I stood, gazing about me in wonder as I absorbed the narrow streets and peered into the shadowed dwellings of a civilization long gone. Prior to this vacation, I never would have dreamed that a piece of history as rich as Ostia Antica could have survived the ruin that time so often brings. Remarkably preserved, this ancient city located in the outskirts of Rome was submerged in mud from the nearby Tiber River. Surprisingly, instead of being an agent of destruction, the mud protected the city until it was rediscovered by more recent generations.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
As I explored this fascinating trove of history, I visualized myself as a resident living in Ostia Antica—imagined people doing daily activities such as cooking, and painting the colorful frescoes that still adorn some of the walls. I found it extremely interesting to venture into a kitchen, which included their version of an oven. I was in heaven! As a fan of history, I had learned a lot from books, but experiencing it firsthand was so much better.
As I continued my exploration, I came upon more windows into the life of this generation long gone. I viewed a number of colorfully ornate mosaic floors, the pieces so tiny and uniform I could barely believe my eyes. The detailed mosaics often depicted mythical creatures that must have been dear to city’s inhabitants. The beautiful floors are just one of many evidences illustrating the fact that these people were not primitive as most would believe. I was also surprised to find that many of the buildings had at least two floors that were still standing. In fact, visitors are allowed to ascend to the top floors in the structurally sound buildings. While standing up high, I took in the amazing view. I could see the dwellings of this vast city spread before me, and I even got a glimpse of the Tiber River, whose course changed after the civilization was buried.
After viewing the city from this new perspective, I continued my walk through Ostia Antica, and it kept getting progressively better. I tried my hand at navigating the city with the site map provided. As I wandered about, I was excited to find a building that had a semicircular room with a full mosaic floor. It even had some mosaics remaining in the arched doorways. A hallway connected this area to several smaller rooms. I was surprised to find a wooden door shielding a small room that was still intact after all these years. I wondered who had lived in this house; they must have been a prominent citizen to afford such spacious accommodations.
As the dwellings were unearthed during the 20th century, many sculptures of Roman gods and goddesses were discovered. It is amazing how many of these were found within the city, and remarkably well preserved. The sculptures were saved and placed in an on-site museum. This museum was worth taking the time to look through, and gave me an opportunity to step out of the sun for a few minutes. As late afternoon approached, I was reluctant to leave. The day had been fascinating, full of new discoveries and realizations.
Reflecting on my visit to Ostia Antica, I can honestly say that it was one of the highlights of my trip to Europe. This little known destination has been overshadowed by big attractions such as the Colosseum and Forum, but is well worth the visit. It gave an interesting glimpse into the daily lives of people who lived centuries ago, helping me understand them a little bit better.
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