I had surprised Mom with tickets for Context:
We arrived at the meeting point in front of the
With our group assembled, we entered San Lorenzo in Lucina, walked to the back of the church, down a corridor to a room displaying pottery and glass artifacts found at the site, and paid a 2 Euro donation to gain entry to the extensive ruins beneath the church. We entered via a short flight of stairs leading through a stone archway and found ourselves in a veritable maze of rooms. First we looked down into a dug-out pit where we could see the painted wall tiles from a 2nd-century building. Nearby, two rooms had been excavated to reveal extensive black-and-white mosaic tile floors (see photo). Several long corridors connected a series of rooms that had once constituted a 4th-century apartment building. We also visited a large domed room that was the site of the original 5th-century basilica, complete with a stone foundation where the ceremonial bath had stood.
Back outside, Elizabeth used a map to show us that we were standing on what used to be the broad plain of the Campus Martius, where the ancient Romans grazed cattle and carried out military drills. Elizabeth pointed out the original location of the Ara Pacis, the Arch of Peace, built by Augustus to commemorate his victories in Gaul and Hispania (John and I visited the reconstructed, intricately carved marble arch in its new, modern museum back in December) and, nearby, the spot where a towering Egyptian obelisk once stood. August had the obelisk erected as the focal point of a massive sundial; each year on his birthday, September 23rd (the fall equinox), the shadow of the obelisk would cut directly through the Ara Pacis, demonstrating that Augustus was clearly destined to be the bringer of peace to
Near the Pantheon we stopped to look at the crumbling remains of an immense, curved brick wall that was once part of the Baths of Agrippa. Over the centuries, houses have been built over, around, and literally through this ancient structure. I assume the interior rooms of those houses have curious curving walls, following the lines of the original building, although the brick has probably long since been plastered over.
Our next stop was the Crypta Balbi museum, which opened in 2000 as the newest addition to the National Museum of Rome. The site was discovered during construction work in 1981 and the new museum houses the remains of a crypta, an enclosed portico and large rectangular courtyard, which stood behind the stage of the Theater of Lucius Cornelius Balbus (one of Augustus’ generals). It was the smallest of three theaters in the vicinity, the others being the Theater of Pompey and the Theater of Marcellus. In Augustus’ time, the crypta was a place to relax and socialize during intermissions and between theater productions. Over the centuries, the theater and adjoining crypta fell into ruin, to be replaced by markets, warehouses, churches, homes, shops, and factories. Today it is very difficult to visualize the scale of the ancient Roman structures, but the museum does an excellent job of bringing the past to life through a series of schematics that show the theater in its heyday, and then how the site likely decayed and evolved over the ensuing centuries.
We had an 11:45 appointment to descend underground into the vast ruins beneath the modern museum. Elizabeth first showed us a section of exposed wall in which you can see fragments of the orginal marble-faced portico topped by centuries of medieval construction, including bits of Renaissance-era clay drain pipes – in all, more than twenty centuries of Roman history written in the stones. As we continued deeper underground, we passed through various chambers cluttered with chunks of columns and even the cobbles of an ancient Roman road.
At noon we had the unique opportunity to visit an active archaeological site hidden behind the museum.
We left the Crypta Balbi and walked across the street to Largo di Torre Argentina, where Elizabeth explained the context of the four Republican-era temples and pointed out the area where Julius Caesar is believed to have been assassinated (outside the Theater of Pompey, the ruins of which are under buildings across the street). Mussolini had the
At this point our tour came to an end. We thanked Elizabeth profusely, then Mom and I went across the street to a large bookstore that Elizabeth had recommended, where we each bought a copy of a book on ancient Roman monuments with reconstruction overlays (bigger and better than the small one I had purchased at the Colosseum).
It was now about 1:00 and we decided to wander back through the Jewish Ghetto (photo, right), where we had lunch at Da Giggetto, right next to the
After lunch we crossed the Ponte Fabricio for the second time (beautifully framed by green leaves in the afternoon sun) back to
We meandered our way back to Trastevere, which was tranquil and quiet, apparently enjoying an afternoon siesta. We stopped to take pictures of a particularly lovely tangerine-colored villa (right), whereupon not one but two older gentlemen stopped to smile and jabber at us in Italian. We had no idea what they were saying but they seemed to be pleased that we were taking a picture of this particular building. We smiled back and I took a picture of the plaque mounted on the building to try to translate later, assuming it meant something important happened there. (Postscript: Well, the plaque just seems to prohibit the throwing of something – rubbish? – in the street, so this little mystery remains unsolved!)
A little further down the street, two young men came around the corner carrying those huge super-soaker squirt guns that kids like to play with on hot summer days. We immediately held our arms out and I shouted, “Prego!” whereupon the men grinned and cheerfully obliged by spraying us with water.
We found the bead shop that we had visited on Friday; Mom had told the proprietor that we would come back but I’m sure he didn’t believe us. Mom bought some flower beads that she was coveting and I found some things I needed to finish my necklaces. The nice man gave me some crimp beads for free (carefully laying them on a bit of tape so I wouldn't lose them) and asked me about my photography (since I had my Canon digital SLR around my neck). On our way back we stopped for gelato in Piazza di
We retraced our steps back to
We thought we might actually get back to our hotel a little early for once (it was about 9:30) but we ended up delving into a lengthy conversation with the couple sitting next to us – an Irish woman and French man. We traded stories about