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A Day Trip to Ostia Antica

sunny 71 °F

Well, it's Tuesday, May 17th. Our last full day in Rome before the cruise begins. We've decided to spend the day at the ruins of Ostia Antica, a little ways north of Rome.

Ostia was originally the seaport servicing Rome, and grew to be a major port. It was situated along the Tiber River, with easy access to the ocean. Unfortunately, malaria, the Tiber changing course, and a series of earthquakes led to the city's decline and abandonment in the third century AD. The ruins date back as early as the 4th century BC, and are remarkably well preserved.

We take a bus from our apartment to the Pyramide Metro station in Trastavere. From there, we board the regional train heading toward the Lido, the beach area north of Rome. It's about a 25 minute train ride to Ostia Antica. We should note that the train fares are free with the Roma Pass card, and entrance to the site is also part of the Roma Pass program (you get either free or discounted admission, depending on what you've already visited.

From the Ostia Antica train station, it's a moderate walk over a pedestrian overpass and down the lane to the site entrance. If you need to use the WC, hold your nose! The bathrooms at the site entrance are simply large porta-potties, in somewhat of a neglected state. You might be better off using the restrooms at the train station.

As you enter the site, you are outside the city walls of Ostia, walking through the ancient Necropolis. The structures all around you are tombs, many with plaques identifying the former occupant ("This is Demetrius. He was a Baker"). Some, like this columbarium, were designed for the interment of cremated remains.

A Columbarium at the Necropolis

A Columbarium at the Necropolis

As you walk through the site, you'll often see large carved stone boxes along the sides of the roads. They look like elaborate planters, and some of them are fashioned into benches. Take a closer look, and you'll realize that they are ancient pagan sarcophagi, relocated from the Necropolis.

A carved stone sarcophagus

A carved stone sarcophagus

The site is eerily peaceful. It's not awfully well known, so there aren't busloads of tour groups, although it seems to be popular as a spring field trip for local Italian school groups.

The City Gate

The City Gate

Once you pass through the city gate, you're inside an actual working city. There's the dock district, with warehouses and areas for unloading goods, the administrative center with it's forum, public areas with Roman baths, temples, and taverns. You can easily spend an entire day there, if you have the stamina...I think we covered about four miles walking that day.

Some highlights of the site are the enormous, well preserved amphitheater

The Theater at Ostia Antica

The Theater at Ostia Antica


The Roman baths, with many of the mosaics still in place after a millennium and a half:

Mosaics in the Roman Bath

Mosaics in the Roman Bath

and this well-preserved tavern that still has pictures of food painted on the wall above the serving shelves.

Depictions of food above a serving shelf

Depictions of food above a serving shelf


The counter at an ancient tavern

The counter at an ancient tavern

Honestly, I could post a hundred pictures of the site. Many of the buildings still have their upper floors intact, and almost all of them are open for inspection.

Clay pipes for heating and ventilation

Clay pipes for heating and ventilation


View from a rooftop

View from a rooftop

Sarcophagus detail

Sarcophagus detail

It's really an amazing site, and well worth seeing if you can fit a day into your schedule to do it. At the far end of the site is a modern cafeteria and bookshop, with clean, authentic restrooms. I find it surprising that so many people will take an entire day to travel down to Naples to see Pompeii from Rome, when this astounding set of ruins is right in their backyard.

At the end of a very long day, we head back to Rome. We stroll around Campo De' Fiori, prepare dinner at the apartment, and repack our stuff. Tomorrow, we're off to Civitavecchia to start our cruise.

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Posted by Zukini 20:52 Archived in Italy Tagged ruins rome ostia antica Comments (0)

Kusadasi and Ephesus

sunny 90 °F

It's Thursday, May 26th, and the Star Princess is making a noon stop in Kusadasi, the jumping-off point for the ruins of ancient Ephesus.

The port of Kusadasi

The port of Kusadasi

We have a relaxing morning, and meet our tour guide from Ephesus Deluxe at the cruise terminal. Her name is Gülçin, which means "person gathering roses", but she tells us to call her Rose. I'll do that here as well, since it's a pain in the neck to type those Turkish characters. We again have a van setup for touring, and off we go to the ruins at Ephesus.

