We took a relaxing train back to Rome from Ostia, and our plan was to take the subway back to our hotel. As we neared the transfer point, I realized that we were next to the Testaccio neighborhood. In ancient times this was the factory and warehouse area of Rome, and still remains a very working class area. Back in the Good Old Days of the Empire, it was the major manufacturing location for amphora. Amphora were pottery containers of all sizes used to store and ship olive oil, grain, wine, etc. Amphora did not have flat bottoms, and ended with a pointed or rounded bottom. You would never see shipping containers shaped like this today! Amphora would sit in holes on racks in ships and it was quite efficient. They could stay upright on a swaying ship without tipping over. Pottery will break, of course, and two thousand years ago, they started piling all the broken pots and old rancid olive oil in one pile. And kept on piling in the same location century after century. It became so huge that it became known as Monte Testaccio, the 8th hill of Rome. It is enormous! I saw a TV show that said trendy restaurants had been built into the sides of the pottery mountain, and if you went inside you could see the walls were made of broken amphora.
The Testaccio district has historic slaughterhouses, and if you want to eat an offal dish (as in organs and intestinal based foods), this is the place to go. I wonder if our word “awful” came from “offal?” Rome is known for their ox tail stew, which was created here.
Today was such a gift – we didn’t have to get up and meet anyone at a certain time. The guides have been great, and we have learned much more than when we did it on our own, but it can be a bit rough getting up in the morning.
Today we go to Ostia Antica, which I have wanted to do for at least 15 years. It was located on the mouth of the Tiber River and was both a military protection location (keep sea invaders from coming up the river to Rome) and a commercial port to provide goods to Rome.
Ostica is very well preserved. The harbor of the Tiber River had silted in over the years and gently buried the city in mud. Which preserved it very well, indeed. This working city of 60,000 is all there. Roofs are gone, and the interior goods were looted and/or removed, but you can walk the streets, go through residential neighborhoods and get a real feel for an authentic ancient city. Let the imagination run free and it is easy to feel like an ancient Roman. In the Middle Ages, squatters lived in the shells of the old city, in parts that weren’t yet buried.
Oh.Oh.Oh.This was a magical morning.We went to the Colosseum and The Forum today.Ten years ago, we went to the Colosseum by ourselves.We did not understand at the time that you are only allowed on a couple of levels, unless you are with a guide.There are different types of guided trips (depending on what you pay).The most deluxe tour gets you a trip to the underground where the gladiators and wild beasties lived, and also to the topmost tier of the nosebleed section.We figured out what we had missed the first time, and were determined to see the whole thing this time.
I had booked a small group tour of six people.Our guide, Michele (Italian for Michael) holds a masters degree in history.He was simply amazing and could answer every question posed to him.He took us through the Forum, which was the heart of ancient Rome formore than a thousand years.I was in total hog heaven.
I won’t bore you with the historical details, but Oh. Oh. Oh.I had one of the best days ever.Okay, I will bore you with one detail.Rome at its height had over a million people living in it.After the empire toppled and the Popes were rising in power (we are talking Middle Ages here) the population fell to around 60,000 – possibly as low as 40,000.Would this not be the weirdest thing?This giant, amazing city of marble, inhabited by so few.
This was a totally amazing day; the sun was shining with a high of 77 degrees. Perfection! It is crazy what a bit of sun can do for heretofore dampened soul.
I almost royally screwed our day up this morning. My little OCD heart has a penciled list of Calendar of Events; each date listed with ideas, suggestions and commitments. I thought today was our tour of the Colosseum. Oops! It was actually our day to see the museum at the Villa Borghese. It is mandatory to purchase advance tickets, as they are always sold out.
Before we left on this trip, George decided we should schedule events for early in the morning so we could have the rest of the day to whatever we want (loosely translated: he can take a nap). This morning, poor guy was tired and his feet were aching. “Whose idea was it for us to get going so early in the morning?” he demanded, totally forgetting. Of course, I didn’t miss an opportunity to throw him under the bus, and I let him know it was him. Should have kept my mouth shut, because he soon got even.
We awoke to more rain, but at least it wasn’t another 12 inches. The television stations are all in Italian, but it was obvious that 12 inches was big news. It really threw me that it was raining. I didn’t not pack for rain. This is Italy, land of sun, grapes and vine-ripened tomatoes. Oregonians have rain, we have so much that we even name a vicious killer football team after a waddling bird with webbed feet. I did not pack for rain, and I’m feeling a bit cheated. This is a not a replay of our cold Siberian/Asian vacation, is it?
Due to jet lag and all the naps while waiting out the rain yesterday, I woke up at 3 am and tried to figure out why I was having so many computer email troubles. Sadly, I think part of my troubles was the wine and food consumption from the night before. “Get a grip and get back on plan” I muttered to myself – and the day did go much better food wise.
Our last big visit to Rome had been ten years ago. We have had a couple of really short visits while in transit to other locations, but not to stay. Roman history is my love, and I have a list of places to see again to cover more in depth, and new places to go. While compiling my list of sites, I had come across a “free” walking tour of Rome. Free is a very good price, so I reserved our spots for today and figured we could drop out if it was a scam.