An Armchair Tour of an Archaeological Gem: Ostia Antica

Once upon a time, Ostia was a thriving port city with over fifty thousand inhabitants and a buzzing social scene (a theatre, plus public baths and taverns aplenty). Over time, attention shifted to Portus – a harbour on the north of the River Tiber – and Civitavecchia – a city sixty-odd kilometres to the north-west of Rome. Trade in Ostia slowed, and the city fell into decline.

Buried beneath layer upon layer of silt, Ostia faded from memory. Centuries later, excavations revealed this long-lost city, relic by relic. I thought Ostia Antica would keep us entertained for a couple of hours at most. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We spent nigh-on five hours wandering amongst the ruins, exploring all the nooks and crannies – and stroking a few of the resident felines.

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We enter through Porta Romana. Ostia Antica sprawls before us: centuries of history unspool in front of us. Decumanus Maximus – the main thoroughfare – pulls us towards the centre. Buildings from the Roman Republic (509 BC to 27 BC) and Roman Empire (27 BC to 476 AD) sit side-by-side, impeccably preserved. Whenever we spy a flight of stairs, we clamber up for an aerial view of the site.

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Scattered across the site are faded frescoes and monochrome mosaics, all creatures great and small depicted in tiny white and black tiles.

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We pass rows of brick warehouses, open to the sky. Ostia Antica is large enough that – in shoulder season, at least – you can go a fair while without bumping into another visitor. Guided tours were of the whistle-stop variety; if you want to potter round, as we did, and explore the site at a leisurely pace, I’d recommend steering well clear of organised tours.

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Further along Decumanus Maximus lies the amphitheatre, which hosts open-air concerts in the summer months. We sit on the terraces for a while, taking in the leafy views. I still can’t get my head around how expansive the site is, how well preserved.

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I found these little stone heads, propped up on a wall alongside the amphitheatre, rather comical.

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We loop round the public baths, stumble upon the communal bogs round the corner. (The idea of taking a dump in company fills me with more horror than a squat toilet – and that’s saying something. I’m rather glad that element of Roman society hasn’t stuck.)

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We swing by the café and share a drink – it’s a warm day and there’s not much shade on the site – before continuing towards the forum, passing multi-storey residential blocks en route.

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Every so often, information plaques tell us the stories behind the buildings: which held shops, inns and taverns; which served as places of worship (there were no fewer than eighteen temples dedicated to Mithras); which housed the rich and the poor. If you’re so inclined, audio guides with more information are available.

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If you’ve got more than a couple of days in Rome, I’d highly recommend venturing out to Ostia Antica.

Tips:

  • For those without their own set of wheels, getting to Ostia Antica is easy and cheap (€1.50 one-way, as of October 2019). Hop on the metro (line B) to Piramide. At Piramide, change for the Roma Lido train. Alight at (surprise, surprise) Ostia Antica. From there, it’s a short and well-signposted walk to the site.
  • If you’re an EU citizen aged 12-25 entry is just €2 (as of October 2019). Check the official website for current prices and opening times before you visit.

4 thoughts on “An Armchair Tour of an Archaeological Gem: Ostia Antica

    1. Well worth a detour should you find yourself in that part of the world 🙂 I’d be interested to see how Pompeii compares (and eat pizza in Naples, come to think of it!)

      Like

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