24km (15 miles) SW of Rome
The ruins of Rome’s ancient port are a must-see for anyone who can’t make it to Pompeii. It’s a more comfortable daytrip than Pompeii, on a similar theme: the chance to wander around the preserved ruins of an ancient Roman settlement that has been barely touched since its abandonment.
Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, was the port of Rome, serving as the gateway for the riches from the far corners of the Empire. It was founded in the 4th century b.c. and became a major port and naval base primarily under two later emperors, Claudius and Trajan.
A prosperous city developed, complete with temples, baths, theaters, and patrician homes. Ostia flourished between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and survived until around the 9th century before it was abandoned. Gradually it became little more than a malaria bed, a buried ghost city that faded into history. A papal-sponsored commission launched a series of digs in the 19th century; however, the major work of unearthing was carried out under Mussolini’s orders between 1938 and 1942 (the work had to stop because of WWII). The city is only partially dug out today, but it’s believed that all the chief monuments have been uncovered, although digs continue with private sponsorships. There are quite a few impressive ruins—this is no dusty field like the Circus Maximus.
Take the Metro to Piramide, changing lines there for the Lido train to Ostia Antica. (From the platform, exit for “Air Terminal” and turn right at the top of the steps, where the station name changes to Porta San Paolo.) Departures to Ostia are about every half-hour; the trip takes 25 minutes and is included in the price of a Metro single-journey ticket or Roma Pass. It’s just a 5-minute walk to the excavations from the Metro stop: Exit the station, walk ahead and over the footbridge, and then continue straight ahead until you reach the car park. The ticket booth is to the left.
The site opens at 8:30am each morning. Closing times vary with the season: It’s 7:15pm April through August, 7pm in September, 6:30pm in October, 4:30pm November to February 15, 5pm February 16 to March 15, and 5:30pm in the second half of March. The ticket office closes 1 hour before the ruins. Admission costs 8€ (11€ if there’s an additional exhibition), free for ages 17 and under and 65 and over. The 2€ map on sale at the ticket booth is a wise investment. For more information, see www.ostiaantica.beniculturali.it or call [tel] 06-56350215.
There is no need for hiking boots, but the Roman streets underfoot are all clad in giant basalt cobblestones. Bear that in mind when choosing footwear.
The car park, on Viale dei Romagnoli, costs 2.50€ for an unlimited period. Arrive early if you’re driving: It is fairly small.
Exploring Ostia Antica
The principal monuments are all labeled. On arrival, visitors first pass the Necropoli (burial grounds, always outside the city gates in Roman towns and cities). The main route follows the giant cobblestones of the Decumanus ★ (the main street) into the heart of Ostia. The Piazzale delle Corporazioni ★★ is like an early version of Wall Street. Near the theater, this square contained nearly 75 corporations, the nature of their businesses identified by the patterns of preserved mosaics. Greek dramas were performed at the Teatro, built in the early days of the Empire. The theater as it looks today is the result of much rebuilding. Every town the size of Ostia had a Forum ★, and the layout is still intact: A well-preserved Capitolium (once the largest temple in Ostia) faces the remains of the a.d. 1st-century Temple of Roma and Augustus.
Elsewhere in the grid of streets are the ruins of the Thermopolium, which was a bar; its name means “sale of hot drinks.” Of an insula, a Roman block of apartments, Casa Diana remains, with its rooms arranged around an inner courtyard. Climb the building at the entrance to the Terme di Nettuno ★ to look down on the preserved mosaics of this vast baths complex. In addition, in the enclave is a museum displaying Roman statuary along with fragmentary frescoes.
Where to Dine
There is no real need to eat by the ruins—a half-day here should suffice, and Ostia is within easy reach of the abundant restaurants of the center. The obvious alternative is a picnic; well-stocked foodie Shangri-La is Eataly located only a couple of minutes from the Lido platform at the Piramide Metro station. Stock up when you make the Metro interchange. There are perfect picnic spots beside fallen columns or old temple walls. If you really crave a sit-down meal, Allo Sbarco di Enea, Viale dei Romagnoli 675 ([tel] 06-5650034), has a menu of trattoria staples, a shaded garden, and two-course tourist menus starting at 12€, excluding drinks. There’s also a snack and coffee bar outside Ostia’s Metro station.