Roaming Through Roman Aosta

Aosta is such a pretty town nestled into the valley surrounded by mountains, some with towering rocky peaks. It’s a town where tourists come to visit, but more importantly it seems like an authentic town where people live and go about their ordinary life. Laundry flaps in the breeze on clotheslines or from balconies and lazy cats bask in the sun. But there’s something else interesting about Aosta. It has a Roman past and Roman ruins can be seen throughout the town.

This morning we explored the historic part of the town through the pedestrian zone where surprisingly almost all of the shops were open. At the entrance to the town is a huge Roman arch. It is in perfect condition. Suspended from it is a crucifix which was placed there to stop some of the leaks from the top of the arch. It was an interesting contrast to a Roman arch. Nearby was an old Roman bridge. A sign explained that a devastating flood hundreds of years ago changed the direction of the river it once crossed. However, standing on the bridge, it was perfectly aligned with the Roman arch which was several blocks away.

On our tour we walked past various Roman ruins and the town did an excellent job preserving and landscaping them. The Roman amphitheater was baking in the hot sun so we tried to sneak a peak for free at it from around the block, but it didn’t work.

We visited two cathedrals today and what was most interesting about them was they each had beautiful Roman mosaics on the floor, all in mint condition. One showed an elephant which isn’t indigenous to here, but shows the vast expanse of the Roman Empire.

Usually we avoid cafes with signs that say “We speak English” and particularly those that post a picture board of all the food, but there is one in the town square that has seemed very popular and we weren’t sorry. They made us a fresh focaccia ham and cheese sandwich and it was only $5.

The shops here all seem independently owned and many sell locally made crafts rather than made overseas. We know this when the artist’s card is included. We found one that made exquisite music boxes. We sat near the shop the other night and heard them play the same song again and again. I knew I knew the song and even played it in flute orchestra, but could not place it. Yesterday it came to me: Pachelbel’s Canon. They do of course have shops selling kitschy items such as a Roman arch inside of a snow globe on top of a Vespa, but its fun to look at anyway. My favorite shop has all beautifully illustrated journals and books, most on a nature or dog theme. We have been in there twice and they have even given us adorable illustrated dog calendars as gifts.

We took a short 20 minute drive to see a Roman Aqueduct that is off the beaten tourist trail, but was remarkable. Pont d’Ael was built in 3 BCE by the Romans to bring in water from the mountains for agriculture. It crossed a deep gorge with crystal clear water roaring down from the mountains. Standing on top of the aqueduct which was once used as a road to cross with animals, we could see waterfalls tumbling down steep rocky cliffs. Hardly anyone was there and the government had built a glass walkway which was beautifully lit so you could walk through the aqueduct. We liked the experience of walking through it and over the top so much we did it twice. A man working at the site gave us an informative history lesson about the aqueduct.

Dinner tonight was at a pretty restaurant that served pizza and caprice salad. They had an outdoor garden where everyone sat with tiny lights on each table once it turned dark. What was even more charming was that dogs were allowed and slept happily under the tables. We’ll miss being in this alpine wonderland. Tomorrow we travel by train to Venezia.

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