Ostia Antica is an archeological site located in Ostia, located twenty miles away from Rome, which was once the harbor city of ancient Rome.
In Latin, Ostia means “mouth”, which refers to its position at the mouth of Tiber River. Once became the busiest Rome’s seaport, Ostia is now located 3 km away to the northeast from coastline. Now, Ostia Antica is one of favorite tourist attraction in Rome due to its excellent preservation of ancient buildings with magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaic.
History of Ostia Antica
The most popular theory is that Ostia Antica was built in the 7th century BC by Ancus Marcius. It was also considered as the oldest colonia in Rome. Some oldest archeological remains, however, only go as far to the 4th century of BC. The buildings ruins we can still see today are of the 3rd century by the oldest. The most notable buildings are the Capitolium or the Temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, and the Castrum or the military camp.
Ostia Antica is believed to be already a flourishing commercial center by the 2nd century BC. It had apartment buildings, grocery shops, taverns, and was inhabited by approximately 100,000 people. As the primary gate of Rome, Ostia Antica had a military colony to guard the harbor from seaborne invasions. Commercially, it was a major domestic landing for cargo boats from all places in the world.
Apparently, the port was famous enough to attract pirates. In 68 BC, it was sacked by pirates. War fleet was destroyed, two senators were kidnapped, and the port was set on fire. The sacking alarmed Rome and caused panic which resulted in the passing of Lex Gabinia, a law that allow Pompey to raise an army to terminate the pirates. It took one year to get rid off all the pirates. The port town was then rebuilt, this time with better protection provided by walls designed by Marcus Tullius Cicero.
The port started to lose its important role during Constantine I era. The commercial activity was decreasing and instead the place was more popular as a country retreat site for Rome rich aristocrats. Ostia’s role was diminishing more by the end of Roman Empire and completely abandoned by the 9th century. Repeated invasions from outside parties including Arab pirates and the naval battle between Christians and Saraceans in 849 also played their roles in the dying of Ostia’s community.
The first excavation was done by Baroque architects who used the remains of Ostia Antica as “marble storehouse” for the palazzo in Rome. A more official and serious investigation and excavation were then ordered by Pope Pius VII from 1938 to 1942. Until now, it is believed that two-thirds of the ancient port town has been recovered. Ostia Antica also has been a training ground for young archaeologists to improve their skills.
Ostia Antica Today
Now, Ostia Antica is located on a 10,000 acres piece of land. Instead of a busy and crowded commercial center, you will only find remains of what once a glorious city port of Rome. While you are stomping the Decumanus Maximus, Ostia’s main street, you can imagine the road full of four-wheeled carts carrying merchandise between Rome and Ostia.
Inside the gate, you can see a beautiful mosaic showing a picture of sea god riding a chariot drawn by four horses. The mosaic is well-preserved at size of 55 feet by 36 feet. There is a modern café nearby whenever you want to get some rest whilst enjoy the view.
Next comes the amphitheater which could hold up to 3500 spectators. Built in 12 BC, the building presents semicircular stone bleachers with a tiny stage in the center. The three stories permanent scenery behind it is no longer visible, however its overall look has given you a good vision of how it was in the time when it housed the premiere of Medea, a play that can no longer be found.
Thankfully, we can still see the offices of 64 maritime companies which once were providing their best services to all the traders who were flocking this port. This office building was where all of the traders came to when they needed ships to carry their cargo. Mosaic names and pictures of the boats and ships are still visible on the ground in front of each office.
Near the offices, a place for men to hang out was built. The name was a bit misleading though, the Collegiate Temple. It was such a place for men to dine, chat, and relax where no women were allowed to enter. Semicircular couches, meals of seven courses, and banquets were the highlights of the place.
So where did the women go? Well, most likely to a place next to the “temple”, the laundry shop. While waiting for the slaves doing their laundry, the women would chat and read newspaper. There were also baths nearby so these women could relax.
Go further and you will get the idea of how ancient apartment buildings looked like. A ruin of a four-story apartment buildings cluster is well-preserved. The apartment was completed with groundfloor shops and parts where low classes live. The upper levels were for middle class inhabitants with rooms completed with kitchens and hot running water. Some apartments also had a swimming pool and an inner courtyard. What a luxurious life indeed!
One more thing not to miss is the Ostia’s synagogue. The synagogue is located behind the Marine Gate, which is now around one mile from the sea. It was built by the Jews who work the barges plying the Tiber River.
Visiting Ostia Antica
Ostia Amtica is open daily from 09.00 am in the summer and 09.30 in the winter. The admission fee is 5 eurio.
To get there, take Metro line B from Termini station and change line at Magliana. Take a train to Lido and stop at Ostia Antica. It is also not difficult to get there by car. Take Via del mare and follow the many road signs showing “Scavi di Ostia Antica”.