"Walking into the past........" Top 5 Page for this destination Ostia Antica by leics
Ostia Antica Travel Guide: 81 reviews and 354 photos
I first visited the huge excavated site of Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome, in 2004. I first wrote this page then and always had every intention of returning. Somehow that just didn't happen on my intervening trips and it wasn't until this year (2016) that I finally went back.
Ostia was a busy and very wealthy town in ancient times. The channel of the River Tiber has changed since then, so the vast warehouses are no longer right next to the waterside as they once were. But, apart from that aspect the town, with all its streets, temples, official spaces, theatre, houses, apartment blocks, shops, cafes and open spaces...and the tombs lining the road outside the town walls.... remains very much as it once was.
I've been to Pompeii, Herculaeum and other ancient Roman towns, both in Italy and elsewhere (such as wonderful Jerash in Jordan) but to me Ostia is by far the most atmospheric and the most 'real'. Maybe that is because it has so few visitors and, on such a massive site, it is possible to wander alone for most of the time. Maybe it's because the site itself is so green and pleasant, or perhaps it's because so many of its structures are still almost the same height as they were originally and so very well-preserved.
Whatever the reason, for anyone with any interest in what life was like in a Roman town I cannot recommend a trip to Ostia highly enough. It's particularly good for children too, because unlike e.g. Pompeii there is ample space for them to left off steam by running around on grass, there are lots of pleasant spots for a picnic lunch and the fact that the site is so green, with so many trees, means it is never as baking-hot as sites where only the stone remains.
In the 12 years since I last visited I found that even more of this already-huge site has been excavated and even more of its buildings (many two-storeys high) are now accessible. More sculptures and statues have been found (though most are housed in Rome's many museums rather than in the little site museum), more mosaics and more wall-paintings.
A huge amount of the site still remains unexcavated (at least a third more) and it costs a huge amount of money to stabilise those structures which have been uncovered. I was a little sad to see some of the tombs and houses which were uncovered first now gradually being hidden again by plants and trees.
Ostia is likely to have developed from the 600s BC/Ad and had certainly grown into a large, wealthy and very important town by the 100s/200s AD/CE, when its population was around 100 000. And there were of course all the official buildings and services such a large town required: shops,, bars, cafes, public toilets, offices, lots of public bath-houses, numerous Mithraea (temples to Mithras) as well as temples to all the other gods and goddesses, inns, apartment blocks and 'new-build' private houses, trading areas and warehouses...and, of course, a theatre.
Vast and impressive 'official' structures such as those temples, baths, forums and theatres are all very well but, for me, the most interesting parts of any ancient site are the tiny glimpses of everyday life which, in Ostia, appear around almost every corner:
the little shrines within apartment courtyards;
the local cafe (thermopolium), still with paintings of ingredients on its walls:
the narrow alleyways and stairwells leading to individual 'apartment blocks'....always overcrowded, inevitably noisy, no doubt smelly, full of children and dogs and cats and humanity:
the gatehouse-turned-tavern, where you can see a mosaic of 'local heroes', the athletes Alexander and Helix;
the upmarket residences constructed around a large, open courtyard area;
the marble toilet accessed from what must have been a rather lovely courtyard-garden in a private villa...and the shared toilet area, also marble, of a private bath-house;
the earliest synagogue yet identified in Europe (it dates from 41-54AD/CE), and the oldest outside Israel;
the granite grain-grinders in the bakeries and the vast pottery grain-storage vessels sunk into the soil;
and much, much more.......
Getting to Ostia from the centre of Rome falls within the 100-minute limit of an ordinary single-ride ticket (and of course you can use 24, 48 or 72-hour tickets as well), so it is very cheap indeed.
First take Metro line B to Pyramide (direction Laurentina). Go up the escalator and turn left into Porta San Paolo station for Roma-Lido trains.
The trains are frequent, and take about 30 minutes. This is a commuter line and more like overground Metro trains than long-distance trains. Don't be put off by the graffiti on the outside! The inside is fine, and perfectly safe.
You'll see a map of stops on the inside of each carriage. When you get to Ostia Scavi station get off the train and walk through the subway underneath the railway lines. Keep straight on, over the high pedestrian bridge which crosses the road and, after a very few minutes, you'll be at the site entrance directly in front of you.
How long to allow.
Ostia Antica really is a huge site. If you don't have much time you could probably see some of the highlights in just a couple of hours (though note that just walking from the entrance to the Forum will take you 10-15 minutes...and that is without stopping to look at any of the tombs and buildings which line the route.
I suggest you allow at least 3 hours for a visit, and preferably more. I spent 6 hours there in 2016 and I still did't see it all, nor did I go inside many of the buildings.
Taking a picnic lunch is a good idea, but there is also a very pleasant modern cafe on site which provides a range of panini, pastries etc as well as cooked meals. You'll find the cafe behind the small museum (pretty much in the site's centre). There are also clean, free toilets there.
- Pros:Well-preserved and uncrowded.
- Cons:Explanatory notices are few and far between.
- In a nutshell:A real insight into ordinary ancient Roman life.
Don't underestimate the size of Ostia, nor how much it will contain to interest you. It would be very easy indeed to... more travel advice
I do like thermopolia..places which served hot foods to take-away as well as to eat on the premises. You find them in... more travel advice
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