Half a day or more would be ideal to explore the impressive remains of Ostia Antica. This ancient Roman city was a busy working port, and its extensive ruins are substantial and well preserved.

First settled in the 4th century BC, Ostia (the name means the mouth or ostium of the Tiber) grew to become a great port and an important commercial centre with a population of around 50000.

Decline set in after the fall of the Roman Empire, and by the 9th century the city had largely been abandoned, its citizens dirven off by barbarian raids and outbreaks of malaria. Over subsequent centuries, it was plundered of marble and building materials and its ruins were gradually buried in river silt, hence their survival.

Most of the headline sights are situated on or near the main drag, the Decumanus Maximus, which runs for more than a kilometre from the main entrance, Porta Romana, to Porta Marina, the city gate that originally led to the sea.

Decumanus Maximus

 

The site gets busy during the weekends, but is much quieter on weekdays.

Archaeological excavations of Ostia Antica

An easy train ride from Rome, Ostia Antica is one of Italy’s most under-appreciated archeological sites. The ruins of ancient Rome’s main seaport are spread out and you’ll need a few hours to do them justice.

Highlights include the Terme of Nettuno (Baths of Neptune), a steeply stacked amphitheatre, and an ancient cafe, complete with a bar and traces of the original menu frescoed on the wall.

On the Decumanus Maximus, the Terme of Nettuno is a really must-see. This baths complex, one of 20 that originally stood in town, dates to the 2nd century and boasts some superb mosaics, including one of Neptune driving his sea-horse chariot. In the centre of the complex are the remains of an arcaded Palestra (gym).

Baths of Neptune

 

Next to the Terme is the Teatro, an amphitheatre built by Agrippa and later enlarged to hold 4000 people.

Amphitheatre

 

The grassy area just behind the amphitheatre is the Piazzale delle Corporazioni (Forum of the Corporation), home to the offices of Ostia’s merchant guilds. The mosaics that line the perimeter are thought to represent the businesses housed in the square: ships and dolphins indicated shipping agencies, while the elephant probably referred to a business involved in the ivory trade.

Forum of the Corporation

 

The Forum, Ostia’s main square, is overlooked by what remains of the Capitolium, a temple built by Hadrian and dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.

Capitolium

 

Nearby another highlight: the Thermopolium, an ancient cafe. Check out the bar, the frescoed menu, the kitchen and the small courtyard where customers would have relaxed next to a fountain.

Thermopolium

 

Across the road are the remains of the 2nd century Terme del Foro, originally the city’s largest baths complex. Here, in the forica (public toilet), you can see 20 well-preserved latrines set sociably in a long stone bench.

Forica – Terme Del Foro

 

Archaeological excavations are open from 8.30 a.m. to 6.15 pm. Tue-Sun summer, earlier closing winter. Adult 10€/Reduced 6€.

 

To go to Ostia Antica you can take the Ostia Lido train from Stazione Porta San Paolo (next to Piramide Metro station) and get off at Ostia Antica. Trains leaves every 15 minutes or so and the trip, which is covered by a standard Rome public-transport ticket, takes 25 minutes. On arrival, walk over the pedestrian bridge and continue until you see the castle to your right and the ruin straight ahead.

For lunch you can go at Ristorante Monumento. This historic restaurant started life in the 19th century, catering to the men working on reclaiming the local marshlands. Nowadays, it feeds sightseers fresh out of the nearby ruins, serving homemade pastas and excellent seafood. A fixed-price lunch menu is available Monday through Friday.

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