The site of Ostia Antica, a 20-minute train ride away (1€ single fare) provides a huge contrast.
There are temples and baths here, of course (rather a lot of baths). There is a theatre too. But there are also ordinary houses, and taverns and snack bars. And they are very well preserved.
Young Wenlock was particularly taken by this caupona by the Marine Gate (towards the top left of the aerial view. Like many of the buildings in Ostia (but like few Imperial Roman buildings anywhere else) the Caupona of Alexander and Helix has intact walls and a ceiling. It dates from the early 3rd Century AD, and standing inside it one can almost imagine what it was like in its heyday - not unlike some contemporary Italian drinking establishments, I suspect.
The theatre at Ostia ("not as big as the one at Caerleon," according to Young Wenlock, who went there on a school visit) has been restored somewhat, and is used for dramatic productions. Behind the theatre lies the Forum of the Corporations (the tree-filled area just to the right of the theatre in the aerial view). This is a wonderful place. It was, apparently, where one would go to find somebody to transport goods. It consisted of an open square with a collonade or cloister around it. The cloister had a mosaic floor, and each patch of mosaic reflected the goods that the shipper, whose little office was behind that part of the cloister, dealt in, or the part of the world with which they traded.
Apparently the "MC" on the amphora in the picture has been interpreted as meaning that this was the office of traders from Mauretania Caesariensis (modern Algeria). Whether the fish signify that they dealt specifically in fish products, I do not know. Since the staple ingredient of all Roman dishes is
The barely legible inscription above this creature reads STAT SABRATENSIVM. Sabrata is modern Libya, and this is suggested to be a dealer in wild animals or ivory products from there. There is a second elephant mosaic, but the beast is the wrong way up for good photography. He may well have been advertising wild animals from Egypt.
I didn't take as many photographs as I might have done, given the need to keep an eye on the Wenlock Heir, so I cannot show you the apartment blocks, the mausolea, the comfortable houses with frescoed walls still in place, the several other baths with spectacular mosaics which it was quite possible to walk on, or the public toilets. All I can do is recommend that if you are interested in Roman ruins, this is better than the Forum in Rome, and possibly better than Pompeii. It is certainly less crowded. Once you get past the theatre and the baths of Neptune next door, the site seems almost deserted, even in the middle of summer.