I walked on streets where crowds bustled nineteen centuries ago. Living, breathing people worked at the docks, ate and drank with friends, enjoyed the theater, fell in love.
They are long gone, but their city, which had been buried in river mud and silt, remains. About half has been uncovered.
Ostia Antica, a commuter train ride from Rome, was a port at the mouth of the Tiber River. The larger ships could not make it up the river to Rome, so workers unloaded cargo here into warehouses.
A synagogue built almost two thousand years ago, with a Star of David still on the outside. A bakery where several workers stood and ground grain with pestles near a stone oven where bread baked before people purchased loaves there. Another oven is at a café where people ate at tables and chairs in a courtyard with a fountain. I think I remember a fountain, but I do remember I was struck that they enjoyed a meal outside on a fine day, just as we do.
Here is the exterior and interior of the theater. Teens hammed it up from what is left of the stage. After shouting to three in French, they all hopped at the same time.
Maybe 50,000 to 75,000 people lived here at one time. Archeologists have found hotels, apartment buildings a few stories high, bars, brothels, houses of worship, community baths, homes, and hundreds of shops.
I feel very fortunate to have visited Italy recently, and I am pre-empting my regular past-and-present period to move back two thousand years.
I had no idea many of the great sights of ancient Rome are right next to each other. I was able to reach these on foot from my hotel in a beautiful neighborhood, Aventino, with lovely apartments with red-tile roofs and inviting terraces, and tall trees lining the hilly streets. This is one of the seven hills of Rome.
Between this Aventine Hill and the Palatine Hill is the Circus Maximus. A sign posted there stated Romans raced chariots drawn by teams of four or six horses. The races took place for NINE HUNDRED years.
There was once a stadium here that seated 150,000 people. Today, the track remains.
The ruins on the other side of the Circus Maximus, shown in the upper right of the photo in the link above, are the ruins on the Palatino, the Palatine Hill. “Palatino” for “palace,” and there are great, long arched walls of an ancient palace and other buildings.
This hill was the birthplace of Rome, both according to legend (Romulus and Remus were supposedly raised by a wolf here), and history. Archeologists determined people lived on this hill 3,000 years ago, about 2,000 B.C. (BCE).
The Palatine Hill overlooks the Roman Forum.
This video shows the Roman Forum, the few acres that were the center of Western civilization, of worship and government, for centuries.
Visitors to the forum can enter the ancient Senate, where Roman citizens governed until the emperors became more powerful. I was awed to stand here.
In ancient times, there were a number of arches in Rome commemorating military victories. There’s one beside the Roman Forum, and a larger one, the Arch of Constantine, across the street from the Forum and the Palatine Hill, beside the Colisseum. As I said, it’s amazing how close everything is. Here’s the Arch of Constantine, built in 315.
That’s the Coliseum on the right. After viewing the Coliseum, we walked past monuments, including a square designed by Michelangelo, on the way back to the hotel. What a day. What a walk.
Normally, I write about the late 1800s, the early 1900s, and the present, but I was very fortunate to visit Italy a few weeks ago, and this is truly a city of the past and present. The Eternal City.
I was astounded the first morning when we took a short ride on a public bus. I saw, spanning the Tiber River, a beautiful bridge with several statues, and it was instantly familiar, probably from photos and movies. On the other side stands an ancient castle. The bus crossed the bridge, and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica came into view. I was thrilled to see these monuments so close together. My mouth might have dropped open, but the other people on the bus were just going to work that morning.
To enter St. Peter’s Basilica, you wait in a long line in one of the most famous squares in the world.
There is a post office in the square, where you can buy postcards and mail them home with the postmark of the Vatican, which, you’ll recall, is a separate country from Italy.
Here’s the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica, probably the largest church in Christendom.
The baldacchino, the bronze canopy-like structure, was designed by the Bernini and stands over the altar, which was built over the tomb of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.
Men and women of the cloth pass the throngs of sightseers and go about their business. From a chapel at the side, open only to those who wish to pray, a couple people emerged looking sad. I imagine they pray at St. Peter’s for their desperately ill loved ones.
Two Swiss Guards are stationed at a private entrance for cars. Although visitors took photos, his expression was almost fierce, letting everyone know he was truly guarding the Vatican.
The Vatican Museum, in a separate building, contains treasures of ancient Rome and the Renaissance.
The walls of the room above are covered with frescoes of maps.
Four rooms in the Vatican Museum were decorated by Raphael.
These rooms include Raphael’s “School of Athens,” below, featuring famous Greek philosophers.
The Sistine Chapel, with the ceiling and the altar wall by Michelangelo, is the most famous room in the Vatican Museum.
Angelenos, do not click away. You may be very used to seeing Walt Disney Hall, but I’ve included a photo of the a little-seen modern, elegant VIP room, the Founder’s Room. First, here’s the exterior of Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened in 2003 in downtown Los Angeles.
