Over two thousand years ago, at the height of the Roman Empire, Ostia was Rome’s bustling seaport and home to 60,000 people. Today, a large archaeological site, Ostia Antica, stands in its place. It’s a pleasant break from the crowds as it’s often overlooked for its southern counterparts, Pompeii and Herculaneum.
30 km southwest of Rome (50 minutes)
How to Get There
Ostia Antica is easily accessible by public transport. From Roma Termini take the Metro B (blue line) to Piramide (direction Laurentina), then change to the adjacent local train station, Porta S.Paolo, and take a Roma Lido trainto Ostia Antica. It’s an easy 5 minute walk to the entrance via a pedestrian overpass from the Ostia Antica station. The journey itself is cheap, as it is covered by the €1.50 regular transport ticket.
EU citizens 18 – 25: €5
EU citizens under 18: free
The first Sunday of every month: free
Tuesday – Sunday: 8:30 – 16:30/19:15 (season dependent)
Closed every Monday, January 1st, May 1st, December 25th
Legend says Ostia was founded by the 4th king of Rome, Ancus Marcius, who lived and ruled during the second half of the 7th century B.C. According to Roman Historians, Ancus Marcius’s reign was extraordinary. Aside from Ostia, he was also responsible for the first extension of Rome beyond the Tiber River to the Janiculum Hill, and the settlement of the Aventine Hill outside Rome.
However, despite historical documentation, there is no archaeological evidence to support the claims that Ostia was founded in the 7th century BC. The oldest archaeological remains discovered so far at Ostia Antica date back to the 4th century BC.
Nevertheless, the location was important for Ancient Rome, as it lay at the mouth of the Tiber River, where there were many salt marshes. Salt was considered a priceless commodity as it was not only used to flavour food but to preserve it. Later, Rome made Ostia its naval base and at the height of the Roman Empire, it was a busy commercial harbour. Keeping Ostia under Roman control was very important.
Ostia survived civil wars, sacking by pirates, several Roman Emperors and eventually, the ravages of time. With the fall of Rome, the harbour was abandoned and due to silting, the site now lies 3 km from the sea. The ancient harbour city was eventually buried in mud, which left it unharmed for thousands of years until excavation began in the early 19th century.
What to See
Overlooking the Terme di Nettuno
The site includes well-preserved ruins of docks, warehouses, an amphitheatre, apartment blocks, villas, shops and baths; some even complete with frescoes and mosaics, and all offering a snapshot of what Roman harbour life was like.
Grab a map from the ticket office, so while you wander you can orientate yourself and make sense of what lies before you. There are signs (in Italian and English) along the roads, highlighting each important building or site and giving more information and context to what you see.
Along the main road (the Decumanus Maximus), stands a Roman theatre, one of the oldest surviving brick theatres. It was built in the 1st century BC. and later expanded to hold 4,000 people. Because of its excellent condition, it is still used for concerts today!
Scale the stairs to the top to enjoy some beautiful views, or simply to imagine yourself watching an Ancient Roman spectacle.
Terme di Nettuno
Ostia Antica is also home to some impressively conserved mosaics, which made up the floors of many of the bathhouses. The Terme di Nettuno, which dates back to the 2nd century BC, boasts some incredible mosaics. The most famous is that of Neptune driving his sea-horse chariot. This is visible from the top of the complex, accessible from the main road. In the centre of this huge bath complex are also the remains of a huge gym.
In the Forum, Ostia’s main square, stands the remains of the Capitolium; a temple built by Emperor Hadrian and dedicated to the gods Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. In front of the temple was a marble altar, with a frieze of weapons, remnants of which are still standing today.
Ostia also has a small museum which houses some of the most important statues and protects them from the elements. Most of the statues are 2nd or 3rd century A.D, inspired by Greek originals. Interestingly, the portrait busts are of real people.
This means you don’t have to let your imagination run too wild while trying to picture the inhabitants of Ancient Ostia.
The charm of a complex like Ostia is in the small discoveries you make while wandering. It could be a partial fresco on the inside of a small building, helping you recreate the look of a house, or a piece of mosaic floor bursting from the dusty ground, a marble statue hidden amongst brick or even a sign carved into stone. These small treasures, along with your imagination, can help you bring Ostia Antica to life.
What to Eat
Exploring ancient ruins is hungry work, especially if you make a whole day of it!
If you plan to be in Ostia Antica around lunchtime, the best option is to bring a picnic lunch from Rome. There are many scenic, grassy areas which are just begging you to sit down and relax for a while. Why not surround yourself with history and let your imagination take you back to Ancient Rome while you enjoy a leisurely lunch?
However, if you prefer not to carry food around with you, don’t worry, the Italians would never let you starve! There is a bar on site which has a variety of lunch options like pasta and panini. While the food won’t win any awards, the quality is decent. There is plenty of seating indoors and outside for you to rest your weary legs. Expect to pay a little more than usual bar prices, which is common for bars at museums or historical sites.
Another option, if you plan to spend just a half day in Ostia Antica, is to take the Roma Lido train into the modern town of Ostia for lunch. The centre is just two stops after Ostia Antica (Lido Centro), you’ll find plenty of lunch options to satisfy any craving.
Wandering down the ancient paths of Ostia Antica, all you need is a little imagination to evoke the ancient way of life.
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Author: Rebecca Allison
Rebecca is an Australian writer and history lover who has been living in Rome since 2015. She enjoys travelling around Italy (and beyond), as well as marvelling at the many architectural and historical feats that Rome has to offer in the streets and museums.