Wow! The summer the trains heading out of Rome for the beach, are packed! Unfortunately, Ostia Antica (the ancient port town at the mouth of the Tiber) lies 3 stops on the line before you get to the beach. Luckily, it’s only a 30 minute trip. Once you get there, you’ll soon realize that it was worth the standing-room only, cattle-car ride.
Ostia Antica is impressive. Plan a full day if you’re like me. I’m not satisfied unless I get to visit every single shop, house, temple, brothel, tavern, etc. Today was our second time there and we made the most of it! From your first steps past the mausoleums (all very interesting) to crawling around the bath complexes (accessible hypocausts and incredible mosaics), you somehow forget about lunchtime and wonder why it’s getting dark.
The three- to four-story apartment buildings are my favorite features of the site. They are well preserved and one of them has a viewing platform in place on what was the 4th floor. The steep, ancient stairs are worth the climb for the view you get of downtown Ostia. The bottom levels are dedicated to shop space, the upper stories are divided into apartments, the higher up you go, the smaller, darker and cheaper. Fires were common in the Ancient Roman world, with open-flame lighting, charcoal brazier cooking, and close and cramped housing. Technology was slightly limited. They did have a type of portable water pump. The ‘vigiles,’ or fire brigade, had dedicated quarters/storage areas in town. Their equipment included the aforementioned pump, hooks, scythes, mats for swatting at flames, buckets, axes, etc. During the Late Republican era, Marcus Crassus had a group of slaves trained to put out fires (this typically consisted of demolishing the structure). They waited for one to start then Crassus would offer to put the fire out if the adjacent property owner would sell him his property on the spot. If said owner refused, the fire continued to burn. Simple. He made a lot of money this way and, at one point in his life, was stated to be the richest man in Rome.
Back to Ostia… When you are inside the heart of the urban living areas, you can easily understand how entire sections of town could burn. There is very little room between living spaces. The upper apartments were just big enough for a bed, a table and maybe a trunk with your few belongings. You bought your meals at one of the numerous thermopolium located on every block. One thing noticeably lacking in Ostia: kitchens. Nearly everyone went out to eat, or brought home some take-out. We did find one obvious kitchen today, located in a type of club or guild-hall. I believe there are more documented in the city, but I’m not sure where.
On the way out, we met yet another very friendly cat who escorted us out of the site. She lives in one of the houses near the entrance–well fed, shiny coat, works well with children.
Now, the USA is down a goal and I need to pay attention to the match. Tomorrow we hop a train to Napoli and then on to Pompeii. Can’t guarantee how regularly I’ll be able to log on – the WiFi at the hotel is not the best. We’ll see…