Just 30 kilometers away from Rome is Ostia Antica, one of the most well-preserved ancient cities in Italy and a perfect day trip from Rome.
NOTE: This article is a guest post by Alexandrina Nickolova.
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History of Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica was founded in 620 BC at the estuary of the Tiber river, which connects Rome with the Tyrrhenian Sea. The city was of great importance to the Eternal City, Rome, an important ever-flourishing commercial center.
In the beginning, Ostia Antica was built to support and protect Rome. Later, the city became an important trade center and supplied Rome with all sorts of commodities coming from afar.
Ostia Antica was at the peak of its prosperity around the 2nd century AD when Emperor Claudius added a large harbour nearby at Portus. Later, Emperor Trajan added another harbour inland, connecting to Claudius’s harbour via a canal. During that period, there were many improvements done in the city and many buildings were built. Among them was the renovated Forum and many new baths, public warehouses and residential buildings.
However, like many Roman cities, Ostia Antica slowly decayed, once the commercial activities were moved elsewhere. This led to the abandonment of the city around the 6th century. Ever since, the city has not been inhabited, which helped its good preservation.
The archaeological site of Ostia Antica
The archaeological site is spread over 50 hectares near the banks of the Tiber and is one of the most well-preserved ancient cities in the world. The remains of the city are well-kept and there is barely any change to most of the buildings since ancient times. It now consists of many buildings such as temples, public baths, barracks, a theatre, a Forum, counsel houses, residential buildings and the world’s most well-preserved ancient wine bar.
The first important remain in the archaeological site is the Via Ostiense. This was the main road that connected the city of Rome and Ostia Antica. It is a huge Roman cobbled road that goes through the whole ancient city to its end at the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Baths of Neptune
Following the path, one would first encounter the baths of Neptune and the Barracks nearby. Neptune’s baths were a huge bathing complex in the city of Ostia Antica. They are mostly known for their well-preserved mosaics, representing Neptune and his wife.
Next to them are the Barracks or the houses of the ancient firemen. Back then, when the ancients used oils and torches, there were lots of fires. Thus, the Barracks were built close to the baths, so they could easily put out the fires.
Close to the Barracks is the famous theatre of Ostia Antica. The theatre played an important role in the life of the Romans and was one of the most important buildings in the city. It was built in the 2nd century BC and provided the ancient Romans with lots of entertainment like recitals, drama performances and even mini sea-battles.
Square of the Guilds
Exactly in front of the theatre is the Temple of the Imperial Annona. Right behind it is the the Square of the Guilds, known as the most important trade center in the whole city. Around it there are many remains of rooms, known as stationes or offices, which were used by traders and marine advisors. The stationes are believed to be the place where merchants and sailors came to trade or receive a consultation from more experienced sailors. This place was the most important part of Ostia Antica and was responsible for supplying the Eternal City.
Going deeper into the city, you will reach the world’s most well-preserved ancient wine bar. It resembles the setting of bars nowadays. There is a counter where you can order what you would like to have and a painting on top of it of the things on offer. In the case of the ancient people, they could only order wine, food and live music. On the side, there is a bench made out of stone where visitors could enjoy their food and drink and then head out to do their business. The wine bar is quite fascinating to be in, as it seems to be from the modern-day world, due to its good preservation.
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The ancient city of Ostia Antica, like any other city in ancient Rome, was full of temples. Thus, while walking around it you will encounter temples dedicated to Jupiter, Minerva, Juno, Cupid and Psyche, as well as Hercules. All of the temples are quite fascinating and well-kept, not to mention the mosaics that seem untouched for centuries. However, the most famous and best-preserved is the temple of Cupid and Psyche with its statue of the two gods kissing in the middle of it.
The House of Serapis
Another fascinating building to explore in the ancient city is the house of Serapis. It is multiple-story house, incredibly preserved and full of astonishing mosaics and paintings all around. It is believed that its first floor was used for trading and that there were many shops for local merchants. The second floor is believed to have been the residential part of the building, where the ancient Romans lived. The house of Serapis had its own bath complex, known as the Baths of the Seven Sages, which was richly decorated with mosaics, still visible to this day.
Last but not least, one should not miss the museum of the archaeological complex of Ostia Antica. It houses most of the artefacts found in the city when it was first discovered, including original busts and statues. The greatest collection in the museum is for sure the one gathering the portraits of the Roman Emperors and their wives.
Ostia Antica is a truly astonishing ancient city that anyone should visit on their trip to Rome. It unveils the life of the ancient Romans, exactly as it was, and provides valuable information about the way things were done back then.
How to get to Ostia Antica?
The easiest way to get there from Rome is to catch a train. You can do that by taking the metro to Roma Porta Saint Paolo train station and then catching the train to Ostia Antica. The train ride costs €1.50 each way and takes around an hour to get to the archaeological site. Once off the train at the Ostia Antica stop, cross the bridge over the highway and you will be at the entrance to the ancient city.
Many of these guided tours include transportation from your hotel as well as entrance tickets.
Tips for visiting Ostia Antica
Here are a few tips to consider for your day trip:
- Wear comfortable shoes. The pathways at the archaeological site are the original ones, including via Ostiense, which was created when the city was founded more than two thousand years ago.
- Apply sunscreen, as the sun can be pretty harsh there.
- Take a windproof jacket. It can become quite windy and cold.
- There is no option for leaving luggage at the site, so make sure to come without any.
- The site is open at 8:30-16:30 from the end of October until the end of February, 8:30-17:15 in March, 8:30-19:00 in April-September, and 8:30-18:30 in October.
- The price of the ticket is €12/$14.50 for adults and €2/$2.50 for EU citizens between 18 and 25.
Alex is a blogger at EarthOSea who has travelled extensively around Europe for the past three years. She lived in Portugal in 2019 where she got more familiar with the Portuguese culture, traditions and language.
Alex’s specialty is mainly in travelling in a way that is sustainable and less harmful to the environment. She focuses on ways to travel on a budget or money-for-value. Along with that, she loves hiking and discovering uncharted islands, but she also loves staying at the beach with a book in hand.
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