There is nothing more beautiful than the ancient Roman port, now a ghost town, next to my house. Ostia Antica. A city that no one imagined existed beyond the river. An ancient city that surpasses Pompeii in beauty and size. Many places do not enjoy the appropriate recognition. When the ancient side of Italy comes to people’s mind as a travel destination it often reminds of places as Pompeii and the centre of Rome. Wonderful places indeed, but because they’re so obviously touristic they often eclipse more interesting and less spotted locations. One is definitely Ostia Antica, the Pompeii of Rome but simply bigger and better.
The Beauty of Ostia Antica
Just by reaching the entrance, the obvious true is that Ostia Antica is simply pretty.
True, Pompeii is popular, but the dust faded drawings and paintings leave the place fairly plain. The ancient ruins of Ostia Antica are filled with visible and neat mosaics, frescos, secret tunnels, plebeyan hourses, rich domus, beheaded statues and ancient buildings, turning it into the most impressive and stunning set of village of ruins in Rome.
Originally, Ostia Antica was the port of Rome.The Tiber river used to run along the north part until 1557 a.D. when a distructive flood dragged the river bed downstream. The coast was once very close to the town, while now is 3 km far from it, precisely almost in front of my house. See the trees? The river is just 2 minutes walk from there
It used to be an ancient military colony to guard the river mouth against invasion coming from the sea. And because of its unique location, right between the Tiber river and Tyrrhenian sea, it soon became from a military outpost, ‘castrum’, because of its squared citadel shape, it served as a naval base until the year 200 BC, when it became a flourishing commercial town and the main food supply for Rome.
Once Rome had significant dominion on the Mediterranean, the original military purpose of Ostia Antica became less necessary and slowly became the closest emporium of Rome. You get an idea when you watch closely the ground and you see the neat trail left by the four wheeled carts that carried goods between Rome and Ostia
Some say that Ostia Antica was founded by Anco Marzio around the year 620 BC, the forth king of Rome, to benefit from its location next to the river (ostia in fact comes from ostium, which means “mouth”). By the 2nd century BC, Ostia Antica was a flourishing commercial center inhabited by almost 100,000 people, whose apartment buildings, taverns, and grocery shops are still intact. Oh well, almost intact.
Although Ostia now sprawls over 10,000 acres, around a main street that runs for more than a mile on a road that is still carved by the old carts.
Another factor that makes Ostia Antica unique is how it gathered different communities all in one place.
As you walk along the main street, the Decumanus Maximus, your will the most significant remains of the city’s stone theater, warehouses, and and the oldest known Jewish Synagogue in Europe, discovered only in 1960 and dated from the year 100 a.D., unique and impressive, where still nowadays receives dozens of Jews every year in winter time.
It was with Emperor Augusto and his successors that the city had its first theater, ‘anfiteatro‘, and an aqueduct
The famous faun. Fauns used to be “rustic” gods of woods and forests, they looked like men but with legs and ears of goats. Faun comes from the Greek word φαῦνος (fainis) which means goat or Latin word faveo, which means auspicious. Either way, it always meant something good as the Greeks favored the fauns as they were believed to guide humans whenever they were lost in the forests
Below is (was) a true fish tavern, notice the tables and oven on the back?
The guy below is Attis, this statue is located at his sanctuary near the Faun in the Campus of Magna Mater. He was the Frigian husband of goddess Cibele for the Romans, Rhea for the Greeks (mother of Zeus)
A Collection of Mosaics
Something that you will not find easily in Italy is intact frescos and mosaics. Ostia Antica, thanks to the support of community and proper maintenance, has been able to keep alive its beautiful collection of mosaics throughout most of the town.
In Ostia Antica you’ll find temples dedicated to many gods, the one below where I’m sitting is the temple of Ceres for the Romans, or Demeter for the Greeks, in other words the goddess of agriculture and wheat.
Public bathrooms of ancient times, or else known as latrinae. Our friends are showing us how ancient Romans used to share very easily this special moment of their day.
And for those looking for mysterious tunnels, you’ll find a few ones hidden on the East side of the ruins
Ostia Antica is a delightful journey to our past worth exploring, diverse and unique in its kind. It’s big enough to give you an idea of what an old city looked like in its entirety. Pack yourself with water and enjoy the journey.