Ostia Antica is a 20 minute train ride from Rome. Archaeological excavations here have uncovered more details about life in ancient Rome than in any other city. The ruins are beautifully preserved, right down to the streets with two-story houses. There is no trace of modern civilization intervening. Ostia is the perfect place to feel like a citizen of ancient Rome.
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Around 450 BC, Ostia was a military outpost in the delta of the Tiber River at its confluence with the Tyrrhenian Sea. As Rome grew in size and grandeur, so did the port, gradually becoming a naval base and possibly the most important trading center of the Roman Empire. When navigation on the Tiber became impossible, Ostia was simply abandoned.
At its peak, Ostia was a thriving commercial center with a population of over 100,000 people – houses, taverns, grocery stores and thermae have remained virtually intact. The main street is Decumanus Maximus, more than 2 km long with deep ruts left by the four-wheeled carts that brought goods and supplies from Rome to the sea and back.
Tourists can wander freely through the city. Wonderful mosaics and columns can be admired, but the real attractions are the household items, such as the marble slab for cutting fish in the fishmonger’s shop. Behind the theater, where in the summer performances were held, attracting 3,500 spectators, is the forum with the temple of Ceres in the center. In addition to the temples, thermae and grand squares, you can see the ruins of the houses of the poor and learn about the typical street layout and the shops, so you can become an ancient Roman for a day!
Excavations at Ostia Antica
Streets among the tombs
As soon as you enter the excavation area, in front of the Porta Romana gate, you can see long rows of Republican tombs along the ancient Via Ostiensis and Via delle Tombe. Beyond the Porta Romana gate – the main of the three city gates – begins Decumanus maximus, the main street of ancient Ostia – over 1 km long. On the left of the Piazzale della Vittorio, named after the statue of Minerva Victoria, are the ruins of a 1st century B.C. warehouse. Then come the Thermae of Neptune with a beautiful mosaic in the vestibule depicting the god of the sea surrounded by fish and other animals. Here one can admire the heating system of the baths (in the northeast corner). From the terrace, one has a good view of the entire excavation area. Further north is the barracks of the Vigiles, the centuria and fire department.
If one walks further along the Decumanus, after the thermae the Augustan theater opens, expanded under Septimius Severus; it had a capacity of about 2,700 spectators. From the height of the upper rows of seating steps one has a view of the excavations, especially of the Piazzale delle Corporazioni with the columns of the temple of Ceres in the center. This square was once the business center of Austin: the porticoes around it housed seventy sales and exchange offices, each portico was decorated with mosaics, in most cases depicting the owner’s occupation and the goods the office handled. These were establishments that mediated trade with overseas lands. The well-preserved sanctuary of the Persian deity Mithras next to the theater belongs to the dwelling house of Marcus Apuleius Marcellus, built according to the Pompeian model – with a courtyard-atrium and peristyle. Farther along the Decumanus there are four small temples of the 2nd century B.C., to which a large warehouse adjoins. On the Via della Casa di Diana on the left is a well-preserved Thermopolium, a wine shop with a rack made of stones.
At the intersection of Decumanus maximus and Cardo maximus once stood the forum, the religious and political center of the city. It is the only Ostian structure that has survived and is the biggest capitol of the 2nd century AD with a wide staircase. The brick base of the building was originally faced with marble. During the reign of Emperor Trajan a curia was built and opposite it a basilica where the court sat. On the south side of the Forum was a temple of Rome and Augustus with a statue of triumphant Rome. The baths on the southeast side of the forum were the largest in the city. To the west of the capitol can be seen the Noggea Erogathiana, an impressively sized warehouse with a beautiful gate and a two-tiered courtyard with arcades. In the same alley in the house of “Cupid and Psyche”, a typical apartment building with a courtyard, the marble floor is still there and worth seeing. Nearby on the Via della Foce are the “Thermae of the Seven Sages” with a beautiful mosaic floor in the domed hall. The mosaics depict hunters and animals. Near the thermae, you can see the remains of a multi-storey apartment building, the so-called House of the Chariots.
Basilica, Scola Trajan
Going along Decumanus maximus, on the right you find first the basilica of the IV century, the only Christian church discovered to date in Ostia, and opposite, the Schola di Traiano (Schola di Traiano, II-III century AD), the house where the shipbuilders met, was called so by archaeologists only because a statue of Emperor Trajan was found there. There used to be a group of houses on the site and the southeast corner is now a peristyle with a nymphaeum. It is followed by a group of houses 108 m long called “della Fontana a Lucerna”. The first floors consisted of an uninterrupted chain of benches. Opposite is a complex of houses grouped around gardens. Judging by the mosaics and heated bathrooms, these were homes for the rich. Decumanus maximus ends at the Porta Marina gate.
