Monday, 29 July 2013

Ostia Antica - the harbour city of ancient Rome

If during a visit to Rome you wish to escape the city bustle for a day, a magnificently preserved old city awaits not far away. It is located just next to the today's seaside destination town of Ostia. It is located 30 kilometres south-west from Rome.

It is interesting that a port town is not located by the sea. Ostia once definitely was a seaport, but due to silting and a changed course of the river Tiber it now lies 3 kilometres away from the sea.

Ostia got its name from its position at the mouth (ostium) of the river Tiber. This was perfect for various trading activities but not so much from the defensive point of view.

The city was founded in 7th century BC but the oldest preserved buildings currently visible are from the 3rd century BC. The downfall of once thriving harbour city started with recurring pirate sackings. After a naval battle between Christian and Saracens in 9th century AD the remaining inhabitants finally had enough of it and moved to a nearby city of Gregoriopolis.

The place is massive - it stretches for well over a kilometre in length! One should definitely keep that in mind while setting the viewing pace. It took us a whole afternoon to more-or-less walk through it. Whenever we ventured into one of many side streets there was an interesting surprise waiting for us just around the corner.

Among the highlights of this site are many ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics - all of them nicely preserved. The sheer size of the place was a definite highlight for me. Apart from that the state of buildings and mosaics is truly amazing.

Apart from beautiful mosaics there are also many buildings one should definitely not miss. These are my personal favourites in no particular order:

  • The Amphitheatre of Ostia Antica definitely deserves your attention. It is a perfect spot for a midday snack (on a cloudy day).
  • Just next to the theatre there is also an ancient market full of beautiful mosaics with representations of various vendors through their goods and trades.
  • I loved perfectly preserved public latrines, organized for collective use as a series of marble seats that also served as an important social moment apart from their obvious use. They were connected to a practical sewage system, spread all over the city.
  • Multiple public baths with beautiful mosaics and remains of ingenious central heating systems are something not to be missed.
  • I also really liked a nicely preserved bar on Via Casa di Diana (yes, there are streets in Ostia Antica). The inn called the Insula of the Thermopolium gives you a perfect idea of such a place back in those days. Shelves for food and drinks for sale can still be seen. It is not all that much different from modern bars.

How to get there? You can easily reach Ostia Antica from Rome by train. Take the city Metro (Line B) to the Piramide station. When you get to the station use the stairs/escalators at the north end of the tracks. Once you reach the top, head left until you reach a different set of tracks of the ROMA-LIDO (beach) train. Your metro pass can be used on this train and it will take you directly to the Ostia Antica station. The trains leave about every 15 minutes during peak season. You can buy your return ticket either at the beginning of your trip or use a ticket machine on Ostia train station before your trip back.

Really cheap and easy! Well worth the effort - especially since you can combine a visit to Ostia Antica with some beach time on the nearby Ostia Lido.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Roman stone ornaments

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Top coffee places in Rome

If after a meal at one of the places I suggested in my recent post about where to eat on a budget in Rome you feel like you need a cup of strong coffee, you should keep reading.

Neither M. nor I are true coffee lovers. That does not mean we can not appreciate a good cup of coffee and every time we visit Italy, we treat ourselves with a cup or two. Rome was no different.
We have had a couple of not-so-great coffee experiences during our trip, but mostly it was great stuff and not at all expensive. That is if you take it as locals usually do - at the bar.

Among the places we have been to, these two impressed us the most:

  • Antico Caffè Greco on Via Condotti 86 (just a stone-throw from Spanish steps) is a centuries old classy institution. They serve (in my humble opinion) the best coffee in Rome. You can get an excellent espresso for 0,80 Euro - if you drink it at the bar. On the other hand, if you choose to order a cappuccino at one of those classy looking tables you can however expect to pay 8 Euro. You will be served by a classy waiter in white gloves but nevertheless the price seems a bit high by my standards.
  • Tazza d'Oro on Via degli Orfani 84 is also a famous coffee place located near another popular sight - the Pantheon. They serve many varieties of coffee which they roast and mix themselves. It is a perfect place not only for drinking a cup of coffee, but also for buying a pack of it for your coffee-drinking friends back home. The best thing is you can try it out before you buy it. An excellent value for the money.

Regardless if you are or are not a coffee person I strongly recommend you to stop for a cup at both places mentioned above. After all you will probably find yourself near the Spanish steps as well as the Pantheon at some points of your stay in the Eternal city.

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