The Roman ruins of Aosta

Aosta is a much bigger town than we were expecting where we had booked a hotel for the evening. It took us longer to park near the hotel than the drive from Fenis to Aosta as the city has a very pedestrianised centre and a lot of one way streets that our sat-nav did not manage very well. At one point we were  driving on a pedestrian street having followed the sat-nav  down a one way street. As we were turning on the street to go back the way we came a helpful Italian knocked on our window to tell us it was a one way street. I amazed myself by politely telling him we were aware and were simply reversing to go back up the one way street. 

We parked in a parking lot that turned out to be quite close to the hotel by a fortunate coincidence rather than any real planning, and we used the EasyPark app to pay for the day. Turns out the traffic wardens had no easy way to validate these app purchases and so we had to leave a note in the car saying we’d paid online so they could confirm it late. A hilarious combination of convenience and legacy.

We got to the hotel and once again had a double bed rather than a single, which was annoying. The receptionist said he would check what we booked and I said there was no need, it was a twin, the option can be set as default in the app. They delivered some additional sheets later in the day. Not ideal, but at least we were not sharing a duvet.

We headed out into the town, and walked down the main street, which has been the central street of Aosta since the Roman Empire and is the widest street in town due to it being the thoroughfare through the city. Aoasta was very much a stopping point for Roman merchants. 

Our first stop was the Porta Pretoria, the Pretoria gate. a Roman archway to the city from 25 BCE, when Augustus was Caesar of Rome. As a main feature on the thoroughfare it is impossible to get a photo not full of people using this two thousand year old gateway as part of their daily routine.

We then went to the Roman Theatre. The ticket to enter was €7, but you also get access to a church, a crypt and a museum for the price of the ticket, which is a bargain. The ruins are primarily a single wall remaining with some low level foundations remaining. The wall however backs onto the town and the mountains so it is a striking sight. There is something about the way Romans construct their buildings that resonates strongly with me. Carved stone and archways with a focus on a view.

After the Theatre, we walked further down to the Arco di Augusto, now situated in the middle of a roundabout, somewhat ruining the effect of the archway. It was dedicated to Augustus Caesar, but now has a christian crucifix in the middle of the archway due to the centuries of Christianity in Italy since Augustus.

Following the archway, we headed to a church we had access to due to the Roman Theatre tickets and ended up in Parrocchia dii San Lorenzo in Aosta, thinking it was the right place, we walked around and saw their little crypt with the LED candles in front of the saint, We talked about it as we were leaving that it didn’t seem quite right based on the description in the brochure. As we walked through the doorway to the courtyard we saw some people leaving a small stone archway on the opposite side of the courtyard. 

When we explored we saw it was the church we were looking for and it was not an active church but rather the remains of one. We followed the metal walkway down and could see the outline of the church and the few tombs remaining in the basement.  It was interesting, but if you had to buy a discrete ticket for this rather than it being included in the cost of the Roman Theatre ticket, you’d be annoyed.

We then walked all the way back to the hotel in order to go to the Criptoportico Forense, the underground crypt. It was not what I was expecting. I was thinking something like the crypts of Malta; deeply underground and carved from rock. These were only five feet underground, there were small windows at the 5 foot mark meaning someone my hight would still have a head above ground if buried standing up in this crypt. It was somewhat disappointing. Again, it shows the wisdom of linking access to the museum and the Theatre.

Finished for the day with sights and experiences, we stopped for a drink at a cafe bar and once again found the challenge of stopping at a bar in Italy for a drink because you were passing the time until it is time for dinner. We were inundated with olives, bread, dried meats and flat breads. Lovely, but spoils the appetite somewhat. We found one place we wanted to try for dinner, but when we booked online it was apparently closed for the day so we found somewhere else to try. It looked fairly relaxed so we didn’t book but paid our bill at the bar and headed back to the hotel to get changed.

We walked through the back streets and ended up at the junction where we had had to turn the car on the pedestrian street, we walked on hoping no one recognised us as the foolish tourists. When we found our second choice restaurant, we realised it was opposite the first choice and the first choice was open and fairly empty and the second would have had us eating inside because it was so busy.  So we decided to go with our gut and go for our first choice.

As we knew from the reviews the menu was only in Italian as the owner is a purist and didn’t feel the menu should be ruined by translation, he can help if needed. Not that he did for us, but we managed well enough. I had a seafood risotto and slow cooked beef. My friend had a fish dish. Seafood was very much the focus of this restaurant, much to my chagrin as I’m not normally a fan. The food was good, not top notch, but solidly into the upper end of meals. The owner/waiter was attentive and when i came back ten minutes after we left, he met me outside with the sunglasses I had forgotten.

We then headed back to the hotel where I found a spot at the deserted bar and annoyed the receptionist(s) by ordering a few glasses of wine whilst updating my journal for a couple of hours. 

Aosta is a good place to stop, it is not incredibly tourist focused but has enough to keep you entertained for a day or two easily. There are also some of the old fashioned souvenir shops selling katanas, skulls and hunting knives and things with peoples names on them, it is always nice to see these rather than the boring generic ones that end up at more popular destinations.

The town feels nestled in the mountains, the peaks rise above it in a very prominent way. At dinner, I watched the moon move sideways across the peaks before disappearing behind the buildings. Being here, you can understand in some way why the Romans were so progressive in their approach. the mountains reach the stars, and you can climb a mountain.