Ostia Antica

Today we met our wonderful guide from Mirabilia Urbis  Tours,  Daniella Hunt, for a quick train ride to a great side-trip from Rome, the former seaport of Ostia Antica.  I’ve posted a link to Daniella’s website, as well as a link to a website talking about Ostia.  We choose Ostia for our one side-trip because we wanted to spend most of our week exploring the City, so didn’t want to travel as far as Pompeii or Florence — just too much time wasted in travel.  Also, whereas Pompeii and Herculaneum were towns populated primarily by the wealthy and slaves, Ostia was a working waterfront with a full range of society.  It also has a great bath to visit, and am amphitheater, a wine bar, apartments and villas — a great mix of things to see, and all extremely accessible (in fact, too much so, with not enough being protected from tourists and the elements… we walked over crumbling mosaics and it was such a shame that they couldn’t be protected by some clear material so you could see but not harm).  So, Ostia it was.  My 15-year-old daughter, who has minimal to no interest in history, was not pleased to be spending a day seeing “more old things”, in part because she thought 4 hours at the Palatine Hill/Forum/Colosseum was quite enough, thank you very much, so Daniella had her work cut out for her.  My daughter ended up saying that her day in Ostia was her favorite day of the trip, so Daniella clearly did her job.  On the train ride over Daniella showed us maps and information on what we’d be seeing, and starting telling us the story of the town, focusing on the role it played when the Roman empire was at its peak.  My daughter started reading a book she’d brought alone during the first part of the story (and she doesn’t like to read, so she was trying to clearly show me how much she did not want to be there!) but after overhearing the stories for only a few minutes she forgot about the book and became in engrossed the tale of Ostia.

It’s a short train ride — we took a taxi to the Piramide Metro stop, which is the Roma Porta San Paolo train station, nd from there it was about  30 minute ride.  The town itself is only a short walk once you depart the train.  As soon as you enter through the Porta Romana you can see Sulla’s wall.  Sulla played a large role in the first few books of Colleen McCullough’s series, so I felt as if I knew him. There isn’t much in Rome to see of Sulla, other than the Tabularium which he had built at the end of the Forum, and which you can pass through as part of the Capitoline Museums, so I was thrilled to touch the wall built by Sulla’s orders and through which he probably passed at least once.

(Pardon me as I digress on my Sulla sidetrack, all my comments about him being based on Colleen McCullough’s books and not through any independent research, and based on my recollection of reading those books earlier this year (so I may misremember, you need to read them yourself to be sure!) but I found him fascinating.  He was from a poor but patrician family, and through luck, skill, ruthlessness or otherwise he was able to accumulate enough money to enter the Senate.  Through his wartime exploits and his brilliant command of the legions he built quite a reputation for himself.  He seems to have been handsome, ruthless, brilliant and persuasive, in some ways like Caesar.  He ended up becoming dictator from 83-80 BCE before retiring to the countryside to enjoy his last days.  I suggest you read more about him, as he truly is fascinating!)

We visited apartments to see where merchants lived above their shops, villas where the wealthy had their homes, the town’s forum, a wonderful example of a bath, a great public latrine as well as the fire station, which included the fireman’s latrine area complete with the god of bowel movements in the upper corner!  There was also a wine bar where the bar area was still in tact as well as the outdoor dining area, and the area where they washed the dishes for the patrons to use.  We spent a long time outside the amphitheater, where there are rows of little booths that were used by merchants or salesman to entice folks who had visited the amphitheater for a performance, to show of their wares.  The various booths were marked by mosaics on the ground in front of them, advertising whatever it was that the person in that booth area had for sale or display.  We spent all afternoon there before heading back home on the train (crowded on the way back with folks coming from a day at the beach from the new shoreline a few miles away, and then off for another night of dinner and gelato and piazzas and fountains before heading to bed.

We all felt as my daughter did, that this was one of our best days in Rome, so I highly recommend this sidetrip, especially for those who don’t make it to Pompeii or Herculaneum but even for those who do.  We went to both the other towns a few months later and each of the three is unique and has things of value to see if you are interested in life in ancient rome.  It really makes you realize that we aren’t so different than the folks who lived more than 2000 years ago, and to compare what their life was like with what life was like in the Americas during that time, or in England for that matter.

In addition to the links to the various websites, here are some photos we took of our day…


Italian Drawing Class

We followed Rick Steve’s recommendation on a Vatican-area lunch spot, nothing memorable but decent food for a good price and nice service.  One our way to our drawing class through ContextRome at Castel Sant D’Angelo we wandered through the shopping district,which was much different than the fancy Via dei Condotti and had more practical clothing and objects for everyday use.  I started to feel like a real Roman roaming the streets on a typical Sat.  Cutting through St. Peters’ Square we saw our first fake Gladiator, talking on his cell phone (they’d taken shelter from the rain when we visited the colosseum so we hadn’t seen them in their more typical spot).

Traversing around obstacles, crowds and taxi stands, we made our way to the cafe and met our “artist” for our class.  Jack & Austin decided to skip this one, and spent the afternoon wandering around Rome.  Chandler and I decided to pick up some drawing tips and have something out of the ordinary for the afternoon.  I took painting classes in elementary school, and haven’t tried to draw since.  My daughter took an art class in 9th grade, and has always loved to draw on her own, so we did it mainly for her.  The teacher was an American who’d come over to Rome for school and had never left.

