Today we headed out bright and early to visit the town of Aquileia, which was founded in the 2nd century BCE as a military base for the Roman Empire. At its peak, because of its strategic location on a river that let out into the Adriatic Sea, Aquileia had over 200,000 residents and was a bustling port city that was vital to trade for the Roman Empire. Today, however, Aquileia is much smaller. It was raided by the Huns and all the surviving inhabitants fled. Some went North and founded Venice, but some came back and restarted their community after the Huns left.
Our first stop today was the town's basilica, which was originally established in the fourth century and had to be rebuilt in the eleventh century after it was destroyed by the Huns. Although the church had been built upon several times, in the 20th century, archeologists discovered the original mosaic floor from the 4th century. It is the biggest early Christian mosaic in Europe. The floor is divided into sections, and each section and images have special meanings that were intended to teach the illiterate population the gospel. We learned that "mosaic" means "patient work of goddesses" and this certainly was, with roughly 20 million individual pieces making up the floor. We also went into the crypt of the basilica, where we saw frescos from the end of the 12th century. After that, we saw the room where services used to be performed in the original church. Before we left, we saw the baptistry, which has more amazing mosaics in the changing rooms.
Our next stop was Aquileia's archeological museum. It used to be the villa of Austrians barons, who left it to be turned into a museum after their death. The ground floor has ancient statues from Aquileia's days as one of the golden cities of the Roman Empire, while the first and second floors (because in Europe the ground floor doesn't count) housed ancient and more modern artifacts made from gems, bronze, terra cotta, silver, gold, and amber.
After our three course group lunch, we strolled (or shuffled) down what used to be the main river in Aquileia and saw the ruins of the Roman port. Then we went to the Sacraio Militare di Redipuglia, which is a Fascist era monument to Italian soldiers killed during World War I. The monument is huge. It has 22 platforms under which 40,000 soldiers are buried. Their names are listed on the walls of each platform. 60,000 more unnamed soldiers are resting under the chapel at the top of the monument. After climbing down the monument, we got to walk through a recreation of a WWI trench, and visit the small museum across the street. After our solemn reflection on the horrors of World War I, we cheered ourselves up again trying to figure out how to use the squat toilets on site, which are basically just holes in the floor.
Our course in Italy has been jam packed with mind boggling historical sites, beautiful towns and cities, and awesome food. I'm sad to see it end, though I am ready to see my family, especially my sister who I hope is having an awesome time at her dance convention! Ciao, Italia! You've been too good to us!