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Published December 6th 2019
Visit Ancient Rome's most important port
Thanks to a deadly volcanic eruption in the year 79 AD, the town of Pompeii has become one of the most famous and most visited archaeological sites in the world. However, getting to Pompeii from Rome is a long day's journey. And because of its huge popularity with tourists, you also have to deal with the crowds.
But did you know that there is another large archaeological site that's much closer to Rome? Its ruins are impressive in their own right, and it doesn't attract the hordes of tourists and tourist buses that Pompeii does.
A very brief history of Ostia Ostia is located about 35 kilometres southwest of Rome (compared to Pompeii's distance of over 240km from the Eternal City). It's the harbour city and seaport of ancient Rome, said to be founded in the 7th Century BCE by king Ancus Marcius at the mouth of the River Tiber (the word 'Ostia' is a derivation of "os", the Latin word for "mouth"). According to Dirk Booms, curator in the Greece and Roman department at the British Museum, "Rome was completely dependent on Ostia, it was absolutely vital. An early society like that was dependent on grain for food. All the grain in Rome would come through Ostia."
Because of its importance as a seaport, the fortunes of Ostia have waxed and waned together with those of ancient Rome's own rise, decline and fall. The city has been sacked by pirates, besieged by Rome's armies in its civil wars, improved and rebuilt by Julius Caesar, and developed by emperors such as Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Trajan.
As Rome began to rely on other ports, Ostia slowly went into decline during the 4th century CE. Ostia was finally abandoned in the 9th century CE. But fortunately for those of us today living in the 21st century CE, Ostia's ruins are amazingly well-preserved that you can still get a feel for what life would have been like in this once magnificent harbour city.
What you'll discover in Ostia You'll walk along the Decumanus Maximus, the main east-west road that passed through the entire city, stretching for 1.5km to the coast.
This is part of the Piazzale Delle Corporazioni, or Square of the Guilds, which was the hub of Ostia's economic and commercial life. Originally built by the first Roman emperor Augustus, the Square of the Guilds was also where the offices of the city's guilds of shopkeepers, merchants and craftsmen operated.
This magnificent mosaic floor decoration can be found in the Baths of Neptune complex, one of the largest bath complexes in Ostia. The baths were part of a great building renovation project begun by the emperor Hadrian and completed by Antoninus Pius in the 2nd century CE. The mosaic shows the sea god Neptune in his chariot being pulled by four hippocamps (fantasy marine creatures with the heads of horses and the tails of fish) and surrounded by a marine retinue of Cupids riding dolphins, Nereids and Tritons.
Ostia has plenty of other archaeological delights such as wonderfully preserved ruins of temples, flour mills, shops and taverns (with some even retaining their sales counters throughout the centuries), barracks, and the Forum, the political and social centre of Ostia.
You'll find even more wonders such as sculptures, portraits, busts, sarcophagi, reliefs and mosaics that were all uncovered during long periods of excavations at Ostia inside the Museo Archeologico Ostiense, or Archaeological Museum of Ostia. Whereas all of the artefacts uncovered at Pompeii are located 26km away in a museum in Naples, all of Ostia's treasures are located inside the Museo Archeologico Ostiense within Ostia Antica itself.
Source: By AlMare - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6236669
How to visit Ostia
Ostia makes for a very worthwhile day trip, especially suited for those who are only visiting Rome for a few days and who don't want to make that long day's journey to Pompeii. Because of its proximity to Rome, you can easily travel there via public transport. Take the metro (line B) and get off at Piramide. Here, take the Roma Lido commuter train to Ostia Antica. Once at the station, all you have to do is follow the tourists. It is a 10-minute walk away.
However, one of the best ways to experience Ostia Antica is through a City Wonders half-day tour from Rome. Your half-day tour includes your train ticket to and from Rome, as well as your entrance ticket into the site and a very knowledgeable and engaging tour guide who will be able to point out to you many features of the site. After the tour, you can explore the site more at your leisure, visit the Museo Archeologico Ostiense which is included in your entrance ticket, relax in the cafe/restaurant, or browse for gifts in the gift shop.
At the time of writing, a City Wonders half-day tour of Ostia Antica cost 55 Euros (or AU $89.26) per adult.
Ostia may not be as popular or as magnificently well preserved as Pompeii, but it has played a pivotal role in the development of the city of Rome over its long history. Visit Ostia and watch in wonder as this once thriving seaport comes alive again before your very eyes.
Where:SCAVI DI OSTIA ANTICA, Viale dei Romagnoli, 717, 00119, Ostia Antica, Roma
Cost:Full ticket € 12,00; Reduced ticket € 2,00 European citizens between 18 and 25 years old (only by showing a valid document to attest the age). City Wonders half day tour from Rome: €55 (includes transportation to and from Rome).