ANCIENT HARBOUR CITY
What’s now considered to be one of the best-preserved excavation sites in the world was once a key harbour city called Ostia. Here you can explore temples, basilicas, tombs, taverns and residential buildings dating back to Ancient Rome.
The train will get you from the city centre to Ostia Antica in 25 minutes for just EUR 1.50. It’s like Pompeii but better! ;-)
The excavation site is so huge that you’d really need two full days to explore it properly. ;-)
Why not follow up a morning at the Ostia Antica excavation site with an afternoon by the sea? Make sure you wear proper shoes that are suitable for exploring and pack sun cream and water if you’re planning to visit on a hot day.
Last Modified: 29.08.2022 | Céline & Susi
at a glance
October 1 – October 24:
Tuesday – Sunday: 8.30 a.m. – 6.30 p.m.
October 25 – February 28:
Tuesday – Sunday: 8.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m.
March 1 – March 31:
Tuesday – Sunday: 8.30 a.m. – 5.15 p.m.
January 1st, December 25th closed
EUR 12 for adults
EUR 2 for young people from the EU between aged 18 – 25 years
Free admission for children under the age of 18
+ EUR 2 online reservation fee on official websiteshow less
EUR 55 for adults
EUR 35 for children aged 6–17 years
free for children under the age of 6
Duration: 3 hours
Ostia Antica is on the list of museums and sights you can visit with the Roma Pass.
The Roma Pass is valid for 48 or 72 hours.
-> Find out more about the Roma Pass
The Roma Pass is also included with the 72-hour Omnia Card.
-> Find out more about the Omnia Card
What is there
If you enjoyed the Roman Forum, you’re bound to have an even better time exploring Ostia Antica. That’s because here you can actually see tombs, taverns, residential buildings and baths alongside all the temples and basilicas. Even the old theatre is in pretty good condition.
The excavation site is absolutely huge. And it gives you an incredible glimpse of life in Ancient Rome without having to rely on any kind of technology. The best way to get to Ostia Antica from the city centre is on the train from the Ostiense/Piramide stations. It’s only a five-minute walk to the excavation site once you’re off the train. The Castello di Giulio II, a castle dating back to the Late Middle Ages, is there to greet you with its 15th-century watchtower standing 24 metres tall before you even enter the site. And there’s a lovely little village there too.
You won’t know where to look first when you enter the excavation site. There are so many ruins just waiting to be explored. And you won’t believe how well preserved they all are…
Right by the entrance (to the city) is the burial ground. These ruins may date back thousands of years, but you can still make out no end of individual graves. Round openings in the walls would have been used for urns and the things that look a bit like benches now were actually coffins. There are lots of ornately decorated family tombs that tell you where the deceased came from or what they did for a living.
If you walk towards the city centre, you’ll come to the next highlight – the baths. The Baths of Neptune dating back to the 2nd century would have once been a vision in marble decorated with mosaics and sculptures. In fact, you can still make out the stunning mosaic floors and identify the rooms you expect to find in Roman baths: the frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room) and caldarium (hot room). And you can see the outdoor exercise area too.
The theatre that would have once held an audience of 3000–4000 is located right at the heart of the city. It’s a brick building (as we’d expect from the Romans) that has been restored multiple times over the centuries. The ruins you can see to this day are from the 2nd century. Do you know what’s even more impressive than that? The acoustics are still spot on! If you sit or stand right at the top, you can still clearly hear what’s being said down on the stage.
Behind the theatre is where you’ll find the commercial hub – the one-time base for around 70 businesses, guilds and ship fitters. You can still learn a bit about the types of businesses thanks to the well-preserved mosaics that would have acted as signs in front of the spaces. As an example, a picture of a boat would suggest that ship parts were once sold there.
Not far from the theatre are the blocks of residential buildings called insulas. The Romans lived in inexpensive apartment buildings, which usually had multiple stories and were built close together. You can also look inside a kind of tavern known as a thermopolium here. There are plenty of these establishments on site, where people would have gone to buy drinks and hot meals. Basically a fast-food joint with a garden!
The bakers were based on Via dei Mulini. In Ostia, the grain would have been stored in two big warehouses (grandi horrea) and ground into flour in mills, before being used to bake bread or shipped off to Rome via the River Tiber.
It was common to see pictures outside the buildings that acted as signs providing information about what kind of business was based there (just like the mosaics before).
As you’d expect in any city in Ancient Rome, the capitolium was located right in the centre. North of the forum in Ostia, this temple was built under the reign of Hadrian in 120 A.D. As one of the main temples, it was dedicated to the gods Juno, Jupiter and Minerva. The capitolium was always built to stand taller than the other buildings, as you can tell by the steps leading up to the temple here.
Directly opposite is a round shrine to the Lares Augusti guardian deities who protected the emperors. There were really rather a lot of temples and big town houses (domi) in Ostia. The Domus della Fortuna Annonaria dedicated to the goddess for farmers and crop prosperity is definitely worth a mention. Her statue has actually been interpreted as the personification of the city of Ostia because of what she’s holding in her hand.
… As you can tell, you can spend hours wandering around the ancient buildings and rows of columns here. You’ll come across vast fields and discover hidden spots and treasures that have been all but forgotten. It’s no exaggeration to say that you’re taken on a journey back in time.
A BIT OF HISTORY
A key harbour city in Ancient Rome, Ostia was established all the way back in the 7th century B.C. by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome. Its location made it an important hub for trade and the economy up to the fall of the Roman Empire.
The name Ostia comes from the Latin word ostium, which means mouth or opening. This refers to the fact that the city is located at the mouth of the River Tiber. The second part of the name – antica – was added later to distinguish the ancient harbour city from the modern-day Ostia, which is on the coast, around 3 km to the south. (Ostia is also in the province of Rome and worth a visit in its own right. Maybe in the afternoon for a nice contrast?)
Ships transported goods from Africa to Ostia, where they were temporarily stored before being taken on to Rome via the River Tiber. The grain warehouses (grandi horrea) in Ostia could hold up to 7000 tonnes – that’s enough to feed 17,000 people for a year. Wine and oil were stored there too alongside the grain.
The 2nd century was Ostia’s heyday. 50,000 people were already living in the harbour city at that point, but there was a steady decline in the 5th century after the fall of the Roman Empire. Slowly but surely, the port became less and less important.
At the start of the 19th century, Ostia Antica was home to just a few hundred convicts who were made to carry out agricultural work there. Work to excavate the ancient city had started by the end of the 19th century.
With nothing having ever been built on top of the city, the ruins have been preserved well enough to take visitors on a journey back in time to this day.
Ostia Antica official website (EN): www.ostiaantica.beniculturali.it
Text and image rights: © Céline Mülich, 2020-2022
With the support of Susanne Vukan.