Clearly the choice of places to visit outside the city walls is almost endless. It is worth mentioning one particular direction: south. You reach the majestic baths of Caracalla which until very recently were used to stage open air Opera during the summer months. The baths are worth visiting nonetheless, not only for the mosaics but also […]
Clearly the choice of places to visit outside the city walls is almost endless. It is worth mentioning one particular direction: south. You reach the majestic baths of Caracalla which until very recently were used to stage open air Opera during the summer months. The baths are worth visiting nonetheless, not only for the mosaics but also for the sense of “big”. You wonder how many people might actually be using such a large complex of pools and gymnasiums. The supply of water required was mind-boggling, and much of it was heated! Not to mention rest rooms, massage parlors and a wide range of other services.
Continuing southwards we reach the Old Appian way which gives us a great sense of what an ancient Roman road was like: solid and lined either side by a vast assortment of tombs, fortified structures, statues and temples.
Along the Appian way we have a number of Catacombs. These are not the only Catacombs in the city of course but some of the more interesting ones are here, such as Santa Priscilla and San Sebastiano. They are deep and long, they keep more or less the same temperature throughout the year and are not advisable for the claustrophobic. They are certainly an experience as you see rows and rows of burial chambers, meeting rooms, paintings and engravings which have much to say of the lives led by the persecuted Christians.
My favourite are the Catacombs of San Sebastiano as they include an area where the Romans used to hold traditional banquets in company of their (dead) loved ones. There are also a number of ancient Roman graffiti scratched on the walls. It is said that the remains of St. Peter and St. Paul may have been hidden here during the persecutions.
There are also a number of extremely interesting churches, such as Santa Costanza built during the Empire as tomb for Emperor Constantine and his daughters Costanza and Helen. The circular architecture and the original mosaics with a variety of decorations and scenes give it a very particular feel. There’s severe doubt over the saintliness of Costanza, possibly a mutation of the name Costantina – wife of the emperor and reported to have been rather less than saintly. Her beautiful sarcophagus has been removed to the Vatican and a perfect copy left here in its stead.
If you’ve got transport or are prepared to work out public transport then two excellent visits not far from the city are Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) at Tivoli and the Roman city port on the Tiber at Ostia Antica, not far from Rome’s main airport Fiumicino: plenty of mosaics, roman roads, shops, theatres etc.