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.