While many tourists head to Pompeii to see an ancient Roman city, the archaeological site of Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port, makes an excellent alternative and is easily accessible from Rome. Although more compact than Pompeii, the complex is still huge and you can easily spend several hours wandering around the many old streets and alleys, shops, and houses.
Unlike Pompeii, Ostia Antica was not buried by a volcano but suffered from more gradual decay when it was abandoned around the 5th century due to the harbor silting up and other ports being built. Another difference is that ancient Pompeii was more of a resort city for wealthy Romans whereas Ostia Antica gives you a look at a typical Roman city. You can visit a bakery that served bread to thousands, shops where Romans bought their daily food, fountains and wells that supplied water, and even the public toilets. You can imagine the every day life of the ancient inhabitants.
The city is laid out along one long main street, Decumanus Maximus. As you walk along the street you’ll see remains of businesses, public buildings, baths, and houses on both sides. Also on the main street is the Roman theater, built between 19 and 12 BC, that held 3,000 to 4,000 spectators. More than a mile of the road has been excavated and open to the public.
Founded in the 4th century BC at the mouth of the Tiber River, Ostia got its name from the Latin word Ostium, meaning “river’s mouth”. Ostium was first a military fort, then the village developed near Ostia’s salt pans, a valued commodity in ancient times, and its salt became a source of wealth for Romans. As the port was the entrance to Rome, about 20 miles away, the city of Ostia Antica gained importance and grew. During the Age of Hadrian there were about 50,000 inhabitants.
How to Get to Ostia Antica from Rome
It’s easy to visit the excavations on a day trip from Rome. Take the Rome Metro Line B to the Piramide stop, then go outside the metro station to the Porto San Paolo station and take the Ostia-Lido train toward the Lido (the seaside), using the same ticket. At the Ostia Antica stop, go downstairs to cross the tracks, head straight out the station and over the blue pedestrian bridge, where signs will lead you to the excavations. The train also goes to to Ostia Lido or Ostia Stella Polare if you’re looking to spend some time at the beach.
If you prefer private transportation, book Ostia Antica: the “Pompeii of Rome” with pick up and drop off at your Rome hotel and a private guided tour of Ostia Antica in English.
Overome offers a small group guided tour in English. The guide meets you at the Piramide Station and accompanies you on the train (tickets to and from Rome are included in the tour price). After the tour, you can stay as long as you want.
Ostia Antica Tips and Visiting Information
The archaeological site is currently open from 8:30 to 16:30 (ticket office closes at 15:30), but it sometimes stays open later during summer. It’s closed on Mondays, January 1, May 1, and December 25. See the website to check times and ticket prices. Pick up a map of the site at the ticket office.
There’s a bar with drinks and some food and a small picnic area if you want to bring our own food. For a good meal, head into the little borgo (that you pass on your way from the train) where there are several restaurants. We had a very good and inexpensive lunch at Ristorante Cipriani, a typical Italian two-course meal with water and coffee was a mere 10 euros (in 2015).
Take some time to wander around the medieval borgo with its pretty houses and small castle. If you want to visit the castle, go on a Sunday when it’s open to visitors at 11 AM and noon (accompanied by a guide). A highlight of the castle is the Pope’s bath on the lower level.
See more Ancient Roman Sites in Italy