Italy

Ostia Antica: the Pompeii of Rome


Dear reader,

there is nothing more beautiful than having an ancient ghost town next to my home. In fact, there are places that never get the appropriate advertising and they’re so easy to visit and wonderful. When Italy comes to people’s mind as travel destination it often means typical places like Firenze, or Venezia, or Napoli. Great places indeed, my intent is not to undermine Pompeii or Venezia, 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.

So never mind big obvious cities, never mind boring places like Pompeii for now and stay in the Rome area, a bit outside… The ancient ruins of Ostia Antica. Filled with mosaics, frescos, secret tunnels (yeyy!), beheaded statues and ancient buildings now turned into the most beautiful ancient ghost town I’ve ever seen and way more impressive and interesting than Pompeii.Ostia Antica was the original 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

Ostia Antica Le Saline Stanito©Stanito, 2013

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

Ostia Antica Stanito  Cart Rail 2©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Stanito Cart Rail©Stanito, 2013

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.

Ostia Antica Stanito Main Road©Stanito, 2013

What happens if you get lost? You can simply take a look on the map

Ostia Antica Stanito Map©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Stanito Sarcophagus©Stanito, 2013

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

Ostia Antica Stanito Synagogue menorah©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Stanito Synagogue©Stanito, 2013

A warrior engraved

Ostia Antica Stanito Warrior©Stanito, 2013

It was with Emperor Augusto and his successors that the city had its first theater, ‘anfiteatro‘,  and an aqueduct

Ostia Antica Stanito  Anfiteatro

Pigeons, they’re everywhere anyway…

Ostia Antica Stanito  Pigeons©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Stanito 2©Stanito, 2013

One of the many Corynthian style columns

Ostia Antica Stanito Corinthian Column©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Stanito Domus©Stanito, 2013

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

Ostia Antica Stanito Faun©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Legs of the Faun©Stanito, 2013

A lizard

Ostia Antica Stanito Lizard©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Stanito Mosaic 1©Stanito, 2013

The mosaic close to the public bathrooms

Ostia Antica Stanito Mosaic©Stanito, 2013

Ancient oven

Ostia Antica Stanito Oven©Stanito, 2013

And below a magnificent mosaic dedicated to the god Neptune or his Greek alter ego Poseidon

Ostia Antica Stanito Poseidon Mosaic©Stanito, 2013

Below is (was) a true fish tavern, notice the tables and oven on the back?

Ostia Antica Fish Tavern Stanito

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)

Ostia Antica Sanctuary of Attis Stanito©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Sanctuary of Attis©Stanito, 2013

Below is the Mistreo di Felicissimo with mosaics

Ostia Antica Via del Mitreo di Felicissimo©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Floor Mosaic©Stanito, 2013

More mosaics, the one below is the caupona of Alexander and Helix

Ostia Antica Mosaic Alexander Heliz©Stanito, 2013

Mosaic of Venus and son Eros. In mythology mother and son were rarely seen separated, as she was the goddess of love and her son the trouble love-match maker

Ostia Antica Mosaic Venus©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Mosaic Warrior©Stanito, 2013

A beautiful sarcophagus sophisticatedly engraved

Ostia Antica Sarcophagus©Stanito, 2013

In Ostia Antica you’ll find temples dedicated to may 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

Ostia Antica Temple of Ceres©Stanito, 2013

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

Ostia Antica Stanito Public Bathrooms 1©Stanito, 2013

Ostia Antica Stanito Public Bathrooms©Stanito, 2013

And for those looking for mysterious tunnels, you’ll find a few hidden on the East side of the ruins

Ostia Antica Stanito Secret Tunnel©Stanito, 2013

And last but not least, the cutest and famous couple of all times: Amore and Psiche.

Amore Psiche Ostia Antica Stanito©Stanito, 2013

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12 replies »

  1. Pompeii may be more famous, but I think Ostia Antica is much better. Shhh, let’s keep that our little secret though. I don’t want hordes of tourists descending upon and ruining Ostia Antica.

    • Dear Ames, I couldn’t agree more: Pompeii is not as fascinating and interesting as Ostia Antica, plus let’s say it, it’s just so much prettier.
      I will shush to avoid any unwanted wave of tourists.

  2. Hi
    I am going to Rome soon (in Jan when it will be quite cold!) I was originally planning to do a day trip to Naples and see Pompei. I have never seen city ruins before; would you recommend I see Ostia Antica instead of Pompei? As I will be staying in Rome, Ostia Antica will be a lot easier and quicker to get to.

    • Hi Andrew, thank you for your message.

      Well… honestly yes, I would definitely recommend Ostia Antica instead of Pompeii, because it’s simply more impressive and beautiful. You can always find material on Pompeii online to have an idea of what it looks like, but Ostia Antica is less popular and somehow 10 times more astounding. My advise, give Rome/Ostia Antica the priority and still consider Napoli/Pompeii in case you have 1-2 days left 🙂

  3. What a great post! I have literally never even heard of Ostia Antica but it looks brilliant. We went to Rome a few years ago and saw the awesome ruins there and of course the Colosseum. We also really enjoy the old roman villas etc here in England, so would love to go and see this place. Especially the tunnels. Thanks for sharing. Is it any more ‘famous’ now than it was back in 2013?

    • Hi Claire and Dave 😀 thanks for your comment.

      Ok the thing about Ostia Antica is that has always been a little more protected from tourist crowds and therefore it has never been properly advertised. That’s why people know Pompeii better because of how it is promoted. Ostia Antica used to be the Roman port and quickest access to the sea so it had a fundamental importance back in those days.
      It’s still under the radar today as it has been for decades, kind of the off the beaten path of Roman sights. Make sure to visit next time you’re in Rome 🙂
      Oh the ruins you have in England are superb! I’ll be back in England this June and I’m definitely have a look around to my favourite sights 🙂

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