I am not sure why you never hear more about Ostia Antica. It’s just a quick jaunt outside of Rome. It’s an amazing site that I spent all day roaming around. Here are my top eight reasons to see Ostia Antica.
It’s Convenient to Rome
It’s only 20 miles from Rome. It’s served by a commuter train that runs fairly frequently. Once you get off the train, you just walk five minutes down a shady lane and boom, you’re there. This makes it a lot easier to day trip from Rome. After all Pompeii is four hours away.
It Rivals Pompeii
Everyone has heard of the ruins at Pompeii. Ostia Antica is large- 10,000 acres. Much of it is very well preserved. It’s also rural, so it’s quite picturesque and unspoiled by tourism. The city ruins have a lot of the same variety that is found in Pompeii as well. You get a very good look at ancient life from the temples, entertainment, cemeteries, living quarters, and taverns.
You Can Get Up Close and Personal
Much of Pompeii is roped off. Not so at Ostia Antica. You can touch the buildings, speak in the theater to hear how amazing the acoustics are, and sit on the toilets. Although the city was abandoned in the fifth century and is now in ruins, enough of it stands that it’s easy to imagine you’re transported back in time. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the sounds of city life fill in around you.
A lot of mosaics here are very well preserved. They are just amazing in their designs. Most are black and white, but some are in color! There is a really big one by the main road. You can tell a lot about a people by their art. These people must have not only been wealthy to commission works that have survived for two thousand years, but also great lovers of art – much like their Roman counterparts throughout the ages. The mosaics are everywhere!
I know. It sounds odd to get excited about toilets, but when I think about the ancients, I don’t tend to see them with modern plumbing. Yet the Romans had hot and cold running water. They made an art out of bathing, and they had a form of flushing toilets. And they were communal public toilets! (The baths were too). There was room for twenty four people to go at the same time. Since there were no walls, socializing in the toilet, bath, and tavern were every day events in Ostia Antica. It’s one thing to know it, and other to see it.
Lots of Baths
Ostia Antica has at least four public baths- someone told it was closer to eighteen! Sixty thousand people need a lot of bathing room. The baths typically have a frigidarium (cold pool), tepidarium (warm pool), and caldarium (hot pool). One of the baths is really large. You get the idea that it’s for the general rabble. Two of them are small and more nicely decorated, so perhaps these had a more exclusive clientele.
There are many temples in Ostia Antica. There is even a Jewish synagogue! The synagogue dates back to the time of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) and is the oldest synagogues in the world. It is the oldest outside of Israel. The other temples are dedicated to the Roman gods of the times. The ones I found most interesting are the temples of Mithras. No one really knows much about this cult. The mosaics give a little insight, but also add a lot to the mystery. One of the temples of Mithras is really hard to find and a bit underground. It’s not quite big enough to stand in, but it’s worth the effort to get there. The ambiance is incredible. The statue of Mithras killing the bull just adds to the whole effect.
The city of the dead, otherwise known as tombs, is actually the first thing you see as you approach the city. The Romans had pretty elaborate funeral practices and rules. One of them is that the dead are always buried outside the city walls. It was common to have the necropolis lining the city road to make it easier for the living to pay their respects. There are sixty tombs here for individuals and families. Some tombs containing sarcophagi have curses placed inside to disturb the dead!
So what makes this a destination for a spiritual traveler? Sometimes you just can’t put your finger on things. I never had an “experience” or vision here. While there are many temples, it takes more than a temple to get me to call a place spiritual, so it isn’t that. Perhaps it’s because it feels like a time capsule that is frozen in time, and the energy of the people who once lived here still lingers. I am not sure. All I can say is that it feel alive, timeless, peaceful, and full of spirit. I definitely recommend it anyone who is in Rome with some time to spare.