Rome's preserved, ancient architecture is visible throughout The Eternal City - around every corner there's a pillar, a fresco, or...a Pantheon. In search of a Roman city frozen in time and outside of the city center, the treasures of Pompeii, south of Naples, are where most people head. Ostia Antica, the former Roman port city, is to Pompeii what Fontainebleau is to Versailles - all of the history, but with a fraction of the crowds.
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Getting to Ostia Antica from Rome
Although it seems impossible, Ostia Antica is easily accessible from central Rome entirely on the city's subway system, with just one change. Yes, you read that right. Not even a bus! The trip takes about half an hour each way. Ostia's station is small and not in great shape, but don't let that deter you. The ruins at Ostia are a very short walk from the station.
Arriving in Ostia Antica from Rome
And, when you arrive at Ostia Antica, there are modern amenities - bathrooms and a small cafe. I would plan to eat lunch before or after, as the cafe's options are limited, it can get quite crowded, and you just won't be that far from returning the Rome, on either end of your journey.
Ostia Antica Map & Tours
Ostia Antica's official website offers a (very small) map, which you may want to print out or download on your phone before you go. We also got a map when we arrived, which was very helpful (and larger).
Ostia Antica also offers guided tours, for the true ancient historian!
How much time should I spend in Ostia Antica?
History of Ostia Antica
The former mouth of the Tiber River, Ostia was a thriving seaport for the Roman Empire for hundreds of years.
So what happened to the water?
Siltation, which I learned while writing this post, is the correct term for the build up of sand and dirt over time, has caused the mouth of the river to move about 2 miles away from the ruins of Ostia. This was, of course, part of the reason the city was abandoned, but not the whole story.
Height of Ostia
Decline of Ostia
In the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire, Ostia's role as the Empire's port evaporated. Eventually, and unusually, the city was completely abandoned in the 800s after repeated sea-based attacks from pirates. The silting that has caused the river to move also slowly covered the ruins that remained of the port city.
For hundreds of years, the ruins lay quietly untouched, miles outside of growing Rome. In the 20th century, the Papacy funded the first renovations at the site, which continue today.
What to do in Ostia Antica
With map in hand, stroll down Ostia's ancient streets and explore in the buildings. Unlike most sites, with the limited tourists visiting Ostia each year, the ruins are fairly open to be comfortably explored, allowing you to wonder at your own pace. Ostia reminded me a bit of Craigmillar Castle outside Edinburgh - with steel reinforcements on crumbling buildings and a few blocked-off areas that presumably weren't safe to crawl around, but really no restrictions other than that!
Ostia Antica tip: I'd be sure to bring a hat, a lot of water, and some sunscreen with you on your visit to Ostia. There's not too much shade at all and the sun can get fairly brutal as the day wears on.
Highlights of Ostia Antica
Important, can't-miss landmarks in Ostia include the ancient amphitheater, pictured above, where Roman theatrical productions are still put on today. You can still see the places where Ostia's residents sold, lived, ate, drank, and hung out with friends. Remnants of frescoes remain on the walls and floors of the more salubrious homes. The classic Baths are still visible in an impressive structure.
Ostia Antica Thermopolium
In addition to the larger landmarks, hidden treasures are around every corner. A favorite of mine was the Thermopolium (see sign, below). A Thermapolium was a "place serving hot food" aka takeaways! Here's the husband serving up dinner, and pulling Roman pints, behind the bar.
Understanding ancient history at Ostia
I found Ostia to be a very relaxing break from the churn of the endless crowds in Rome, without having to travel too far from all of its delights. Personally, I thought it was easier to connect with the past in this slightly less impressive space than in the overwhelming Colosseo.
Thanks for stopping by!
Hope you enjoy Ostia - let me know all about your visit! And, of course, we owe our visit to Rick Steves, who recommended it in the book you'll definitely want on your trip to Rome.
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