When in Ancient Rome…

Weekend in Italy Part 1 of 2: Ostia Antica

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Via delle Tombe
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View from Piazzale della Vittoria

Now overgrown with wildflowers and tourists, Ostia Antica once sat at the mouth of the Tiber River less than twenty miles from Rome, Italy. The river itself has grown away from Ostia, but a detailed outline of the once-thriving port city remains. Crumbling arches, elaborate mosaics, and stone foundations tell its story dating back to 300 or so BC.

James and I visited the remnants of this ancient Roman city last weekend and were astounded at how much of its layout is preserved. We wandered various routes along ancient roads of massive cobblestones under the murderous summer sun and were able to see a fair amount of the unearthed city. The excavation of Ostia Antica had begun in the early 1800s, was put on hold during World War II, and eventually continued afterward.

Baths of Neptune mosaic floor
Baths of Neptune mosaic floor
View over Baths of Neptune toward barracks
View over Baths of Neptune toward barracks

We passed unroofed remains of barracks, a gymnasium, baths, temples dedicated to Roman gods, and much more. One particularly striking area is where an amphitheater looks out over a field that was once a piazza of commerce. Floor mosaics can still be seen along the rectangular perimeter of the piazza, indicating the nature of each business represented there.

View from the theater over Piazzale delle Corporazioni
View from the theater over Piazzale delle Corporazioni

Many enormous mosaics line the floors and some walls, incredibly preserved and some in the process of being restored. An information board revealed a sample of the layers involved in each mosaic: gritty base material, design sketch on finer material, and tiles. The example consisted of a two-toned design with one color of tiles raised so that the blind could experience the mosaic as well.

A cat inspecting a wall mosaic
A cat inspecting a wall mosaic
Close up of the same mosaic
Close up of the same mosaic

I’m also told that the ancient heating system is preserved here. But I refused to be bullied by the elderly multilingual woman who insisted she could show it to us if we paid for a tour, so I can’t comment on it.

Interestingly, modern art is lightly interspersed with the statues that have stood the test of centuries and millennia. An exhibit of sculptures by modern artist Francesco Messina is scattered among the ruins and stands side by side with history in the Ostia Antica museum. It produces an interesting and thought-provoking effect.

If you’re interested in reading more about the history of Ostia Antica, click here.

Part 2 of this vacation will be posted on Saturday. Stay tuned for how we faced rain, pickpockets, and uniquely Italian culture in Rome itself.

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