Theater at Ostia Antica
In summer the ancient theater of Ostia hosts a variety of dramatic, musical and cinematic performances. The Festival Internazionale di Ostia Antica runs until the end of June and the Teatro di Roma tours in July and August.
Not far from the Italian capital, just a half-hour commuter train ride away, is one of Lazio’s main attractions, the former port city of ancient Rome, Ostia Antica, which is now a vast archaeological park. Much less famous than the legendary Pompeii, the ghost town with its many well-preserved buildings, decorated with frescoes and magnificent floor mosaics, provides a real insight into the daily life of Romans during the imperial era. Unlike Pompeii, ancient Ostia was not destroyed by a volcanic eruption – with the fall of Rome the city simply fell into decay and was abandoned. Its excavations began only at the end of the XIX century and today, in a leisurely wander through the cobblestone streets, there really is something to see.
The city’s name literally means “mouth” when translated from the Latin “ostium”. Ancient Ostia was originally located on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea at the mouth of the Tiber River, but now it is about 4 km from the coastline. 39rim.ru draws attention to the frequent confusion among tourists between the nearby Ostia Antica and the modern area of the municipality of Roma Capitale, Lido di Ostia, spread out by the sea. These are two different geographical locations.
The ancient Roman port of Ostia
According to historical sources, it was founded around 620 B.C. by the fourth king of Rome, Anco Marzio, in the salt marsh mouth of the river. The salt mined here was a valuable resource and was used as a reliable and only preservative for preserving meat. In the Republican period, Ostia Antica became the main outpost that protected Rome from invasion by enemy ships along the river, and as it became increasingly dominant in the Mediterranean it became the most important seaport and thus an integral part of the flourishing commercial activity in the Eternal City. During the imperial era, Ostia reached its greatest peak of development. It had about 50,000 inhabitants, and a huge labor force was brought here from the enslaved territories of the Near East. The crisis of the Roman Empire and the decline of trade predetermined the fate of the city in the following centuries. In the course of time the harbor on the Tiber silted up and degraded, and the population left ancient Ostia without jobs.
Sights of Ostia Antica
Today, the ancient Roman area is probably the most interesting suburb of the Italian capital. There is a huge area of archaeological excavations, the magnificent castle of Pope Julius II, also known as Rocca di Ostia, and the medieval basilica of Sant’Aurea, located in the central square of the city.
Ostia Antica Archaeological Park
The excavations of the ancient city cover about 34 hectares, representing one of the most extensive archaeological areas in the world. The vast complex houses well-preserved architectural structures of Roman antiquity, including hundreds of residential and public buildings, 18 mitreums and temples, 19 ancient spa complexes, 22 domus, over 60 insulae, and an impressive Roman theater. The oldest buildings date from at least the second half of the IV century BC, when the territory of Rome already stretched from Tuscany to Lazio. To see all the sights of Ostia Antica a whole day might not be enough. In this short review site 39rim.ru offers only the most significant buildings of the ancient city.
At the crossroads of the two main arteries of the city Cardus maximus and Decumanus maximus was the main square of Ancient Ostia, the Piazza del Foro, built during the Augustan period. It was surrounded by the most important religious and civil buildings: the Temple of Rome and Augustus, the Temple of Jupiter, the Capitol, the public baths of Terme del Foro and some others.
The present form of the forum, surrounded by arcades with magnificent Corinthian columns, dates back to the reign of the emperor Hadrian (117-138).
Dominating the Piazza del Foro, the Capitol building was erected in 120 under Hadrian’s reign. When excavations at Ostia Antica began in 1854, the huge structure was originally identified as a temple dedicated to the Roman god of fire, Vulcano, whose cult was widespread in the city. However, after a marble votive slab was discovered somewhat later, the building was recognized as a temple dedicated to the Capitoline triad of pagan gods, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.
In the 300s AD, when Christianity was accepted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the temple was abandoned and soon became the source of the valuable marble that covered its walls.
Thermae del Foro
Not far from the Forum is the largest thermal complex in Ostia Antica, the construction of which began around 150 AD under Antoninus Pius. The main building included a frigidarium (cold water pool), a calidarium (hot water pool), a tepidarium (warm water pool) and an elliptical-shaped court, i.e. a steam room. The interconnected rooms were originally lined with marble, and the floors were covered with mosaics that are still preserved today.
