Ostia

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

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With the last Rome site visit well in hand (a good one, more later) I took the afternoon off and took the freccia mare out to my favorite city escape. Ostia was Rome’s port in the Republican era, and it’s one of the largest archaeological sites in Italy. Not quite Pompeii in terms of scale or state of preservation, but immense and awe-inspiring nonetheless. It’s about a 20 minute train ride from EUR, where this morning’s Nervi building was, so that seemed a good way to celebrate finishing off the checklist.

I have absolutely no qualifications in Roman architecture, but the ruins never fail to impress. Any architectural education mandates a stop or two on the well worn path of Caracalla, Pompeii, etc., and I think Ostia should be there too. There’s an immense amount to pick up about mass, light, and texture–Kahn, of course, thought he had learned about all of these things when he came to Rome for the first time–and then there’s the rock-solid engineering behind them. Ostia is a great example: the entire city is made of brick vaults, and while they’ve restored the tiny fraction of marble that they’ve found, most of the buildings are stripped down to their brick carcasses, and you can really see how the thrusts work over windows, or how different types of coursework were laid up. It’s all in long Roman brick, too, so you get nice deep shadows in the mortar joints, a trick that Wright picked up, even though he never claimed Rome as a direct influence.

Ostia is a popular tourist spot, but it’s so vast that it’s easy to get lost and find yourself completely alone with the brick. It’s also one of the rare sites that lets you actually into the structures, and occasionally even lets you climb up them. The place is fairly light on interpretive signage–you can get an audio guide, but there’s something really moving about just being able to wander among the ruins by yourself, wondering if you’ll remember how to get out…

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