Rose is a little soft spoken, so we have a hard time following her commentary as we travel. We pass some of the beach resorts, and pass through Rose's hometown of Selçuk. It takes about 25 minutes to get to Ephesus, and it is beastly hot. When we arrive, souvenir vendors are trying to sell guidebooks at ridiculous prices (30 Euros but they'll bargain down to 10). We decline.

The site is again astounding. It is another complete city that was abandoned due to malaria and a change in the course of the river, very much like Ostia Antica. Even the layout of the city is similar, with a government district, a commercial district, and a necropolis. Although the city dates back to the 2nd century BC, most of the ruins here are from the later Roman occupation.

Clay pipes, still waiting for the plumber to show up.

Clay pipes, still waiting for the plumber to show up.

As we are lead around, we start to get a real sense of how the puzzle pieces of history all fit together. The selection of cities on this cruise really emphasizes the cross pollination that has occurred in this region.

Overlooking the center of Ephesus

Overlooking the center of Ephesus

Of course, Ephesus has a lot of significance to Christians. Nearby is the "House of the Virgin Mary", believed by many to be the home where Mary was taken to live by St. John. The ruins at Ephesus also contain what is believed to be the tomb of St. Luke.

Trajan's Fountain

Trajan's Fountain

The scope of the city is quite large. It contains both an Odeon and the much larger Great Theater, so you can imagine the throngs of citizens that once filled them.

The Odeon

The Odeon

The Great Theater

The Great Theater

The ruins are fascinating, but the heat is punishing. Rose tells us about each area we visit, then runs off to a shady spot while we explore. A couple of standouts include this sculpture of Athena Nike. Look carefully at the folds of her gown on the left side...that was the inspiration for the trademarked Nike "swoosh".

Athena Nike

Athena Nike

At the Temple of Hadrian, the now familiar Medusa stands guard.

Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian

Another popular spot is the men's latrine. It was engineered with running water under the seats, to carry waste away, and running water in the trough in front of the seats, for washing...the sponge. The sponge, on the stick. That you would share.

The Latrine

The Latrine

The big signature structure here at Ephesus is the iconic Library of Celsius. This is largely restored and reconstructed, but still is an imposing facade.

Library of Celsius

Library of Celsius

Just beyond, in a covered structure, are the Terrace Houses, which require a separate admission fee. These are essentially Roman insulae transplanted to the hills of Ephesus, and they are in an astounding state of preservation, with many of the frescoes and mosaics still intact.

The Terrace Houses

The Terrace Houses

The painted walls are still intact

The painted walls are still intact

Our last stop is a short visit to the remains of the Temple of Artemis, once one of the 7 ancient wonders. Now, it is a lone pillar in a neglected field of rubble and grass.

What's left of the Temple of Artemis

What's left of the Temple of Artemis

At the Temple, we're approached by two rival booksellers, both trying to sell us the same book. Fortunately, a tour bus pulled up at that moment, so we were able to escape. Rose asks us if we want to shop for leather work or carpets. We decline, and she sits in the front seat and ignores us for the ride back to port. I can't say I was crazy about her services, especially contrasted with Fatih the day before.

We visit the buffet for the first time since our illness tonight. It's a very early dinner, before they even really changed over from lunch. We then head up to the Lotus Pool, which is deserted.

Tonight's entertainment choices are Motor City in the Vista Lounge, "The Black Swan" in the Princess Theater, and "Toy Story 3" at MUTS.

Overnight, we'll wind our way across the Aegean for our stop in Piraeus, the port for Athens.

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Posted by Zukini 21:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged ruins turkey ephesus kusadasi Comments (0)

A Trip to the Past: Pompeii and Herculaneum

semi-overcast 69 °F

It's Friday, May 17th, and today we're going to be heading to Pompeii and Herculaneum (Ercolano) for some history. For those of you who don't already know, these two cities were buried during the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, entombing them until they were rediscovered in 1599.

