The ancient Roman port city of Ostia Antica covers an area of 10,000 acres with a main road that stretches for a mile and cuts right through the city. Ostia was originally built as one of the Roman Empire’s first ‘colonia’ or outposts. It was situated where the Tiber river meets the sea and was integral to the development of Rome. It is believed that Ostia was established some time around the 7th century BC, the oldest archeological find on the site dates to the 4th century BC. Most of the buildings visible today date to around the 3rd century BC, the oldest buildings on the site are the Castrum (military camp) and the Capitolium (temple of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva’).
In 68 BC the town was sacked by pirates. The port was set on fire, the Roman war fleet destroyed and two prominent senators were kidnapped. Rome was understandably shocked to hear of the destruction of Ostia and allowed Pompey the Great to raise an army and destroy the pirates, within a year the pirates were defeated and the town was re-built with a more defensive structure and protective walls.
Ostia continued to grow during the 1st century AD when Tiberius ordered the building of the towns first Forum. A new harbour was constructed and many mithraea (temples or tombs) were built throughout Ostia. Ostia had public latrines (still visible today), a large theatre, public baths, taverns and inns and even its own fire-fighting service. Unusually Ostia also was home to a Synagogue, the earliest synagogue so far identified in Europe. Ostia’s population grew rapidly, from 50,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century reaching a peak in the 3rd century of 100,000. Ostia became an ‘Episcopal see’ (a place that falls under a bishop’s jurisdiction) in the 3rd century and was the burial place of St Monica. However, in time, naval activities became focused on the town of Portus instead., and Ostia became a retreat for rich aristocrats from Rome. It appears the city fell into decline around the 4th century, the poet Rutilius Namatianus reported lack of maintenance of the city as far back as 414AD.
With the end of the Roman Empire Ostia fell into decay and was finally abandoned in the 9th century due to the repeated invasions and sackings by Arab Pirates, including the Battle of Ostia in 849. This naval battle was fought between Christians and Saracens and in its aftermath the remaining inhabitants of Ostia moved to Gregoriopolis.
On my recent trip to Rome I have to say Ostia Antica was certainly the most amazing site I saw. Luckily for me the place was almost completely empty which gave its streets and houses a truly eerie but peaceful aura. Ostia Antica is a short and relatively easy trip, only 17kms, from Rome, please visit and you’ll be walking around in the same amazed daze as I was for hours on end!
GPS: 41.75725, 12.29863