Early Saturday morning, the fifth of February, Dr. Connell led his Art & Architecture class to the ruins of Ostia Antica, the harbor city of ancient Rome. “The appeal of Ostia lies in the fact that you get a very good sense of a sizeable Roman city,” said Dr. Connell, Professor of Humanities, Poetics and Art & Architecture of Thomas More College’s three-month Rome Program. “Part of its beauty is that the ruins seem untouched and are given the proper ambience by the ivy, Cyprus trees and umbrella pines.”
Ostia saw its share of battles and changed governments several times after the Severan dynasty, even falling into the hands of the Saracens in the Ninth Century. At the peak of its existence, Ostia was the home for eighty thousand people but this started to decline under the rule of Constantine I, although the exact reason of why this is so has been under speculation for a while. Ostia, once the gateway for all commerce coming to Rome from the sea, was abandoned after suffering many earthquakes, tsunamis and malaria. Building material from Ostia has been found in several of the surrounding cities as builders took whatever they needed from the abandoned city.
Despite the fact that Ostia was buried for many years before being excavated in the Nineteenth Century its buildings are well preserved, this has been accredited to mud and sand which left buildings such as the amphitheater, temple and various houses/shops in such good condition to be enjoyed by us today.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Junior Rachel Bartels. “I was grateful Dr. Connell took us and that we didn’t go by ourselves for with his knowledge it wasn’t just a pile of rock, with his descriptions it became a city. Ostia has a natural habitation, so instead of the trip seeming scientific it felt more as if we were looking into the past. You get a really good idea of their life style through the craftsmanship of what’s left behind and through Dr. Connell’s guidance you can get a sense of what was happening.”
Ostia is not merely a site for tourists to visit but also has an appeal to Catholic pilgrims. It is the city St. Augustine passed through briefly and where his mother, St. Monica, died and was buried for a short while. Her body was later moved to the Church of St. Augustine in Rome where her sainthood is celebrated. “Walking on the same streets where St. Augustine and his mother walked was a moving experience for me as a student and as a Catholic,” said Sophomore Steven Herreid. “It was striking to be in such an ancient place that was still recognizable and I’m glad I went.”
Each student at Thomas More College is required to spend three full months on our campus in Rome, staying at a majestic villa by night and taking private tours of the Eternal City by day. Students are immersed in the history and culture of Rome, forming a bond with the ancient scholars who traveled the same streets they explore daily. Students study theology from a Vatican-based theologian, attend Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, explore the Coliseum, tour the Vatican Museum, and stroll past the Roman Forum where Cicero thundered against Roman tyranny.
The student’s trip to Ostia Antica was part of several day trips taken to such cities as Assisi, Siena, Florence, and others. Ostia Antica was a thirty minute train ride from Rome, and so the students packed lunch and picnicked after their tour by the seaside. All the students were in awe of the ruins and thanked Dr. Connell heartily for bringing them there.