Finding what you were not looking for
By the time we drove into Italy, we were quite familiar with Roman ruins. As we made our way through Portugal, Spain and France, the conquests of the ancient Romans were evident in many sights. Yet, we felt that we might better appreciate what we had learned up to that point once we were able to see where it all began in Rome.
One of the funny things about discovering the past was how much digging one had to do. I don’t mean literally, of course but the ancient sites are not mapped out like a modern museum. Each curated exhibit described in a sequential order of events so that a solid understanding of the material could be had. Rather the experience felt a bit more like a treasure hunt.
Because Rome was such a significant part of our human history and played that role for so many years, the past and the present have to coexist. Can you imagine if you had to preserve everything that came before you on your plot of land? I’ve re-made my garden many times over in the time I have owned this property. The rooms of our home have expanded and interior walls have moved, leaving no visible trace of what came before.
When it comes to a city like Rome, everything which was painstakingly built in stone was significant. As the centuries passed and the city grew, sites were altered or demolished and rebuilt. Sometimes the building materials were repurposed in the new project on the same land and other times stones had a new home, miles away. With the passing of so much time, the land changed as well. Weather events caused disruption of man made structures. Or a particular area of the city fell out of fashion and was left to crumble.
What the tourist ends up with is a chaotic mixture of old and new. In all cities across Europe, this is the case, but particularly interesting in Rome because so many of the ancient sites are so popular, even today. In some cases the grandeur of the architecture is just as it was in the glory days. The sight of the colosseum, for the first time, after coming out of the Piazza Del Colosseo is awe inspiring. The experience took my breath away. It was about 30 minutes later that we realized it would take the whole day, waiting in line to shuffle through the inside tour.
Other famous buildings in Rome were equally interesting, but still tucked away into the various parts of the city, nestled in with their neighbours. Even getting an unobstructed view of these antiquities was difficult. I decided, I had to come back to Rome at another time. I needed to stay right in the heart of the city and be able to get up at daybreak, before the crowds descended. To amble around a place and imagine what life was like in times past, is one of my favourite pastimes.
Before we spent the day in Rome, we were wandering around the complicated serious of road interchanges near Fiumicino. Out there, nestled on the River Tibor, we saw ruins right by the highway. Speeding by, trying to find the correct exit I pulled out the map and discovered that what I saw was part of a huge complex of an ancient city called Ostia Antica. Imagine whizzing by remains of the once mighty Roman Empire by chance? I wondered if this was going to happen at every turn?
Turns out that Ostia Antica first served as the port, at the mouth of the River Tibor for the city of Rome. As time went on, a full city developed. Complete with a colosseum, baths, merchant trading market, teatro, schools, etc. As even more time passed, the river silted it, the city was attacked, a storm raged, leaving opportunity to build again. What you see today is a variety of time periods, depending on the extent of restoration and excavation. But what makes this place truly unique is access. In this archeological sight, you can wander for miles letting the audio guide fill your imagination with the past.
When our time in Italy was finished, I marvelled at what we had found at Ostia Antica. There were no shoulder to shoulder crowds slowing our progress down the main streets, like we experienced in Pompeii. The ancient city was not competing with a modern one as is the case in Athens, Barcelona or Rome. Nobody was dressed up in costumes of the past, trying to sell you something. Instead we wandered deep into history, peering into evidence of lives from another time in almost pure immersion. As close to a time machine as we are going to be.
In the end, we found a treasure of Roman history that we were not looking for. Those kind of serendipitous moments happened often. The biggest, most important tourist sights are crowded beyond belief. We learned that if you must see them, go early and be first in line. For the rest of it, be an explorer. Open your eyes, look up from the map and see. It is the moments of chance which have made my travels feel priceless.
If you feel inclined to travel and experience the start of fall here in my hometown, stay-tuned to dailycreatives. I am preparing for the first CreaSpaTreat September 20-22, 2019.
CreaSpaTreat is an immersive, retreat experience. Treat yourself to practice creativity in this beautiful setting. Enter a unique space, without life’s regular distractions. Ten like-minded women will gather in Crescent Beach & White Rock to share, learn, socialize and exercise our hearts and minds.