Ostia Antica ★★

The Forum and The Capitolum (temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva), at the intersection of the Cardo Maximus (main north-south street of any Roman town) and the Decumanus Maximus (main east-west street), Ostia Antica, Rome, Italy (Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
The Forum and The Capitolum (temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva), at the intersection of the Cardo Maximus (main north-south street of any Roman town) and the Decumanus Maximus (main east-west street)

Like Pompeii, Ostia Antica is an ancient Roman ghost town—but this one lies just a subway ride from downtown Rome and comes with virtually no crowds

The ruins of Rome's ancient seaport are like Pompeii without the crowds—and just a 14-mile subway ride west of downtown.

Abandoned when the empire fell—after which the gradual silting of the harbor moved the coastline out 4km and the ruins were plundered for their marble to build the cathedrals in PisaFlorence, and Orvieto—this ancient ghost town has been only partly excavated, giving Ostia an aura of Romantic decay missing from most dusty, tourist-ridden archaeological sites.

Scraps of fresco cling to the walls of private villas and columns guard roofless temples and their crumbling floor mosaics. Armless statues hide amid the tall grasses, millstones stand ready to grind in the back rooms of long-dead bakeries, and wildflowers speckle the stone seats of the ancient theater.

Exploring Ostia Antica

Though Ostia was founded in the 4th century BC, most of the building dates from between the AD 1st and 4th centuries, when the city reached its height of 60,000 inhabitants. The site plan they hand out at the gate is very good, and most of the structures inside the park are now placarded in English.

Most visitors follow the Decumanus Maximus (Latin for Main Street) from beginning to end, but take the time to explore the side streets where you'll find lots of intact shops, black and white floor mosaics, a few frescoes clinging to walls, and millstones hiding in the weeds behind baker's shops.

Make sure you stop at the well-preserved Theater, built in the AD 1st and 2nd centuries, which could seat 2,700 people. Several giant marble theater masks still survive on tufa columns at the stage.

The Casa di Diana is a typical three-story house with shops on the ground floor, some frescoes on the walls inside, and a courtyard fountain of the huntress goddess that gave the house its name.

On the town's Forum you'll find the Capitolum, an important temple with an imposing flight of steps and most of the brick cella still standing.

There are several Mitharic temples, and also the oldest synagogue in Western Europe, built in 41-54 AD and in use until the AD 5C., with a carved menorah in a capital. 

Finally, search out the Terme dei Sette Sapienti, a well-preserved baths complex named for the seven "sages" painted on the wall and spouting bath-house homilies. The central hall here retains its magnificent floor mosaic of hunting scenes.

Don't miss Ostia's on-site museum, which houses all the bits that unscrupulous types might try to carry off—as the Dark Ages barbarians and early baroque-era excavators did with wild abandon.

Upon advance reservation, on Sunday morning you can get a tour of the Case Decorate, restored Roman homes many with mosaics floors and frescoed walls intact.

Photo gallery
  • The Forum and The Capitolum (temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva), at the intersection of the Cardo Maximus (main north-south street of any Roman town) and the Decumanus Maximus (main east-west street), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
  • , Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Mister No)
  • , Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Mister No)
  • The Capitolium, a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • The Casa di Diana, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Dennis Jarvis)
  • A shop, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Gouldy)
  • This shop, a Thermopolium, in a prime position near the Forum, sold hot food and drink. In the centre is the bar counter, with shelves and basins for washing dishes. To the right there is a kitchen with large storage jar and a built-in stove. To the rear,, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Dennis Jarvis)
  • Ostia
  • Mosaic with the inscription “Felicissimus ex voto f(ecit)” (Felicissimus made this ex-voto) and a krater, in the AD 2C Mitreo di Felicissimus, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • , Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Jan Hazevoet)
  • The titular statue (a copy; the original is in the museum) in the House of Cupid and Psyche, which was refitted with marble in the AD 4C., Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
  • Part of the opus sectile (stone inlay) floor in Room C of the House of Cupid and Psyche (regio I, insula XIV), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • Inside the Terme dei Sette Sapienti (Baths of the Seven Sages), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by MatthiasKabel)
  • Fresco of Venus Anadiomene in the Terme dei Sette Sapienti (Baths of the Seven Sages), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Dennis Jarvis)
  • The Caseggiato dei Molini  (House of the Millstones) was built in the AD 2C, this is one of several large bakeries at Ostia which also produced bread for the Rome market. All stages in production were carried out here, from grinding of corn to make flour, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Mac9)
  • The Caseggiato dei Molini  (House of the Millstones) was built in the AD 2C, this is one of several large bakeries at Ostia which also produced bread for the Rome market. All stages in production were carried out here, from grinding of corn to make flour, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Dennis Jarvis)
  • Nymphaeum of the Erotes (Ninfeo degli Eroti), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • , Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Jakub Hałun)
  • The back wall of the theatre stage has disappeared almost completely. On the stage some marble theatrical masks can now be seen, that once decorated the building., Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Dennis Jarvis)
  • Ostia
  • Mithraeum of the Baths of Mithras (Mitreo delle Terme del Mitra) viewed from the north (regio I, insula XVII), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Michelle Touton)
  • Remains of the oldest Synagogue in Western Europe, dating the the mid AD 1C., Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Setreset)
  • A column showing a menorah at the Synagogue, built in 41-54 AD, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Setreset)
  • Mosaic in the Caseggiato di Bacco e Arianna, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Udimu)
  • Temple of Augustus and Roma (AD 1C), with marble fragments embedded into a modern wall and a statue of Victory, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Szilas)
  • An aerial view of part of the vast Ostia Antica excavations, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo © Ra Boe / Wikipedia)
  • The Cardo Maximus, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
  • The Decamanus Maximus (main street), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by 0x010C)
  • An opus sectile floor mosaic in the Domus del Ninfeo, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by xlibber)
  • The 2C BC Temple of Hercules (regio I, insula XV) is the largest temple of three in this area. Hercules was the patron deity of the military fleet, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • The 2C BC Temple of Hercules is the largest temple of three in this area. Hercules was the patron deity of the military fleet, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Dennis Jarvis)
  • , Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Pug Girl)
  • Terme di Nettuno (Baths of Neptune), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
  • In the Terme di Nettuno (Baths of Neptune) is this The mosaic of Neptune that give the baths their name. Neptune is depicted in a chariot drawn by hippocampi. He is surrounded by marine creatures: dolphins, tritons, and Nereids on sea-monsters, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Dennis Jarvis)
  • The public latrines in a baths complex, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by D Smith)
  • An aerial view of part of the vast Ostia Antica excavations, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo © Ra Boe / Wikipedia)
  • Mosaic in the Aula dei Magistrati del Grano (Hall of the Grain Ministers), Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • A fresco in the Casa delle Muse, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by George Houston)
  • Frescoes in the Casa delle Ierodule, Ostia Antica, Italy (Photo by MM)
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Tips

How long does Ostia Antica take?

Get up early and make this a very full half-day. 

Find a secluded spot under the umbrella pines for a BYO picnic. Then you can head back to Rome, or get back on the train (of hop bus C4, C13, C19, or 04) and continue one more stop to the end of the line—Ostia Lido, Rome's crowded (but clean) main beach. 

Note: The ticket office (and on-site museum) close one hour before the site

How to get to Ostia Antica

Take the B-line Metro to the Porta San Paolo/Piramide station, then switch to the train bound for the Lido (all one one regular Metro ticket). Get off at Ostia-Scavi, the next-to-last stop (if you continue to the end of the line, Ostia-Lido, you end up at the beach).

The archaeological site is about a five-minute walk from the Ostia train station.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).