Thursday, 24 August 2017

Rome 365 - Ostia Antica



The well preserved ruins of Ostia lie twenty miles from Rome, at the mouth of the Tiber River. It was abandoned hundreds of years ago and is similar to Pompeii in that many of the buildings are still intact, having been preserved over the centuries by mud and silt from the Tiber.

The site does have a café but it is expensive & the food is poor. However there are plenty of spots for a picnic so before you head out of Rome pick up food to go.

Take the metro to Piramide then change by going up the escalator and down the steps into Porta San Paolo station for the 'light railway' to Ostia Antica. The last station on the Rome-Ostia line is Cristoforo Colombo. (Ostia Antica is the stop after Acilia and before Ostia Nord.) Get off at Ostia Antica and go out of the station and over the blue footbridge that you will see straight ahead. Continue straight along a residential street and carefully cross the busy road on a blind curve opposite the restaurant, Allo Sbarco di Enea. Go past the restaurant (which will be on your right) and follow the road to the parking lot and ticket kiosk.

Admission costs €8 & there are audio guides available in English as well as maps but it would be well worth seeking out a copy of Vision Roma 'Ancient Ostia - a Port for Rome' which has transparent overlays that shows how it would have looked in the past. The bookstore in Termini station should have copies available to buy.



Wandering around the ruins, you can see the remains of the docks, warehouses, apartments, villas, shopping arcades, and baths — all giving a peek at Roman life in an ancient harbour town.

Ostia, was founded around 620 B.C.; its central attraction was the salt gleaned from nearby salt flats, which served as a precious meat preserver. Later, around 400 B.C., Rome conquered Ostia and made it a naval base, complete with a fort. By the second century AD, when Rome controlled all the Mediterranean, Ostia became its busy port & commercial centre, the remains of which we see today.


Stroll among the ruins and trace the grid standard for Roman military towns: a rectangular fort with east, west, north, and south gates and two main roads converging on the Forum. Walking along the main road, Decumanus Maximus, you can identify buildings from the Republic (centuries before Christ) and the Empire (centuries after Christ) by their level. Over the centuries, Ostia's ground level rose, and the road was elevated. Anything you walk down into is B.C.


The vast theatre (teatro) is one of the oldest brick theatres anywhere and is still used for concerts today.



Just in front of the theatre is the grand Square of the Guilds, the former bustling centre of Rome's import/export industry, with more than 60 offices of ship-owners and traders. Along the pavement, second-century A.D. mosaics advertise the services offered by the various shops — an elephant marks the office of traders from Africa.



The Forum Baths, a huge, government-subsidized complex, were the city's social nerve centre. Fine marble steps — great for lounging — led to the pools. People used olive oil rather than soap to wash, so the water needed to be periodically skimmed by servants. From the viewpoint overlooking the Baths of Neptune you can see a fine mosaic of Neptune riding four horses through roller-coaster waves.


Along Via Casa di Diana is the House of Diana, a great example of insulae (multi-storied tenement complexes where the lower middle-class lived) and an inn called the Thermopolium. Here you will see a small sink, shelves once used to display food and drinks for sale, and scant remains paintings of vegetables on the wall above a fireplace.



Ostia is the setting for the ‘Roman Mysteries’ series by Caroline Lawrence. The author gives a brilliant description of the city that really brings it to life.

'Ostia would have been a busy port town, exotic and lively, brimming with people from all over the Roman empire: Greeks, Egyptians, Nubians, Jews, Syrians and Gauls. In the first century AD, Ostia's main function was to receive grain from Egypt and Sicily and to ship it on to Rome and its one million inhabitants. This grain was stored in Ostia's many warehouses and sometimes made into bread before being transported by barge along the winding Tiber to the capital city. In addition to the usual residents of a first century Roman town there would have been sailors, stevedores, ship-owners, storehouse managers, customs officers, rope-makers, sail-makers, and plenty of unsavoury types. When I asked one Classical scholar what ancient Ostia would have been like, he replied 'nowhere to bring up my child if I could avoid it!'

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