A short train ride from the centre lie the extensive remains of the ancient city of Ostia Antica, one of Rome's better kept secrets.
No less an authority than the Blue Guide to Rome waxes lyrical on the Parco Archeologico di Ostia Antica: “The excavations of the city of Ostia are one of the most interesting and beautiful sights near Rome. The ruins, in a lovely park of umbrella pines and cypresses, give a remarkable idea of the domestic and commercial life of the Empire in the late 1st-2nd centuries AD and are as important for the study of Roman Urban architecture as the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.”
For centuries, Ostia served as Rome’s port. It now sits two miles inland, but was originally sited at the mouth of the river Tiber, Ostium Tiberis, from which it takes its name. Shortly before the onset of the first Punic war, in 264 BCE, Ostia had become the principal base for Rome's fleet. It soon increased in importance as a port for Rome’s provisions.
Ostia flourished between the first and third centuries CE, when its population peaked at some 100,000 inhabitants. As the river Tiber began to silt up, the Emperor Claudius (r. 41-54) moved the fleet to the newly-built Portus Romae, a large artificial harbour, which was sited a short distance to the north of Ostia. The town’s decline began when Portus was declared autonomous by the Emperor Constantine (r. 306-337) in 314.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the west in 476, Ostia slowly fell into decay as the population of Rome, which stood at between 700-800,000 in 400, contracted to roughly 200,000 a century later.
Ostia was finally abandoned in the 9th century following the repeated invasions and sackings by Arab pirates.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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