The plan was to draw from a terrace or balcony at Castel Sant D’Angelo; however, unbeknownst to us the castel was closed that day, so Plan B took us across the adjacent bridge and down the stairs to the waterfront.

Castel Sant D’Angelo was built by Hadrian as his burial site, but the cylindrical building went through many modifications and now looks more like a medieval castle.  It also houses (or housed) a passageway leading to St. Peter’s Basicila, for those times when the Pope needs to “get out of Dodge” quickly.  I just finished a book on Hadrian, after my return, so I would have loved to have seen the Castel, but we never made it back — next time.  Hadrian loved building structures and monuments and architecture generally, and my next trip to Rome will also include a trip out to his Villa about 20 miles from Rome, which is supposed to be amazing.  He didn’t spend much time there, however, preferring to travel across the empire, including a visit to Hadrian’s wall in Brittanica, much of which is still standing today.  He seems to have been the first emperor to realize that Rome couldn’t just keep continually expanding its empire AND managing their conquered lands, so he choose instead to create a border around the Empire — porous, allowing travelers and commerce in and out, and not necessarily meaning that Rome didn’t/couldn’t have control of some sort even in lands outside the wall, but he didn’t actively seek to expand beyond those borders.

Here’s a photo we took of Castel D’Angelo

He brought drawing paper and pencils and helped us find a subject, learn about perspective, and draw.  I learned that art was much more about math than I’d realized — really, if you do mathematics I think you can draw, by sketching in he proportions, relationships between objects, etc.  That was confirmed to me later during my Rome week when we spent some time at the Leonardi di Vinci exhibit… he calculated the proportions of every part of a horse, dissected animals, studied the human skeleton, etc. to figure out how many finger-widths each arm was, etc.  Of course he was an incredible talent in so many areas, but it truly brought home to me a relationship between math & art that I’d never considered previously.

Later that night we had a wonderful dinner with wine and pizza, then wondered around the center of the city, stopping for gelato and expresso, enjoying the fountains, and beginning to feel at home in Rome.  Jet lag was finally over and we were able to keep a more normal schedule, which was very nice.  We had learned our way around the central city by this time, and walked by the Pantheon several times each day/evening.  I wish San Diego could have more of of that ability to walk around the city, without needing a car, and having so many people out enjoying the evening, the fountains, the music, the food and wine, and enjoying life.  We have a little piece of that downtown but not so much in Poway.  Our here when we walk out at night there is very little human life to be seen, and no place open to grab a gelato within walking distance.  But you can see beautiful stars, hear lots of coyotes, and enjoy the peacefulness, so each has its good and bad points!

tomorrow, we head for a field visit outside of the City, to the former seaport of Ostia Antica… can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Vatican City

After the religion of ancient Rome in the Forum, we moved on this morning to the Vatican for a 9:00, 4-hour tour with ContextRome.  We met our docent at a small restaurant in the area, then had to wait with a larger group for our tickets — can’t recall why that procedure was required, seems like the Vatican changes the rules on advance ticket sales, etc. fairly frequently.  Once we were able to separate from the large group and were left with just our docent, it was my family of four and another couple, and that was much calmer.  We weren’t able to tour the area with some of the statutes of famous romans (I believe there’s at least one of Julius Caesar which I would have loved to see) because that room was closed.  And when I guide tried to have us sit on a bench in the hallway so she could show us photos of the Sistine Chapel so we’d be prepared for the visit, the guards hurried us along.  Apparently, another new rule that hadn’t been in place even a few days before.

The Vatican was impressive, of course, for many reasons.  Beautiful marble, masterpieces, and history, even without the religious aspects.  I’m sure if I were catholic it would have made even a deeper impression.  As it was, I felt there was a little too much buildup for the Sistine Chapel, and then the Chapel itself was somewhat of a let-down, if that is even possible with such magnificent.  It was certainly beautiful, and awe-inspiring to think of the effort required, but it was sooooooo crowded with masses of people, that it was hard to be able to drink it in and really appreciate it.

I really enjoyed Raphael’s School of Athens, pictures above.  It depicts Socrates and many of his students, as well as Aristotle.  Of course, my interest in it was in part because it was in the Pope’s library and I was envious of having such an inspirational painting with my books in the room in which I could have the luxury of study.  In addition, Cicero was fascinated by the philosophers, including Socrates and Aristotle and read them often, and so I felt a connection to Cicero.  Yes, he seemed to have been a little wimpy but he died bravely (if that is something of which to brag) and he was witty and interesting.  I like him.  Well, I like him as portrayed in the books I’ve read about him, and I think I would have loved listening to him orate.  As an attorney who had no training in speech, debate, oration or the like, I wish I had been able to listen in on those great arguments of old, and to have trained with and been around people who thought oration a valuable and important skill.

Yet again, I digress.

After leaving the Sistine Chapel we were able to view another Michelangelo masterpiece, La Pieta (needs an accent mark over the “a” but have no idea how to create one), in St Peter’s Basilica.  It was amazing… so beautiful, so incredible to imagine how he could create that from marble.

St. Peter’s Basilica was beautiful and while still crowded, more peaceful than the Sistine Chapel had been.  After admiring it and rubbing the foot of a saint that was supposed to bring good luck, we paid a quick visit to the bookstore on site and then hurried to lunch.  We didn’t have much time before our art lesson!

More on the rest of the day, tomorrow.  For now, goodbye 2009, my husband, and champagne, await!

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