Why Ostia matters

Ostia Antica is arguably the best preserved Roman town in central Italy, and it is certainly the most evocative. Visitors to Ostia have the opportunity to experience many aspects of Roman life as they explore the cityscape. The grand temples, lavish homes and enormous baths reveal the finer aspects of this wealthy harbour town. Yet the glorious mundane is revealed in places such as apartment blocks and bakeries, fulleries and latrines, fishmongers and taverns. This variety of buildings and spaces provides each of us with the building blocks to imagine what life would have been like in this breathtaking place of brick, marble and travertine.

Ostia is the quintessential harbour town. Many of the harbour remains are still preserved nearby. A rich variation of sea and harbour themes are represented in mosaics, statues and even graffiti. Traces of every phase of the city’s life are visible in the ruins. The earliest phases of Ostia can be seen in the remains of its 4th/3rd century fortress. Austere temples from the republican period still dot the landscape. The sheer extent and grandeur of the city under the emperor Hadrian is evident in the rosy brick apartment blocks and the enormous Capitolium. Exquisitely decorated domus and the stately seaside synagogue bear witness to the vitality of the city in late antiquity.

The city even teaches us lessons in tolerance and understanding. All religions of the Roman world were represented at Ostia. People from every corner of the globe came to Ostia to trade and to carry out business. These people, with their variety of beliefs and histories, peacefully coexisted in this habour community. Ostia was crucial for the development of Rome. As a fluvial city, set back in the hills away from the sea, Rome relied on its seaside colony to extend its influence into the Mediterranean and beyond.  The foundation of Ostia therefore represents an important beginning for the evolution of western civilisation. As Rome grew, it became highly dependent on imports of every kind. The port of Ostia played the most important role in these activities. Without the harbours of Ostia, Rome could not have thrived.

As an archaeological park, Ostia is exceptionally pleasant to visit. Green fields for picnics, and stately umbrella pines for shade.  The visitors’ area is beautifully maintained and welcoming. The site is easily reachable by car, with ample parking facilities, and is fairly easy to reach by public transport from Rome.