Friends are staying, and we decide to take them to a place we’ve been meaning to visit for ages. Aquileia, an ancient Roman city, and one of the main archaeological sites in northern Italy. We’re always up for an adventure with a bit of romance.
A busy drive here – too many lorries – but well worth it, we hope. We arrive at around midday, and the first thing we see is the symbol of Rome, Romulus and Remus suckling from the she-wolf, on top of a column in front of the old basilica. Wow! We’ve come to the right place, we think.
A quick coffee (we’re parched), then we amble over to the ancient baptistery. The hexagonal font dates from the end of the 4th Century. Rubbing our hands on the rough stone, we imagine what it was like then. People would have been wearing togas still…
The first thing we notice when we go into the church itself is that the floor is no longer the one that decorated the building whose walls remain today (11th – 14th Century). This floor was removed between 1909 and 1915, bringing to light the magnificent mosaics which date back to the time when Christianity became the official state religion of Rome. They were covered with earth, which probably preserved them. We feel humbled to see them today.
We’re totally in awe of this place, the oldest Episcopal complex in the West, where the mosaic floor creates the effect of a colourful carpet, telling the bible story of Jonah and the whale. Isn’t the octopus fabulous?
Treading on glass and steel walkways, we go into the “crypt of the excavations”, to view the floor completed in the year 320 AD. It’s incredibly beautiful. I love this depiction of a fight between a cockerel and a tortoise. But I scratch my head at the same time and wonder, ‘Why?’
Too many gorgeous mosaics to photograph, but these catch our eyes.
Before leaving the church, we visit the “crypt of the frescoes”. The walls are covered in representations of the passion of Christ, painted in 1180. It’s cool down here and smells of damp and plaster.
After a delicious lunch at the Ristorante Corallo, (seafood lasagne, yum!), we make our way to the National Archaeological Museum. The Museum and its galleries contain a wealth of artifacts, monuments, statues, burial items, relics, sculptures, decorative motifs, jewellery, coins, pottery, household implements, ornaments, etc., etc. Completely mind-blowing. I love the enamel makeup pot. Doesn’t it have a surprisingly modern look?
In the second century Aquileia was one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of about 100,000. Here is a representation of what it would have looked like then.
Today, however, there are only about 3,500 inhabitants. How sad that the ancient buildings were pillaged for stone during the intervening centuries, and now there aren’t any from the Roman period left above ground.
The Roman city came to an end after an attack by Attila and his Huns in the year 425. The inhabitants, together with those of smaller towns in the neighbourhood, fled en masse to the lagoons, and so laid the foundations of Venice and nearby Grado. Amazing!
After this whistle-stop visit, we realise we’re running out of time and have a long drive back home. I love history and want to learn more about this fascinating period. Aquileia is definitely a place to which I’d like to return. We’ll spend longer here, we decide. Maybe treat ourselves to a couple of nights in a B & B and explore at leisure. We drive past the ruins of the Roman Forum and I feel a prickle on the back of my neck. This might make a setting for my second time-slip paranormal historical romance.