Ostia – the Ancient Port of Rome


Ostia-the Ancient Port of Rome

ROME - Ostia Antica (Rome, Italy) 41° 75' 81.509" N - 12° 29' 11.73" E

The ruined remains of this former commercial hub transports visitors back in time, to an era when the seas were ruled by the Roman Empire.

As you sit at the peak of the ancient arena in Ostia, you gaze at the ruins all around you and are instantly taken back to ancient times.

More than 2,000 years ago, this was a thriving seaport of Ancient Rome, a bustling commercial hub that was home to more than 60,000 citizens. Although this location is just a simple train ride away from downtown Rome, only half an hour away from the Colosseum, it seems that few tourists make the trip to this beautiful part of Italy, making this one of the most underappreciated historic sites in the country.

Ostia Antica offers just as much thrill and interest for history lovers as the more well known Pompeii, four hours away from Rome to the south. As you wander around the ancient ruins today, you can clearly see the remains of apartments, warehouses, arcades, mansions, baths and docks, giving a unique insight into the lives of the ancient Roman people who dwelled here all those years ago.

Ostia is located at the mouth, or ostium, of the Tiber, hence its name. It was established in 620 BC, and at that time its most appealing quality was the salt which could be obtained from the salt flats nearby; this was an important resource for preserving meat.

In 400 BC, Ostia was conquered by the Romans, who transformed it into an important naval base and constructed a fort here. In AD 150, the whole of the Mediterranean was under the control of the Romans, and Ostia was its main commercial port. After Rome’s fall from power, the port fell into disrepair and abandonment.

Over the years, the harbour became silted up, and eventually Ostia was buried under many years’ worth of mud. Fortunately, this protected it from the effects of time and from medieval peasants who would otherwise have scavenged all the stone away.

There is a small museum in Ostia which provides a fascinating glimpse into the city’s most beautiful statues, depicting subjects such as irreverent gods, romantic cupids and entwined wrestlers. Most of them date from the second and third century AD, and are Roman creations inspired by Greek statuary.

There are also many busts, providing portraits of real, everyday people – the type of people you might meet at the public toilets or baths in those days. In Roman culture, the men of the house was revered, so many homes would have statues of fathers and grandfathers. Many of these sculptures still survive to this day.

There are fewer remaining frescos, and the ones that do remain tend to be quite simple and humble, but they give us a taste of how the interiors of people’s homes may have been decorated.

One of the most interesting rooms in the museum includes statues based on the religious traditions of foreign countries. As Ostia was a port, it accommodated citizens from all over the world, as well as their differing religious beliefs.

Today, visitors can wander around among the ruins and identify the grid layout which was standard practice in the design of Roman towns.

ROME - Ostia Antica (Rome, Italy) 41° 75' 81.509" N - 12° 29' 11.73" E
ROME - Ostia Antica (Rome, Italy) 41° 75' 81.509" N - 12° 29' 11.73" E
There is a fort in a rectangular shape, with gates at the southern, northern, western and eastern points, plus two roads which converge at the Forum. As you stroll along the main road, Decumanus Maximus, you can see constructions dating from the days of the Republic, many centuries before the birth of Christ, and the Empire, after Christ.

They can be identified by their differing levels. As the centuries passed by, the ground level in Ostia rose higher and the roads became more elevated. As you walk down, you pass further back in time to the days before Christ.

Also on the main road, you can see the enormous theatre, or teatro. This is one of the world’s oldest historic brick theatres, and it still plays host to concerts to this day. In the old days, the three front rows of marble steps, closest to the orchestra, were reserved for the most important people.

Ahead of the theatre you will see the grand Square of the Guilds. This was formerly the thriving centre of the Roman import and export business, and there were over 60 offices belonging to traders and ship owners here. Along the pavements, there are mosaics dating from the second century AD, advertising the goods and services of the shops. An elephant mosaic identifies an office belonging to African traders, while a lighthouse is a symbol of Ostia as a port town. Visitors can have fun walking around the whole square and trying to guess from these signs what was once offered in each shop.

The social hub of the city was the Forum Baths, an enormous complex which was subsidised by the government of the time. The pools were surrounded by marble steps where people would lounge and socialise. Olive oil was used for washing in place of soap, so the servants at the baths would have to skim the water regularly. As you gaze over the Baths of Neptune, you will see a beautiful mosaic depicting the god Neptune astride four horses, riding through turbulent waves.

On Via Casa di Diana you will see the House of Diana. This is an amazing example of the multiple-storey tenements where lower middle class citizens would live, known as insulae.

There is also an inn on this street named Insula of the Thermopolium. Take a look into the bar of this tavern, and you will see many interesting details such as the shelves which were once used to store drinks and food, remnants of old wall paintings, and a small sink.


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