Designed by Frank Gehry, it is a concert hall in the round and the home of the L.A. Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. I have a subscription to the Philharmonic, and when I walk up these steps in the afternoon to go to my matinee, there are always people outside taking photos. Many look like they are on vacation. They are happy to see this gorgeous building, but I feel lucky that I have a ticket to hear the L.A. Phil in this beautiful venue with its amazing acoustics.
Orchestras and chorales perform wonderful concerts at Christmastime. You may want to buy tickets now to a holiday concert in your area.
Disney Hall’s Founder’s Room is a VIP room, but you can rent it for a wedding or a private party.
The book Beautiful Stranger‘s Chapter 9 is a delicious read. Guests have reported all sorts of strange occcurences and apparitions wearing old-fashioned clothes. Two rooms have been studied by paranormal researchers and their instruments, and designated one a “classic haunting.”
I have a Master of Science degree in Geological Sciences, which has taught me to be open-minded where the natural world is concerned. I’m a Christian, but I don’t know what to make of these sightings at The Del. Chapter 9 is pretty darn convincing. Here’s one of my favorites:
A doorman and a female concierge showed off Kate Morgan’s room, a “haunted room” to two young guests. No guests were staying in the room, and it had been cleaned by the maids. When the doorman and concierge unlocked the door, they found the room as tidy as it should be except a woman had lain on the bed and left the impression of her body on the bedspread. The doorman tried to straighten the bedspread, but it did not smooth out — the imprint of the woman’s body stayed exactly the same. She lay there. The concierge and youngsters screamed and fled. Once they were out, the young guests were “intrigued.”
On my first trip to the Del, I was browsing the Victorian Gift Shop, which, I might add, is right up my alley, when a man entered.
“So, have you seen the ghost of Kate Morgan?” He asked the clerk.
“Oh, yes.” The woman seemed dead serious.
Intrigued, I purchased Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel Del Coronado. On the cover, it says “The official account of Kate Morgan’s 1892 visit and why she haunts The Del today.”
Over the years, there have been so many “sightings” that the hotel figured it had nothing to lose by publishing what is known of this young woman’s visit and tragic death, and the paranormal phenomena guests and employees have reported.
Kate Morgan had lost contact with her husband. He was a professional gambler, and last she heard, he plied his trade on railway cars. Kate worked as a domestic in Los Angeles when she took the train south and checked into the Hotel del Coronado alone. That in itself was unusual, but her behavior was strange.
She seemed be ill and said it was terminal. She claimed that her brother, a doctor, would come. She was not interested in a local doctor, only in the man she inquired about at the front desk at least once a day for four or five days.
She took a train to San Diego, bought a gun, and a hotel employee found her body outside early in the morning. She was twenty-four.
A corner’s inquest was held almost immediately. Newspapers across the country speculated about the young woman, who had checked into the hotel using a false name. Although she had claimed to be expecting her physician brother, it turned out she had no brother. Who was the man she anxiously awaited, and did she end her life because he did not come to her? perhaps it was her no-good husband or a lover. Had he cast her aside? Had he left her in a family way?
The San Diego Union reported that a hotel guest saw Kate Morgan on the train from Los Angeles to San Diego, accompanied by a well-dressed gentleman, and the two of them had a bitter quarrel, right on the train, which ended with Kate asking for forgiveness and her companion getting off the train without her. This witness saw her again at the hotel, and he was sure it was her. Trouble was, this man said Kate was on his train from Denver to San Diego. Funny that he spoke to a newspaper but not to the authorities. He may have been entirely made up by the reporter.
The hotel’s heritage department compiled recent sightings in the book Beautiful Stranger, and some of them are in Kate Morgan’s room, and others seem to have no connection. Quite a few have occurred in a different room.
I regret I did not ask the gift shop clerk what she had seen to make her feel that the ghost of Kate Morgan was in her presence. The book describes incidents in the stores — the clerks witnessed books “jumping” or flying off of shelves, and the stories were corroborated by the store’s customers.
This is not Coronado Beach, on Coronado Island, off of San Diego, California, but this structure is similar to the cabinette my husband and I rented there. I could not write a series about this 120-year-old resort without telling you how wonderful it is in the present.
At the Del, a cabinette is two wooden lounge chairs joined together with a canopy that you pull up if you want shade. The young people lucky enough to get summer jobs at this wide, wonderful beach brought bottles of water to our cabinette, as well as a bowl of fruit. All included in the price.
Read a good book, doze, read, swim.
I don’t know how it can be legal, but just across the path, at the edge of the hotel, there is a walk-up bar where you can get wine, beer, or cocktails to go and bring them to your beach chair or cabinette. Some people had cardboard boxes that held four cocktails per box.
Read, sip, doze.
The Del is presently the largest wooden structure in the United States. Although it was built in 1888, it was powered by electricity from the beginning. Other Victorian hotels were lit by gaslight, and the open flames caused fires and destruction.
Although a few days at this beach resort is wonderful, some guests in the early twentieth century stayed for such long periods — they received a substantial discount off the nightly and weekly rates — that the Del opened a school for the children.
With the next post, I will begin the astonishing events of the past and present.