruins.

Andrew puts a head on a statue.

This wall marks the entrance to the city. The inscription in Latin tells how the wall was decreed for the protection of the colony of Ostium by the Senate and the People of Rome, at the initiative of Cicero, in 63 BC.

Ostium served as Rome's pantry, and was where all the grain from colonies such as Africa was unloaded. These were warehouses that the grain was stored in before distribution.

Because of its trade, Ostium flourished, and soon had a lively "social scene", including these baths. They were built by the Emperor Hadrian in 117 AD.

The baths were quite luxurious, as you can tell looking at this picture. The walls were covered in marble, of which only fragments such as this one remain. Gives new meaning to the term "sheetrock".

Detail of the floor in one of the rooms.

Here's a scene from the floor mosaic showing a man hauling grain.

One section of the baths was covered in small tiles of marble. 23 different types of marble have been identified, from as far away as Greece, Africa, and Corinth. Look at some of the colors!

The baths were named the baths of Neptune, as you can imagine after looking at this mosaic. This was one of the best preserved ones. It was strange standing there looking at it. Today we view it as merely a wonderful piece of artwork, but back then those folks actually believed in that stuff, and imagined Neptune really existed as depicted here.

Our next stop was the theatre. According to an inscription in the wall, the theatre was inaugurated in 196 AD. It was used for speeches, plays, and public announcements.

Here's a shot inside the half-moon theatre.

A close-up of some of the ornate carving on the marble stage.

Various pillars depicting masks.

Here's a pedestal depicting Romulus and Remus, the legendary twins of Rome.

Continuing on we came to the section of the city where restaurants and markets were located. This particular piece of marble was in a restaurant. It would have been a counter, with the basin used to hold soup. A fire would be built underneath the counter, heating up the marble and keeping the soup warm.

Here's the Capitol Building. It is about 60 feet high and was built in the 2nd century AD.

A section of shops. The little niche was where the statue of the god of shopkeepers was put.

Here's a fish and meat store. On the floor you can see a mosaic of fish, dolphins and an octopus. The table was where the meat would be cut up, and behind the picture (out of sight) was a large marble tank where the live fish would be stored.

This wall was inside a house in Ostium's smarter district. Note the colored marble facings.

This is the main road that led back to Rome (and still does).

Here we have a bakery. You can see the mills, and in the background an oven.

We stopped in the museum where much of the sculpture from Ostium is. This is a statue of Artemis.

And here's one of the Emperor Trajan.

Continuing to the other side of the town we came across this temple. I'm not sure which one it was though, because there were several. Because of Ostium's age, and the fact that it was preserved, instead of being destroyed to make room for new growth it contains a slice of the evolution of the religions of ancient Rome. There are temples to Romulus and Remus, temples to various Greek and Phoenecian gods, temples dedicated to the Persian Cult of Mithridates, temples dedicated to the Roman gods, and finally a Catholic church dedicated to St. Cyriac, a martyr from the 1st century AD.

As mentioned earlier Ostium was a booming grain-trade town. This whole row of offices belonged to shipping companies from overseas. The mosaics in front of the offices listed where they were based.

This particular mosaic reads "Shipowners from Kalaritani", which today is Cagliari, in Sardinia.
One of the other things shipped into Ostia was marble. This picture shows part of a huge marble-yard where marble blanks were sold. Senators, artists and wealthy Patricians from Rome would travel to Ostia, and choose a piece of marble for whatever their project might be.

Unfortunately we couldn't finish seeing the entire town, but we intend to return. Here are Andrew and Augustin standing on top of the theatre saying goodbye to Ostium.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The zoo in the Villa Borghese

Mom's friend Consuelo from Florence came to visit us so we took the kids, and her and her two daughters to the zoo in the Villa Borghese. There was a great fountain in the park, which at first everyone was content to dip their feet into.

Andrew however decided to wade in.

This is part of an old Roman temple on the grounds.

And the first exhibit...the giraffes. This was a young one, but still VERY tall.

Augustin in front of the giraffe exhibit.

I'm not sure why they had this many hamsters. Maybe they used them to feed some of the other animals, but there were a bunch of them.

And here's an Eagle...if you can find it.

I think the most popular exhibit was the monkeys. They were hilarious. This baby one was constantly getting into trouble.

Ahh, a monkey spa treatment!

And here's one little money chasing another one. We seriously considered throwing Augustin in there....

A sleeping leopard.

And the last one, a camel who was born the same year I was!

Rome by night

On Sunday we took a trip into Rome that resulted in a few pictures of the city at night, which I thought I'd post for your enjoyment.

Here's the Colosseum, which they light up every evening.

This is from the top of Castel Sant' Angelo looking down Via Ottaviano toward St. Peter's, with the Tiber River to the left.

And here's a shot of just St. Peter's.

Lastly, the Archangel Michael on top of Castel Sant' Angelo.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Museum of Musical Instruments

Today we took a trip with our friend Theodore who is visiting us to the Museum of Musical Instruments. I guess our Italian was good enough to convince the lady at the desk we were EU residents because Alex and Andrew got in free and I got the reduced rate of 2.00. Hehehee.
We were the only people in the museum; it was deserted. This made it very pleasurable to view the exhibits but it meant we were the only prey for the 3 eager "no photo" policewomen to swoop upon. All 3 followed us around, but I still managed to snap pictures of everything I wanted to. I had Alex and Andrew with me, what can I say?
The first exhibit was an African one. These two African mandolins were made out of Armadillo shells.

The Mary Kate Olsen and Nicole Richie of violins. I don't know why they were so thin, the card didn't say.

This is actually a working pipe organ that they used to put on a bier and carry during processions. Theodore couldn't resist posing for this picture.

Another interesting exhibit was the one showing various Etruscan instruments. This statue is from the 4th century BC and shows an Etruscan holding a lyre.

And here's a herald's trumpet from the 14th century.

This is a contraption that the Turks used to carry into battle. It had lots of bells and rattles on it that they would use to inspire fear in their enemies. That didn't work too well once I guess. An unidentified army captured it and placed the Hapsburg Eagle atop the Muslim crescent. Kaching!

Then we took a short trip into the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. This church is right near the Lateran, and was built in 325. The foundation was covered in dirt from Jerusalem, hence the name. It was modified in the 16th century, and looks similar to the Lateran.

Here's the interior of the church.

The church was built to house the relics of Christ's Passion which had been brought from Jerusalem. Today they are still in place, in a chapel to the side of the church. On the left is a large piece of the Good Thief's cross.
Top row, L-R. St. Thomas the Apostle's finger that he stuck in the side of Christ, a reliquary containing pieces of the Sepulchre, and two spines from the crown of thorns.
Middle row. Reliquary containing piece of the True Cross.
Bottom row, L-R. Nail used during the crucifixion, and a third of the tablet placed on Christ's cross. You could still see the three lines of text, in Aramaic, Greek and Latin.

Last stop of the day - GELATO!