After visiting Rome and Pompeii earlier on my trip I’d become enamoured with the history of ancient Rome and the empire that it controlled so doing a little research one night I discovered the town of Ostia Antica and its historical relevance close by Frascati.
Hhhmm, sounded like the perfect day trip and only 30 km away so the next morning after breakfast I headed out.
From Frascati you head toward Rome’s Fiumicino airport on the Autostrada, the exit is just two before the main airport turnoff so incredibly easy to find. From there it was a series of small country roads to the site of the ruins.
I had been blown away by Pompeii and the ability to see the ruins at very close quarters, and so wasn’t expecting anything to top that experience but from the moment that I drove into the completely empty carpark, yes I even had to double check to see that it was opened because on first glance I would have sworn it was closed.
I suppose I had expected it to be packed like at Pompeii, so this was the first huge shock, second was the €2.00 entrance fee (wow, incredibly cheap) and then third was the incredible view as I walked through the turnstile into the ancient city.
What lay before me was breathtaking! There are no other words to describe the view…it was as if I had been time warped and deposited back in ancient Roman times. There before me was the typical stone road as it had been for the last 2000 years, with tall Roman pines lining the ancient road way off into the distance (yes, and I mean distance).
As I began making my way along the main thoroughfare I realized that I was completely alone…not a soul in sight in any direction that I looked. Actually, it felt a tad eerie to be honest, with the only sound being the wind in the pines. Now, I’m not one to let fear get the best of me but for some reason I felt a little rattled. There was something about this place that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end…so hard to describe.
Continuing on along the road at my leisure and reading the signs (yes in both Italian and English) that explained each of the ruins distracted me and took my mind off the eeriness of the place.
And so, what I soon realized was that Ostia Antica was the main trading port that served ancient Rome from the Mediterranean, with all goods then being transferred into smaller barges and transported up the Tiber river (for this city was strategically located at its mouth) to Rome.
What became abundantly clear was that this city had a rich and vibrant center of commerce and was a key part of Rome’s history. All trade to Rome came through this port and so because of this had been a large and thriving city.
As I walked through the various city quarters it was easy to spot the main streets with the warehouses and grain stores, the extensive bakeries (it provided the vast majority of fresh bread to ancient Rome via daily barges), commercial shops, the academia (schools) and the large villas of its rich and wealthy. The original mosaic tiled floors still clearly visible and accessible.
The forum, although not as grand as that of Pompeii was a beautifully grassed expanse ringed by temples and a bath house specifically build for the senators and patricians of the day. You have to give it to the Romans they certainly knew how to live. The bath house had a heated steam room where they held meetings, plunge pools to cool off and large areas to relax and talk business.
An enormous open air theatre lay close to the forum, its white marble seats although worn by centuries of exposure to the elements are still in amazing shape. The other impressive structures in the city are the still standing grain warehouses, two stories high and with intricate brick work inlays…just stunning.
Ostia reached its peak of over 100,000 residents in the second and third centuries AD before slowly declining as the Roman empire began to collapse so did Ostia’s importance as the port became less important through the impact of wars and sacking by roving armies and pirates. By the 9th century it had been completely abandoned.
The more I explored Ostia Antica the more I appreciated its relatively untouched beauty. Surprisingly, as much as I enjoyed my day at Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius looming over the town, I think I enjoyed the actual ruins and the history of Ostia Antica more. Primarily because there were no crowds, nor line ups and it felt as though I had the place completely o myself.
It was a lovely treat to be immersed in to such an historic place surrounded by shear beauty.
My advice is that if you really want to see and experience Ancient Rome then you need to visit Ostia Antica. It was one of the highlights of my visit to Italy this time and the perfect day trip!
Until next time