We're going to use public transportation for our trip today, and we've purchased a set of Unico Campania 3T tourist transportation tickets. These tickets allow us unlimited use of the bus and commuter train network throughout Campania for 3 days, and are priced at 20€ each. With the number of bus and train segments we're planning on using, we've worked out that it's about a break-even proposition, but it saves us the trouble of having to buy tickets at Tabacchi shops.

We walk up the hill to the Sorrento station for the Circumvesuviana commuter train, for the roughly 40 minute ride to Pompeii Scavi.

Riding the Circumvesuviana

Riding the Circumvesuviana

Pompeii is a sprawling site, covering the space of a small city. We pick up a map at the ticket booth, but they're out of the accompanying guidebooks. It's windy (we've been told that the area is experiencing the effects of sirocco winds out the Sahara, resulting in windy, unsettled conditions), and dust devils of dirt and grit sweep across the site.

The Forum

The Forum

We come across the storage areas, where pottery, amphorae, and architectural fragments are being kept. Here, we also find some of the plaster casts of the victims of the volcanic eruption. When the site was excavated, archaeologists would occasionally come across voids in the volcanic ash covering the site. They injected these voids with plaster, and when the ash was chipped away, they would find the plaster had taken the form of the unfortunate people who had suffocated in the ash fall.

These plaster casts are moving and tragic, but also so forlorn. Here they sit, some in glass cases, some not, almost as an afterthought in a cluttered storage room.

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(Some of the casts are in context at an area called the Garden of the Fugitives. We missed that area entirely during our visit.)

As we work our way through Pompeii, we seek out some of the more famous buildings. Unfortunately, due to neglect and the elements, some of the buildings have experienced significant degradation (there was a collapse at the House of the Gladiators in 2010). For this reason, some of the major buildings are padlocked or chained.

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We do have the opportunity to see the House of the Faun. This is of particular interest to us...it contains two iconic artifacts of Pompeii, the elaborate "Alexander the Great" mosaic, and the "Dancing Faun". Both of these, visible in situ, are reproductions. We had the opportunity to see the originals back in 2011 in the Naples Archaeological Museum (see my blog entry "Sweet Napoli" )

Alexander the Great defeats Darius

Alexander the Great defeats Darius

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The Stabian Baths

The Stabian Baths

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Teatro Grande

Teatro Grande

An Ancient Bakery

An Ancient Bakery

The afternoon wears on, and we'd like to get in a visit to Ercolano (Herculaneum). Ercolano, a seaside town, was also destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius, but the primary culprit there was a searingly hot pyroclastic flow, rather than the slow accumulation of ash that suffocated Pompeii. It is a much smaller set of excavations, as it is under the existing modern city of Ercolano, so only a few square blocks are available to visitors.

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The portions of the excavation that are open to visitors are in an astounding state of preservation. Frescoes that once adorned stately homes are still relatively intact, with vibrant colors.

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Ancient infrastructure is still in place. We pass a Thermopolium, where it looks like the food counter is waiting to be stocked. A cutaway in a nearby wall shows the sophistication of ancient Roman plumbing.

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In some homes and shops, the intense heat of the pyroclastic flow carbonized all of the woodwork into charcoal.

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In other homes, fragile mosaics and beautiful frescoes have been preserved.

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A restoration project is ongoing, and we have the opportunity to watch a conservator at her painstaking work.

Exiting the site, we pass the old warehouses beneath the town, with openings facing the sea. Many sought refuge here from the relentless onslaught of Mt. Vesuvius. Centuries later, their cracked and scorched bones were found, huddled in groups in these warehouses.

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It's been a rewarding day. Pompeii is vast and iconic, while Ercolano is a small, intimate glimpse into the destruction of a community. Both are deeply affecting.

We head back to Sorrento on the Circumvesuviana. Tonight, we'll enjoy a dinner at Zi'Ntonio's again, feasting on their fine Neapolitan style pizza.

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Next installment, we'll be heading to the island of Capri.

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Posted by Zukini 14:30 Archived in Italy Tagged ruins naples pompeii herculaneum vesuvius ercolano scavi circumvesuviana Comments (0)

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