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Underneath the flight path

Saturday was the last day of the holiday, and we flew home from Rome Fiumicino airport. But the flight wasn’t until the afternoon, which gave us the whole morning to explore the area around the airport. It so happens that the flight path on the approach to Rome lies directly over Ostia Antica, the old port of Rome. It was here that sea-going ships docked from all over the Mediterranean and unloaded the cargoes of grain, wine, olive-oil, luxury goods and indeed just about anything else you can think of that was needed to support a city of around one million inhabitants. The goods were unloaded into large warehouses, and then trans-shipped into flat-bottomed barges for the short trip up the River Tiber to Rome. There must have been a continual procession of barges going upriver to keep Rome stocked. In fact, on our way to Ostia we passed the other end of the supply chain, the docks at the river-side in the city of Rome itself. There was a huge hill to the side of the river that was entirely man-made – built 2000 years ago out of the carefully stacked shards of broken amphorae, the large jars which were used to transport olive oil. It really made me think about the logistics of supplying the city.

General view of Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica was a huge surprise to me – I knew it existed but had never been there before, so was unprepared by just how complete a city it is. It seems to have been abandoned around the 5th Century or so, and hasn’t been built on since. There were apartment blocks, like the one I’d seen on Tuesday in the basement of San Clemente church, but all above ground, and still standing several stories high. There was a large and remarkably complete theatre, shops and offices, several big bath complexes, a multi-seater latrine, and temples galore.

One of the bath complexes at Ostia

There was only one problem with the visit, and that was the weather. It was absolutely tipping it down! The poor weather of the previous day’s visit to the Vatican had persisted and in fact got worse. We were told that Cyclone Lucy was sitting directly above Rome – you can tell it’s bad when the meteorologists bother to give a weather system a name! There was a Californian on the trip who said that we were clearly the wet-weather equivalent of “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”. And indeed our group had Ostia almost entirely to ourselves – no one else was mad enough to go out sightseeing in the downpour! I discovered that my waterproof jacket was nowhere nearly as waterproof as I had believed, and got thoroughly soaked. So much so that the the jacket went in the bin as soon as I got home and I’ve already bought myself a replacement! A side-effect of the rain is that I took no photos at all that morning – my camera was in its case, in my handbag which was in turn firmly zipped under my jacket. But after lunch it stopped raining and I was able to take some snaps on the walk across the site back to the coach. I’d love to go back to Ostia in better weather and explore the site without getting drenched!

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Veronica | 19 April 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for these posts, Gillian. They have been fascinating, especially to someone like me who has no classical education, and have sparked an interest that I would not have forseen. I feel a trip to the library coming on.

  2. Gillian | 19 April 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    You’re welcome. As you can tell, I had a good time. And I found that it really helped to have highly enthusiastic experts explaining the sights – I got a far deeper understanding than I had when I visited as a plain tourist. Good luck with the library trip.