Terme di Nettuno
Another, no less impressive public thermal complex is located east of the center, along one of the city’s main roads, the Decumanus Maximus. The Thermae of Neptuno was built under Hadrian and Antoninus Pius and opened to all citizens of ancient Ostia in 139. In the numerous rooms of the baths the magnificent floor mosaics of black and white marble are still preserved.
Residential and public buildings
Ostia Antica has preserved numerous remains of buildings which testify to a variety of housing types, from the luxurious houses belonging to the local nobility to the insula, the multi-storey residential buildings. Their first levels were usually occupied by stores, small workshops or taverns.
One impressive example is the elegant house of Cupid and Psyche, which takes its name from a small sculptural group found in one of its rooms during excavations in 1939. The rooms, covered in marble and paved with floor mosaics, are articulated around a small interior garden bordered by Corinthian columns.
Among the public buildings of particular interest are the thermopoliums, where hot meals were served. These places were mostly used by commoners or those who could not afford to have a private kitchen in the insulae. The thermopoly was also a culinary shop, where one could buy ready-made food, and a place of entertainment.
Public toilets were an integral part of the urban infrastructure of ancient Ostia. The best preserved one is opposite the entrance to the Thermae del Foro.
This is one of the most impressive buildings in Ostia Antica and was built by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, son-in-law of Octavian Augustus, in 12 BC. Later, during the reigns of Commodus (176-192 AD) and Septimius Severus (193-211 AD), the theater was expanded to accommodate 4000 spectators. Its arena was used not only for performances but also for gladiatorial fights. Some historians speculate that the Emperor Commodus may have even acted as a gladiator here. Nowadays, concerts and theatrical events are held in the ancient theater every summer.
In a short article, of course, it is impossible to describe all the attractions of the archaeological park, which undoubtedly deserves much more attention. Site 39 rim.ru strongly recommends visiting the unique ancient monument and walking the streets of the ancient city. EXCURSION WITH A GUIDE IN RUSSIAN LANGUAGE will help you make a more detailed journey into the past.
In the archaeological park there is a museum created in 1865 by archaeologist Pietro Ercole Visconti to exhibit the finds discovered during excavations. The Casone del Sale, built around 1571, which had been used for decades as a warehouse, was renovated for this purpose. The museum’s nine rooms mainly display Greek originals and Roman copies of antique marble sculpture from the late imperial period, as well as magnificent sarcophagi from the necropolis of Ostia.
The Ostiense Museum is open daily, except Mondays, from 9:30 . The cost of the visit is included in the price of the entrance ticket to the archaeological park.
How to visit the Ostia Antica Archaeological Park
The archaeological park is open to the public daily from 08:30 . Depending on the time of year, the territory of Ostia Antica is closed at different times:
- October 25 to February 28 (or 29): at 4:30 p.m;
- March 1 to March 31: at 5:15 p.m;
- April 1 to September 30: at 7:00 p.m;
- October 1 through October 24: 6:30 p.m.
Admission is limited one hour before the end of park hours. Weekends: Monday, December 25 and 26, January 1 and May 1, all August.
- Full ticket – 12,00 €
- Privileged – 10,00 € for EU citizens from 18 to 25 years old.
On the occasion of temporary exhibitions an additional fee of 2,00€ is charged. Free admission is the first Sunday of each month for the entire year 2022.
Julia II Castle
Address: Piazza della Rocca, Borgo – Ostia Antica
At the beginning of the XV century, as part of the territorial defense and protection of the Tiber, Pope Martin V (Oddone Colonna, 1368-1431) had a lookout tower built in Ostia surrounded by a moat because of the nearby salt marshes whose salt production was a monopoly of the curia. It was also of paramount importance for the customs control of goods transported to Rome by river.
In 1483-1487, during the pontificate of Sixtus IV, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II) financed the construction of the castle entrusting the work to the Florentine architect Baccio Pontelli. The architectural complex, combining three casemate towers and surrounding them by a large moat fed by the water of the Tiber, is today one of the outstanding examples of Renaissance military architecture. The fortification was located between the medieval village of Ostia Antica and the riverbed until the flood of 1557, which changed the course of the Tiber, leaving the moat dry.
You can visit the castle for free every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 16:00 . Admission is accompanied by staff at 10:30, 11:45, 13:15, 14:30.
How to get to Ostia Antica
From the Rome Metro stations “Eur Magliana”, “Piramide” or “Porta San Paolo” on the blue line B, take the suburban train Roma-Lido to the station “Ostia Antica”. Interval of trains – 15 minutes, travel time not more than half an hour. At the arrival point, cross the pedestrian bridge and follow the signs.