the Top Attractions | Suggested
n good weather, and with at least 4 full days in Rome, we'd surely visit Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome. It's one of our favorite places 'in' Rome. 'Ancient Ostia' has had no continuing construction for over 1500 years and so gives a far better idea than Rome of the appearance of an ancient city.
While not as well preserved as Pompeii, if Pompeii's a 10 on the archaeology scale, Ostia's an 8 or 9 ... and holds other advantages not held by Pompeii.
Pompeii in its day was the equivalent of The Hamptons on Long Island ... a summer place of villas cooled by the breezes off the Mediterranean. While it has much of interest it's far less typical of Roman cities.
To the contrary, Ostia was a working city, the port of Rome. With few if any villas, it has instead a wealth of the Roman equivalent of what you'd find in a modern day small city: apartment blocks, taverns, groceries, warehouses, churches, public toilets, civic buildings, theater.
Pompeii perished in a relative instant nearly 2000 years ago. Ostia, on the other hand, continued to thrive for another 300 years or so until silting of the Tiber river mouth grew to the point that the city was too far from the water to be a port. This extended life provides more historical depth and added architectural diversity to the site compared to its better-known cousin to the south.
stia is little known to
most travelers, and therein may lie its greatest advantages:
hile 'well preserved' is relative there is much to be seen, and with just a bit of imagination you'll find the city coming alive. An ancient bar, without roof but with offerings ready, is just one evocative memento of the past.
The signage, once only in Latin that even Italians couldn't read, has been upgraded to the most informative in Rome. The Roman Forum and Palatine may be more 'important', but the relative preservation and signage at Ostia combine to make it more rewarding in terms of understanding ancient cities and their buildings than anything in Rome except the 'plastico' in the EUR museum.
The Ostia museum has an excellent collection of important pieces preserved from the excavations, and you'll see streets, apartments, warehouses, shops, public outhouses, baths and the like just more or less as they were seen by the inhabitants two millennia ago.
That museum should be near the excavation entrance since you can buy guidebooks there. Unfortunately it is not. You might mosey over there early in your visit (you can see the building from the entrance along the property line to the right and way back) and select a guide. Alternatively, see if you can find a guidebook in the city before you come out to the site. (You'll find some, often sold by sidewalk vendors, with transparent overlays helping you associate what the buildings look like now with their original appearance.)
n any event do be aware that at the "entrance to the city" (by the ticket booth) the first structures you see are tombs. In fact Roman custom required burials outside the city. So for the first hundreds of yards you're not in the city but outside it. You'll find the entrance to the ancient city proper marked with good signage.
We find the tombs interesting but suggest you save them for later in the day when you've had a chance to survey the scope of the city and determine what you want to see in the time you've planned. On our first visit to Ostia we spent almost our entire allotted time climbing among the tombs, not discovering the real city until close to time to leave! Don't fall into that trap.
s important to us as the educational value, it's a quite romantic setting with the architectural remains nestled among umbrella pines. This is one of the best, though least-visited sites of Rome, and one of the most under-visited worthwhile spots in Europe. If your time in Rome is short, save 6-7 hours of travel and visit Ostia Antica instead of Pompeii.
It's quite easy to journey to and from and scamper quickly among some of the more important areas in a morning or afternoon, though get an early start. Better, plan on a full day. Its' just a marvelous site, and despite perhaps a half-dozen visits we not quite gotten to all the spots we should, and do not yet fully understand all that is there.
o take a picnic and eat among the ruins. The only source of food is outside the property and is not recommendable. Roman Food has useful instructions for assembling a picnic in Rome. We enjoy selecting the bread, wine, water, cheese, fruits and salume we'll take with us. And if you find an empty Frascati wine bottle hidden in one of the tombs, it's ours!
Walter has assembled directions on getting to Ostia, a bit different than ours, but equally valid and a bit more detailed. As well, he describes some aspects of Ostia beyond those we cite above. You'll find his notes quite interesting and helpful.
ake a day trip to Florence. A 'proper' visit takes at least two full days, but you can skim the surface and see a lot with an early morning train. You'll have from 10:30a.m. until 7:00p.m. before a train back to Rome. The art is wonderful, and Julie finds the gold jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio interesting.
The Galleria degli Uffizi is among the great museums of the world, and you won't want to miss Michaelangelo's David and his tomb figures. The Museum of the Duomo (Cathedral) is among the more worthwhile often-overlooked sights.
ompeii is an important part of understanding Roman life and times. Covered for 1800 years with hardened volcanic ash, it's easy to imagine a living city at the start of this era. You can take one of the organized bus tours, or an early morning train.
Either way, it's only a day trip. Naples is bit under two hours from Roma Termini; change to the (private) Circumvesuviana line (via a short walk through the tunnel) for the local to Pompeii. The station (Pompeii Scavi - Villa dei Misteri) is a short walk from the excavations.
Rome to Pompeii schedules are on the Italian Rail site. The Circumvesuviana has a separate site - click on orari (schedules). You're interested in the Naples-Sorrento line schedule, and the Ercolano Scavi and Pompei Scavi stops.
Much of the remains, as in Rome, are more suggestive than substantial. Nonetheless there are some real treasures as a result of burial under feet of earth and ash for over 17 centuries.
Below one of the more amusing sights: "Cave Canem" in mosaic (with Canem) in the walkway to a home. It translates, of course, as "Beware the Dog."
On your way back to Naples you could stop off at Herculaneum (station: Ercolano Scavi) for yet more well-preserved city remains. If you have an extra day or so, stay in Naples and visit the museum where the best of Pompeii's and Herculaneum's treasures are on display. Arguably a visit to the museum is more important than visiting the excavations, but probably not as much fun, nor as inspiring.
A guide book to the sites is helpful, even with a guide. Baldassare Conticello's published by De Agostini is usually available and quite good.
Our friend Walter has put together a step-by-step description of getting to these sites.
he hill towns of Umbria are quite beautiful any time, but particularly in Spring. Take a car and visit all or some of Orvieto, Assisi, and Perugia, or Civita di Bagnoreggio in Lazio.
An ancient abbey (La Badia) sits on a hill across from Orvieto with a marvelous view of the town, and fine food cooked over an open fire while you watch. Orvieto's cathedral is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture. Only an hour by train from Rome.
Perugia has quite good restaurants on the main street, just up from the square. You'll also find an excavated underground city from the past, along with the home of Perugina (chocolates) and fine views.
n excellent afternoon may be spent outside Rome at Hadrian's Villa and the Villa d'Este in Tivoli. While the trip is easily doable by suburban bus we've always found it easier to do by tour bus, if somewhat expensive. ($25-35 plus/minus inflation.) Walter has kindly provided directions to get there by public transportation.
he emperor Hadrian constructed a magnificent villa in the countryside. It must have been splendid. What remains is but little of the original, but what is there is magnificent and hints at the beauty of the whole.
he d'Este family has been a power in Italy and the church for centuries. They caused to be built at their country villa a water garden, unequaled in past or present. Lovely, peaceful, and a marvelous piece of engineering as well as garden architecture.
ne can enjoy some of the finest Greek architectural remains without taking a trip to Greece. Paestum, located not far from Naples, is the site of the Greek colony city of Lucania. It flourished through the 6th Century (B.C.E) and was taken by the Romans in the Republican era, early in the third century. The ruins of the city contain some fo the most well-preserved Doric-style temples remaining, anywhere.
This is somewhat of a longish day trip from Rome, although eminently doable. Quite easy from Naples, of course. You'll find these directions will work quite well for you.
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