Ancient Roman port Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica, the ancient Roman port city lost to time

Not too far from modern-day Rome lies the fascinating town of Ostia Antica. Once an important seaport of the Roman Empire, the city was lost to time, and today, most tourists don’t even know it exists. What makes Ostia Antica such a fascinating place to explore? Roman ruins shed a fascinating light on the life of ancient Romans. 

While most people in search of Roman ruins head to Pompeii and Herculaneum, fewer know of this well-preserved town. Here you can explore well-preserved ruins without the crowds, and they are fabulous. 

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A brief history of Ostia Antica

The name Ostia derives from the Latin word ostium, meaning mouth. In this case, the mouth refers to the Tiber River, where the site was located. In antiquity, it was on the Tyrrhenian coast and had direct access to the sea. The site of Ostia Antica should not be confused with modern-day Lido di Ostia, which we’ll talk about later. 

Although its origins are a bit unclear, Ostia Antica was likely an Etruscan settlement before it became a Roman settlement at the beginning of the 4th century BC. The Romans regarded it as their first colony and turned it into a military outpost to defend Rome and control the access to the Tiber River. 

ruins along a road at Ostia Antica
Exploring Ostia Antica

Over time, Ostia Antica became an important commercial center and commercial hub with over 50,000 inhabitants. It was a thriving port city where much of the food and supplies powered the Empire funnelled through. During Augustus’ reign, Ostia Antica got its own amphitheatre that could hold up to 4,500 spectators.

Unlike Pompeii, it was a working town rather than a resort town. Today, you’ll still find remnants of food stalls, bakeries, storefronts, fountains, wells and even public toilets. It gives you an insight into the lives of regular people who went on about their daily lives as they worked to power their empire.

How to get here

Ostia Antica is about 30 km (19 miles) west of Rome. It is easily accessible by public transportation or by car. We chose to stay in Ostia Antica not far from the archeological site and explored from there. 

Open: Monday to Friday

Closed: on Saturdays and on Sundays, 1st January, 25th December

  • 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (October 25 – Febuary 28 (or 29), last entrance at 3:30 p.m.)
  • 8:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. (March 1 – 31, last entrance at 4:15 p.m.)
  • 8:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (April 1 – September 30, last entrance at 6:00 p.m.)
  • 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. (October 1 – 24, last entrance at 5:30 p.m.)

Adults: € 12 

Reduced: € 2 (EU citizens between 18 and 25)

Annual Ticket: € 25 (free access to the Archaeological Park of Ostia Antica and temporary exhibitions, valid for one year as of the date of issue).

To get there using public transportation, take the metro (line B), get off at Piramide, and take the Roma Lido commuter train to Ostia Antica. Once you arrive, it’s about a 10-minute walk to the site. 

Always make sure to check the official site regarding admissions and opening hours.

What happened to Ostia Antica? 

While Ostia Antica avoided wasn’t buried by a volcanic eruption, it too became lost to time. Several historical and economic events led to the gradual decay, and the city was eventually abandoned. While many tried to keep it going for some time, pirate raids and looting forced residents to relocate to other areas. 

After Ostia Antica was finally abandoned in the 9th century, the harbour silted up, and the area became plagued by malaria. Looting and plundering of building materials took care of the rest. It wasn’t till the beginning of the 20th century when systematic excavations were undertaken. Today, it’s estimated that two-thirds of the ancient town are yet to be excavated. 

Is Ostia Antica worth visiting? 

If you love to explore ancient ruins and want to know more about how the Romans lived, Ostia Antica is definitely a place you want to visit. The mud and silt from the sea managed to preserve the city and many mosaics and frescoes. 

Walking around is akin to visiting many modern towns today. There is the commercial area where many of the warehouses, shops and docks once stood. Many villas and smaller dwellings are still recognizable today, as are the baths, gardens and entertainment areas. 

The main theatre still stands today and overlooks the grand Square of the Guilds. This was the centre of activity with more than 60 offices of various traders and ship-owners. As you walk along, you can see mosaics that advertised the services offered by the various shops. Some are elaborate, while others simple and straight to the point – from ships to animals and other trade markers.

You can also explore the former bath complex that was used for social gatherings and thermal therapy. There are remnants of mosaic floors, pools and marble steps – just enough to give you an idea of how grand the baths once were. 

As you enter the site, you pass along the ancient necropolis where once urns with ashes of the dead were stored. Ancient laws prohibited sepulchral buildings from being built within city walls, so they were typically arranged along the city’s main access roads. Having been to many ancient ruins, we’ve only learned this fact while visiting Ostia Antica. Talk about a first-hand history lesson. 

Ostia Antica and modern-day Lido di Ostia 

You can visit Ostia Antica and Lido di Ostia as a day trip from Rome, or stay for few days and explore. While Ostia Antica is smaller and more laid-back, Lido di Ostia has great beaches and a lively centre. Many locals and those from nearby towns come here in the summer for a little break. 

There are many restaurants, bars and shops to explore or relax and people watch. If you’re visiting Italy in the summer, you might enjoy hanging out at the beach for few days while exploring the area with quick trips to Rome. Keep in mind that August is usually when many Italians go to the beach, so if you’re planning on renting a place, do so in advance. 

Ostia Antica is also close to the airport, so you can easily spend few days in this area after your arrival in Italy, or before you depart. Either way, this is a great place to visit for history buffs and lovers of all thing Ancient Rome.

Enjoy reading about Ostia Antica? You might like Ultimate guide to Roman ruins in Italy!

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