Our walking tour of the archaeological site of Ostia Antica provides us with an exceptional window into the daily lives of the early Romans and Ostians. Ostia, which means mouth is located at the mouth of the Tiber River where the river meets the Tyrrhenian sea about 30 kms from the city of Rome. Due to its strategic location, it was first a military outpost for Rome in 4th c BC, and later during the Republican era of the Roman Empire became a thriving port of business and trade. The development of the town continued under the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian with luxurious villas and garden apartment complexes built close to the coastline.
At this amazing site the ancient city unfolds at our feet. As all ancient Roman settlements the early urban planning of the town followed a grid with a central axis the decumanus and an intersecting axis the cardo. The town begins from the coastline expanding inland and hugging the form of the ancient Tiber river. Water plays an important role in the formation of this ancient town – in it’s natural form, the sea and the Tiber river – and in it’s constructed form, the public baths and fountains.
On this site we witness both the public and private life of the early Romans and Ostians, captured in the surving architectural structures of the public baths, theatre, forum, capitolineum, fire hall, tavernas, insula (private apartment complexes), houses, luxurious garden apartments, and the built representation of numerous and diverse religions, including an early Christian Basilica and what is said to be the oldest Synagogue in diaspora.
As the exotic marbles of the Mediterranean and North Africa were shipped from their sites of origin through Ostia en route to Rome, the town is oppulent in it’s use of marble in the public baths, as the Forum baths, and still in tact floor mosaics that grace the Neptune baths built during the time of the Emperor Hadrian and the interior floors (pavimenti) of private apartments and homes.
That the town thrived in business and trade can be seen in the ‘corporation square’, a name given by archaeologists to a city square surrounded on three sides by a building that housed individual offices that are accessed through a porticus. These offices represent businesses (corporations) and guilds that served the many forms of trade and financial interactions of the town. Each office is distinguished by a floor mosaic, many still in situ, that tells a visual story to the visitor of the purpose/function of the office.
This ancient settlement, which spans from 4th c BCE to 5th c AD is an important site of the cultural heritage of the ancient Romans representing 900 years of development. Like Pompeii the town was stopped in time; Pompeii encapsulated by an act of nature, Ostia was encapsulated much later by nature when the town ceased to be a port city of the Roman Empire and was abandoned.
The archaeological site of Ostia Antica is easily accessible with Cultural Heritage Walking Tours, a short regional train ride from the city of Rome. See www.culturalheritagetoursitaly.org
© Cultural Heritage Walking Tours, Italy, 2012