Honors Italy: The Grand Tour - Days 10 & 11 - Rome and Ostia Antica

Underground church in Catacombs of Domitilla
Our penultimate day of touring Italy began with a tour of the Catacombs of Domitilla, one of at least 65 underground burial sites under Rome.  The different catacombs in Rome (many along the Appian Way) are named after the person who donated the land for the burial site and were often the burial sites for Roman Christians before Christianity was legalized.  The Catacombs of Domitilla include an underground church from the 4th century AD and 11 miles of tunnels on 4 levels.  As we walked through the tunnels, our guide pointed out the different types of burial chambers, terra cotta oil lamps and decorated tombs.  While she told us to make certain to stay close so we would not get lost in the catacombs, a few of us were separated from the rest of the group for a minute and had to call out to find the right path back to the group.

St. Paul's Basilica
Our next stop was St. Paul's Basilica outside the Walls which was originally built in the 4th & 5th century AD, though the original building was destroyed by a fire in 1823.  Its grounds are considered an extra territorial part of the Vatican as it is part of Vatican City even though it is outside the Vatican walls.  As with St. Peter's Basilica, St. Paul's Basilica has a Holy Door that is sealed shut and typically only opened during Jubilee years.  The central bronze door has biblical images including images of St. Peter and St. Paul that glisten unlike the rest of the door due to so many people touching the saints.  Inside the basilica, the ceiling and walls were ornately decorated and images of all popes are found on each side of the nave.  The altar of the basilica is located above St. Paul's tomb and there is a chain inside a glass case at the altar that may have been the chain used to imprison Paul.  

Fontana dell' Acqua Paolo
Our next destination was the Janiculum, one of the best locations to view central Rome as it is the 2nd highest hill in Rome.  After stopping for a few pictures, we began our descent to the Trastevere region of Rome.  During the descent, we passed the church San Pietro in Montorio which was built on what was formerly thought to be the location of the crucifixion of St. Peter.  We also passed the Fontana dell' Acqua Paolo (Fountain of High Water), built in 1612 and marking the end of the Acqua Paolo acqueduct.  The final landmark we saw on our descent to Trastevere was the Janiculum Ossuary Mausoleum, dedicated to those from Rome who died in the unification of Italy.  In Trastevere, we visited the Basilica di Santa Maria, one of the minor basilicas of Rome and one of the oldest churches, with the first sanctuary built in the 3rd century AD.  One unique feature of this basilica is the mosaic of Mary holding Jesus with 10 women on either side of Mary above the entrance to the church.  This basilica is known for its mosaics and I particularly enjoyed the symmetry of the patterned floors that contained a number of images that looked like Sierpinski triangles.  We returned to our hotel and went out for a late night snack of gelato during which one of our participants earned the nickname Stracciatella, the name for chocolate chip gelato.  This remained a joke between our group, our tour director Gesualdo and our bus driver Antonio throughout the rest of the trip.

Mosaic floor in Baths of Neptune
On our final day in Italy, we visited Ostia Antica, an archaeological site at the mouth of the Tiber River.  We passed through the Porta Romana on our way to the Baths of Neptune where we observed numerous mosaic floors from the 2nd century AD.  Our next stop was the theater (giving us an opportunity for a group photo) and the Temple of Ceres.  We walked along the outside of the Piazzale della Corporazioni (Square of the Corporations) which had a number of rooms along its outer edges that were likely commercial offices where the transportation of goods was discussed.  We saw a number of floor mosaics that were essentially advertisements for what goods could be transported.  Our tour continued to the granary where bread was made and the thermopilium which was essentially a tavern.  After visiting the thermopilium, we felt the need to confess and headed to the basilica and the Temple of Roma and Augustus.  We concluded our tour with lunch in the cafe before heading back to Rome for the rest of the day.

The Spanish Steps
In Rome, our first stop was the Spanish Steps, which of course required another group picture.  At the bottom of the Spanish Steps is the Keats-Shelley Memorial House where the English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821 from tuberculosis.  At the opposite side of the bottom of the Spanish Steps is Babington's Tea Room, though we decided not to stop for tea.  The rest of the afternoon was free time during which some of us finished our souvenir shopping while others enjoyed beverages at outdoor cafes.  We had dinner in central Rome before doing an evening tour of some of the sites that we had previously visited so we could admire their beauty while they were illuminated at night.  As our day came to a close, so did our wonderful experiences on Italy: The Grand Tour.  I would like to thank Ashland University, the AU Office of Global Education, our Tour Director Gesualdo, our bus driver Antonio and our tour company Education First for helping all participants have extraordinary experiences on not so ordinary days.  Arrivederci!

Moon shining through Colosseum


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